The intricate workings of the chain of command
The Sunday paper reported the inexplicable diversion of the mighty Tilba river, which appeared to have spontaneously abandoned its course and taken up a gravity-defying detour uphill. This disclosed a series of bizarre wonders concealed in the old riverbed and, incidentally, sent a single wave of restorative moisture across the droughted flats below, to the vociferous joy of the local rice farmers.
Roy dropped his head into his hands at his kitchen table and moaned. The article made no mention of the Elric brothers, but it didn't have to. They were bloody there after all. Well. Technically, they ought to have been a hundred miles farther North, but Roy had developed an instinct for Ed's distinctive style. And this? This made his temples throb.
The boy himself returned two weeks later. No report preceded him. He slumped into the office unannounced the following Monday, shared a round of backslaps with the men, and subsided onto Roy's couch with a yawn.
"Mmm," he said, wriggling down. "Mind if I nap here?"
"Fullmetal, I wonder," said Roy. "Have you ever heard the expression 'hard as drowning an alchemist'?"
"Yeah?" Ed said, eyes closed.
"Do you know where it comes from?" Roy asked.
"Oxygen," Ed said promptly, managing to convey in a single word that he had already forgotten more about alchemy in his life than Roy would ever learn. "any decent alchemist could mine the oxygen from the water and harmlessly dispel the hydrogen. Could stay alive down there for a while. Or at least until you get too loopy to concentrate."
"Correct," Roy said judiciously. "So, since you were aware of the technique, can you explain why you didn't utilize it on your recent assignment?"
Ed rolled one eye open. "Oh, right, this is the part where you complain about the bill for me doing exactly what you told me to do."
"I don't recall telling you to make a five-year-old dam constructed at enormous expense suddenly obsolete," Roy snapped. "Really, Fullmetal, I've given you far too much liberty in the past. I'm thinking better of it now as all you seem capable of doing with the slack is hanging yourself in it."
"Find out what was happening, you said." The one yellow eye narrowed hostilely. "And so I went up there and I looked around, and I tramped all up and down that stupid river –"
"That explains the state of your footwear, at least," Roy said.
"You said to get to the bottom of it," Ed said. "Now you complain because I took you too literally--"
"Which you could have done just by walking into the river, like a sensible alchemist," Roy said. "Not by casually destroying hundreds of years worth of engineering work—"
"Should have done a better job of it then, shouldn't they?" Ed asked snottily
"—and tramping all over the delicately balanced water ecology of—"
"I needed to get down there, didn't I?" Ed demanded. "What else was I supposed to do?"
"Well for starters, you were supposed to send back regular status reports," Roy said. "I know we have had this conversation on multiple occasions, but since the entire concept of chain of command doesn't seem to have penetrated, let's go over it again."
"Oh here we go." Ed threw himself flat again, one arm flung over his eyes. "Hierarchy, obedient dog, yes master, no master, blah blah blah."
"Are you quite through?" Roy asked quietly.
Ed did not respond. He had an uncanny sense for precisely how far past Roy's tolerance he could push. Though apparently he only seemed to care when they were in the same room.
Roy took a slow, measured breath. He looked down at the newspaper, saved for this occasion and spread across his desk. The picture was nothing short of awesome, and Roy felt again the stir of fear. It was important that the People's Alchemist be a powerful figure – that was part of his usefulness, after all. But these were the sort of times when certain men watched to be sure no one else became too powerful. And Ed was, if nothing else, too powerful by far. He'd done the work of a full dozen trained engineer-alchemists here and then toddled off for breakfast with a spring in his step. Roy could almost sympathize with his enemies – with the men he had made Ed's enemies, by mere association. For all Ed had done, he was only fifteen and, terrifyingly, still groping for his limits. What would he be at thirty?
Roy set his teeth. All the more reason to secure the leash firmly now.
"The idea," Roy said deliberately, "is that I send you out into the world on assignments. You are not only yourself, you are my eyes and ears and, occasionally, my hands."
"If that were true I'd actually have to draw circles like the rest of you slowpokes," Ed said, then quickly subsided under Roy's glare.
"The essential point," Roy said with steel patience, "is that when you encounter a situation that requires you to act decisively, you pause and consult with me. On this last assignment, for example, you could easily have spared a few days to send a message back and ask for instructions. That is how the chain of command functions, Major – it filters little details like strategy and wisdom and common bloody sense down from above."
"I couldn't do that," Ed said, aghast. "You would have said no."
"Precisely," Roy snapped.
"And you would have been wrong," Ed said.
Roy opened his mouth, then stopped, eyes narrowing. Ed hadn't said that with a sneer, but with the flat tone of fact. This wasn't yet another iteration of his reflexive authority issues, this was . . . this was something different. Something, dare he imagine it, more studied, even mature.
Roy glanced over at the stack of memos on the corner of his desk, nearly an inch thick. General Hakuro was quite busy these days, and Roy could all but feel the bastard's breath on the back of his neck at every turn. So yes, he could admit it, Ed did have a sort of point. And apparently he'd been paying enough attention to pick up the essentials of the chain of command and, in typical fashion, to leap on ahead to an exploration of its shortcomings.
"I would be wrong?" Roy repeated slowly, staring at Ed. Fifteen, still growing in power, and maybe, just maybe, slowing down enough once in a while to start thinking. Roy would have to re-evaluate his dealings with Fullmetal from the ground up, if that were true. How . . . interesting.
"Yep," Ed said succinctly. "Wrong. With wrong sauce on top." All right, there was a bit of a sneer now.
Roy sat back slowly. "Ah," he said. "Well, in the absence of any report from my operative in the field, I can't fairly evaluate that, now can I?"
"Stop talking in circles, you—"
"So why don't you explain it to me," Roy said over him. "Thoroughly. Completely."
Ed paused, apparently startled by this request for open dialogue. His eyes narrowed suspiciously. And also, Roy saw with a little thrill, calculatingly. He felt, for the first time, as if that brilliant alchemical mind had turned more than blindly hating animal eyes on him, and he smiled into the teeth of Ed's confusion.
"You may begin," Roy said.
Roy came to the door with his gloves on, just in case. He didn't think he was about to be arrested by military police, but an unexpected knock after midnight was bound to make anyone nervous.
Except, when he opened the door with the correct urbane smile in place, it wasn't a quartet of secret police heavies who met him but Edward Elric, hopping impatiently from foot to foot.
"Fullmetal," Roy said, startled. "Can I help you?"
"Yes." Ed bulled passed him and Roy, perforce, closed the door and turned to follow him. Ed had stopped in the middle of the entryway, and he was in the act of casting off his coat and staring around in unconcealed interest. He flung his coat over Roy's on the single hook and spun on his heel. "It has been brought to my attention that I want to have sex with you," he said aggressively.
He advanced purposefully, and Roy landed back against the door with a thump. "Edward!" he said. Then, hearing the near-squeak in his voice he collected himself with a mental heave. "Ah, Fullmetal, I imagine no one's told you," he said, holding Ed off at arms length with both hands. "But it is generally required to ascertain the willingness of the other party involved, as well as declaring your own."
"You're willing," Ed said, rolling his eyes. "You're always willing, or so I hear."
"Ah," Roy said, smiling grimly. "Nor has anyone taught you the finer points of seduction. It is more effective to proceed without implying that your partner is—"
"Easy?" Ed suggested helpfully.
"Yes yes," Roy said patronizingly. "You have attained a grain of sophistication, I see. Very impressive." He was still wearing his gloves, lucky camouflage for the pulse pounding in his wrists. He hoped that he was not flushed, but thought it was probably too late. "But to refine the concept, it is best to ascertain that your prospective partner is willing with you, in particular."
Ed glanced up again and raked Roy with a slow, comprehensive look. "You're willing," he said again, in an entirely different tone. Then he grinned, the real one without a trace of sarcasm or temper or this is going to be the last thing you see before I tear your throat out with my teeth.
And oh yes, Roy was willing. Eager. In recent months, perhaps even tormented. He was sure there must have been a point at which he could have squashed the seed of futile attraction. But he'd spent the past year and a half studying Ed, learning the mind coming to full flower. It was a mind peculiarly matched to his own, in ways few could be. And by the time Roy had caught himself thinking that, it was far too late.
"When," he started, then cleared his throat. "When did you come to this conclusion?"
Ed leaned forward, hooked a thumb through Roy's watch chain, and pulled it out for a look. "'Bout half an hour ago," he said, dropped the watch to thump against Roy's thigh, and slithered eel-fast under Roy's extended arms to press right up against him. "You going to kiss me, already?" he asked huskily.
"No, I am not," Roy said.
Ed rolled his eyes. "Well I've got enough balls, even if you don't." And Roy was being kissed, clumsily if fiercely, with Ed up on his toes, clinging to Roy's shoulders. Roy was perfectly happy knowing that he was just not that good a man, because he slid one hand up to cup Ed's head, and the other to his waist. His gloves were still on, robbing him of the feel of Ed's hair, and his body lean and warm under his clothes. It was all instinct from there to work Ed's mouth carefully open, to slow him down and teach him how to meet Roy halfway instead of thundering on into the unknown.
And when Ed was sighing softly into his mouth and writhing against the thumb smoothing circles at the small of his back, it was easier for Roy to pull away.
"No," he said again, quietly. "Edward. We can't."
Ed blinked, lips parting on a breath of hurt surprise, before his brows lowered in anger. "You bastard, what d'you mean kissing me like that, then?"
"A mistake," Roy said. And then hastily, at the look on Ed's face, "because I couldn't help myself."
"You seem to be helping yourself just fine now," Ed said mulishly.
Roy sighed, tipped his head back against the door. "Edward, please," he said. "Listen to me."
There was a brief, crowded pause, and then Ed said, "I'm listening," in a fifteen seconds to detonation tone. He was still pressed close, and his breath puffed against the hollow of Roy's throat.
"We can't do this," Roy said steadily. Then he looked back down at Ed and added, "not now."
Some of the hostility around Ed's mouth eased. "Why not?"
Roy went carefully. "Because we are both . . . encumbered right now. We have things we need to do taking up our attention. And you deserve all of my attention." He paused, alarmed by that last, and hastily redirected. "And there are other concerns, pieces in play that you don't know about."
"Oh," Ed said. "You mean how you want to be Fuhrer."
Roy controlled a startle. "Who suggested such a thing to you?"
"No one." Ed tossed his braid over one shoulder and rocked back on his heels, some of the familiar defiant self-assurance returning. "You're not the only one who can figure things out just by looking real hard, you know."
"Apparently," Roy murmured. This conversation was a bloody minefield. "I hope I don't need to tell you what a dangerous thing that is to say," he assayed.
Ed sighed ostentatiously. "Well obviously."
"And what a dangerous thing it would be to undertake, were a person inclined to actually do so," Roy continued. "And, by extension, dangerous to everyone near him." Then he played his winning card. "And of course I never have to remind you of your responsibilities to Alphonse."
Ed sucked in a breath, and Roy thought for a split second that he was about to get punched. Then Ed shut his eyes for a long exhale, and when he opened them again they were clear and cool. "Huh," he said. "I suppose you do have balls after all. A bit, anyway."
"So you see—" Roy began.
"Yeah, got it," Ed said shortly.
Roy didn't like the look on Ed's face, and he really didn't like being the one to put it there. "But after," he said. "When our various responsibilities are discharged. I would very much like to start this conversation again, Edward." He let his eyes show what he was thinking, and Ed flushed an attractive pink.
"Just assuming I'll wait, eh bastard?"
Roy put Ed's back against the door in one quick flip, and pinned a captured wrist over his head. The other was trapped between them, and Roy let his thigh ride up with just the right pressure between Ed's as he pulled his head back and kissed him with everything he had. Ed was limp and gasping when Roy let him up, escaped strands of hair clinging to his face.
"It'll be worth the wait," Roy said, and stepped back. "Goodnight, Fullmetal."
He was halfway up the stairs when he heard the door close.
Roy found Ed, after a few tries, in his usual study room in the library. He was sitting in the light of a single lamp, stack of books before him, and he was alone.
Roy cleared his throat and Ed looked around, expression vacant. "Evening," Roy said.
"If you've come for a report, you're out of luck," Ed said. "I'm busy."
"I just spoke to your brother." Roy pulled the door closed gently behind him and leaned back against it. "He seems well, if shaken." Alphonse had been, to be precise, tiny and big-eyed and adorable, curled up on Gracia's couch with a mug of coco. He'd also been unmistakably eleven, and impenetrably amnesiac. "He's wondering where you are."
"He knows where I am," Ed said, returning to his book.
Roy stared at his hunched shoulders. Whatever it was Fullmetal had done to get his brother's body back didn't appear to have cost him physically, at least. His hair had apparently come out of its braid though, at some point, and Ed had simply pulled it back into a loose ponytail, shining in the lamplight.
"The riots have died down, in case you were wondering," Roy said.
Ed shrugged, unconcerned. "Figured you'd handle it."
Roy smiled, involuntarily warmed by Ed's faith. "I didn't," he said. "Not much I can do, since I've been relieved of command."
That at least got a quick look over Ed's shoulder. "Are they going to try you?" he asked.
"For killing the Fuhrer? Probably not." Roy shrugged in turn. "Too messy. Too much evidence that he wasn't human. That sort of thing will only alarm the delicate popular sensibilities, you know."
Ed turned fully around again, frowning, visibly thinking. "But you're not going to be Fuhrer now," he said slowly. "Not like that."
"Not now, no." Roy smiled tiredly. "Not in this political climate. It's ironic, really – coming to power over the corpse of one's predecessor is something of a tradition in this country. One I never intended to partake in, I hope you know. It was rather the point, in fact."
Ed was still, alarmingly expressionless. "What're you going to do now, then?"
"What are you going to do, now that you have your brother back?"
Ed returned to his book. "I'm going to fix him," he said, in the same tone he might have said 'I'm getting up in the morning tomorrow.'
"Of course you are," Roy said. Ed snapped a look over his shoulder, checking for mockery, finding none. "But I was rather hoping you could spare me a little time."
"What for?" Suspiciously.
"Well, for me to cook you dinner, to start with."
Ed turned in his chair slowly this time, the color high in his cheeks. Roy waited, letting his body stay loose and relaxed.
"You," Ed said at last, "have fuck awful timing."
"My timing is excellent," Roy contradicted mildly.
Ed stared, then shook his head. "No," he said brusquely. "I have work to do." He turned back to his book.
"Your brother's memory will still be gone in the morning," and knew it was a mistake as soon as he said it.
"You can go to hell for saying that, bastard." Ed was suddenly furious. "And also, you don't just get to tell me we're going to wait then tell me we can stop waiting when it's convenient for you."
"Would it help if I begged?" Roy asked lightly.
Ed stood up, and when he turned around he was white with temper. "Don't you fucking bullshit me like you do your women," he hissed. "How many fucking times do I have to tell you I'm not your dog you can just whistle for?"
"Which is one reason I find you so . . . appealing," Roy said, then sighed. Ed was, as usual, dead to rights. The pretty words and smiling charm came so reflexively to Roy now, he'd all but forgotten it didn't actually mean anything to him. So what was he supposed to say when it did mean something?
"I've had an awful day," he said, going forward on instinct. "Tomorrow I have to find out if I have a career left. And if I do, I have to get ready to throw my support behind what will hopefully be the least of many possible evils for a new government. And you have to find a way to return your brother's memory. We didn't get what we wanted, either of us." Ed shook his head, eyes dropping. "But there's one thing that can still go right." Roy bit his lips together, afraid if he kept talking he'd out and tell Ed that he was the cleanest, purest thing in Roy's world right now. He smiled, held out his hand.
Ed eyed it long enough that Roy had already decided he'd lost. Then Ed jerked into motion and dropped his hand into Roy's. "Egotistical bastard, just assuming I still want you at all," he said, head down. "Maybe I don't. Maybe I've decided you're not worth the trouble."
Roy grinned, tugging Ed along as he opened the door. "Of course you have," he said soothingly. "You can enumerate all my faults in the car."
Perspective again, or
There are things that are better than food
Roy woke in an empty bed, and swore heartily into his pillow, first thing. The sun wasn't even fully up yet – Roy had no business being awake – and Ed was gone. Roy resolved, then and there, to drag him out of the library again tonight. At least he'd figured out how. And, after last night, perhaps he could offer some new inducements. Roy stretched and smiled in satisfaction, remembering the salty flavor of the skin under Ed's jaw, the trail of golden hair leading down from his navel, the sound of shocked pleasure he'd made when—
Something gave an almighty crash downstairs, and Roy leapt up, heart thumping. Stupid, stupid, where were his gloves. Where were his pants?
He made it downstairs twenty seconds later, mostly dressed and fully armed, not entirely sure what he was expecting.
It definitely wasn't Ed, sitting dejectedly on the kitchen floor, surrounded by the remains of what had once been most of Roy's dishes. One of the tall cabinets hung open, and there was a tell-tale boot scuff on the counter beside it.
"Good morning," Roy said, nearly giddy at the sight of him.
Ed snapped a glare up at him. "Who puts the fucking plates seven feet up?" he demanded testily.
"People who can reach them," Roy murmured. Ed, who had just lifted the cleanly snapped halves of a plate and clapped them into wholeness, looked like he was contemplating frisbeeing the restored plate at Roy's head. "Thank you," Roy said, moving quickly to take it from him. "Can you get the rest of those?"
"Probably." Ed scowled again, hunching over and jigsawing another plate back together. Roy leaned on the counter and watched him work. He'd never had any luck with ceramic materials, but Ed had no such handicap, apparently. To Roy, it had appeared on more than one occasion that Ed could divine the chemical composition of a thing by merely touching it.
He turned to get the coffee going, and was able to swap Ed a steaming mug for a stack of restored plates after a few minutes. Ed grunted thanks, scowling down at the pulverized fragments remaining.
"You can just leave it," Roy offered.
Ed shook his head, unbound hair sweeping across his face. "I can fix it," he said stubbornly.
Roy left him to it, instead taking stock of the entire contents of his fridge, which Ed had already set out on the counter.
"Hungry?" he asked.
"Starved, actually – ah-ha." There was a flash of light, and when Roy turned back Ed was scrambling to his feet, grinning, plate in hand. "I've still got it," he said, self-satisfied.
"All the king's horses and all the king's men have nothing on you," Roy agreed, grinning back. The early morning sun was coming in the kitchen window, and Ed looked about as good as it was possible for a man to.
Even when his grin dropped away and his face went all flat and intense. "He didn't even recognize me," he said. "When he woke up he looked at me and asked what I'd done with his brother." He flickered a lost look up at Roy. "Do I look that different?"
"Yes," Roy said at once, honestly. It was true – Ed had grown from a skinny, high-strung kid into a lean, intense young man. He had a certain compactness about him, but there was a broadness to his shoulders and several new inches in height, though doubtless not as many as he would have liked. And the alchemy of adolescence had changed a pinched, hungry face into strangely angular elegance, without actually changing the bones beneath. He was gorgeous, and someday Roy was going to find the perfect, most enraging moment to tell him so.
"I'm going to fix him," Ed said.
"Of course you are," Roy answered again. Ed stood still, plate in hand, then came back to life just in time to duck away from Roy's reach.
"I'm hungry," he said, turning his back.
"Me too." Roy came up behind him and slid his arms around his waist.
"For food. Do you have any self-control?" Ed elbowed him, body tense.
Roy oomphed, but kept on. "When it comes to you, demonstrably no." He laid a hand on Ed's flat belly, stroked like he was petting a cat. "Come back to bed," he coaxed.
"Not without breakfast," Ed protested, but he wasn't wriggling quite as hard as he could have been.
"There are things we didn't do last night, remember?" Roy said, bending to breathe the words into Ed's ear. "Because we were too, mmm, frantic."
"Speak for yourself," Ed muttered. "I wasn't the one ripping anyone's clothes off."
"Two years," Roy said softly. "I've made a list, Edward. Of things I want to do to you. And you know we've barely gotten started."
Ed turned his head a few degrees. "Is you fucking me anywhere on there?" he asked. "Because I don't recall you managing anything that complicated what with all the flailing last night."
"Nice flailing," Ed conceded, grudgingly.
Roy bent at the knees, slung Ed up and around, knocked his breath out when he slammed him up against the fridge. "You want to get fucked, is that what you're saying?" he asked.
Ed looked up at him, challenging. "You think you have it in you, old man?"
"That's not an answer." Roy pressed close, ground his hips hard into Ed's, bit the delicate skin at the hinge of his jaw.
Ed moaned on a punched out exhale. "Bastard," he said.
"Be clear, Edward," Roy growled. "Are you teasing me, or are you asking for what you want? Yes or no?"
"Yes," Ed said, and bit him back, the little carnivore.
Roy carried him bodily upstairs, acquiring several bruises for his trouble. He tossed Ed down on the bed, watched him bounce, watched his scowl flicker over to mild alarm. Roy joined him quickly, crawling over him for a long kiss. Ed relaxed into it, then shoved irritably at Roy's shoulders after a few minutes.
"You going to get on with this anytime soon?" he asked crankily.
"You're one of those people who rips the band aid off all at once, aren't you?" Roy asked, laughing a little.
"What's that have to do with anything?" Ed demanded, sliding from cranky to surly.
"Never mind," Roy said, and slid both hands up under Ed's shirt. He undressed him, thinking, watching Ed move restlessly beneath him. He didn't want to be petted or coddled, no surprise. And he'd damn well asked for it.
Roy retrieved the lubricant and sat back on his heels, watching Ed watch him. "Do you know how this works?" he asked, slicking up his fingers.
"Duh," Ed said.
"Just checking," Roy said, pushed Ed's thighs apart, ran his hand down past Ed's balls, and slid a finger right into him, no playing around. Ed gasped and went rigid all over, mouth a round O.
"Bastard," he breathed out on a shuddery breath, and Roy relaxed, grinning.
"Like that?" he asked, going more slowly now.
Ed snorted. "You like me talking dirty, don't you?"
Ed shook his hair out of his eyes. He looked taken aback, like he did every time Roy was forthright with him. It was worth it for that alone. And doubly so for the rare occasions now when Ed offered it back.
"Well," Ed said slowly. "You're gonna have to do better than a little poking around."
Roy just kept grinning. This morning, he was immune – he was fucking invincible. "I think I can manage," he said.
Ed shouted, long and loud, five minutes later when Roy slid his fingers out and his cock in. "Fuck fuck fuck," he howled, leaving finger bruises deep in the muscle of Roy's shoulders.
"Is that a suggestion or just punctuation?" Roy asked, breathless.
"It's an order, you fu – ooh." Ed slammed his head back into the pillow, voice collapsing into a breathy croon. "Yeah," he breathed as Roy fucked him slowly, head down, biting his lip until it bled. "Yeah, right there, just like – that's good. Harder, come on."
Apparently, Roy was doing it right.
"Oh-kay," Ed said slowly.
"Don't you like it?" Roy didn't actually lift his head from the crook of his arm. The sun worked fingers of heat into the knotted muscle down his back, and the rhythm of the waves hitting the shore was beginning to infiltrate Roy's slow breathing.
"It's great," Ed said. "Very big. Very . . . wet."
"So what's the problem?" Roy actually bothered to open one eye that time, though all he could see was the towel on which he lay and a stretch of sand beyond.
Ed shifted audibly beside him. "What do we do?" he asked explosively.
"We're on vacation," Roy said. "We . . . vacation."
"Yes," Ed said impatiently. "But what do we do?"
Roy rolled over to look at him. Ed was sitting up in the sand, tense and twitchy. Roy considered him, eyes slitted against the sun. It made a sad sort of sense. They'd been all but living together for a year, and Roy was pretty familiar with Ed's habits by now. Ed worked like most people breathed, all the more freakish as he seemed to actively like it. When he wasn't perfecting his own arrays he was reading, and when he wasn't doing that he was pacing and thinking out loud, tossing comments over his shoulder and catching himself up every time when Alphonse didn't have a ready answer for him anymore. He viewed sleep as an annoying interruption to the business of getting on with everything else, and Roy counted himself lucky that Ed liked sex so much.
But now Alphonse's memory was restored. Ed had no driving demand about which to organize his life, and he didn't know what to do with himself. Roy, on the other hand, liked to think he knew a thing or two about sloth.
"Do you know any relaxation techniques, by chance?" he asked hopefully. "Zen breathing or something?"
Ed slanted him a hostile look. "Are you saying I'm tense?" he asked tensely.
"I wouldn't dream," Roy murmured. "Okay, look. Come here." He extended an arm and Ed came reluctantly across the sand on his knees. "Lay down here." Roy scooted over, tucking Ed down next to him. "Okay, now relax. Look out at the ocean."
"What'm I looking for?" Ed asked, head turning alertly to track the waves.
"Nothing," Roy said, running his thumbs firmly down the column of Ed's neck. "You're just looking. The point is to let your thoughts wander. You don't have to focus on anything, you just have to . . . relax." There was a long, contemplative silence. Roy watched Ed watching the ocean. Ed had a look of studious blankness on his face. "What're you thinking about?" Roy asked, quite curious.
"Conversion ratios," Ed said promptly.
Roy resisted the urge to clap a hand to his forehead. "All right," he said patiently. "Let's try this. Just do what I do. Here, put your head down." Ed did, sighing dramatically. "Now close your eyes and just . . . relax." Roy rubbed his shoulders, then softened his touch, pressing gentle circles over Ed's spine. He slowly subsided down next to Ed, found just the right spot for his head, let his hand come to rest over Ed's shoulder blades.
A little span of unmarked time later, Roy cracked open one eye. Then he lashed out, quick with outrage.
"Hey!" Ed yelped as Roy swept a hand across the sand Ed was hunched secretively over, erasing the array he'd been painstakingly and silently drawing.
"That," Roy said definitively, "is not vacationing."
"I just wanted to work it out," Ed said, offended. "I think if you change the amount of heat expended in certain gaseous conversions, you could increase the efficiency of—"
"That's work," Roy said. "This is vacation."
"But I can't do nothing," Ed wailed.
Roy kissed him to silence, then kissed him again because Ed's mouth was quick and eager as always.
"Just indulge me, all right?" he said, pulling back. "Try it again. And no cheating this time."
Ed sighed, but flopped obediently over. "I don't get the point," he said pettishly.
Roy bit off the first three things that came to his tongue. "Think about it in utilitarian terms," he offered. "Relaxation is a sort of restoration. It gives you energy for when you return to daily life."
"I've never needed restoring before," Ed said mutinously.
No, Roy thought, and you live on coffee and nerves and sheer fucking stubbornness until another person would be clinically insane.
A silence fell, somewhat fraught. At last Ed said, talking to the ocean, "is it like when I wake up in the morning sometimes and you're staring at me all creepy?"
"I am not creepy," Roy said automatically. Then, brought up short as always by one of Ed's scary, dead accurate lateral leaps, "but yes. It is like that, a bit." He reached up, touched the loose strand of hair curling at Ed's temple. It clung to his fingers, staticky in the wind. "I find a certain peace, looking at you."
Ed peeped at him out of the corner of one eye. He'd gone a bit fetchingly pink, like he still did, every time. "Okay," he said, and for the first time his mobile face eased into more true relaxation. "I suppose that's all right, then."