None of the little tricks or longer stratagems are working: for the life of him, he can’t get Ed to look him in the eyes.
And it wouldn’t matter, would it? It wouldn’t help. Ed’s slippery now, in conversation; he’s mastered one of Roy’s own favorite techniques, and he can turn the topic in an instant—flip it, spin it, redirect it far from anything he’s loath to talk about. He’s so damned good at it lately that Roy might be the only one who even notices when the thread of discussion veers right past something Ed won’t speak of, just barely—barely—ruffling his hair as it swings by.
Ed doesn’t look satisfied, though. Only ever… tired. Only ever faintly, wearily relieved.
Al must know. Al watches tight-eyed, tight-lipped, and Roy can see the pulse beating in the side of his neck; it must be wounding him—whatever he knows that Roy doesn’t; all the tomes and volumes that neither of them can even start to guess. It must be tearing him apart—to want to help, but not to pry; to need to be a part of Ed’s internality, but to hate nothing more than the thought of making any of it worse.
All of this is going to crumble. Ed doesn’t understand that there’s a part of him lodged inside the core of everyone who’s ever known him; there’s a part of him they thrive on, and if he collapses, what will they become?
The bottom line is that someone has to reach him—someone has to reach out to him, despite the quite real possibility of having one’s fingers bitten off in the attempt, despite the realer chance of Edward simply pulling even further away. And maybe Roy’s a self-appointed martyr; perhaps he always has been, but someone has to take the plunge and possibly the fall.
He’ll—write it, then. He’ll write it out, all of it, spill it into incontrovertible ink, which can’t be twisted like the words or dodged away from like the sound-waves; which can’t go unheard or be misremembered; which can’t be reimagined as snide, or as sardonic—as a slight. He’ll write it, and he’ll slip it under Edward’s door, and then the rest is up to him.
This will be simple.
He waits, watches, weighs the syllables he’d rather speak, if only voices weren’t so fallible; and then, when night descends, and all their shadows flit out through the door—when he’s alone in the office, left with the desk lamp for consolation, and the darkened window at his back—he draws out a sheet of paper bereft of the damned chimera header, and he touches the nib of his pen to the white.
He puts the sheet aside and smoothes out a new one.
I can’t call you Fullmetal anymore, because that boy is dead and buried, and I don’t know where to look to mark the grave.
He rereads that.
He crumples up the sheet and tosses the whole wad into the trash can.
He rubs his forehead, and then he reaches into the right-hand desk drawer, rummages below the scraps of missives, and retrieves the little silver flask of brandy underneath them all.
He swallows the first mouthful and swirls the second, thinking, while he lays out the next clean sheet.
If you can – and I know there’s quite a bit of history between the two of us that’s standing in the way; and quite a lot on your side that I can’t begin to know – I do hope that you’ll try to read this in the spirit that it was intended, which is in absolute honesty and genuine goodwill. There is not an iota of sarcasm here. Well. Perhaps that’s too ambitious, but if I catch myself waxing wise, I’ll try to mark it with a footnote so we’ll both know for sure.
I’ll cut to the chase, then: I can tell that you’ve gone through things the likes of which there isn’t speech for, because our language doesn’t have vocabulary dark and slick and dead enough for what you’ve seen.
I can tell you’re trying to hold it in alone.
And I can tell it’s going to drown you if you do.
I can tell because I stood in your shoes (though rather larger – that’s sarcasm – you can disregard it; you do know, don’t you, that it’s a bastion for broken spirits, just as your overstated anger always was—?)
In any case: I can tell. I can tell because I’ve had my toes up to the edge with the chasm down below, with the wind howling in my ears, wondering if jumping would feel like flying in that first instant that you breached the air.
You and I both know that men aren’t meant for flying, and gravity’s not kind.
You might not know that the only way you can be sure you’ll last the night staring down into that canyon is if someone has their hands on you – their arms around your waist, to hold you there, to drag you back from the tip of the precipice, one step at a time. I don’t think it’s possible to do alone.
And I know you don’t have to.
He drinks, deeper and longer, tilting the flask up, savoring the tingling traces of the liquor on his tongue.
Most often I don’t think that you believe it, but there are more people here than I can count who would lay their lives down for you, let alone their helping hands.
Let us help you.
I know you think you’re strong enough; we all know that; you have nothing left to prove – not anymore. You showed us all what courage and tenacity were made of, back in those days; you showed us what the limits of a human being’s power were, and yours was nearly boundless, and you taught us all a whole new way to hope. There is no sarcasm here, Edward; there is no caustic undercurrent; there’s no double meaning; there’s no mockery: I did not believe in inspiration until I met you.
The list of us who care for you ferociously is longer than you’d guess. It’s not a voluntary thing, with you; it’s a compulsion; it’s a fever; you infect, and I do mean that warmly – you’re the best sort of disease; it’s an ache in the bones to be better; it’s a quickening of the blood and a need to improve – to be a finer person, a greater version of oneself, because that is what you would want – what you’d approve of – what you’d cause, what you’d build, what you’d be – it’s a necessity, at this point; I can’t begin to contemplate a universe where caring for you is not at the basis of everything I do, where your voice doesn’t echo off the back wall of my skull and reprimand me when I start to drift astray – you always kept me honest; you always forced me to be better than I was—
He drinks again, and then again, and then the flask is empty, and his heart is overflowing, and he cannot bear to lie.
I’ve loved you so damned much for so damned long that it hardly even hurts anymore; the noose rope scrapes against my throat so gently that it might well be your fingers, flesh and metal and how do you not know how beautiful you are?
For a long time, I thought I wanted you for myself, that I wanted you to have you, that I wanted all the gold and starlight just to call my own, simply for the novelty of such a bright thing cradled in my hands – just to be able to graze my fingertips across your fucking purity and believe that there was good in the world, for once; just to be sure that you existed, because my hands were on you; to be sure that I did, because they were; to know, to hope, to breathe you in; and I would have worshiped you, but all for me, for myself, for validation, but…
When the first blushes of it burned away I found myself adrift in all this desperation, and I realized that it was never about me at all.
It was always about you, it was always about sustaining you, supporting you, believing in you – you have never failed me; you have never failed anyone; how do you manage it?
It was always about helping you, healing you, lifting you in any way I could to make you stronger; if my part amounts to nothing more than one step you took that was less of a strain, I’ll call myself accomplished; all I want now is to be a part of the absolute glory that you embody everywhere you go.
I wish I could say “I woke one morning and realized in a single, sudden breath that you were the best reason in this life to take the next,” but it wasn’t so romantic; it wasn’t so brief; it wasn’t light or pleasant or delightful, like swanning out from the mists of some sort of a dream—
It was a falling, a plummet, a dive, a cataclysm. Some part of me splintered; something broke; I sunk, I floundered, I drowned, Edward, in you, in the potential of it, in the enormity of the gap between what you are and what I could never hope to be. Slowly. Fighting all the while, swimming, striving, trying to be free of you—
Damn your eyes; damn your heart; damn the smile I never see anymore, the one you’ve locked up in a chest somewhere – the one you’ve interred; the one beneath the mud in the trenches in some nowhere-land you couldn’t tell of if you wanted to—
So I realized, slowly – not like a dream but the fog of a nightmare, parting in increments, dissolving, disintegrating; the spider’s web split one string at a time, and dropped me, and I fell down – I realized that there was nothing that I wouldn’t do.
I realized that it had never been about me, because it wasn’t me I wanted you for; it was the world. It’s the world that’s a richer place with you in it; it’s the world that needs you, merits you, loves you with more fervor than this scarred sinner could muster in a thousand years, and please don’t despise me for my sad old melodrama; I know it’s disgusting; I know it’s histrionic and pathetic and uncouth—
I’d burn this city to the ground for you, if you asked. The fucking country, if you whispered that you wanted it; I’d tear this universe apart for just a glimmer of your smile, oh, Ed, how dare you; how could you; how can you not know—?
I’d die for you. Isn’t that, as you would say, a bitch? I’ve never in my life—
Anything in my power is yours. I’m yours. Your eager slave; your willing supplicant, your abject devotee – anything you breathe of is yours if it could soothe you long enough for you to sleep the night—
One eye to touch you, both to hold you; it’s killing me to see you dying – and all the while you think you’re just a shadow, don’t you? The sun can’t see itself; how could you know—?
You used to have a conflagration at your core – is it even my fault, then, to be enraptured? Did I ever have a choice? Every passion that I’ve ever had; all the sorts of beauty that have ever stirred my soul—
Just let me lead you two steps further from that cliff face, and I swear to you I’ll let you go. No damned exchange; no obligations; you’d scan a kiss for fine print if it came from me, but I know you trusted, once; I know you sensed how deep it ran; I know you knew of something in between us, a spark, a shudder, lightning in the air – we couldn’t meet without combusting, and it’s so damn cold now, Edward; you are so damn cold, and all I want—
All I’ve wanted in so long I don’t know how to tell you what you mean—
Just one chance, Ed. Just one chance to coax you back into a world worth living in, if only for a moment, if only so you know that once you tire of me, there’s light out in it; there are reasons, still, to be.
Just one chance to prove to you that there is something left to live for.
For me, it’s you.
Did the place that tore you have a word for something more than love?
Tell me who you are, Ed, show me all the darkest corners and the deepest yawning caves; I’ll carry all your sins; I’ll live the horrors for you; let me take them, let me try—
All I want—
All I’ve wanted in so long that all I am is this, this wish, the gasp of hope that maybe you’ll believe—
Please just let me love you, Edward Elric, for a moment of this miserable life.
He sits back. His left hand’s fisted in his hair; his eyes feel heavy, gritty, stinging, old. That’s what he is, isn’t it? Old hat, old news, old dog.
Old hand, at this—at craving what he cannot, will not, could not have.
At yearning, and at giving up.
He sets his pen aside, extracts his fingers from his hair, and stacks the papers, tapping all their edges on the desk. He lays them down, dons his glove, and lifts them up to hold them by the bottom corner as he burns them all to dust.
He sweeps the remnants from the desktop, and the spill of ashes on the bottom of the wastebin sounds an awful lot like rain.