The day that Edward Elric was supposed to turn twenty-two years old the Amestrian military declared him legally dead. The tribunal rather forcefully closed the book on the Fullmetal Alchemist, despite the levied protests of a great many people, including the fabled prodigy’s younger brother and his own former superior officer. There was no evidence to present that the alchemist yet lived.
There was plenty to show that he had died.
Seven years ago Colonel Roy Mustang had found Alphonse Elric naked and unconscious, laying in the center of the most complex transmutation circle he had ever seen. There were circles and runes and symbols that even he did not easily recognize. At that time there had been no sign of Edward, or really that Edward had even been present at all. It was the first time that Roy had the chilling thought that he might never see Edward Elric again.
Two years ago, deep in the coldest reaches of the northern part of Amestris an abandoned set of automail was discovered. It was half-buried in the dirt and snow, badly rusted out. It was a full set, including the ports.
It was not a good find.
The only mitigating factor was that there was no body to go with the automail, nor any trace of one. Granted, the salvage crew had not dug for a body; but the automail was clearly already disconnected. There was no trace of organic decay on the ports. It had been cleanly severed. Because of that, it was not significant proof in any way - just another disappointing dead end for too many people.
Alphonse Elric searched for his brother tirelessly. He had grown, under Roy’s supervision, from a slight, weak boy of fifteen to a broad, solid man. He was taller than Roy, with serious eyes and a somber demeanor. His playfulness had disappeared with his brother; he was a man obsessed with chasing down a ghost.
Roy gave him what leads he could. There were not really any to be had, but he tried to help. It was painful to watch Alphonse slowly fall apart; his quest for his brother was far more destructive than the quest that the brothers had once undertaken together for salvation. This was not a journey that would end happily, even Roy knew that. But Alphonse was dogged in his pursuit, traveling the length and breadth of the land and even scouring the countries that bordered Amestris.
There was no trace of him to be had. It was simply as if Edward Elric had stopped existing. Roy tried not to think about what could have happened; if he focused on it too hard he would fall apart himself under the crushing guilt. He had led these boys down this path himself; Edward’s death and Alphonse’s obsession both weighed heavily on his shoulders. A more level-headed person might try to point out that Roy could not be held responsible for the choices anyone made, even under his command - but sadly sanity did not seem to be a prevailing emotion that anyone had when it came to the Elric brothers.
Despite his best intentions to bury the past, a small flicker of hope with golden eyes and a cocky smile stayed close to his heart. Life continued on without him.
Until the day came that Roy Mustang answered the annoying jangle of his desk phone to hear Alphonse Elric’s breathless voice on the other end uttering three words that Roy Mustang thought he would never hear.
"I found him."
Leaving on Red Hill
The snowstorm was not sudden, or entirely unexpected. Roy Mustang carried a rifle in his hands and a heavy knapsack full of supplies. He had been watching the cloud formation for hours, trying to keep an eye out for some sort of viable shelter where he could wait out the oncoming blizzard.
He had not slept in nearly two days, and that exhaustion was dragging on him even through the steady buzz of adrenaline. He had spent the last night huddled by a fire, his rifle held tight in numb fingers as the half-starved wolf pack circled just out of the reach of the firelight. They left in the early morning hours having never assaulted him, only keeping a silent watch - all the same Roy had not slept at all, and as soon as daylight hit Roy was on the move again.
This was a fool’s errand. He knew this, he knew it with every fiber of his being and yet he had agreed to retrace Alphonse’s footsteps for him and confirm what it was that Alphonse had seen. Deep in his heart, he needed to know the truth just as much as Alphonse did; Roy needed to lay this ghost to rest once and for all and move on with his life.
Alphonse had been resting up in a hospital in North City, his leg broken in two places and under the very stern watch of his childhood friend Winry Rockbell. He was not going anywhere for quite some time, this was a fact. However, he seemed self-satisfied, despite his lack of evidence. Alphonse had looked Roy dead in the eye and told him that his brother had rescued him. He said that Edward Elric - back from the dead - had sat by his side and protected him until the rescuers found him.
He had been climbing in the wilderness, looking again for some shred of evidence that Edward was still alive when Alphonse misstepped and took a nasty tumble down a cliff face. By all accounts the fall should have killed him, so being able to walk way, figuratively speaking, was tremendous.
The only issue with Alphonse’s story was that when the rescuers found him, they found no sign of Edward - just the usual tracks of wildlife in the area. There were no traces of any other human, aside from Alphonse.
Alphonse spoke passionately. He truly believed his brother had rescued him. Roy figured that perhaps he had hallucinated the whole ordeal, given the amount of trauma he had been through. Winry took Roy aside in the hallway, her blue eyes tired and looking far older than her years. She had pleaded with him to try to dissuade Alphonse from any further pursuit of his brother - Winry had already lost Edward, and she was terrifyingly close to losing Alphonse as well.
Roy made the younger Elric a bargain. He would retrace Alphonse’s steps for him - if Edward was out there, he was close at hand - and regardless of the outcome when Roy returned, Alphonse would give up on this quest that was destroying the life his brother fought to give him.
That was how Roy Mustang found himself in the wild winter north, retracing a path obscured by snow and trying to outrun a blizzard.
He was not successful. The blizzard hit in the middle of the afternoon, plunging the sparse forest into a wall of white. If Roy had any sense in his head he would not be out here in the first place, but his priority was getting out of the woods before he got too turned around, and finding a good place to shelter before he froze all the important bits off of his body.
The wind chill left him chattering. He needed to stop and build a fire - the cold and his exhaustion meant that if he slowed down for a second without a source of heat he would likely fall asleep and not wake up again. Just when Roy resolved to do that he spotted a clearing where the trees were bowed over slightly due the weight of the snow in their branches, providing meager shelter from the storm. He plunged ahead.
As he got to the small shelter, it became abundantly clear that Roy was not the only creature seeking sanctuary from the harsh winter weather as a large brown bear raised its head and stared at Roy.
It was hard to tell who was more surprised, Roy or the bear. A startled grizzly was a dangerous thing. Roy lifted his rifle as the bear roared, rearing back on its hind legs to show off its true fearsome height.
The rifle shot echoed throughout the forest, the sharp sound not lost in the winter weather. The bear staggered backwards as a spray of blood erupted from its head. Even now, in the cold and half-blind from the snow Roy had struck it in a vulnerable spot - but the bear remained on its feet, one eye gone and now madder than hell.
Desperately Roy fumbled at the pouch on his belt for another round of ammunition as the bear charged him. The cold had addled his brain completely because he remembered he was wearing his gloves at the last possible moment, and he raised his hand to snap.
His gloves were damp with snow, and he could not produce a flame.
Roy turned, protecting his head with his arms as the bear whipped its heavy, clawed paw at Roy. It caught the knapsack as Roy tuned and the material was heavy enough not to tear easily. Roy was slammed to the ground hard, the claws just grazing his right arm.
He was trying to get to his feet when a tawny brown blur shot past him and went for the beast’s throat. The bear roared in surprise, staggering backward as the wolf tore at him. Roy got to his hands and knees and searched blindly for the rifle he had lost when he was knocked down, but the snow made it nearly impossible to find.
The bear and the wolf vanished from his line of sight, obscured by the growing darkness and swirling snow. Roy could still hear them and he could not stay here, because the survivor was going to come back to finish the job that the bear started.
Roy’s right arm stung like hell. He covered his arm with his hand and it came away covered in blood. He did not even have the breath to swear. He could not leave the wound exposed to this cold. He slid his knapsack off of his shoulders and pulled the bandages from the side compartment. His hands shaking, he wrapped the gauze around his arm several times to try to stem the bleeding. He would deal with the rest later.
Shouldering his knapsack, Roy fell to his knees again. The exhaustion, the fatigue, and now the blood loss had taken its toll. Roy could not pass out here, he would die - regardless of which creature came back victorious.
The sound of crunching snow made Roy look up. Slowly the form of the tawny wolf emerged from the whiteness, limping slightly. Roy tensed as the wolf stopped and swung its head, looking at him critically. Roy had no rifle, his hatchet was hanging from the knapsack on the right side and with his injured arm he would not be able to get to it in time.
The wolf had no apparent designs on attacking him. Roy stared at it as it started to limp away, and then the creature paused and looked back at him. Roy stared, unsure of what the wolf was doing. It took a few more deliberate steps, and then stopped and looked back at Roy.
This was it, the cold and the sleep deprivation had driven him insane. Roy thought that the wolf wanted him to follow it.
He was as good as dead out here, anyway. Roy staggered to his feet and the wolf waited patiently as Roy lurched in his direction, one hand clasped tight over the bandages tied over his arm.
Roy Mustang followed the wolf into the blizzard.
There was something warm licking his face. Roy tried swatting the offending canine away - Riza really needed to stop bringing Black Hayate into work, honestly - and only at the pain and the onset of the cold did he remember that he was not catching a quick nap in the office.
Roy lifted his face from the snow. It was still snowing, but not nearly as hard as it had been. He felt stiff, horribly stiff and cold. The wolf cocked its head, sniffing at his face and Roy winced.
He did not know how long he had been out. His hands were numb - Roy pushed himself to his hands and knees and stared. The wolf stared back, intelligent golden eyes were watching him carefully - and Roy was hallucinating. He knew those eyes.
They were sloughing uphill. Roy staggered through the snow, most of his body numb as the limping wolf led the way. The cold was doing strange things to his mind, it was the only explanation. Familiar golden eyes, he had only see eyes that shade set in two faces in his life - but wolves usually had golden eyes, that really was not that unusual.
Suddenly, the wolf darted away faster than Roy could follow. He staggered forward and tripped in the snow, the weight of his knapsack bringing him down again. He fought to his feet and saw the wall of rock nearby, and the swallowing darkness.
Roy tore at the vegetation that covered the entrance and crawled inside. The opening was large enough he could stand and his head would not brush the ceiling, but it was so dark inside that there could have been a predator waiting for him and he would never have known it. It was warmer inside the cave, out of the biting wind that froze Roy to his very core. He huddled up against the sloping wall, wrapping his arms around himself and hoping that he could at least stop shaking long enough to build a fire.
He tilted his head back against the cold stone wall, arms clutched tight around himself and tried unsuccessfully to fight off the exhaustion that overwhelmed him.
Edward, in his bed.
Roy lay on his side, watching Edward’s bright golden eyes and smiling, stroking his fingers through the long, loose blond hair. Such a gorgeous creature - Edward smiling for him in a way he had never seen before, genuine and happy and free, his bare automail glinting in the sunlight streaming through the picture window in Roy’s bedroom.
Roy tangled his fingers with Edward’s false ones, content and happy. Edward laughed, his eyes mischievous, and rolled over. Roy went to follow, but the automail arm had gone limp, no longer glinting but rusted out and heavy across his chest. Roy did not want to look but he could not stop himself. The brilliant blond hair dulled and fallen out in clumps on the pillow, skin stretched tight over bone and eyeless sockets staring at nothing at all and Roy wrenched himself violently out of the nightmare before he could make himself sick again.
He came awake warm. Roy’s chest heaved, he could not move. The shadows on the ceiling kept moving and he watched them in a confused, feverish fascination. Roy turned his head and looked at the fire that he was stretched out beside. Had he built that? He had to have, he did not remember it but he was hurt, and possibly quite sick in the head.
There was warmth from the other side, too. Roy turned his head slowly, and was met with the startlingly, frighteningly intelligent golden eyes of the wolf.
Now that Roy was awake the wolf rose, drawing back and away as Roy lifted his arm, reaching for him. “Ed?” Roy asked, his voice harsh, but the wolf backed away, ears flat, before running past the fire and out into the snow and darkness beyond.
Roy let his arm drop across his stomach. The bandages made moving his right arm difficult, but they were tied tightly under his coat, not above it. Roy gripped his arm in one hand, trying to make sense of it all but instead falling back into a fitful - and thankfully dreamless - doze.
Two days passed. Roy ate his packaged food and sat huddled by the fire, changing his bandages as the occasion called for it. His wounds were not severe; they were fairly shallow, considering how lethal bear claws could be.
Roy did not have an infinite amount of rations, or of water. He had lost one canteen at some point, either when the bear struck him or on the trek to this cave. He had been fairly turned about in the woods, so there was no telling what direction they had come from. The snow did not stop until the second day, although it did not fall with the fury that it had during the zenith of the blizzard.
When the sun came up that second day Roy ventured outside for the first time since he had crawled into the cave barely alive. He needed more firewood and he had to carefully plow through the newly-settled snow to find cold, dry wood for his fire.
The snow was up to his knee in most places, in others, almost to his hip. The whole ordeal of gathering the firewood took him most of the daylight hours and several trips; by the time the sun had startd to set he was already completely exhausted by the task. Roy sat against one of the larger boulders in the cave and watched the flames dance.
The cave itself was small and cozy. There was evidence near the back that perhaps once a bear (or maybe a wolf) lived here; small animal bones left in clusters but no bedding or recent deposits of defecation. Even if another bear did happen along in search of shelter, having the fire built at the mouth of the cave would keep most predators at bay.
Another meal from a can. Roy was thinking wistfully of some whiskey when he spotted the movement outside the cave. He reached for his pistol, the holster retrieved from his knapsack and now kept by his side, since the rifle was long lost somewhere in the wilderness.
He caught the reflection of firelight in amber eyes - it was the wolf. “Ed?” Roy tried again, feeling hopelessly foolish. Men were not - could not - be wolves. Alphonse swore that his brother had protected him, and as much as Roy had started to doubt Alphonse’s sanity Roy knew that he was not the one who built this fire.
The form stepped slowly into the firelight, and Roy sat up sharply as Edward Elric appeared before him.
He was crouched low to the ground, completely naked. His blond hair ran in a tangled mess down his back, matted and snarled and his eyes were bright and locked on Roy’s. He was whole - two arms, two legs and yet there was no way that Roy could mistake this man for anyone else.
Roy’s mouth opened, and he started to get up. Edward’s face twisted into - not a frightened expression, not an angry one either, but some mixture of the two and he moved faster than Roy anticipated. He was gone out of the firelight so quickly that Roy could dismiss him completely as a hallucination. Roy moved to the edge of cave - with the storm cleared he could see down the slope of the hill - and watched the golden wolf flee into the tree line.
Roy gripped the rocks at the edge of the cave so tightly the jagged shale cut into his fingers. “Ed,” Roy said, as a wolf howled low and mournful in the distance.
Roy tossed the torn gloves down before him with a heavy sigh. He could not let this fire go out; he did have some matches in his survival gear but in his arrogance he relied on his alchemy far too much. He did not even have a lighter. And now his gloves were torn, straight across the transmutation circle. Why had he not brought a second pair?
Because, all of his spare gloves were with Lieutenant Hawkeye, back in Central City. He had not expected to leave from North City into the wilderness. Roy leaned back against the rock wall and rubbed his jaw with one hand.
The survival kit was very thorough. It had a small sewing kit included - and he might have been able to stitch the gloves back together, enough so that they would be usable - if his hands were not shaking from fatigue, and the cold.
Roy sat forward, his elbows on his knees and his hands in his hair. He had not been out here a week and he was already hallucinating. It had to have been a dream; Edward in the firelight, lithe and strong and an adult, his tangled blond hair flowing down his back like light running down the mountain. The wolf probably was not a hallucination, it was likely tracking Roy as an easy meal.
Something Roy had not yet lost was his pistol. He wore it now, and took the pistol from his holster. His hands might be shaking, but it was not enough to keep him from checking over the weapon and loading it with ammunition. If he had the gun out - he would probably still would have died, he had never seen a bear shake off a gunshot wound to the head. There was no use going over the “ifs” at this point. He holstered his sidearm and took a deep breath.
Roy lifted his head. Over the crackle and pop of the fire he heard a strange, unfamiliar noise. He got to his feet, slowly - he did everything slowly in this cold, his limbs existing in this strange perpetual numbness where he could feel them but not - and very carefully edged out of the cave, into the late afternoon light.
Standing at the very edge of the slope of the hill, where the jagged tree trunks jutted from the unbroken field of white, was the golden wolf. It was panting, breath steaming in the frigid winter air. Roy stared at the creature; its snout and chest were covered in fresh blood. The wolf did not appear to be hurt - and in fact, when it spotted Roy standing there Roy swore its tail wagged. Roy blinked in disbelief, and the wolf turned, powerful jaws closing on a stiff, straight leg.
The wolf was dragging the hindquarters of what looked to be a caribou through the snow, leaving a trail of blood and viscera. Roy had never seen anything like it.
The wolf bounded away when Roy got close. He did not seem angered at Roy’s approach, but just kept a fair distance between them. Roy crouched over the corpse - the viscera was still steaming, slightly. The wolf had brought him fresh meat.
Roy looked up to see the wolf standing amidst the trees, alert and watching him closely.
It couldn’t be….
“Ed….?” Roy asked, uncertainly.
The wolf’s tail twitched just slightly, and then it turned and vanished into the trees.
Edward came by every day after that to see Roy. At first, it was always in wolf form, the golden wolf lounging beside the fire; watching as Roy repaired his gear or cleaned and prepared the meat that Edward had brought him. His bright, golden eyes were so striking, and Roy realized that really, Edward’s eyes had not changed in the slightest.
Occasionally, Roy would glance over his shoulder to see Edward sitting huddled beside the fire, knees drawn to his chest and watching Roy with an intense expression on his face. He looked so different, and yet so very much the same. He was taller and leaner, with more scars that crossed his naked body but no automail to interrupt that tanned expanse of flesh. Edward Elric looked like a summer day caught in a bottle, and how he could sit naked and exposed when snowflakes blew in behind him Roy could not even begin to fathom.
Perhaps the most disconcerting thing was the silence. Edward never spoke, not once. He would cock his head, and if Roy was looking at him and asked a question, he would shake or nod his head. He made no noises other than those. It was disquieting, this silence from the one person Roy once wished would shut the hell up for five minutes and let him think.
Roy asked him questions, constantly. Edward never really responded to them, occasionally nodding or shaking his head but that was never really enough. Whenever Roy would ask what had happened, or who did this to him Edward would get an alarmed expression, and flee the cave in lupine form. Often he would stay gone for several hours, or lurk just outside the cave, in the cold snow. It was a frustrating, aggravating business - and Roy was still not entirely certain that he was not hallucinating Edward in the first place.
It had been a long seven years. The first few years had been the hardest; especially with Alphonse as incapacitated as he was. There was still hope then - maybe Edward had been hurt and had to heal, maybe he did something and thought he had to lie low until the trouble blew over - but then as the months stretched into years Roy had begun to come to grips with the thought that he might never see Edward Elric again.
Alphonse of course had taken it the hardest. His memories leading up to the transmutation were scattered. He could not remember, and that frustrated him to no end. Alphonse was certain that whatever had happened he was somehow at fault, and he had to know. He had to find out, he had to find concrete evidence that his brother was alive somewhere.
And now, Roy was looking at that solid evidence that Alphonse Elric had been searching for these past seven years. Edward was interested in everything that Roy had, but if Roy got too close Edward would run. He was far more skittish than even Roy would think to believe - if he dropped something unexpectedly Edward would be out of the cave and halfway down the slope. Roy would have to sit quietly until Edward slunk back up to the fire, his ears flat and his eyes wary.
The transition was breathtaking, and instantaneous. Roy had seen human chimera before, and when they changed their bodies distorted grossly, they became more and less human, more and less the animal. This was a seamless transformation. Edward went from wolf to human and back again in the blink of an eye. There was nothing human about the lupine form and it was almost as terrifying as it was strangely gorgeous.
He watched Edward run from the entrance of the cave, the wind rippling through his fur, all four paws leaving the ground as he bounded effortlessly down the slope of the hill. There was nothing unnatural about any of his movements. He was equal part wolf and human.
Roy swallowed hard, and wondered how he was going to coax this hybrid creature home.
Edward pawed through Roy’s knapsack while Roy ate the stew cooked from water and the remains of the tough caribou meat Edward had brought him. It was the third time he had gone through the knapsack in as many days, and Roy did not even know what he was looking for. There was no real way to ask that he would get an answer, either Edward would find what he was looking for or he would not. Roy watched silently as Edward shook Roy’s canteen and opened it.
“No matter how many times you smell it, the water still has not turned to vodka,” Roy commented, and Edward looked over at him and stuck out his tongue.
“I wish I knew what it was that you were looking for,” Roy sighed, stirring the stew with his utensil. “I spent the morning putting that back together, Ed.”
Edward stood suddenly, still holding the canteen. Roy was almost out of drinkable water, he had been using it sparingly and had been melting handfuls of the fresh snow to drink as well. Edward turned the canteen over and emptied it on the dirt floor. “Hey!” Roy said, standing up so quickly he spilled his stew. “That’s the last of my water!”
He moved to grab at Edward but that was a mistake. The golden wolf was out of the cave before Roy could even move away from the fire. Roy sighed deeply, staring at the stew that was rapidly congealing in the dirt. Looks like he was on a diet of melted snow from here on out.
Roy was in the process of constructing his nest of blankets beside the fire to sleep under when he saw movement outside of the cave. He paused, reaching for the gun that he kept close but then the golden wolf tentatively stuck his head inside the cave.
Edward had been gone for hours. He stepped hesitantly into the cave, past the fire and Roy saw the strap digging into his fur. Edward stopped just out of Roy’s reach, human again, and slipped the carrying strap of the canteen over his head, laying it on the dirt close to Roy and scooting back a little.
Roy looked from Edward to the canteen, and then he reached over and picked it up.
It was full.
Roy looked back to Edward, who was watching him warily. “Thank you,” Roy said. Edward grinned for him, and Roy smiled back.
“Alphonse misses you,” Roy said as he cleaned his gun. Edward was watching him with a veiled distrust, although that distrust did not override his interest in what Roy was doing. He sat an arm’s span away from Roy, head cocked and tangled hair spilling over his shoulders. “He misses you quite a lot, Ed.”
Roy glanced up to find that Edward was watching his face intently. There was a wistfulness lurking on the edge of his expression. “He has been looking for you for as long as he has been able to walk again. Did you know that, your transmutation worked?”
Edward nodded his head, his eyes going back down to the gun parts spread out between them, trying to figure out which one would be the next piece to go together.
“You did good,” Roy said softly, and Edward smiled but did not raise his head.
He had. It had been Roy, Riza and Jean who had found Alphonse, shivering naked and unconscious in the center of an enormous transmutation circle. The transmutation itself had wiped out some of the lines and runes, and an explosion had run along the far side of the building that had taken out a wall. That same explosion was what had led the three of them to the abandoned warehouse in the first place.
Alphonse had been perfect - very weak, of course, but completely intact. It was a risky, once-in-a-lifetime transmutation and Edward pulled it off as if it were nothing at all.
Or maybe, it was not nothing. Roy frowned. “Was it that - did that transmutation do this to you?”
Edward lifted his head to meet Roy’s eye, and after a long pause, shook his head negatively. Roy sighed out a breath in relief … but of course that still left what had happened to him.
“Have you seen him?” Roy asked, cleaning the barrel of the gun with a small brush. Edward nodded his head, grinning happily - and then Roy remembered Alphonse’s account of his rescue, that his brother had saved him … although the rescue party had seen no other human, they had not mentioned seeing a wolf. “Of course you have. You rescued him, didn’t you.” He smiled. “Like you rescued me.”
Edward nodded his head again and sighed exaggeratedly. Roy laughed at his heaving sigh and it startled Edward, he lifted his head sharply - but he did not run.
“It was Alphonse who sent me out here, you know,” Roy said. “I thought maybe he was hallucinating; that he had hit his head as well when he fell. He is very … passionate about his search for you.” Roy kept his eyes on his hands as he put the gun back together. “It consumes his life, Ed.”
When he glanced up, Edward’s shoulders had slumped and his head was lowered. He shook his head slightly, and then looked up at Roy and shook his head more forcefully.
“I know,” Roy said softly. “I have been trying to dissuade him, but you know how he is.” He smiled softly. “You two are so very much alike.”
Edward returned the smile brokenly and got to his feet. Roy watched him shufle away, moving to stand near the fire, at the entrance of the cave. Roy glanced down at the partially disassembled gun and then put it down, standing as well.
Roy expected Edward to turn and run like he had so many times before. He was so used to Edward fleeing that when he got within a hand’s span of him before Edward even looked up at him.
He was crying.
Roy was stricken. Edward’s eyes were wet, and the tears tracked down his face, but he made no sound as he cried. It hurt Roy physically to see Edward like this, to be in need of comfort and to be so close that he could smell the woodsy scent of Edward’s hair … and yet and still he did not dare to reach out and touch him lest he turn and flee again.
“Ed,” Roy said softly, and reached slowly forward. Edward did not move, his eyes on Roy’s face. “Ed, come back with me.” Edward shook his head hard, and Roy hesitated, his hand close enough to be hit by Edward’s hair as he flinched away.
“I will not make you do anything that you don’t want to do.” Gently, gently Roy laid his hand on Edward’s face, running his thumb under Edward’s eye to wipe away the tears. “I won’t. But everyone misses you, Ed - Alphonse needs you.” I need you. Roy swallowed again, and wet his cracked lips. The cold air did him no favors here.
Edward relaxed into his hand, his mouth opening just slightly. Still moving slowly, barely breathing, Roy framed Edward’s face with both of his hands. “Do you remember?” Roy asked, the breath catching in his throat.
It was a long shot. Seven - no, now it was eight years ago. Edward on the train platform, it had been almost two a.m. and Alphonse had done them the courtesy of ignoring them both. Edward had been shorter then, smaller, his hair combed into neat bangs and his usually bright golden eyes sleepy and sullen.
Still, sleepy and sullen and shamefully young (what had he been thinking, it would have been his career if they were caught, and what would have happened to Edward-?) and Edward leaned up into that kiss; woefully uneducated but curious. It was a promise of sorts, of things to come.
A promise that was never fulfilled.
Edward cocked his head in Roy’s hand, his mouth still open just slightly. Roy had never noticed how expressive Edward’s eyes were; he was usually too concentrated on the stream of profanity issuing forth from his mouth to really look at him. Edward’s tongue darted out and wet his lips and Roy had to swallow to keep from groaning.
The look in Edward’s eyes was almost sleepy. He let his eyes fall to half-mast, and tilted his head up in Roy’s hands, his mouth opening just a bit more.
This could not be happening. Roy’s mouth over Edward’s, his skin pale and cold and dirty in comparison to Edward’s sun-kissed tan. Edward could hold a tan even in the deep of winter, ever the child of a summer day. Roy tried his damnedest to keep the kiss slow and chaste, he wanted to drink in every aspect of Edward Elric and unlock that mysterious silence that plagued him.
It was Edward who deepened it, pursuing Roy’s tongue with his own. This time Roy did permit himself a low groan against Edward’s mouth and Edward responded in kind, the first actual noise that Roy had heard Edward make save some exaggerated sighs.
Roy broke off the kiss and Edward turned his head, his face flushed. He was panting, small little whining breaths as he stared at the rocks behind them both. Roy licked his lips slowly, studying Edward’s pink face in fascination. Gently, he settled his hands on Edward’s shoulders and Edward looked back up at him suddenly, tensing as if he was going to be struck. Roy lifted his hands instantly and after a moment Edward relaxed his shoulders, calming himself. Tentatively, Roy replaced his hands on Edward’s shoulders.
“You do remember,” Roy said softly, and Edward nodded his head. Roy sighed, relieved. He leaned his forehead in toward Edward’s, and Edward allowed their foreheads to touch. “I’m sorry,” Roy said, wanting to close his eyes and look away but knowing that he had to look at Edward, that he had to face him, and face this no matter what. Edward cocked his head slightly, his inquisitive look, and Roy smiled sadly. “I’m sorry I didn’t come to find you sooner. I’m sorry I gave up on you-”
Edward shook his head violently and Roy had to lift his own head away lest Edward accidentally butt him in his head. He did not look angry. Edward frowned and then placed one hand over his heart. Slowly, he put that same hand on Roy’s chest, over his heart.
Roy smiled helplessly, covering Edward’s hand on his chest with one of his own. At every unexpected touch Edward tensed, but he did not pull away, watching Roy with his wide, intelligent eyes. Roy drew Edward’s captured hand up to his mouth, and kissed it.
The flush that had built up at their kiss had dissipated somewhat by now. However this brought all the blood to Edward’s face anew. He flushed red and Roy smiled, kissing his palm this time, tracing his tongue along the line in his hand.
When he finally released Edward’s hand, Edward let it linger on Roy’s face. Roy settled his hand on Edward’s shoulder again and let Edward pull him slowly in for another kiss.
This one was hungrier. Edward was more demanding of him, combing his hand back into Roy’s dirty hair and gripping the back of his head, promising that he would not get free. Roy did not care to be trapped here by Edward, letting Edward’s tongue into his mouth, letting Edward dominate him.
Because it was Edward. It was really him, and that thought made Roy want to sob with relief. Seven years he had mourned and buried and tried to move on and he never could quite make himself believe that Edward was gone forever. And now here was the living, dynamic proof writhing under his hands, pressing his body up into Roy’s arms as he claimed his ownership of Roy Mustang’s mouth.
If he wanted any further proof of Edward’s feelings, it was pressing into Roy’s upper thigh, the whole length of him. Roy lifted his head finally. He had traced his hands down Edward’s sides, running his fingers lightly down the scarred, naked flesh. Edward had not balked at his touch this time - perhaps he was too intent on Roy to take exception to the way that he was being touched. Edward moved back a little and looked down between them, and then up to meet Roy’s eyes again.
Another invitation? This was moving so dizzyingly fast, from a week of disconnect to Edward being warm and whole and real under his hands. At Roy’s hesitation Edward closed the small distance between them, pressing his body into Roy’s arms and tucking his head under Roy’s chin before giving off a contented sigh.
Roy swallowed, sliding his hands over Edward’s hips to settled them comfortably on the small of Edward’s back. The words that he wanted to say burned in his throat and instead, Roy inhaled Edward’s scent and pressed a kiss to the crown of his head. “I’ve missed you,” he said, holding Edward tight in his arms, intent on never releasing him. “I’ve missed you so much.”
Edward left in the afternoon as he always did, loping down the slope, his golden fur somehow not standing out as much as Roy assumed it would in the snow. Roy’s arm was healed, there was no need for him to actually stay here any longer, but Edward did not seem interested in returning with him to civilization … and Roy did not know what to do about that.
He could not force him. Edward was wild and free and Roy would not be the one to put a collar around his neck and drag him back to Alphonse. For one, there was not telling what Edward was, any more. Edward could not tell him. A chimera was the most likely answer, and if Roy turned up with Edward-the-wolf-chimera in tow Edward would be taken away from him and shoved in a cage by the military, to be studied as if he were an animal and not a man.
It was the same fate that Roy had fought to keep from happening to the Elric brothers all those years ago. He would not expose them to that risk again.
He could not stay out here with Edward forever, though. He had survived so far sheerly by luck. Roy stirred the charred wood in his fire pit and laid several new, dried logs on top of the dying flame. He just couldn’t stay. He had a responsibility to those men in his command to return. He had a responsibility to the military. To his friends. To Alphonse.
What if he stayed?
It was a nefarious thought. He could easily build a small hut. A cabin. He could live with Edward in these woods, miles from civilization. The thought was far too appealing, and once it laid in his mind Roy knew it was going to fester. Protection against the elements. Creature comforts for himself. They would have to migrate, go further south or just plain elsewhere; the military knew that he went north and would look for him. They would be found in no time at all if they settled here.
Edward returned at dusk, carrying a large dead hare in his mouth. His golden fur was stained again with blood, and Roy rose to his feet as Edward deposited the hare on the ground before him. “Ed,” Roy said, his hand out to touch the back of the wolf’s head but he slunk back, out of range.
Roy sighed and looked at the dead hare. The blood had not come from it, its neck had been snapped cleanly. Edward only brought enough food for Roy.
He did not take human form, lying beside the fire and sleeping as Roy dressed the hare and set it to roast in the fire. Cautiously, Roy sat beside the sleeping wolf. Edward’s ears twitched, but he did not raise his head.
The wolf’s fur was rough. It looked much softer than it actually was, a coarse, heavy fur to keep him warm and protect him in this weather. Roy stroked the fur down his neck, and Edward sighed heavily.
“I have to go back,” Roy said. Edward’s ears twitched, and he lifted his head, familiar golden eyes set deep in a predator’s face. He flattened his ears and drew away from Roy. Roy raised his hand as Edward moved away from him. “I can’t stay here, Ed.”
Amazing that an entire conversation could be held in the way his head moved, ears twitching and eyes bright in the firelight. “I can’t, not yet. I’ll come back.” Roy watched as Edward lowered his head, losing his face over the fire that blazed before the entrance of the cave. “I’ll come back. We can be together. I want to help you.”
Edward moved back around the fire, and Roy held his hand out. Edward butted Roy’s hand with his head - and then the golden wolf became again a golden-eyed man. Edward crouched, the crown of his head pressed into Roy’s hand.
He looked so very sad. Roy could not fathom how long Edward had been alone out here in this wilderness, starved for human contact. He did not want to just leave him - but Roy could not abandon everything and everyone like that. “You could come with me,” he suggested again quietly. Edward shook his head sharply, and drew back away from Roy.
“I knew you would say that,” Roy said sadly, but smiled anyway.
Edward sat on the cold dirt floor beside Roy. He was leaned in against him, his head on Roy’s shoulder as Roy watched the fire. Roy did not know how much touch was permitted, but Edward did not balk or shy away when Roy put his arm over Edward’s shoulders, so there together they stayed.
Roy had made his mind up. He was going to leave in the morning. He would be able to find his way back to civilization from here. The only thing was, he did not know what he was going to tell Alphonse. That his big brother was a wolf, made feral by years of living in the wilderness? That made the least amount of sense out of any of the explanations he could think of. He was just going to have to tell Alphonse that he could not find any trace of Edward.
“Did you know that the military declared you legally dead last year?” Roy asked Edward suddenly. Edward lifted his head from Roy’s shoulder, shaking his head negatively. “Yeah,” Roy said, making his own amused noise. “Seven years you’ve been gone. They retired your name, there was a funeral and everything.”
It had been an utterly painful process to live through. Roy had not wanted to attend a funeral for someone that half of the attendees were not even certain of his death. Edward’s head was cocked, he was waiting for something more, but instead Roy ran his hand over Edward’s head and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “I’ve missed you so much,” he said again instead, brokenly.
Edward touched Roy’s face tentatively, the pads of his fingers rough. Roy let Edward guide his face until their mouths met again. This time there was a faint metallic tinge to Edward’s breath, and Roy realized after a moment’s confusion that he could taste the blood of Edward’s most recent kill.
The realization did not disturb him as much as he thought it would. Roy lifted his head and looked down at Edward. Edward was watching him closely, and Roy ran his fingers through Edward’s hair. Edward smiled for him, bumping their foreheads together and urging him closer so that they could kiss again.
Roy was not entirely sure how it happened. Edward was touching him and Roy was touching him back, gentle and tentative and then they were on the ground, Roy on top of Edward, the kiss having moved way past gentle.
Edward’s mouth was open as Roy nuzzled his throat, nipping Edward slightly. Edward was panting, his chest heaving under Roy’s hands. He tore helplessly at Roy’s clothing, so many layers to get through to find flesh. “Ed,” Roy said, and Edward stopped, his eyes going to Roy’s and his pupils dilated with lust. “Ed, we can’t-”
The fists in his clothing were strong, pulling Roy down on top of Edward completely, insisting that Roy kiss him again.
Roy tried to lever himself up but Edward switched to his arms around Roy’s back, pressing his hips up against Roy’s clothed body. He was so turned on Roy could feel him through two layers of pants, and it was almost impossible to ignore.
“Ed,” Roy gasped against his mouth. “I don’t have any - there’s nothing in my kit, we can’t-”
His clothing seemed to frustrated Edward the most. He growled, low in his throat as he finally found the flaps which Roy could use to relieve himself without have to fully undress.
The air was bitterly cold, even this close to the fire. He was turned on enough that it did not matter, and Roy hissed as Edward ran his rough fingers up and down his length.
It had been so long since someone had touched him there. Roy’s breath exited his body in a long groan and Edward grinned joyfully at him, pressing his knees against Roy’s sides and rolling them so that he was no longer under Roy.
They had never done this before. Roy could admit to himself now that he had desperately in love with Edward, as young as he really was, then - but he had been respectful. He had kept his distance. He might have succumbed to a forbidden kiss on a train station platform but he would never have touched Edward like this until Edward could fully understand what it meant.
Edward sat across his stomach, both hands on Roy’s chest. “I don’t want to hurt you,” Roy said, his thumb rubbing circles into the hard muscle of Edward’s thigh. “I don’t have anything we can use for lubrication Ed, I’m sorry-”
Edward let out a long, aggrieved noise. Roy laughed at how disgruntled Edward looked, sitting across him, naked as the day that he was born, the firelight casting his skin in a deep bronze tone. That expression made him look so much like the Edward of old it made Roy’s heart sing and ache all at once. “They don’t pack the survival kits with sexual activity in mind, I’m sorry.”
Roy sat up slowly, shifting Edward so that he was seated more on his lap than his stomach. Edward crossed his arms and honestly pouted at him, as if Roy was conspiring specifically to ruin his fun and not suffer along with him.
“If I had anything at all to use I would,” Roy said, rubbing his hand on the small of Edward’s back. “We can do other things - and when I come back I promise I’ll bring everything and we can do whatever you want-”
At the mention of Roy leaving again Edward lowered his head. His shoulders slumped and he sat back, not quite off of Roy’s lap but putting space between them once more.
“Hey,” Roy said, putting both of his hands on Edward’s arms. “I’ll come back for you, Ed. I promise.”
The distrust in Edward’s eyes at the worst struck Roy hard. He released Edward and Edward scrambled off his lap entirely, getting to his feet and turning his back on Roy. “Ed….”
Edward walked over to where Roy’s knapsack lay. Roy watched him, confused, as Edward proceeded to root through it, tossing supplies on the ground when they were not what he was looking for. “Ed,” Roy said again, as Edward came up with the metal collapsible cup that came with his canteen, and a pencil.
What was he doing? Roy watched as Edward poured water into the cup, and then dropped the small lead pencil into the water. He presented this to Roy like Roy had any idea what Edward was doing.
“I don’t… understand,” Roy looked from the cup in Edward’s hands, to Edward.
Edward rolled his eyes in an exaggerated gesture and set the cup on the ground. Then he pantomimed clapping his hands together and putting them on the cup, before looking back up at Roy expectantly.
The realization was sudden and heartbreaking. “You can’t use alchemy,” Roy said numbly.
When Edward looked up at him his expression was guarded. Roy swallowed and took the cup. “I can’t do that,” he said softly. “I need a transmutation circle, Ed.”
Edward sighed and then traced a circle in the dirt. Roy watched, slightly awed, as he sketched out a complicated, complete transmutation circle that Roy had never seen before. Roy placed the cup on the circle, and then put his fingers on the lines that Edward had created.
The cave lit blue for a moment as the transmutation circle that Edward had created transformed the carbon in the pencil into the water and to make a slick substance. Roy dipped his fingers in it and rubbed them together, it was slick and light, and it could definitely be used for the purpose Edward intended.
He looked up at Edward, who had sat down cross-legged on the floor, his gaze still fixed on the transmutation circle. His eyes were wt again, but he had bitten his lip. Edward caught Roy looking at him and turned his head furiously, scrubbing at his eyes with the back of one hand.
Roy touched Edward’s shoulder, and he looked to him. “I’m sorry,” Roy said. “I know how much alchemy means to you.”
Edward smiled, still a little brokenly, and then crawled into Roy’s lap, butting his head under Roy’s chin insistently. Roy leaned down into the desperate kiss, feeling a renewed surge of want. “All right,” Roy said against Edward’s insistent mouth. “Just, let me get a blanket first.”
Edward sat between Roy’s legs, chewing on his bottom lip as he watched Roy with impatient eyes. His legs were thrown over Roy’s and he was leaned back on one hand. It was too cold for Roy to want to get totally naked, even beside the fire - but that did not stop Edward from tugging insistently at his clothes and whining. Roy acquiesced by opening his shirts, letting Edward touch him. He shivered against the chill winter air but Edward put his mouth on Roy’s skin and it was tender and warm.
Roy had been so hesitant to touch Edward, until Edward grabbed his hand and yanked it to him. He pressed up into Roy’s touch, his eyes closing and his expression going lazy with want as Roy stroked. Edward’s skin was always so unfathomably warm. It was rough and textured and very scarred. He had heavy, dark scars where the automail ports once sat, and quite a few others as well. Roy rubbed his hand over a fearsome one on Edward’s right side, where it looked as though he had been gored.
“What has happened to you,” Roy whispered, and Edward’s eyes opened at his voice. He frowned a little, and then pressed his hips insistently back up into Roy’s hand. Roy smirked, and lowered his head and Edward made another new noise, a high whine.
It did not take much to coax Edward into his lap. Roy kissed him tenderly, and Edward fit them together, his hands steady. Roy did not know if he would have been able to do it without shaking, so he kept his own hands gripped tightly on Edward’s hips as he settled down slowly, until their bodies fit together snugly.
Edward’s eyes were closed and his face had twisted into a look of intense concentration. Roy put his hands on Edward’s face and he opened his eyes, their faces so close together that they shared their breath. “Okay?” Roy murmured.
Edward nodded his head, slowly, and then put his arms around Roy’s neck as Roy started to move.
Nothing in Roy’s life had ever felt quite so right. Edward fit to him perfectly, his ragged breaths in sync with Roy’s, his face pressed to the side of Roy’s throat, almost underneath the collar of his open shirt. His every breath seemed a symphony, and Edward made more noise on each exhale than Roy had heard him make since he first saw the golden wolf in the snow.
When Edward approached his climax, his fixed his mouth on Roy’s neck, his teeth unusually sharp. Roy gasped in pain and Edward was too wrapped in the throes of orgasm to respond or even lift his head from the bite wound he had just created. The pain flashed and receded, and Roy lifted Edward’s head himself, kissing Edward feverishly as he laid him back on the blanket, pressing his knees to his chest.
Edward’s mouth opened and he tilted his head back, eyes sliding closed as he surrendered to his pleasure again.
The flames burned low in the fire pit, the shadows moving across the caves’ wall like a moving puppet show. Roy lay on his side, with Edward curled in his arms - the weight of him real, and reassuring. They had both kept going well past the point of exhaustion, fueled on Roy’s side by a ragged desperation that he would not get this privilege again. When would he be able to return? The thought of leaving Edward behind out here, alone, terrified him. How would he find him again?
“I’m leaving tomorrow,” Roy told Edward, hand gently brushing the tangled hair back over Edward’s bronzed, muscled shoulder.
Edward’s eyes were sleepy. He ran his fingers down Roy’s face, and shook his head slowly. “I am sorry, love,” Roy said, capturing his hand and kissing it. “I have to. I will come back for you, I promise you that.”
Edward’s eyes were so expressive in the firelight. He watched as Roy kissed each finger in turn, their eyes only for the other. Roy felt caught, he could not fathom leaving here.
Roy winced a little as he shifted, the collar of his shirt dragging at the rough wound Edward had inflicted with his teeth. Edward caught the flash of discomfort on his face and looked puzzled, before he ran his hand down Roy’s neck and tugged at his collar.
“It’s all right,” Roy said, trying to remove Edward’s hand before he smudged dirt into the open wound. “It’s a flesh wound, it’ll heal, I’m fine.”
It was weird how concentrated Edward was on the wound, his eyes wide and almost horrified. Roy could not quite see it, perhaps it looked worse than it was but it was touching how Edward was so concerned that he hurt Roy. However, every time Edward touched the wound it sent tendrils of pain into his shoulder and he really wanted Edward to stop that. Finally, Roy caught Edward’s hand and brought it again to his face. “I’m fine,” he repeated.
He was fine. He was better than fine, even despite the exhaustion and the faint nausea that seemed to be building because of the pain, Roy felt spectacular. He wrapped his arms tightly around Edward, and Edward wrapped his arms around Roy as well. “I love you,” Roy murmured sleepily, wiping the tears from Edward’s eyes. “I love you so much, I am so glad I was able to find you.”
Edward nodded his head slowly, his smile strangely sad as Roy drifted off to sleep in his arms.
Roy’s dreams were violent. That was not entirely unusual, he had nightmares about the things that he had done, and the things he had forced others to do in his name with enough frequency that he could dismiss them as the cost of doing business. This dream, however, was not quite a dream and not quite a nightmare, treading the line of horror and death and hope and life. He was being chased, chased down through woods with twisted, blackened trees that stretched to a sky that he could never fully see. It was the bear, huge and eyes glowing red in the darkness - he was scrambling through the woods unevenly, wounded, never quite out of reach of the beast’s maw.
And then it was the military, the men like automatons, the blue uniform of the military as bright as a painted child’s toy soldier, rifles out as they marched in straight lines and firing upon him indiscriminately. He scrambled through the snow to avoid their bullets, the snow around him turning bright crimson with every impact.
Roy could not breathe, he was out of breath and rasping as he staggered. Each gasped breath was a stabbing pain through his chest, and he fell to his knees in the snow as he heard the military get closer, and closer yet.
He looked up, to see Edward sitting on his own gravestone, wearing the outfit Roy had last seen him in, red coat and black leather, grinning that cheeky smirk that only a fifteen-year-old could summon without shame. He had his legs splayed out, hands balanced between his legs on the smooth white reflective marble of his gravestone and he cocked his head at Roy like he could not understand what Roy was doing.
Roy looked back over his shoulder, saw the wolves circling along the tree line, their forms ambiguous but the hunched line of ragged fur unmistakable. Each had glowing, red, malevolent eyes.
Edward held out his hand to Roy.
Roy Mustang woke thirstier than he had ever been in his entire life. His mouth felt like the desert in Ishbal, full of sand and blood; his lips cracked and tongue dried out. He choked, and clawed feverishly until somehow water found its way to his mouth. The lip of his canteen was freezing cold, but Roy did not care, guzzling the water greedily until the canteen was pulled away and he whined with a desperation that stunned him.
The pain was lesser, now. He was not sure he was conscious of how much pain he was in, it felt like his entrails were on fire, trying to crawl their way out of his body as quickly and ruthlessly as possible. It had been worse in the night, he knew - Roy had strange, fevered memories of Edward holding him down, his expressive golden eyes wide and terrified as Roy thrashed against his hold.
He had never been sick like that before. Roy had been poisoned, he had been shot and hurt in countless ways, sick from bad food and bad water but all of it was nothing compared to this. The pain was still there, throbbing in his veins and in his temples, he hurt like he had never hurt before. It was too hot in this cave, and his breaths came in short panting bursts.
Edward’s fingers were cool on his face. He was stroking Roy’s bangs repetitively, Roy’s head propped in his lap. It was so warm, Roy could feel the warmth rolling off of Edward and the sweat running down his hairline. He squinted at Edward above him, and Edward smiled brokenly for him as Roy reached out, painfully slow, to touch his face.
“Ed,” Roy said, his voice hoarse from screaming.
Edward turned his face into Roy’s hand, closing his eyes. He looked sad, and Roy could not figure out why. It could not just be the fact that Roy planned to leave, that he intended to leave this fascinating chimera of a man behind despite his intentions to return? Roy did not want to see this mournful expression on Edward’s face, he hated to see him so sorrowful. Roy was struck suddenly with the desire to find out who had done this to Edward, who had changed him so drastically and so clearly against his will. Roy wanted to rip their guts out and decorate his office with their viscera. The fierce, casual violence of the thought did not even disturb him, he wanted to personally tear out someone’s throat.
The thought gave him some satisfaction. Roy smiled, the pain lessening already. Edward still ran his fingers through Roy’s matted bangs. “I’m sorry,” Edward said softly, brokenly. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t - I didn’t mean for this to happen, I didn’t know-”
Roy’s hand dropped in shock. He started to try to sit up, and was struck with a bout of painful nausea. He rolled onto his side instead, off of Edward’s lap, and threw up all the water he just drank until he was heaving bile onto the cold dirt floor.
Edward was crouched over him instantly, his hand on Roy’s shoulder, firm and calloused. “Easy, easy,” he said. “The nausea will pass.”
“You can talk,” Roy gasped between his retches. He had thrown up everything in his stomach, there was nothing left for him to vomit. Eventually his gorge would settle, it had to. “You can - why haven’t you-”
So many times, Edward cocking his head, gold hair settling along his face and shoulder, eyes so inquisitive and yet not a word spoken. Noises, sighs, a mysterious smile - and never a word. Roy did not lift his head as Edward sighed deeply again, his hand still on Roy’s shoulder. “Of course I can talk,” he said. His voice was subdued. “I’ve been able to talk this whole time, but - but no matter how I spoke you couldn’t hear me.” Roy could almost hear the wry smile in Edward’s voice, and he curled his fist in the dirt of the cave’s floor, resting his forehead on his knuckles and breathing shallowly.
Edward lifted his hand from Roy’s shoulder, and Roy slowly lifted his head. He felt exhausted, an exhaustion that settled deep in his bones. The fire was burning low in the fire pit but its warmth gave Roy no solace, instead he felt overheated, overly constrained by the layers of clothes he wore. He groaned, a little, as Edward spoke again. “Come with me, Roy.”
He was out of supplies, completely out. He had to go back to civilization, he had to go back - but the words Edward said seemed to paint a different picture in his mind. Four words, and they spoke of unexplored forests and valleys, lakes lost between the mountains in a sea of pines, meadows full of wild flowers and full of caribou.
Roy wanted to go.
“I’m too weak, Ed, I just - I can’t-”
He felt different. The pain in his body was fading, slowly, replaced by a strange warmth in his limbs that he had never felt before. Roy knew logically that it was bitterly cold outside, he could smell the fresh snow from here but it did not feel like the frigid winter air he had protected against for so long. “I was weak,” Edward said, brushing Roy’s hair back over his ear and drawing his face up so he could look into Roy’s eyes. “At first.”
Roy was hungry. Edward got up slowly, shifting from a crouch effortlessly and Roy watched him move in the sunlight that reflected off of the fresh snow. The sunlight ran off his skin like liquid gold. Roy cocked his head, the first stirrings already in his chest.
Edward stood at the entrance of the cave, where melted snow turned the dirt to mud. He looked out on the slope of the hill that ran to the forest, and Roy knew he meant to leave. He was not going to return to this place, and he was going to leave Roy behind forever. “Ed,” Roy said hoarsely, panicked. “Don’t leave me, don’t leave me here alone.”
“Come with me,” Edward repeated. Roy pushed his arms underneath himself, limbs as unsteady as a newborn foal’s. The dizziness was fading, but the weakness was clinging to him, restricting like the layers of winter gear. Edward watched him over his shoulder. “We’re going for a run,” he told Roy, as if Roy was going to be able to stand of his own volition, never mind move quickly.
Roy almost laughed, his voice going hoarse. “Run,” he said sarcastically. “I can’t even get to my feet, Ed-” he pulled at the collar of his jacket, agitated, feeling choked by the restrictive material. “I can’t breathe-”
Edward watched silently as Roy tore his clothing off, nearly strangling himself in his shirt and tripping over his pants, leaving them in a discarded pile beside the fire. Crouched naked in the dirt Roy panted, feeling vulnerable and free. He staggered to feet, and Edward did not move when Roy put his arms around his shoulders, fitting their naked bodies together in the cold winter sunlight.
Finally, Edward smiled.
The transition was as natural as breathing. The pain had moved to a dull throb and barely even registered. Roy paused on the threshold of the cave, as Edward trotted out into the snow ahead of him. Edward stopped and half turned, his ears back, and waited expectantly.
The sleek black wolf stepped tentatively out into the sunlight.
“I think I found something,” Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye’s voice cut across the field, as clear as if she had been standing at his shoulder. Alphonse Elric lifted his head from where he was looking at some deep gouges in the dirt at the base of a tree. He put both of his hands on his knees and rose from his crouched position, wincing only slightly at the pain that twinged through his leg.
The doctors had been duly impressed at how tenacious Alphonse had been in his physical therapy. In the south it was summer already - Alphonse had sat quietly and waited for word that he knew would never arrive. This far north, now, the major thaw was just truly gaining ground. There was more greenery than snow, and it was not so bitterly cold that the two of them would have to worry about freezing to death in the night.
Alphonse had regretted sending the Colonel after his brother for months after the man’s disappearance. Mustang had been reluctant to set out, but he also had voluntarily taken the journey in the hopes to permanently settle Alphonse’s mind. There were any number of things that could have happened to the man in the great white north. He was older than Alphonse, and Alphonse had a hard enough time out here in the deep of winter by himself. Mustang could have fallen prey to predators starved by the bleakness of winter, or worse - died alone of exposure.
It was almost too much for Alphonse to bear. He had lost his brother and now, he was responsible for sending another man to his death. The only person who should have to suffer for this was Alphonse himself, and despite the pleading of Winry Rockbell, Alphonse made his way to the train station to once again search the Northern territory by himself. To his surprise, waiting for him there was Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye. Her eyes were hard and her face lined with the weight of her grief, and Alphonse was reluctant to accept her help. He did not want anyone else on his conscience.
The Amestrian military, and more specifically several generals had almost tripped over themselves in their rush to write Roy Mustang off as a soldier gone AWOL. It was no secret that Roy was not particularly liked, but the blatant disregard of military protocol in even summoning a search and rescue team was galling. It was up to those who knew him, off the clock, to do their own investigation. That was what led Riza to Alphonse, as one of the last people to see Roy Mustang alive before he set off on his journey into the wilderness.
Riza was crouched in front of a pile of fallen rocks near the sheer cliff face. Her gaze was intent not on the rubble itself, but on the ground it crushed. “It looks as though there was a fire pit here,” she said, as Alphonse drew closer. She nodded to the rock face, masked by the significant crush of rubble. “There was a cave here once, it’s possible that someone stayed here.”
“Do you think that maybe Colonel Mustang was trapped by a cave-in?” Alphonse asked.
Riza’s face had sealed into a stone mask, not unlike the wall of rock they stood before. “There is only one way to be truly certain,” she said.
Alphonse withdrew a piece of chalk from the pouch he wore on his belt and stepped past her, sketching a small transmutation circle on the rock face. It was a simple transmutation to move the rubble and shore up the sides of the cave itself so that they did not have to worry about sealing themselves in their own makeshift tomb.
As light hit the interior of the cave for the first time in months, Riza’s shoulders fell. The light revealed a pile of clothing and the familiar, military-issue knapsack that they both wore. Alphonse swallowed and put his hand on Riza’s shoulder, unsure of how to comfort her.
Riza took a great, deep breath and then stood. She shook a little, but her face was emotionless. “We have to identify the body,” Riza Hawkeye said, ever the professional soldier. Alphonse nodded his head and together they entered the cave.
Despite her insistence that she was fine, Alphonse was not going to make her touch the body. He approached the pile of mouldering clothing carefully, and then paused in confusion. He crouched, picking up a piece of clothing with a strange expression on his face. Riza immediately keyed in on the unexpected emotion. “What is it?”
“There’s … not a body here,” Alphonse said, stirring the clothing with his hand. “These clothes - they’re not laid out like a body was ever in them, just piled like someone was getting changed.” He lifted his head and looked at her. “What does that mean?”
She shook her head, just as confused by that as he was.
A quick assessment of the clothing and knapsack confirmed that the equipment was Roy Mustang’s. However, there was no body. “This cave doesn’t feed into any others?” Alphonse called as Riza walked deeper into it. Her lamp cast shadows on the far wall.
“I don’t see any passages,” she said, turning around. “There’s nothing here.”
“If he did die in here, there would be something left,” Alphonse said, sitting beside the pile of clothing. “It has not even been a year, a body doesn’t just naturally decay that quickly. In fact, given the weather here a body left unattended is more likely to be mummified if it was not scavenged.”
Riza stood behind him, staring down at the clothes left behind. “And there would be evidence if scavengers did take the body,” Riza agreed.
“This does not make any sense,” Alphonse said, feeling the exhaustion weigh in his bones. This was like with his brother all over again … except Edward did not even have the courtesy to leave them clothes behind to find. Edward had just walked away from the warehouse and disappeared completely. Alphonse stirred Roy’s abandoned clothes again, and felt the stiffness in one pocket. He retrieved Roy Mustang’s wallet, and opened it.
Just his identification and some cenz. There was the faded corner of a photograph sticking out from behind some of the money, and Alphonse pulled the picture out carefully. It was a picture of his brother from years ago, clipped from a newspaper chronicling one of their now-forgotten exploits. Alphonse smiled fondly, and restored the picture to Roy’s wallet.
Riza sorted through the supplies - most were useless, the weight and decay of months abandoned meant that they ultimately left Roy’s knapsack in the cave where they had found it. Alphonse and Riza stared into the cave silently for a long moment, before Alphonse undid the transmutation that opened the buried cave to the world above.
They stood before the closed cave in silence. It felt like a grave site, and Alphonse wondered if perhaps he should say something. He had never truly known the relationship between the Lieutenant and the Colonel - even as children it had been obvious to him that there was something there, just beyond the surface - but whatever they had, they kept it private. Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye was an intensely private person, and it was not Alphonse’s place to say anything. After that long moment, she turned away from the cave, shouldering her own knapsack. Their journey was over; whatever happened in this cave Roy Mustang was as good as dead this far from civilization without his supplies. It was time to report their findings and close the book on this, once and for all.
And then, Riza moved suddenly. She whipped around, the rifle she had slung over her shoulder in her arms and pointed not at Alphonse but up the rock wall. Alphonse turned just as quickly, to see what she had targeted.
It was a wolf.
They had not seen much by way of predators on their journey - it was spring, and prey was once again abundant. Humans had weapons to defend them from packs of wolves and large and violent bears, and the animals were not driven to desperation by starvation through the isolated winter months. This was the first wolf Alphonse had seen this particular venture - and it was a unique one. This wolf’s fur was as black as night, absorbing the sunlight as if it were a liquid shadow. It cocked its head, watching them intently, the sights on Riza’s rifle were centered squarely on its head.
The wolf had deeply unusual eyes, colored a striking blue, set deep in its dark fur. Alphonse sensed no threat, this wolf was not hungry and stalking them, just curious as to the humans that set foot in its territory. He touched Riza’s arm gently. “Don’t,” he said softly. “We’re not in any danger, leave him be.”
She exhaled, and after a moment took her finger off the trigger, and then lowering the rifle. Alphonse sighed in relief, and glanced back to the curious dark wolf. The underbrush around the wolf rustled, and a smaller, tawny gold wolf slunk out into the sunlight as well. Alphonse’s breath caught in his throat as he met the wolf’s familiar golden eyes.
That wolf had the same eyes as the who had led the rescuers to him in his delirium. Unexpectedly, Alphonse felt as if a great weight had been lifted off of his heart. It was staggering, how free he suddenly felt. Alphonse smiled shakily as the dark wolf slid into the underbrush and vanished. The golden wolf hesitated for only a moment, eyes still locked with Alphonse’s, before following his companion.
Alphonse Elric swallowed hard, his smile complete for the first time in almost eight years. It hurt, but he was finally, and truly, free.
Is there a place that ends with me
somewhere that I belong
Or have I always lived this way?