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The Fine Art of Falling

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Why the hell is it called Heathrow, anyway?  Was there a row of heaths here once upon a pre-urban-development time?  What the hell is a heath?  Other than the first half of a name for douchenozzles like Heathcliff or whatever, but that crap book wasn’t set on heaths; it was moors.  And it wasn’t even about the moors; it was about dumbasses acting dumb about dumb shit.  For, like, six-hundred pages.  And whatever.

Point is, Ed hates airports.

The customs line looks like it’ll take about six years, give or take a month or two.  The hotel is going to wonder what happened to him.  He turns his phone back on.  Fuck international roaming; he’s about to die of starvation waiting to get a goddamn stamp on his passport; this is important.

hey do you think I can sue the airline for the fact that your sweatshirt now smells like plane instead of like you

…aw, shit.  He forgot to think about time zones.  What time is it over there, back in the magical land of where-he-fucking-wants-to-be?  It can’t be too late; his flight left at eight forty-something, and it was twelve and a half hours plus a one-hour layover in New York, and that adds up to… some shit.  How’d he get so damn fuzzy?  He can’t do math?  It’s a good thing he’s going to starve to death in this badly-partitioned line; he doesn’t deserve to live anymore if he can’t add.

I’m afraid that would be a rather tenuous case, Roy texts back, pretty much instantly.  It must not have woken him up; when he’s half-asleep he usually typos like a motherfucker.  But you’re there?  Safe, sound, and royally pissed off?

There are still sixteen people in line in front of him, waiting to be directed towards the giant plastic box with the next available customs officer inside.  Ed kind of wonders if those guys dream about being trapped in hourglasses.

royally is right.  ROYally hahaha no but for real I’m going to go to the queen and tell her that her airlines are shit and I should be compensated for my suffering

Ten more people are standing in front of him, shifting their weight and sighing loudly, when Roy texts back.

Perhaps she will offer you a corgi in recompense.

Ed pushes his hair back.  It feels like greasy limp cloth in his face, and his skin feels like dead people.

can she knight me if I’m not a subject of England?  I’d be down.  AGAIN with the dog thing, am I going to come home and find the place stuffed full of canines or what?  also why should I be getting a corgi?  are you trying to imply something about me needing a dog that is low to the ground?  ARE YOU, MUSTANG??

Five more people.

I assure you my intentions were entirely innocent; the corgi is an extremely noble dog!  And they have wonderful personalities.  And I may or may not be wishing I had a warm body to huddle up with, whether or not it would shed enough to knit a fur coat from.

Two people.

eugh shit gotta go but I’ll skype you from the hotel later okay I love you don’t get a dog

He shoves the phone back in his pocket, hoists his laptop bag a little higher on his shoulder, takes a deep breath, and follows the traffic-controller-guy’s extended arm over towards a giant plastic box off to the left.

The girl smiles at him as he comes up to the counter—sort of a weary, forced-politeness kind of smile, but after thirteen hours of recycled plane air and plastic “food” and misery, it’s meaningful all the same.

“See your passport?” she asks in an accent that BBC TV has taught Ed is more Northern than London-ish.  “How long are you planning to be in the country, then?”

“Eight days,” Ed says.  She’s staring at his passport with a startled sort of expression.  Shit.  “Uh—everything—okay?”

“Oh,” she says.  “Yes, I—yes.  Do you have your customs form from the plane?”  The flight attendants flung handfuls of cardstock at them; he jammed his into the pocket of his laptop bag after he scribbled all over it.  He tries to focus on drawing it out without ripping it in half, even though he’s getting weird-vibe alarm bells from her sudden shift in demeanor.  “Any food or prohibited items?”

“No,” he says, which is more convincing than Uh, don’t think so; define ‘prohibited’.

“Right,” she says, stamping his passport.  “You… you’re Edward Elric.”

He blinks at her.  Blinking does not suddenly illuminate this situation.  Damn.  He’d held out hope.  “Last time I checked…”

“The cancer guy,” she says.

He blinks again.  “I—guess?”

She bites her lip on a grin, fiddling with papers.  “I—sorry, I’m sorry; it’s only—” She clears her throat, ducks under the counter, rummages for something, and comes up with…

A copy of the issue of The Times from the day after he won the Nobel.

She flips through the pages, cheeks reddening.  “I—I was sitting for oncology at uni, only—well, anyway, the work you’ve done, it’s… I’m such a bother; you don’t have time to sign this silly… I’m so sorry, I—”

“Don’t be sorry,” he says, because it’s what Roy would say, even though what he’s thinking is more along the lines of What the actual fuck is going on.  “I thought you were gonna ban me from the country or something.”  He grins at her, and she musters a sheepish grin back, and he takes up the pen on the counter and scribbles his name underneath the photo of him looking stupid and sleep-deprived at the press conference.  “Hey, I’m doing a couple of talks this week.  Most of ’em are open invitation; you should come.”

She looks at him like he’s some kind of hero, and it makes him blush to the roots of his hair.

It also makes him feel like a million bucks, and like all of the bullshit he’s crawled through and clambered over to get here was totally, one-hundred-percent worth it.

So that’s cool.

Ed was vaguely aware of a very persistent warmth against the back of his neck.  He wasn’t sure whether to wriggle towards it or away from it and ended up just sort of… writhing in place.

“Good morning,” Roy murmured into his skin.

“Nngh,” Ed said.

“Breakfast?” Roy asked.

“Nngh,” Ed said.

Roy lifted his ponytail out of the way and kissed along his hairline.  “I can’t tell if that’s positive or negative.”

Ed tried valiantly to shake himself awake.  “You said bacon.”

“I did,” Roy said.

“Bacon is always positive,” Ed said.

He could feel Roy grinning against the nape of his neck.  “That’s good to know.”

“Nngh,” Ed said.  He rolled to what felt like the edge of the mattress and tried to put a foot down.  “Coffee.”

“I don’t have any,” Roy said.

Abject terror froze every drop of blood in Ed’s veins.  His eyelids lifted, and he stared.

Roy had the grace to look slightly sheepish.  “I told you, the coffee pot’s in the office.  I have a tendency to go in and try to get some work done on weekends anyway; and if not, I’ll swing by the shop for something; and if all of that’s too onerous—why did you think I have so much tea?”

Ed kept staring.  Maybe this was a dream.  Maybe this was a horrible dream.

“I’ll make you some ceylon,” Roy said.  “It’s excellent; you’ll like it.  Would you blink?  You’re scaring me.”

Ed continued staring as Roy slid to the edge of the bed, stood, and stretched.  He was still really hot.  Even though he was apparently the biggest caffeine-deprivation masochist Ed had ever met.  Ed cleared his throat.  “I’m not a person without coffee.”

“That’s obviously not true,” Roy said.  He came around the foot of the bed to Ed’s side and offered both hands.  “Come on.  Bacon awaits.”

The man made a convincing argument.  Which Ed supposed was probably good, given, y’know, lawyer and all.  Maybe if he consumed enough bacon, he could enter a state of bacon nirvana and forget about the obscene lack of coffee in this situation.

Figuring he’d never find out if he didn’t drag his ass out of the bed, Ed shifted to take Roy’s hands and… stopped, as several nerves flared furiously to register their displeasure.

“Ow,” Ed said.  It made sense, given the circumstances.  “I’m sore as shit.”

Roy winced heavily.  “I’m—so sorry; I was tryi—”

“Not just from the sex,” Ed said—maybe a little bit hastily, but Roy was making a face like he was the one in pain, and—and what an asshole.  How dare he care that much.  “Mostly—my arm’s all jacked; it’s like, ‘What the hell were you doing yesterday?’  It just happens.  It’s no big deal.”

Ed stood up and massaged at the join of his shoulder with his thumb for a second, even though that never really helped that much.  He’d just realized—way, way too late—that the worst impact on the shoulder nerve hadn’t been getting fucked for, like, two hours; his muscles had been relaxed during all of that, and it had ached a little when he leaned on it, but not too bad.

The worst was from Roy waking up in the middle of the night and pinning him to the bed trying to protect him from… what?  What had Roy’s brain seen fit to unleash on him right then?

Based on what had been said in the middle of that—and the delicate conversations about that Hughes guy—Ed was betting that most of Roy’s war memories were tangled up in guilt and trauma and more guilt.  If he came out with Hey, just by the way, your fucked-up PTSD nightmare put me in a world of pain, he’d be adding to that.  He’d be making it worse.

He didn’t want to ruin this.  He didn’t want to ruin this morning, this moment, this day.

“It’s okay,” he said, trying to roll his shoulder slowly.  “It’s not too bad; it just—startled me for a second.  And—” The blood rushing to his face was nice insofar as it was distracting, at least.  “It… has… been… a while.  As far as.  The sex.”

Roy leaned in, brushed his stupidly sleep-mussy bangs back, and kissed him, softly.  Somehow there was no morning breath involved.  This guy was a walking miracle.

“I’m sorry,” Roy said, meeting his eyes, after a long moment of gorgeous-gentle making out.  “I hate for you to be hurting; I really do.”

Ed found a broad grin for him.  “I figure I just need more practice,” he said.

The mischievous gleam crept back into Roy’s eyes, and Ed was so goddamn happy, and so goddamn relieved.

“I think that can be arranged,” Roy said.

“Bacon first,” Ed said.

Roy swept across the room to the closet and returned to offer him a decadently cushy-looking robe.  “But of course.”

On Monday morning, at seven fifty-two, Russell watched Roy’s hand brush Ed’s over a coffee cup, waited for Roy to stride out the front door, and then said, “You didn’t flinch.”

Ed said, “What?”, which was more work-appropriate than “The ever-loving fuck are you on about, Tringham?”

“Usually you don’t let people touch you,” Russell said, so matter-of-factly Ed couldn’t make his mouth form words to ask when the hell he’d started observing Ed’s habits like a fucking nature documentarist.  “And when it happens on accident, you flinch.”  He narrowed his eyes—presumably both at once; you could only ever see one at a time around his stupid hair.  “Are you sleeping with him?”

Ed’s stomach bottomed out, and his mouth sealed itself shut like an oyster under attack.

Russell’s suspicion deepened into a scowl.  “He’s a customer.”

“So is your fucking dealer,” Ed said.  Fancy that; he’d found his voice.

“That’s differe—”

“No, it’s not!”  Ed realized he was taking a deep breath to start shouting and lowered his voice to a hiss.  “Think about it, dipshit—it’s probably good for business, because he’ll come in more often.  And if we—” Perish the thought; murder the thought; the thought should die in a fire unmourned.  “—break up or some shit, then—he’ll probably still come, just at a time I’m not here.  I’m not jeopardizing the magnificent profit we make off of his three dollars a day.”

Russell paused to eye him a little more.  “You didn’t answer the original question.”

“That’s because it’s none of your fucking beeswax,” Ed said.  “And it never will be.”

Russell glowered.  “What goes on in this shop is—”

“Still none of your fucking beeswax,” Ed said.  “Unless you got promoted to assistant manager overnight, which—gee, I think you would’ve mentioned, since you’re a supercilious prick.”

Russell had never looked capable of strangling someone before, let alone like he was seriously considering it.  “I’m going to assume from the defensiveness that I’m right.”

“You do that,” Ed said, and stomped off to go wash the goddamn shit out of some dishes.

He wasn’t even sure why he was so pissed off about it—something about Russell rubbed him the wrong way every time, like petting a cat backwards, and it made him want to claw for the eyes.  This whole thing was just so new and so delicate and so precious that the thought of a douchebag like Russell Tringham questioning him and needling him and prying into it until he started to doubt… and if something did go wrong, Russell’d be on it like a coyote on roadkill, savoring the blood between his teeth.  It would’ve been a thousand times better just to keep the fucker out of it completely.

Too late, though.  Somehow, in Ed’s life, it was always a little bit too late.

On Wednesday morning, at seven fifty-three, Rosé watched as Roy leaned in over the counter and murmured “We never did get around to watching Amélie—how does Friday look for you?”, waited for him to saunter out the front door, and then grabbed Ed’s left arm in a vise-grip and stifled a squeak.

“You guys are so cute!” she said.

Ed wasn’t entirely sure whether that was better or worse than Russell’s asshole judgment.

On Friday morning, at seven fifty-one, Marta watched as Roy did nothing more suggestive than hold eye contact with Ed for maybe a second and a half longer than was necessary to thank him for the coffee cup.  By sheer force of will, Ed kept the flood of heat to his cheeks to a minimum, and then he busied himself putting away the syrups that had gathered, most likely with the intent of conspiracy, on the other countertop.

The door shut behind Roy, not that Ed was listening for it over the simultaneous pounding and singing of his own heart, and then Marta made a “huh” sort of noise.

“You could do worse,” she said.  “As far as guys go, I mean.  You could do a lot worse.”

So much for his face not being on fire.

“…thanks?” Ed said.

The movie was really good, although Ed was sort of torn about the whole thing, because he couldn’t focus on the subtitled script and the cinematography at the same time, and both of them kind of deserved his full attention.

What was even better was watching said good movie over some kind of curry chicken thing Roy had whipped up like it was no big deal; and what was even better than that was catching his collar in one hand while cute accordion music cued the credit roll and dragging him in to kiss him.

And it was—what, four weeks since they’d met, three since they’d first made out, one since they’d had by far the most enjoyable sex of Ed’s life?  And Roy still looked at him like he was extraordinary, still kissed him like it was a privilege, still touched him like he was liable to disappear.

He just never wanted this to change.  He never wanted it to end.  He never wanted Roy’s fingertips to stop dragging down his chest, Roy’s soft mouth to stop dappling on his throat, Roy’s warm weight to stop pressing in against him as he leaned into the couch—he just never wanted this to be less special; he never wanted all the sparks of joy and spikes of searing hot adrenaline to fade away—he never wanted it to get old; he never wanted it to get boring; he never wanted it to go sour—

Things did; things always did; entropy was as much a universal law as the gravity that had set him falling.  But he couldn’t think like that.  Not now, not yet.  Roy deserved the best of him, for as long as he could give it; Roy deserved optimism, and positivity, and hope.  A part of him—a big-ass, weighty, powerful part—already trusted Roy implicitly.  A part of him really believed in this.  He just had to keep hold of that.

Step one of that plan was shutting up his stupid fucking panicky brain and just savoring another opportunity for making out with Roy.  The plan itself might have been daunting and far-fetched, but step one sounded pretty great.

Ed tried to drop back against the couch, but Roy slipped a hand under his back, caught him, and lowered him gently, giving him a warning look.  It took Ed a second to realize that Roy was trying to prevent him from tweaking his shoulder, and that—


Something he couldn’t think about right now.

So he barreled past it and grabbed Roy’s lapels, which gave him the perfect leverage to haul the man down and kiss him with gusto, and also with tongue.

“This is a nice couch,” he said when they broke apart to gasp for air.

“It’s nicer with you on it,” Roy said, mouth ghosting up the side of his neck.

“Those are nice clothes,” Ed said, trying not to squirm at the tickle of Roy kissing underneath his ear.  “Be nicer with you out of ’em.”

“That,” Roy said, straddling his waist and sitting up, stretching so that his slightly cuddle-wrinkled shirt hitched up, setting Ed’s mouth to watering at a mere glimpse of abdomen, “is a scientific theory I would greatly like to test.”

“Not a theory,” Ed said, unbuttoning from the bottom while Roy started at the top; you had to be efficient about this shit.  “Fact.  Fact.  I’ve got evidence.”

“Do you,” Roy said.  He shrugged the shirt off so slowly it was practically pornographic, and—

“Now I’ve got more,” Ed said, arching up to spread both hands on his gorgeous fucking sides, applying lips and tongue to his gorgeous fucking ribs—

Something was buzzing, very insistently, on the coffee table.

Ed tried to get his hazy eyes to focus.  The buzzing object appeared to be his phone.

He shifted to sit a little higher, trying to see the screen.  It proudly bore the two most important letters in the entire world, and a picture of Al laughing and trying to duck away before Ed could immortalize him having caramel all over his face from the apple he’d bought at the Boardwalk.

“Son of a bitch,” Ed said.  He paused.  “In general, I mean, not—Al.”

Roy reached out and caught up the phone, and for a heart-stopping second, Ed expected him to turn it off and toss it somewhere, because how dare his brother interrupt them, right?

Except Roy just handed it to him, sat back, and smiled.

No time to think about it.  He just couldn’t.  Not right now.

He swiped to take the call.  “Yeah?”

“Hi, Brother!” Al chirped.  “Sorry to call so late; I just thought I’d try to pencil it into your schedule before you got booked up; I swear, when it rains, it pours, with you.”

Ed realized his mouth was sort of hanging open.  “Uh… yeah.  You had a Dr. Pepper, didn’t you?”

“Of course not!” Al said in the guiltiest of his cheerful voices.  “I know those make me caffeine-crazed and sugar-high and…” He cleared his throat.  “Okay, well, look, I was at the movies with Winry, and the popcorn was so salty, and…” He cleared his throat again, louder this time.  “Well, the point is—I was telling her about your new boyfriend, and she was saying we should go out on a double-date.  How about tomorrow?”

Ed looked over at Roy, who could obviously hear all of Al’s chattering clear as a bell but was tactfully pretending to be interested in empty air.  He met Ed’s eyes, grinned a little, and shrugged.

“Sure,” Ed said.  “What did you guys want to do?”

“Ice-skating!” Al said.  There was a pause with some noise in the background.  “…Winry says no ice-skating.  Apparently she still remembers that time you body-checked that one kid, and we got kicked out.  …she says, ‘It’s not my fault he’s the worst kind of memorable’.”

“Gee, thanks,” Ed said.

Evidently, Roy had had enough of patiently playing nice, because he curled in close and started pushing Ed’s T-shirt up to nuzzle at his skin.  “I think you’re the perfect kind of memorable,” he murmured.

Hey,” Ed said, and maybe his breath was getting a little tight, but nobody could prove a thing.  “Uh—Al—uh—you wanna—talk it over with Win and call me back—?”

There was a much more substantial pause this time.

“Oh,” Al said.  “Oh, um.  Am I—did I—catch you in the middle of—some… thing?”

“Maybe,” Roy purred, kneading Ed’s hip.

No,” Ed said.  “No, Al, you’re—ah… em… good.  You’re good.  You’re—fine—”

There was some staticky commotion on Al’s end, and then—

“Edward Elric,” Winry said, “you use a goddamn condom, or so help me, I will cut your balls off myself.  We’ll come up with something even you can’t ruin for tomorrow, and then Al can let you know when you get in.  Okay?”

“Peachy,” Ed said, maybe the slightest bit breathlessly.

“Fantastic,” Winry said.  “Later, nerd.”

“’Bye, Wi—she hung up on me.”

“Unconscionable,” Roy said, and his breath was so gorgeously warm Ed couldn’t help trying to shift in closer to it.  “Let me distract you from the insurmountable tragedy of it all.”

“Very fucking funn—ahh.”

If distraction always involved Roy’s teeth on Ed’s nipple, he was going to start needing distraction an awful lot.

“So what do you do, Miss Rockbell?” Roy asked.

Al and Winry had decided on a museum.  An art museum.  Of all the boring shit in the whole boring world…

While making the announcement this morning, Al had been rubbing the back of his neck in that way that indicated he was trying really hard not to offend anyone.  Between Ed and Winry, however, Ed was a safer target for offending, because Ed couldn’t dump him for ‘a muscly guy’.  Apparently, going to an art museum was the only activity Winry had deemed Ed-proof as far as his chances of getting them evicted and/or arrested, and Al had failed to generate any viable alternatives on the fly.

The brat.  Ed hoped he was having a giant Dr. Pepper hangover.

…okay, maybe just a small one.

At least they were starting the night out with a pretty good dinner at the Chinese place Winry really liked, and Roy kept very lightly touching Ed’s thigh under the table, and nobody had killed anyone just yet.

“Prosthetics,” Winry said.  She took the last potsticker with a swoop of her chopsticks.  There was no mercy in that woman.  Ed didn’t know how Al did it.  “It’s—it’s a startup.  It’s been pretty hard.  We’re trying to focus on underprivileged groups, and the homeless, and vets and stuff, but…” She pushed the potsticker around on her plate.  “Jeff keeps saying ‘Sometimes you have to go where the money is,’ like we’re going to have to give up on the original mission if we don’t want to go under, but I feel like that’s missing the whole point.  My grandma always says ‘Do what you believe in,’ and I trust her more than stupid Jeff.”

Roy smiled.  Ed couldn’t stop watching those perfect fucking hands move the chopsticks; maybe if Roy wasn’t too tired later, he could execute some equally deft maneuvering in a very different situation that involved being naked.  “I think your grandmother is very wise.”

“Yeah,” Winry said.  “Except that she lets Ed into her house, which is, like, guaranteeing property damage.”

Once,” Ed said.  “Once, I wasn’t looking and ran into a cabinet and broke a bunch of shit.  When I was eight.”

“I have a long memory,” Winry said.  “And you’re a menace to society.”

“I am not,” Ed said.

“If I’d realized that societal menaces were so attractive,” Roy said, shooting Ed a wink, “I’d have dated one a long time ago.”

Winry looked like she was going to barf.  Served her fucking right.

“So,” Al said brightly.  “I’m really excited about their Van Gogh.”

“I’m really excited to Van Gogh home,” Ed said.

This was Al’s famous Brother, you’re a cretin look—a particularly sharp incarnation, no less.

“Just don’t touch anything,” Winry said.  “You break everything you touch.”

Roy cleared his throat.  “I can testify from personal experience that that is untrue.”

Winry stared at him in a combination of mortified fascination and undiluted disgust.

“This was the worst idea I’ve ever had,” she said.

Al’s chopsticks seemed to have some kind of secret code on them that only he could see.  “Maybe next time we should go to a play or something.  Shakespeare.  You like Shakespeare.”

“So does Roy,” Ed said.  “Or at least he likes referencing it to make himself look scholarly.”

“There’s no ‘making myself look’ about it,” Roy said.  “I’m obscenely overeducated; that’s just the truth.”

There was a fierce light of hope in Al’s eyes.  “Which play is your favorite?”

Much Ado About Nothing,” Roy said.

“Figures,” Ed said.  “Come on, Macbeth?  Come on.”

“I have enough existential crises in my own life,” Roy said.  “I don’t need to hear them recited back to me from a stage, much more poetically at that.”  He grinned at Ed’s wrinkled nose.  “What’s yours, Miss Rockbell?”

“Stop calling me that,” she said, although she was smiling, which made her look marginally less psychotic.  “It’s Winry.  Jeez.  And I love them all—the way they’re written, anyway.  I’ve seen some bad performances.  Like, bad.”

“Alphonse?” Roy asked.

“The Henries,” Al said, a touch dreamily.  “Someday someone’s going to be smart enough to do them all in sequence, and maybe throw in Merry Wives, and… gosh.  It’d be great.”

“Gosh is right,” Roy said.  “I’d pay good money to see that.”

So apparently once all the Ed-bashing was out of the way, this whole double-date grownup-conversation gig was okay, but Ed still would’ve preferred to be at Roy’s place.  Specifically, in Roy’s bed.  Or on the couch again.  Or on the floor.  Or against a wall, actually; that’d be awesome.

He really needed to stop thinking about it while he was sitting at a table with his brother and his almost-sister, and Roy’s hand on his knee was seriously not helping.

He gave Roy a warning look, which Roy, with a beaming grin, transparently pretended not to understand.

It was shaping up to be a long damn night.

“I don’t get it,” Ed said.

“There’s nothing to ‘get’, dear,” Roy said.

“Don’t call me that,” Ed said.  Roy seemed to have an independent streak; with any luck, he’d ignore that order entirely and keep pet-naming Ed until they both shriveled up and went all gray and shit.

No time to think about it.

“But I get movies,” he said to cover the sudden well of screaming silence in his head.  “Like the one last night—that was artistic.  I get that.  I appreciate that.  It was… vibrant, and the aesthetics of it made the whole thing more meaningful, because they enhanced everything, or… whatever.”  He scowled at the thing on the wall.  “This I don’t get.”

“Think about it this way,” Roy said.  “What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?”

Ed kind of wanted to say Your dumb ass; quit fishing for compliments, but it would’ve felt like… tempting fate.  Not that he believed in fate, but it was that kind of thing—it was premature, and it was daring, and that meant the world would snatch it away the second he breathed a word about it.

“Ebullient solutions,” he said instead.  “You know, that second before shit explodes.  Al’s bedhead.  Really good steak.  French fries!  There was this little pond where we grew up—I think Winry has a couple of pictures, but they fucking bulldozed it a couple years ago; I was so pissed I couldn’t see straight for two days.  Uh… Orion’s belt through a serious fucking telescope, where you can see the nebulae, and they’re this incredible color of blue.  Gothic cathedrals.  Dry ice.”

Roy was smiling at him with this incredible light in his eyes, but you couldn’t point at someone’s face and say That, could you?

“Consider trying to capture all of those,” Roy said.  “Consider wanting to share them—not just as they were, factually, but as they were including all of their personal significance to you.  Consider wanting to make them last forever.”

Ed considered it.  And it kind of made sense, except for one thing:

“So why are so many of these just, like, naked people with drapery and a bunch of fruit?”  He spun in a circle on his heel, counting quickly.  “Yeah, literally half of the ones in this room.  Is that seriously the coolest thing that ever happened to these artist guys?  And people say I need to get laid.”

“Who says that?” Roy asked, slipping an arm around his waist and leaning in to kiss his temple before he could crumple into self-consciousness and wriggle away.  “I’d like to commend them for the excellent suggestion.”

The start of a wriggle metamorphosed into a full-on shiver.  “Shut up, Al’ll hear you.  Or Winry will, and she’ll try to protect my honor by breaking some priceless marble sculpture over your head or some shit.”

“Your honor’s not in any danger,” Roy said, skimming his fingertips down Ed’s spine, and Ed couldn’t help arching his back, couldn’t help catching his breath, couldn’t help the burgeoning heat in the pit of his stomach— “Do you know, I don’t think any quantity of artistic skill could really hold you?”

How did he know?  How did he know that the stupid, soppy, too-romantic bullshit was the stuff that turned Ed’s heart and brain and stubbornness and resolution into gooey oatmeal-mush?

“So I suppose,” Roy was saying as Ed’s neurons sank into the oat-strewn quagmire, “that I had better hold you myself.”  He ducked to Ed’s ear—not that it was very far to go, thank you; the man wore tall shoes.  Or something.  “All… night… long.”

Ed’s head was buzzing, and his cheeks were burning, and his skin was prickling, and he couldn’t seem to grind out a single proper thought.

“I don’t think an art museum’s ever been this interesting,” he said.  “Hey, look, more naked people.”

“They’re setting a fine example,” Roy said.

You’re fine,” Ed said, and then felt himself going fucking scarlet, and tried not to love the way Roy laughed.

Roy hooked a finger into one of Ed’s belt loops, and there was a moment where Ed had no fucking clue what to do with his hands, because what the hell was PDA supposed to be like, anyway?  All he really had to go on was all the stupid rom-com movies that he tried to ignore and all the stupid people walking way too slow in the exact middle of the fucking sidewalk, tangled up like octopuses on ecstasy and cooing at each other.

But that was one of the things about Roy—he could effortlessly convey a total lack of expectation.  He always just radiated this kind of fulfilled contentment, like the situation he was in, the thing he was doing, the gesture he’d made—that was enough, and he was delighted about it, and Ed didn’t have to do anything at all if he didn’t want to or wasn’t sure how.  Sure, more would’ve been gravy, but there was no pressure in it.  There was never anything in his bearing implying that he wanted or needed or was asking for anything more.  It always felt, strongly, like Ed—Ed as he was; Ed in his natural state of being; Ed as a fumbling, clumsy, awkward, emotionally-backwards piece of shit—was good enough.  Like Ed was great.

Ed kind of wanted to bury both hands in the man’s hair and look him straight in the eyes and say Please don’t ever, ever, ever change.  Instead he tried putting his arm around Roy’s back, approximately equidistant from the bottom of Roy’s ribcage and the top of his belt, which seemed about right, maybe?

Roy made this tiny, tiny pleased hum noise in the very center of his chest, which resonated right through to Ed’s and sounded like a quiet sign of approval if he’d ever heard one.

Funny thing was, they weren’t having any problem walking at a normal pace even though they were sorta-kinda joined at the hip, which made every couple who’d ever cramped Ed’s style on the sidewalk twice as goddamn annoying in retrospect.  They moseyed on into the next room of this slightly-less-stupid-than-it-could-have-been museum, where Al and Winry were standing in front of some big canvas covered in blurry, blotty flower-ish-looking things.  Their hands were linked together, and Winry had her head leaned on Al’s shoulder—made possible by Al’s freakish tallness; whence that had originated in their fucked-up genome, Ed didn’t know, but he always sort of assumed the good shit came exclusively from Mom’s side—and all in all, it was about the cutest thing he’d ever seen.

“I could go for a painting of that,” he said, pointing.

Roy smiled.  “Maybe you should take an art class.”

The laugh that jittered up Ed’s throat and choked out of him was a sick, desiccated sort of thing.  “Yeah, in my copious fucking spare time.”

“I’ve seen your notes,” Roy said.  “Your chemical composition diagrams are extremely precise.”

“Yeah,” Ed said.  “Because they’re little circles to represent atoms and little lines to represent bonds.  Not exactly rocket science.  Which I can also diagram, but that’s not the same thing as drawing.”  He eyes Roy.  “You, on the other hand, got a pretty good margin doodle thing going.  Why don’t you take a class?”

Roy grinned at him.  “They’d kick me out once they realized I was only interested in learning how to draw you naked.”

Ed applied palm to face—but the free palm, because the other one was still wrapped around Roy’s hip, and he intended to keep it that way.

Having his palm on his face also illuminated the small detail that the latter felt like it was on fire again, so he guided Roy over towards the thing Al and Winry were gazing at in the hopes that it might function as a distraction.

“What the heck is this?” he asked, which he felt was tactful, given the four-letter word he’d selected.  And Winry said he shouldn’t be ‘unsupervised in public’ due to his ‘long-since-short-circuited language filter’.  What a witch.  “It looks like somebody ate a bunch of pastel paint and then repeatedly barfed.”

“Brother,” Al said without blinking, “you have such a way with words.”

“Ordinarily, I believe the term is ‘impressionism’,” Roy said.

“My impression is of barf,” Ed said.

“My impression is that you’re an uncultured swine and a heathen,” Winry said.  “Go complain in the gift shop or something.”

“If they have a barf-painting calendar,” Ed said, “I’m getting it for you for Christmas.”

Winry glared.

Al smiled.

“Check out that room before you go off in a huff, Brother,” he said, tilting his head towards a doorway to the left.  “I think you’ll like it.”

Ed’s instinct was, as always, to be skeptical, but he could count the number of times that Al had steered him wrong on no hands.

“All right,” he said, tugging on Roy a little.  “We’ll see.”

What they saw, as it turned out, was a room full of intricate steel armor and antique swords.  And some guns.  And an extremely ornately-carved crossbow.

“What is this even doing here?” Ed asked.  “I mean—thank baby Jesus it is, but—”

“‘Late medieval craftsmanship’,” Roy read off of the sign, which… Ed probably should have thought of, but swords.

“You don’t have to stay if you don’t want,” Ed said.  His breath was fogging up the glass a little bit.  Was it rude to leave fingerprints?  Oh, well.  They’d paid enough to get in here that this place could afford to have somebody Windex ’em back off.  “If you wanna go look at barf-paintings, that’s really okay.”

“Much as I do appreciate the finer points of paint vomit,” Roy said, “I’d rather be with you.”

Ed looked over at him, and Roy smiled, and opened his mouth like he was going to say something, and then closed it again.

“Good heavens,” Roy said, which was not what he’d been starting to say, as he went over to the next big case.  “Look at the size of this—do you suppose this knight might have been compensating for something?”

Ed snickered, which misted on the glass even more.

“Well, that wasn’t a complete disaster,” Ed said, remembering in the nick of time that he shouldn’t bang the front door to Roy’s house shut, because that was Ill-Mannered and Uncouth and also made it marginally less likely that he’d get laid.  “Only… eh… ninety percent.  Ninety-five.  Ninety-six-point-five.  Yeah.”

“I thought it was lovely,” Roy said, hanging his coat up on one of the hooks by the door and reaching for Ed’s.

Ed danced away, of course, but it was a nice, chivalrous thought or whatever.  “Huh.  No idea how you got a hold of a shit-ton of crack when I was with you the whole night.  Cool trick; kudos, Mustang.”

Roy made a face at him.  “I don’t have to be on cocaine to have enjoyed meeting one of your childhood friends and spending a little more time with your brother.  It’s nice.  I like… I feel like I’m exploring your life backwards, a little bit at a time, and it’s wonderful to discover all these new things.”

Ed turned away to stand on his toes—motherfucking son of a bitch—to snag his coat’s collar on the hook.  He couldn’t bring himself to say it; Roy always sounded like he meant well, even if the shit that came out of his mouth made Ed’s whole world jerk hard on its axis, and everything tumbled a little bit.

And how were you supposed to say So what happens when you run out of stuff to find?  What happens when you know everything there is to know about my stupid, stupid life?  What happens when I’m boring?  Is it still gonna be ‘lovely’ then?

Al was always telling him to keep his head in the moment that was in front of him, but sometimes—

Sometimes he couldn’t help the fact that the past predicted that this didn’t have a future.  Previous experience was Ed’s best teacher, and the textbook was pretty clear on this point: he was going to fuck this up.  Somehow, someday, some way—

“Did I say something wrong?” Roy asked softly.  Butterfly fingers at his back; so light.  “I’m sorry; I—”

“Don’t be a dumbass,” Ed said, fixing a smile on as he spun around.  “I’m just fucking exhausted from putting up with Winry.  She’s done this to me since I was a kid; you’d think I’d be used to it by now.”  He slung both arms around Roy’s neck and leaned in, pressing his face into the side of Roy’s neck—arguably kind of low on the side of Roy’s neck.  Arguably kind of at collarbone level.  Arguably… whatever.  “Thanks for… I dunno, being so graceful about… all of that shit, I guess.  I get kind of—she just pisses me off sometimes, is the thing.  I love her like the fucking sun and the moon and the whole cosmos, but sometimes I wanna strangle her in her sleep.  Pretty sure the feeling’s mutual.”

Roy wrapped both arms around him, pressing his cheek down on the top of Ed’s head, and that was just… so fucking cozy he never wanted to move again, pretty much.  “Mm.  The two of you have quite a lot in common.”

Ed made sure to snort extra-loud so that it wouldn’t get muffled in Roy’s shirt.  “I think both of us would take that as an insult.”

“Would you like me to recite the list of your virtues again?” Roy asked, lifting Ed’s right hand from his own shoulder and extending both their arms out, then—shit—side-stepping partway down the hall, spinning them around—fuck— “I’d be delighted.  I’m going to alphabetize it soon.”

“Shut up,” Ed said, trying very hard to hide in Roy’s shirtfront, which was no easy task while getting waltzed around the whole fucking foyer.

“I can’t,” Roy said.  “I am absolutely overflowing with affection.  It’s your own fault for inspiring me to such heights of…”

“Schmoop?” Ed suggested.

“Something like that,” Roy said.  He paused in whirling them around, and Ed made an attempt at subtly guiding Roy’s hand into his hair, which would distract him from the dancing thing.  “Does schmoop have heights?  What exactly is schmoop?  Is it a state of matter?  It sounds viscous.”

Ed found himself grinning entirely against his will.  “What the hell happened to you?  You’re all… giddy.  And shit.”

“And shit,” Roy said, faux-pensively.  Or maybe real-pensively.  He carded his fingers through Ed’s ponytail, apparently forgetting all about his fervent desire to teach Ed archaic dance steps; Ed duly awarded himself ten points.  Just about then, Roy looked down at him and smiled, and the points didn’t really matter anymore.  “Nothing ‘happened’; it’s just…” His smile widened.  “You, I think.  It’s just you.”

Ed felt his face heating up at a precipitous rate.  “Jeez, I thought Al was sappy.  You sure you didn’t get high off of vintage paint vomit when I wasn’t looking?”

“Mostly sure,” Roy said.  He glanced at his watch again.  Goddamn Roy wrists.  They were a tongue-twister as well as a tongue-teaser.  “The time crept up on me a bit, too.”  He leaned in to kiss Ed’s forehead, and Ed just couldn’t help closing his eyes and sort of pushing up into it.  He tried just, y’know, not doing it, but Roy had a pull on him like the goddamn tide, and there was nothing he could do against magnetism and gravity—against physical facts; against laws; against nature.  “Would you like to go to bed?”

It was barely even eleven, but Ed sort of figured that when you had suddenly developed a habit of crashing at somebody’s house every weekend night in order to jump their bones and also eat their breakfast, you were sort of obligated to play by their rules.  Roy’s rules seemed to involve things like ‘keeping responsible hours’ and ‘acting like a grownup’, which Ed was figuring out that he could deal with, since they were actually pretty similar to Al’s.  Also, either Roy was spending a fortune at the grocery store every week, or his refrigerator spontaneously generated bacon, and whichever it was, Ed wasn’t about to do anything to jeopardize the balance of a household where that took place.

“Sure,” he said.  It was the safest bet.  And the bacon-iest.  And the way Roy smiled at him made his knees dissolve.

All the same, though… all the same, he felt like he had to ask; he felt like he had to ask until there wasn’t a single slate-gray wisp of doubt left hovering in the furthest corners of his mind.

“But—I mean—you sure you want me to stay?” he said.  “I could get Al to pick me up, if you w—”

Roy kissed him, one hand on either side of his jaw, until he gave up on the rest of that sentence.  And then for a little longer, and then for a lot longer, and then for a bit extra after that.

Just when Ed figured his last two options were to call a time-out for air (less because he wasn’t capable of breathing through his nose, and more because he wasn’t so good at breathing at all where Roy was concerned), Roy drew back, thumbs skimming back and forth along Ed’s cheekbones, and met his eyes.

“Please,” he said.  “Stay.”

Ed swallowed, cleared his throat, cleared his throat again, and smiled.

“You win all your cases that way?”

Roy laughed, and caught both his hands, and started towing him towards the stairs.