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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.

Chapter Text

There’s nothing Ed loves more than finally dragging his ass out of the stiff, stuffy, grayscaled contours of an airport and depositing it directly on a train.  In the going-on-two-days haze of uncharitable thoughts, he’s wondering if they did this on purpose to discourage all but the most committed tourists from ever actually making it from Heathrow to the city—the real city, that is—but in the back of his foggy brain, he knows it has more to do with thousands of years of history than with any subtle malice on the part of the Brits.

He scrubs a hand down over his face and tries to appreciate the grayish smears of cityscape-ish objects out the windows.  He washed said face—and brushed his teeth—in one of the airport bathrooms en route to the stupid train terminal to get on this stupid train, and it helped a little, but he still mostly feels like he’s been struck with a crowbar and left in a dumpster all night.  Odds are not bad he smells like it, too.

He keeps his phone in one hand, even though he turned it off so that he won’t rack up thousands of dollars in international roaming.  Just… in case.  Just because.  So that if it gets to be too much, or too bad, he has a lifeline, and that kind of makes all of it easier to bear.

Roy bought him a nice watch last Christmas, since apparently Nobel Prizewinning professors are supposed to have nice watches.  Ed thinks the specific words Roy used, in a very blithe tone of voice, were “You can go to fancy dinners and convince people that you’re extremely sophisticated, and then when you open your mouth and ask them what their favorite Game of Thrones decapitation was, they’ll dribble sparkling water all over themselves in their surprise.”  Winry cried laughing.  Ed threw a ball of wrapping paper at her.

Point is, he has a watch, which he even went to the trouble of setting to local time, which—with the phone off—is how he knows that he has another twelve minutes of train-bound purgatory before he’ll hit Paddington, where the fun’ll really start.

He’s got a wallet full of weird-looking cash—although he’s got to give the Brits some credit for making all of the bills and coins different shapes and sizes, so that you can tell what you’re grabbing without having to look—and a head full of permutations of the fine points of his talks.  That girl at customs helped more than she’ll ever know, because she helped remind him why he’s here—because it’s circular, right?  It’s a back-and-forth kind of deal, in the karmic grand scheme.  He got inspired one day, and he amounted to this.  Who the hell knows which kid sitting in some obscenely uncomfortable lecture chair might be the next one who’s got a bone to pick with science after losing somebody that they loved?  He might be preaching to the choir member who rewrites the whole symphony.  He owes that to them—his presence, his spiel, his story, his promises, his optimism—because he owes it to the person that he used to be.

Plus there’s almost nobody left on the planet who hasn’t had the gnarly black finger of cancer touch their life.  It keeps people up at night; it takes people’s worlds in both of those witchy hands and rips them into shreds.  He lived in that shadow for a long, long time.  He wants to give them something to believe in—something he never had; something he would have begged for.

He wants to give them hope.  He wants to give them a reason to fight.  He wants to give them the chance to believe that they can win.

But first he has to give this train monitor guy his ticket to check, which… is the one downside of stupidly comfortable old cargo pants; where the hell did he put that thing?

“You know,” Al said, holding out a mug of already-sugared coffee when Ed staggered in out of the too-bright Sunday light, “you could just stay there.”

“Nah,” Ed said.  He blew on the surface and then started chugging.  It was perfect.  Al was perfect.  Life was perfect, except of course for the obvious fact that: “Shit in lab.”

“That’s not quite what I meant,” Al said, but he didn’t elaborate on quite what he meant even when Ed did his best impression of a bewildered dog.


“Hey,” he said, draining the last of the coffee from the cup.  “Is Winry pissed at me for ruining the art museum for her forever?”

“No,” Al said.  “She had a nice time.  And since what you’re really asking is what she thought of Roy—”

“That’s n…”  Well.  “I mean, I also wanted not to ruin it forever.”

“I figured,” Al said.  “And you didn’t; she said she was ‘determined to enjoy it no matter what shenanigans you summoned, and she damn well did’.”  He got a funny look on his face.  “She’s practically a poet sometimes, I swear…”  Ed tried to hold back the horrified expression, mostly failed, and managed to get himself under control as Al shook himself awake again.  “Anyway… she said she thought Roy was ‘probably good for you’—she didn’t really explain what that meant—and then said she was just glad to see you so happy.”

Ed sat down at the table so that he could bang his forehead down on it easier.  “It freaks me out when she says cutesy stuff.” 

“What do you mean?” Al asked.  He sounded genuinely confused, so Ed looked up.  “Everything she says is cute.”

“Oh, crap,” Ed said.  It was always the same sequence of events when Al started talking about Winry: first the blanket compliment; then the wistful, heartfelt sighs; then the avalanche of gushing until you either lopped off your own ears or fled the premises or died.  “Gotta run.  Shit in lab.”

“Okay, Brother,” Al said in the floaty tone reserved for speech that was sort of necessary, but notwithstanding firmly secondary in importance to Winry-related thoughts.  “Have fun.  Drive safe.”

“Sure thing,” Ed said.

He booked it.

Monday.  Seven fifty.  Even a world with early mornings full of Russell Tringham’s stupid face and extra-stupid hair could be made tolerable by Roy Mustang sweeping in through the front door.

“Hey,” Ed said, trying not to pull a facial muscle grinning.

“Hey, gorgeous,” Roy said, and he did the low-eyelids-smoldery-smirk thing for just a second as he leaned an elbow on the counter.  “How are you?”

“Good,” Ed said, and he meant it, and that felt… weird.  Awesome-weird.  God, he was so fucking far gone.  “Really good.  You?”

“I feel like I could conquer the world,” Roy said.

Aaaaaaand there was the flush spreading through Ed’s face like a goddamn wildfire.  “Maybe start with the paperwork left over from last week.”

“Sound advice,” Roy said.

The worst voice in the entire world emanated from near the pastry case.  “You know what goes great with chatting Ed up over the register?  Coffee.  Coffee goes great with that.”

Roy’s left eyebrow arched with such beautiful sardonic flare that Ed was slightly tempted to swoon, except that swooning would have impeded his view of Russell’s immense regret upon realizing that Roy didn’t think he was funny.  Which made sense, because Russell was never funny, presumably due to some kind of basic humor impairment, which was probably rooted in the broader problem that he was a giant dickwad ninety-nine-point-nine-eight percent of the time.

“Coffee goes well with everything,” Roy said, “except perhaps insomnia.  But I’ve found that chatting Ed up doesn’t need any extra incentives, since it’s a magnificent pastime all on its own.”

So much for the skin on Ed’s face; it was incinerating itself once and for all.  “Seriously?” he said.  Even as he said it, he wasn’t sure whether he was referring to Roy being all… Roy-ish; or Russell misunderstanding the fundamental tenet of customer service that involved catering to the patron.  Besides, there was nobody else in line, and all the regulars were off in their respective corners, enjoying their respective morning activities.  Russell was probably just jealous.  And maybe somebody had put some extra piece-of-shit pills in his cereal today.

“Forgive me,” Roy said, more to Ed than to Russell, which was just as well.  “I don’t mean to waste your time.”

Yeah, maybe when the Earth turned into a cube.  “You’re n—”

“The usual?” Russell asked.

Roy’s smile looked perfectly polite, but it didn’t crinkle the corner of his eyes, which was a dead giveaway that he was faking it.  “That would be lovely.  Thank you.”

Wham, bam, change in the tip jar, condiments, door clacking shut.  Ed felt like he’d been socked in the stomach, which was stupid and shitty and sucked.

So he rounded on Russell, because… because.  “What the hell was that all about?”

“If you want to flaunt your little romance thing to everybody in a five-mile radius,” Russell said, “go ahead.  But don’t ask me to help you do it on company time.”

Still with the reeling and the not being able to breathe quite right.  “Okay, so first of all, this isn’t a company.  Second, I wasn’t fucking flaunting; we said, like, ten words each.  Third, even if we’d had a full-on conversation, you know for a fucking fact that I don’t take my breaks half the time, so don’t you fucking talk to me about being on the clock.  Fourth, who the fuck said I was asking you for help?”

Russell frowned, and the eye that wasn’t veiled with stupid hair went really narrow, and then he sniffed.

“Whatever,” he said, like a true fucking loser.  “Honestly, it’s kind of gross.”

Ed saw red for a long second, but if there was one thing he definitely couldn’t do if he didn’t want to lose this job, it was murder a coworker in the middle of the shop.  He had to settle with a compromise: “Shut the fuck up, Tringham.”

Russell shrugged.

Ed kind of wanted to throw the cash register at him.

An hour later, he pointedly took one of his goddamn breaks and texted Roy.

so fucking sorry about that fucking asshole i fucking hate him FUCK

As always, as always, as… couldn’t think about it—Roy didn’t make him wait.

Try not to let it get to you.  I think he was jealous.

Ed slugged a huge sip of his comp coffee.

no shit sherlock he was checking you out so hard the first few times you walked in that i’m surprised his eyeballs didn’t pop out of his skull

They had a bench out back, in the little half-alley thing where the back door let out into the parking lot.  There was ivy on the fence behind him.  It was a nice place to blow your legally-mandated ten minutes of leisure time, if you could ignore all the cigarette butts littering the pavement.

I meant jealous of -me-, Roy sent.  When did his attitude change?

Ed stared at the phone.  Then he stared at the brick wall across the way.  Then he stared at the cigarette butts.  Then he stared at the phone again.

The words didn’t make any more sense than they had a second ago.

his attitude has always been so piss-poor that urinals look up to him. what do you mean?

Maybe he could put Detective Rosé on this case.  Marta would probably get to the bottom of it faster, but her approach would be to walk up to Russell and ask him what the fuck was wrong with him, followed by telling him to get the hell back to work.  Rosé would be game for a serious investigation, and she’d be subtle about it.

When did he go from neutrality towards me to active hostility? Roy sent.  Did he realize recently that we’re together?

Ed scrolled back up to the previous text, then scrolled back down, then tried to think really slowly through the sad excuses for conversations that he’d had with Russell recently.

wait a fucking second are you. you. are saying. that you think russell fucking tringham wants to get in my pants and now that he knows that you have gotten there he hates you

Somehow that seemed insufficient, so he sent a follow-up text composed of a rather pointed: ????

He finished the coffee.  He had five and a half minutes left to dig to the root of this madness.

That was the gist of my train of thought, Roy said.  Can I consider my guess about the turning point confirmed?

Gravity wouldn’t let Ed have the last few drops in the cup, which pretty much figured.  yeah sure whatever but like. you are missing the point which is that he has always treated me like i am dogshit on his shoe and he can’t find a stick or a leaf or anything and he’s about to go to tea with the queen of fucking england and HOW DARE I EXIST and i think maybe we’re jumping to conclusions here. is there another more rational explanation? like alien abduction? i think i’m going to go with aliens

Our new paralegal would be very happy to hear that, Roy texted.  You don’t think it’s possible?  Isn’t that very frequently how young men cope with attraction?

Ed had dropped his head into one hand, but he had to lift it up to free both thumbs for texting.

now you sound like you’re making a nature documentary about my demographic and that is all kinds of fucked up mustang hahaha. okay my break is over i’m going to do some observations in the field. i’ll let you know. what the hell roy. what the HELL.

He shoved the phone back into his pocket, pitched the empty cup, ran both hands over his face, and sighed.

Maybe he’d get lucky, and somebody—anybody—other than Russell would share most of his shifts this week.

Probably not.

He went once more unto the breach, where Russell was doling a dollop of whipped cream onto the top of a drink with practically zero finesse.

“Hey, Elric,” he said.  “Get over here.  You were doing syrup all wrong—you want to do it before the shot goes in.”

“I freakin’ know,” Ed said.  Which he did.  Which was why he had done it that way.

“No, you don’t,” Russell said.  He set the finished drink on the counter, flashed a grin, and said “Here you go!” to the waiting college student before he turned a glare on Ed.  “Let me show you.  Again.”

“I already know,” Ed said.  “You weren’t watching.  Don’t get all goddamn sanctimonious on me; I know how to make a fucking drink.”

“Obviously not,” Russell said.

Ed ground his teeth.  “Then what the fuck did they hire me for?”

“Your hair, probably,” Russell said, but then he dropped the topic so fast Ed could’ve sworn he heard it actually hit the floor.  “We had a bean order—pound of the Venezuela.  Move your ass.”

“Shut the fuck up, Tringham,” Ed said, but he went.

And Roy thought this guy—this guy—was interested in him?  Maybe interested in systematically ruining his life.

Ed was probably just going to have to chalk that one up to another mystery of the universe.

“You could move in with him,” Al said that Friday night.

Ed lost feeling in all of his limbs.  Then there was some tingling, and then he shook himself hard and patted at the straps over his shoulders to make sure his backpack hadn’t vanished into the void.

“It’s been four fucking weeks,” he said.  “We’ve been on, like, three dates, and we watch movies at his house sometimes.  And—”  Precious baby brothers’ virgin ears were to be protected at all costs.  “…stuff.  Some stuff.  Lots of stuff.”  Al totally understood what that brilliant euphemism meant, though; he always wrinkled his nose just a tiny bit when he was kind of grossed-out but trying not to show it.  Fuck.  Ed cleared his throat loudly.  “Anyway—point is, I’m not gonna move in with him after a month.  Especially since I’d just wake him up stupid-early every weekday to get to the shop, and that’d be a pain in the ass.  He needs his beauty rest so he can stay all… MFG or whatever.”

“GQMF,” Al said idly.  “And that’s very considerate of you, Brother.  It’s just that packing to stay over there every weekend seems a little inefficient, and—well—you know.  Winry’s lease on that place she rents is up in a few months, and…”

Ed stared.

Al blinked.  “What?”

“You’re trying to kick me out,” Ed said.  “You’re trying to evict your own brother—your brother who has shed enough sweat and blood and tears that you could drown in just the liquid excretion evidence of his love—so your girlfriend can move in.”

“I am not,” Al said.

“And so you can get cats,” Ed said.

“Maybe one or two,” Al said.

“You are dead to me,” Ed said.

“Brother,” Al said, and then there were two arms around his… waist.  Not his ribcage.  Because if Al’s attempt to hug him from the side while he deliberately looked away fell naturally at his ribcage, that would mean that Al was even taller now than he had been the last time Ed had dared to check.  “You know I’m not trying to get rid of you.  You know that.  But you also know I’m going to be honest with you, and—well, yes, I really want a cat, maybe more than one cat, maybe a conglomeration of cats, but—it’s mostly that… you’re just so happy with him.  You’re relaxed like I never see you when you come back—like the weight’s off your shoulders, just for a minute.  And maybe that’s partly the…” Al shuddered a little.  Ed could feel it because of the hug.  Al’s hug-blackmail plans backfired like that sometimes.  “…ah—extracurricular activities, but… I think a lot of it’s just… him.  And it’s so wonderful seeing you that way that I think I forget that it’s still fairly new, and I’m not trying to rush you, but…”

“But cats,” Ed said.

Al’s head collided with Ed’s shoulder several times, in a manner that might have been intended to indicate frustration.  “Sometimes it is impossible to talk to you.”  Yeah, probably frustration.

“Only sometimes?” Ed said.  “I’m losing my edge.”

Al was one of those people who could somehow imply an eyeroll with any individual part of his body.  Which was exactly what he was doing when he released Ed from the hug.  “I’ll make sure to help you practice, then.”

“Thanks,” Ed said, flashing him a grin.  “You’re the best, Al.”

Al’s eyes narrowed.  “Now you’re clumsily guilt-tripping me for the cat thing.  I’m not having it, Edward Elric; I’m not.”

“Not just the cat thing,” Ed said, hefting his backpack and keeping his face as solemn as he could.  “The Winry-stealing-my-room thing, too.  I guess all these years of brotherhood mean nothing to you.  I might as well move out, since apparently I’m just some guy you live with, huh?”

Al glared.  “If you’re going to be a jerk about it—”

Ed grabbed his shirtfront and dragged him into a proper, two-person hug this time.  “Shut up, you know I’m kidding.”  He hugged maybe a little bit tighter.  “You don’t—really want me to move out, do y—”

No, Ed,” Al said, tugging on the end of his ponytail, because Al was the reason the English language needed a single word for ‘evil-perfect’.  “I want you to do whatever makes you happiest.”

“Okay, okay, okay,” Ed said.  He drew back, mock-punched Al in the shoulder, and then shoved his feet into his boots for real this time.  “…and you want a cat.”

“Maybe more than one,” Al said.  “Although I could give just one cat my undivided attention, don’t you think?”

“I think we’re not getting a cat,” Ed said.  “Period.”

Al made a scowly face.  “Why don’t you go on your dumb date, Brother?”

“Y’know,” Ed said, and the warm air was rushing through his chest again, like a zephyr skimming over cresting waves, “I think I will.”

Roy answered the door in the morning’s pale yellow shirt—sans tie, untucked, with the sleeves rolled up.  Ed wanted to have filthy sex with him all over the doorstep, neighbors be damned, but that was the sort of thing that got you kicked out of the homeowner’s association in a hurry, so it was probably good that Roy’s hand slipped around to the back of his neck to pull him into a kiss and then pull him inside, and that was as far as they got before Roy nudged the door closed.

“Hello, gorgeous,” Roy breathed into the very, very tiny space between them when they paused for air.

“Yo,” Ed said, but he was ridiculously bad at playing cool; his face was on fire, and he couldn’t stop grinning.  “You taste really good—what’s for dinner?”

Carefully, carefully, mindful of his shoulder—nobody picked up on it that fast and remembered that well; the man was some kind of emotional wizard—Roy peeled his backpack off of him and hung it on one of the coathooks.  “I thought perhaps simplicity was less likely to result in us having to dismantle certain safety features of the house.  Tonight’s menu consists of spaghetti and—”

“Garlic bread!” Ed said, physically unable to prevent his tongue from darting out over his lip again.  “That’s what you taste like.  Awesome.”

Roy’s arm snaked around him before he had time to blink, the better to draw him into the kitchen.  “Rarely have I seen my date get excited about the prospect of garlic breath.”

“Then your dates were stupid,” Ed said.  Maybe that wasn’t nice, but it was still true.  Not-nice things frequently were.  “Garlic is the best thing ever, and it’s one of those dumbass ‘super-foods’ because it’s so good for you.  Besides, if you’re on a date, and you both eat a ton of it, then you have equal amounts of garlic breath, and who the fuck cares?  Garlic breath is a sign of intelligent choices.  Which actually makes it kind of hot.”

Roy was just watching him and grinning, like that was a perfectly normal thing to do when Ed embarked on a weird rant about food and/or humanity.

When they’d started out, sure, Roy had stared at him an awful lot—which certainly wasn’t to say Ed hadn’t done more than his share of staring, and admiring, and cataloguing, and assessing assets when backs were turned; he definitely had.  Just that Roy usually had a quip ready to fire back, but this last week, he’d been… kind of quiet.  Quiet almost in the same way he’d been at intervals in that art museum, when he was gazing at something he seemed to like.

“Okay,” Ed said, beating down the nerves.  This could go wrong; this could go so wrong, but all the same, he had to know.  “So what’s this about?”

Roy stirred what appeared to be a pot full of boiling water and percolating pasta (fuck yes, spaghetti) and blinked.  “What’s what about?”

Ed gestured to Roy’s entire person, stirring spoon included.  Not that he thought the spoon had much to do with it, but it was there, which sort of made it an accessory to: “The weirdness.”

Roy paused for a very long moment.  “I think… the weirdness is ingrained.”  There was a faint sign of a wince tweaking the corner of his mouth, which was the Roy equivalent of collapsing to the ground wailing.  “I’m—sorry.  I don’t… try to be odd, it j—”

“I don’t mean your general weirdness,” Ed said, making more gestures, which he realized were probably not helpful, since they were all sort of indistinct chopping motions.  “I mean the recent—fuck, I don’t have the vocabulary for—”

He stopped chopping with one hand long enough to put it to his head, fighting to think through how to articulate the thing Roy had been doing.  He was already at the bottom of a huge fucking hole here, digging vigorously, and the panic was starting to creep up from the bottom of his spine towards his chest, and if it got a strangle-hold on him, he’d never get this out, and Roy would be hurt, and this would be fucked, and why had he even brought it up?  He was such a fucking moron, God

He looked at the floor and forced words out into the air; fuck it if they were sort of disjointed; he had to get through this.  “Just—you keep looking at me like… like there’s some little joke I don’t know about, or something.  Like there’s something you know that I don’t?  Or—something, and it’s not like it’s bad, and I don’t feel bad about it, but it’s… weird.  And I don’t get it.  I mean, it’s okay; just… I don’t understand.  And I want to.”

He took a huge breath and steadied his knees as well as he could; he’d fisted his hand in his hair without noticing.  That was a holdover from when he was a kid, and his hair was shorter; he used to do it all the time when he was nervous.  Granny Pinako used to say he’d pull out a whole patch and have a bald spot forever, and Mom would shush her and then get down on her knees and gently work his fingers loose and ask him what was wrong.

He breathed in and out again.

“I mean, if I’m doing something—” Why was this so fucking hard?  “That—you don’t—like, then… I mean, you can tell me.  I’m not gonna shatter or something.”  That was probably exactly what he would do.  “And if it is a joke, well—jeez, fucking tell me already, I—”

“It’s not especially funny,” Roy said, and his smile was a little lopsided, and his eyes were a little distant.

“That!” Ed said, pointing at him.  “That’s the face!  That’s what I’m talking about!”

The smile twisted slightly wry.  Roy set the spoon down on the little liquid-catcher-plate-thing on the counter, poured the pasta into a colander in the sink, drew in a deep breath that filled his whole chest, and released it.  Then he came over to where Ed was standing there stranded, feeling like a fucking ship without a fucking rudder, becalmed as shit in the middle of an ocean that had been familiar five minutes ago, but now—

Roy laid his hands very gently along both sides of Ed’s jaw.  He smiled—softly, and a little bit… something else.  Sad?  Uneasy?  Roy was always easy—and not just in the whoops-where-have-my-pants-gone-shall-we-take-advantage-of-this way; he was always at ease.  He was comfortable in himself; he was confident; he was whole.  Ed liked that.  Ed envied that.  Ed found that endlessly reassuring, but now there were ripples underneath.

“It’s not a joke,” Roy said, all gentleness straight through, and Ed’s heart raced before he could try to talk it down; what if—this could be anything— “You’re not a joke.  I’m not laughing at you.  It’s… it’s only that I noticed something, and it was a bit—surprising, I suppose, but it makes a lot of sense, and every time I look at you, I get a bit distracted thinking about what it… could mean.”

“You are talking in fucking riddles, Mustang,” Ed said, and his voice quavered just a touch.  He wanted to lay his hands over Roy’s and hold them there, because what if—what if

Roy laugh-sighed, which was really, really not fucking helping matters, and leaned forward to touch his forehead to Ed’s for a long moment.  So—probably this wasn’t the breakup speech?  But what the fuck was he—

He straightened again and looked Ed in the eyes, and the smile was stronger now.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “I’m in love with you.”

Ed’s heart—

Seized up, squeezed tight, stuttered hard, staggered, restarted, and slammed against his ribcage like a wrecking ball against a concrete wall.

Roy bit his lip for a second and glanced away.  “Quite a bit.”

Something was rushing in Ed’s ears.  If that was his blood, at least that meant he probably hadn’t done any lasting damage to his circulatory system just now.  If it wasn’t his blood, what the hell was it?

He tried to clear his throat.  Roy seemed to be looking at his collarbones for some reason.  “I—”

One of Roy’s hands shifted, and there was a finger pressed to his lips.  Roy’s eyes flicked back to his, and they were really, really warm, but there was something kind of fragile in them, and Ed couldn’t help thinking he was a hundred times more gorgeous this way, when he was vulnerable, and honest, and real, and—

“If and when you want to,” Roy said.  “Not before.”

Ed swallowed hard, and Roy stepped back and slid his hands into his pockets, and the air between them was practically fucking humming, and Ed felt like his heart had given up on pounding and was just trying to writhe out between his ribs now.

And then it was through his ribs, and out in him—out everywhere, all over, banging in every fucking capillary, bouncing around his whole body, flitting at fucking random and battering at different parts of his chest, darting up his throat, shuddering in his stomach—

“I don’t—” he said.  “I don’t—half-ass—anything.”

“I’ve noticed that about you,” Roy said.

“No,” Ed said, trying to tamp down the suffocating pressure of the frustration, because he could never say what he meant to, he could never say the right thing—physics, chemistry, medicine, sure; he was a goddamn textbook, and no sixteen-syllable diagnosis was too circuitous to speak, but when it came to his own fucking feelings, he had the explanatory capacity of a fucking five-year-old in mid-meltdown, and he hated it.  His breath was coming short and sharp and uneven; he could hear it, but he didn’t seem to have control over it at all.  “I don’t… I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t be like this if I didn’t—”

There was a pain in his scalp and then a throb in his shoulder, and he realized he had his hand in his hair again, and he was tensing his whole arm.

Something wasn’t right; something was catching in his chest—fishhooks and a harsh scrape; he was breathing too fast; this wasn’t a fucking marathon; why’d he always have to be such a fucking drama queen about this shit?  He was overreacting; he was throwing a fit; he was acting like a child, and Roy was going to walk out; Roy was going to change his mind and leave and never fucking come back, never fucking—

“Ed,” Roy said softly, moving forward to him again, touching his left shoulder with one hand and his raised arm with the other, “it’s all right, it’s really—”

“It’s not,” Ed said, and he could hear the edge on his voice, and he didn’t want it there, but he was fucking this up; he was fucking this up bad, and what if Roy thought he didn’t—what if Roy thought—what if Roy left, what if— “How the fuck are we supposed to sit down and have fucking s-spaghetti if you think I don’t love you back, and you think I’m just here for fucking free food and maybe sex and some TV—”

“I don’t think that,” Roy said, wrapping his hand around Ed’s curled fist.

Ed’s breath still wouldn’t come in right, or leave right, or sink into his lungs at all; his chest was heaving; his heart skittered, pattered, stumbled hard— “Yeah, like you’re j-just gonna sit there over garlic bread and not f-fucking care that I d-didn’t s-say—”

“Edward,” Roy said very softly, “look at me.”

The breath was sticking in his throat now, jerking in and out and in and out of him; he tried to get his eyes to focus on Roy’s face, because it was a nice face, it was a great face, and if Roy kicked him out to the curb for not saying the right shit, this might be the last chance he got to look at it, and he—he really—

Roy’s kitchen had narrowed into a little black tunnel with a faint spot of light, and there were shadows moving; there was a Roy shadow shifting towards him, and his instinct was to recoil the fuck away—who the hell did he think he was, blowing this shit out of proportion like this?  All Roy’d been trying to do was make him a nice dinner, but he’d had to go picking at it, and now he was a big fat fucking blubbering mess in the middle of the kitchen, and there wasn’t even anything wrong

Except for him, obviously—

Roy started prying carefully at his fingers, and he tried to let go of his own stupid hair, but it was like his hand had cramped that way.

There was a horrible fucking wheezing sound; was that—him—?


The whole stupid fucking world was shaking; he tightened his grip on his damn hair just to try to keep himself steady, but it wasn’t—

It felt like his heart was ricocheting around his body like a fucking pinball—here and then there and then dancing along his spine and then rattling his ribs like a primate in a cage; it was the worst in his throat—creeping up and up and beating hard there, swelling until he couldn’t breathe at all

“Ed,” Roy’s voice said from somewhere out in the red-hazy dark; “Ed—sweetheart—”

He kept gasping, but he couldn’t get any goddamn fucking air, and this was so stupid; he was so stupid; why—

Was he shaking or shivering, and did it even fucking matter?  He couldn’t—he was fucking suffocating, what—why couldn’t he just—get—

The fuck—


It, himself, the impossibly high fucking stone fucking walls between him and a universe he must’ve been in once, where things made sense, and he felt okay, and it wasn’t like he was walking on a tightrope all the time with the point of a spear pressed to his jugular, and you couldn’t look down; you couldn’t ever look down; and Roy hated him; Roy had to hate him, just as a pure fucking extrapolation of how much he hated himself

“Edward,” Roy said, and soft-warm dappled against his collarbones, across his cheeks.  “Ed—breathe.  Please, come on—hold your breath, okay?  Breathe in—”

He just wanted to be—




He just—

He couldn’t say Okay and follow the instruction at the same time; fingertips were stroking at the hand clenched in his hair, and squeezing gently at the shoulder that wasn’t just one big ball of agony.

“Breathe in,” Roy said.

He was trying; it all felt so—ragged; everything felt like shreds and tatters, and his heart kept skittering around inside his skull and then diving to the bottom of his stomach and banging like a toddler with some pots and pans, and it was startling, and—

“Breathe,” Roy said, and Ed sucked in some air that didn’t taste like dreck and clung to it.

A soft, soft little sigh, like—relief, maybe, and then a hand stroking at his hair.

Good.  Perfect.  Hold it for me?  One… two… three—now let it out—”

It tore back out of him like some fucking demonic possession shit, and he choked on the tail end of it, but Roy just made this quiet noise, and he was still looking at a fragment of the room from the bottom of this well of fucking dark, but he was trying to focus on Roy’s hand carding through his hair—

“I’ve got you,” Roy said, so softly.  “One more time—breathe in—and hold that—” He was trying, he really fucking—was— “That’s perfect; there you go.”

It was getting a little easier—dragging breaths in and then keeping them and then letting them go.  They were still snagging in his throat, but his heart had sort of sunk back into the center of his chest, and it was still shuddering too fast, but at least it wasn’t escaping, and…

Roy had moved on to trying to extract Ed’s hand from his hair, apparently—he managed to free the first finger, and then Ed’s thumb, and then the second finger, and then Ed’s hand was falling limp like it was dead, and Roy was catching his elbow and easing it down and drawing Ed in against his chest and rubbing his back so, so gently, and that was—better.  That was better; that was okay; that was like a little bit of warm yellow light in the howling fog; that was… good.

“It’s all right,” Roy said, and he wasn’t hugging too tight, and he was stroking Ed’s hair, and his voice was barely any louder than a whisper.  The hug tightened fractionally, but it was still okay.  Ed pushed his face into Roy’s chest a little more.  The dark felt sort of safe.  “I’m so sorry; I shouldn’t have… it’s all right.  I’m not asking for anything from you, sweetheart.  I think you’re wonderful.”

“’M not.”  Ed’s voice seemed to be hitching less.  He ground his nose into Roy’s shirt a bit more, but he didn’t seem to be capable of getting any closer.  He kept—breathing.  Slow, just… careful, and slow.  “I’m a fuckup.  I told you.  Remember?”

“I remember,” Roy said.  “But you’re not.”

Ed kind of wanted to cry, but that would be stupid, so instead he tried to tuck himself so far under Roy’s chin that he’d just disappear.  Because there was nothing stupid about that.  “Where’ve you been for the last however-many fuckin’ minutes?”

Roy’s soft outbreath ruffled his hair.  “How long have you been awake today?”

“Dunno,” Ed said.  Math, though.  Math was good.  Made him feel—sort of stable.  Sort of.  “Since—four, and it’s—six thirty, so—fourteen and a h-h-half hours—”

“Did you get a chance to eat?”

Breathing.  In and out.  It wasn’t so fucking hard.  “I—had some… Cheetos.  In lab.”

Roy’s hands lifted to his shoulders and gently pushed, separating them.  He leaned down to kiss Ed’s forehead, and that was okay; and then he kissed Ed’s mouth, and that was okay, too; and then he guided Ed’s hair back on both sides, which was also okay, albeit pointless, since it just fell forward again.

“All right,” Roy said.  “Come on.”  One arm slipped around Ed’s waist to shepherd him over to the table; both hands settled on his shoulders to plunk him down into a chair.  “Give me two minutes.”

Ed still felt sort of—disconnected.  Like his body was a big, empty shell, and his consciousness was a tiny, wispy thing.  Like his brain was a frightened animal stuck between two lanes on the freeway, paralyzed and shaking, not knowing which way to run, and the cars kept screaming by—

He lifted his arms and put his hands on the table, where he stared at them for a minute.  His fingers were trembling a little bit.  He opened his hands and laid them flat with his palms up, and then he swallowed a few times and tried to drag his thoughts out of the mire.

He just had to keep breathing.  Right?

“Did I just have a panic attack ’cause you said—” Oh, fuck.  His chest seized up; stop, shit; reverse—sharp turn.  “—because of—what you said?”

“I’m not sure,” Roy said, somewhat… delicately.  That was the word for it.  Except then there was a huge plate of pasta with homemade marinara and three giant pieces of garlic bread sliding onto the table in between Ed’s thoroughly-examined hands, and the word for that was ‘awesome’.  Roy’s hand settled very gently on Ed’s left shoulder-blade.  “Have you ever had one before?”

“I dunno,” Ed said.  The food smelled so good that his stomach had twisted into a massive knot.  “Maybe?”

The answer wasn’t Maybe.  The answer was Yes.  The answer was Little ones, as a kid, I guess.  A couple in college, but if you hold your hand over your mouth you can wait it out in the bathroom, and nobody has to know.  Three, or four, or more maybe, because of—him.  When I ran; when the letters started; when that last one—I don’t remember; ask Al; the whole thing is a fucking blur, and I can’t think about it right now, or I’ll—

But everybody freaked out sometimes.  Everybody got tangled up in their own feelings and tripped and fell sometimes; the fact that he fucking sucked at dealing with it didn’t make him special.

Roy’s mouth brushed his temple.  “Why don’t you get started, sweetheart?”

“’Cause I don’t have a fork,” Ed said.

“Oh,” Roy said.  “So you don’t.”

While Roy sojourned to the silverware drawer, Ed dove into the garlic bread, which he had just realized did not require utensils.  He was starting to feel more—centered, or something; more solid, maybe; more like a person, more like himself—by the time Roy set a fork and a napkin next to the plate.

Which meant that the humiliation was starting to seep in.

“I, um.”  The words jammed up in his throat like a pile of fucking splinters.  “I—guess I’ve—got some issues.”

“And I don’t?” Roy asked softly, leaning in to kiss his cheekbone this time, and Ed sort of writhed in place but didn’t really try to get away.  “You don’t have to justify it, and you don’t have to explain it, and—it’s all right.  I mean that.”

Ed had to wrench his reluctant neck a little to make himself look up into Roy’s eyes, and his shoulder twinged to register its irritation, but Roy was searching his face so earnestly that it just…

The weird brittleness that had branched out through his whole body started to melt.  His brain sputtered twice and then turned over and started to run, kind of, not perfectly, but much more firm.

He put both arms around Roy’s waist and buried his face in Roy’s shirt again, but it only took three deep breaths this time to feel like he could let go without the world collapsing around him.

Roy trailed a few fingers through his bangs and then petted them back.  “You should eat before it gets cold, sweetheart.”

“Not sweet,” Ed muttered, and his hand felt weird and swollen and clumsy as he picked up the fork.

“My mistake,” Roy said, completely unapologetically, with a funny little smile, before he went over to the counter to serve himself, too.  He returned with a plate and sat down at Ed’s right, pulling his chair close.  “Why don’t you tell me about your day?”

Ed tried to rewind the elusive thoughts in his jittering brain.  “I… worked with Rosé today.  You know her.”

“I do,” Roy said.  “She seems very nice.”

“She is,” Ed said.  “She’s my favorite.  She’s a kickass barista, and she just never lets shit get to her; I dunno how she does it.  We don’t talk in too much detail, but she had a pretty fucked-up childhood, too, only she didn’t even have somebody like Al to help get her through it, but she really just… She’s got a lot of perspective, I guess.  And she just cares about everybody, no matter what.  She’s like the polar opposite of fucking Russell.”

“Ah, yes,” Roy said.  “The esteemed Russell.”

“Thinking about that fucking asshole is probably gonna make this worse,” Ed said.  The shadow of the word this stuck in his mouth; it tasted like charcoal.  What the fuck was this, anyway?  Was he—was he always—just carrying this shit, and it could happen at any time, and he wouldn’t even get a second’s heads-up?  “Anyway—I—yeah.  That was fine.  She kept talking about how cute you are, and I thought I was going to die from the rush of blood to my face, and then one of the regulars—his name is Paul—he came up to the counter while she was gushing and was like, ‘Are you talking about Leonardo DiCaprio?’, and Rosé and I just about asphyxiated laughing, and… yeah.”

Roy had an incredible amount of spaghetti twirled up around his fork, and had paused with it raised.  Was he really going to try to fit that whole thing in his mouth?  Could he really fit… Huh, Ed was having impure thoughts.  That was probably a good thing.  That probably meant he was coming back into himself.

“We do have a lot in common,” Roy said, “Leo and I.  Such as concern for the environment, heartthrob status, and never having won an Oscar.”

Something trilled in Ed’s chest that might have been the beginnings of a laugh.  “‘Heartthrob status’?”

Roy ran a hand through his hair, which pinned it back from his forehead—just for a moment before it slipped free—in a way that somehow managed to make him look even more stunning.  “In our high school superlatives, I was voted ‘Most Attractive Male’, ‘Best Eyes’, and ‘Most Likely to Become a Homewrecker’.  The eyes one I’m proud of; as far as I can tell, it was the first time in the school’s history that someone with brown eyes had won it.”

Ed felt his nose wrinkling up.  “What the fuck kind of school has a ‘Most Likely to Become a Homewrecker’ category?”  He eyed Roy.  “And how the hell did you win it?  Were you some kind of player, or what?”

Roy smiled, tipping his laden fork back and forth.  “Not as such.  I just happened to be dangerously oblivious as well as an insufferable flirt.”

Ed snorted.  “That I believe.”

Roy’s smile curled sultry.  “I must confess—I haven’t wrecked any homes, but I have broken furniture.”

Ed’s cheeks warmed a little.  “We—were—talking—about my day.  Once upon a time.”

“Ah, yes,” Roy said, sitting back.  “Please—I do want to hear.”  He somehow managed to fit the massive bite of pasta into his mouth, giving Ed a very serious interested look all the while.

“Okay,” Ed said.  “So… I went into lab.  And did stuff for, like, I dunno how long; I just got caught up; everything was sort of—working.  Like a machine.  Hence the break for Cheetos when Valerie said my stomach was growling so loud it was distracting her, and I should eat something before I passed out, but all she was offering me was cereal with milk, so… yeah.”

“Cheetos,” Roy said in a resigned sort of way.

“And Gatorade,” Ed said.

“Oh, thank heavens,” Roy said.  “I was so worried you weren’t getting your ‘electrolytes’.  Whatever those are.”

The smile came easier than Ed expected.  “Hey.  That shit’s the best when you’re dehydrated.”

“Silly me,” Roy said, but he was grinning.  “I always thought the best thing for dehydration was water.”

Ed managed a snort this time.  “Shows what you know.  Anyway—then I took my data to the conference room so I could spitball with Al over the phone for a while and see if he thought I was onto something, and then I showed it to Izumi, and she told me I was, quote, ‘something else entirely’—is that a good thing?—and then I went home and packed up my shit and came here and—” His stomach dropped again.  “—lost my fucking mind a little bit over—” It certainly wasn’t nothing, but… “—something I shouldn’t’ve.”

Roy’s eyes had softened again.  “Edward—”

“How was your day?” Ed asked before he could get all perfect and gentle and shit again.

Roy paused just long enough that it was obvious he knew exactly what Ed was doing, and then his gaze slipped to Ed’s untouched plate, and he seemed to decide that concession was a better strategy.

“Absurd,” he said, somewhat ruefully.  “I was on the phone for an hour and a half with the mother of a soldier stationed in Korea whose paychecks aren’t getting to his house, although Mrs. Reynolds was more interested in telling me about her annoying neighbor than in answering my questions to figure out what has been happening to these checks.  So in the meantime I was trying to organize my office, but apparently I’d left the last case’s files strewn in a corner for a little too long, because there was a black widow underneath them, and I may have screamed—”

Ed could feel the laughter shivering in his chest and pulling at his cheeks, and it felt—good.  Really good.

“—and Riza may have come in brandishing a letter opener like a katana, and Mrs. Reynolds asked if I was dying, and Sheska—she’s our new paralegal, I think I mentioned?—asked if it was aliens, and Riza refused to kill the thing and instead ushered it out the window, and I told her they had committed people for less, and Mrs. Reynolds thought I was talking about her neighbor and agreed, and Sheska informed me that there were several theories on the internet about arachnids actually being aliens, although she admitted that there was substantial evidence to indicate that they had evolved firmly on Earth…” He took a deep breath and sighed.  “And now I have an appointment to stop by Mrs. Reynolds’s house on Monday, since I can’t get a damn thing out of her on the phone; and Sheska keeps forwarding me articles about alien spiders; and Riza somehow replaced my ‘Decaf Is for Losers’ mug with a Spider-Man one inside of an hour, without me ever noticing she’d left the office.”

The laugh was jumping in Ed’s throat now, and he kind of had to let it out.  “That—wow.  Wow, Roy.”

“Sometimes I wonder how we get any work done,” Roy said, “but then I look up, and it’s five thirty, and I’ve been buried in jargon for four hours without a break.”  He smiled, setting his elbow on the table and resting his chin on his hand.  “And then I remember I promised my gorgeous boyfriend dinner, and I hurl everything into my bag and run for the car.”

Damn it.  Ed was blushing.  He started stabbing at the pasta in the probably-vain hopes that Roy wouldn’t notice.  “Shut up.”

“I doubt I’m capable,” Roy said, reaching out to brush Ed’s hair back again.  He nodded to the plate.  “How is it?”

Ed still hadn’t eaten anything.  He’d just been… prodding it.  “…dunno.”

Roy touched his fork to his own bottom lip, and the tines sort of pushed it in just so, and Ed’s two choices were to get kind of turned-on over a fork, or to assign his full attention to eating, and he was willing to bet Roy had done that one-hundred percent on purpose.

Since the spaghetti was ridiculously good, he couldn’t convince himself that he minded that much.

When they’d finished, Roy took both of his hands and drew him over into the living room and sat him on the couch, and then he put on Planet Earth and came back to the couch with a blanket, and Ed couldn’t have resisted the invitation to cuddle up with him if both their lives had been at stake.  Well—maybe if it was that.  Not really for anything else, though.

The long and normal-sized of it was that Ed passed out sprawled over Roy’s lap in less than half an hour, and half-woke to mumble something about going home as Roy carried him up the stairs.

“I’m not letting you drive like this,” Roy said.

“Tyrant,” Ed said.

Roy sighed, backing through the door to the bedroom.  “If you really want to go, I can take you; you could come back tomorrow for your ca—”

“No,” Ed said, getting a good fistful of Roy’s shirt in case the bastard tried to put him down and leave him.  “Just din’ figure you want me around like this.”

Roy laid him on the bed, discovered that the shirt was being held captive for ransom, and sat beside him.  “Like what?”

Ed nestled his face into Roy’s thigh again.  “All—fucked up and crazy.  And not puttin’ out for shit.”

Roy stroked at his hair.  “Edward,” he said, “you are neither fucked up nor crazy.  And as much as I thoroughly enjoy seeing you naked, I prefer seeing you safe and happy, and that’s my priority right now.”

“Dunno,” Ed said.

“Don’t know what?”

Ed released the shirt and wrapped his arm around Roy’s leg instead.  “How you’re f’ckin’ possible.”

Roy bent to kiss the top of his head, which was so cute it was disgusting.  Ed would’ve scaled mountains for more.  “I wonder the same thing about you, you know.”

Ed was starting to wake up no matter how hard he tried to keep his eyes shut and his mind quiet.  “I just—don’t—start walking on eggshells around me thinking I’m gonna do that again.  Okay?”

“I won’t,” Roy said softly.

Ed swallowed hard once, twice, three times, because this was the part where it always got fucked up—this was the part where it always went wrong, always went sour, always twisted into something sick and started breaking; this was the beginning of the end, because when you admitted you were invested, you were telling the whole universe you had something to lose.  This was the part where gravity kicked in.  This was setting himself up for the fall, and at the end of that was—


I—love you, stupid.  I love you.  Stupid.

I love you more.

You do not!

You don’t know that—you can’t know that.  The things you do to me, Ed; I ought to hate you, but I love you far too much—

Can it.  Jackass.

Why don’t you make me, mm?


Leave me alo—stop it—will you quit i—God, that tickl—stop!  Look, I fucking—love you, all right?  Holy shit, quit biting

I love you, too, kid.

Shut up.  Shut the fuck up, just—you don’t mean that.  I know you don’t; I don’t care.

Except I do.

Don’t fucking lie to me, all right?

Babe, I don’t do lies.  I ain’t got the time.

Quit it.  I said—stop that!  You’re such a fucking asshole, you know that?

And you’re such a fucking peach—kills me how damn cute you are, c’mere—

And the one with the poet’s name, and the monster’s heart.

I—really like you.

Good.  You’re very charming, in your way.


I quite like having you.

Oh.  Well—

Maybe we can make this last a very long time.

I—yeah.  That sounds nice.  That…

Do you love me?


You said ‘really like’; how committed are you?

I… dunno.  What do you mean, ‘committed’?

Would you prove it, if I asked?

…yeah.  I would.  Well—what do you mean?

I don’t mean anything.  Just a question.  You really are lovely like this.

What, half-naked and fucking confused?

Trusting.  Defenseless.  Mine.

Roy’s hand was on his shoulder now, pressing progressively harder.  “Ed—Edward, sweetheart, look at me.”

It took about four blinks in a row for Ed to understand why his knees were in his face.  He’d curled up into the fetal position, and his grip on Roy’s leg was probably tight enough that it was cutting off the circulation to Roy’s foot.

“I’m fucking this up,” he said.

“You’re not,” Roy said, hand stroking at his hair again, almost urgently this time.  Ed fumbled for the other one, to knit their fingers together.

“I am,” he said.  “The one thing I wanted was not to fuck this up, and I am.”

“You’re not,” Roy said, and then he was sliding off of the mattress and kneeling next to the bed to look into Ed’s face.  “Ed, I mean it.  You’re not.  You haven’t done anything wrong.”

“It always goes to shit after I say it,” Ed said.

Roy kept looking at him like he was going to find an answer.  Like there were any answers.  Or at least any answers that didn’t suck.  “After you say what?”

“You know what,” Ed said.  “What you said.”

Roy’s eyes went wide, and then he had this sad little smile like he’d been waiting to get hit, and the suspense had been worse than the blow that had finally landed.

“You don’t have to say anything,” he said.

“It’s not fair,” Ed said.  “If it’s just you saying—if it’s just you being brave, if it’s—”

“You don’t have to say it,” Roy said.  He leaned in with his eyes shut and kissed Ed’s mouth so softly Ed forgot about all of it for a second and kissed him back.  Roy ran his knuckles lightly up and down Ed’s cheek after pulling away.  “It’s all right.  Don’t say it.  I already know.”

Ed stared at him for a long second.

“I guess that works,” he said.

Roy kissed his forehead.  “We’ll make it work.  All right?”

“Okay,” Ed said, and then Roy was bundling him into the blankets, and the exhaustion was trying to devour him again.  “Okay.”

Chapter Text

The world seems to be blurring around Ed a little, which is stupid, because it’s not like he hasn’t pulled an all-nighter before.  Jesus, he must really be getting old.  He’d better ask Roy to get him some prune juice and Tiger Balm and a walker for Christmas.  Maybe some dentures.  Do they sell seasons of Wheel of Fortune on DVD?

The line—no, the queue, the queue, jolly good, tallyho, etcetera—leading up to the automated ticket kiosk in the Tube station shortens one body at a time, and then he’s staring at the half-dozen buttons and the endless options and trying to figure out what the hell kind of ticket he’s buying.  If he’s going from here, Paddington in Zone 1, to Saint James’s Park, also in Zone 1, then… buttons.  Just tap some damn buttons and get your ass—your arse—out of the way, Elric.  The worst thing that can come of a miscalculation is that the turnstile on the other side won’t take his ticket, and some patrolling station officer will have to rescue him and then go off muttering about stupid Americans.

He pays for some sort of all-day something with an extremely sparkly twenty-pound note, collects his equally exciting change, and takes the hard-won ticket over to the turnstiles.  Figures that the escalators are in this sort of claustrophobic tunnel space with a low off-white ceiling, and the sides are plastered with ads, and the whole thing’s sort of… stuffy.

He blows out a long breath, fits his ticket into the slot in the correct direction on the second try, snatches it out again on the other side, jams it into his pocket with his change, and steps onto the escalator going down.  Everybody seems to be clinging to the right-side railing, which can’t be sanitary, but he understands the purpose thirty seconds later when a woman in a green coat goes tearing down the space on the left side at a run.  Ed ends up having to hug his suitcase to his chest so he won’t trip anybody with it; with his luck, they’d go flying down the escalator and die, and then he’d have a manslaughter charge to deal with, and… the morbid thoughts are not so awesome.

Eventually, the escalator spits them out into a series of tunnels like fucking rabbit warrens, and then the rabbit warrens have confusing signs with lots of arrows, and somehow he winds up on a platform with a yellow line at the edge, and the little signs hanging from the ceiling say that there’s a train towards Hammersmith in four minutes.

He’s really, really glad that Roy made him sit down and click around the website and stare glazedly at the massively colorful route map.  He fought it for days, but Roy was right, as Roy is with frustrating frequency.  Ed might even tell him that if he’s extra-cute on Skype later; it’ll make his head swell like a goddamn balloon, but right now Ed’s so grateful for the fact that the transportation primer paid off that he doesn’t even care.

The train starts as a tiny light in the tunnel, hisses up to the platform, and sends all the doors clacking open at once.  Ed crams himself in with all of the other poor schmucks, clutching his laptop bag in one hand and the handle of the suitcase in the other.  His right shoulder is starting to ache.  Maybe he should get off at a later stop; as much as he wants to see some of the iconic shit in this city, a walk with weights in both hands and a backpack hanging off a sore joint is going to make the pain a hell of a lot worse.

But he’s only going to get one first chance at London—right?  He’s only going to get one hello, and he wants to make the best of it he can.

If only he could find his fucking camera.  Seriously.  Roy won’t have let him leave without it, but where’d he hide the fucking thing?

Roy kissed him about a thousand times between the bedroom and the front door the morning after he… the morning after.  He would’ve complained, but each kiss from Roy was like a completely individual magical unicorn of light, and he was too busy cherishing every single one to worry about the fact that it took them almost fifteen minutes to stagger down a flight of stairs.

The last of the thousand landed on his forehead; Roy’s hands were cupping his face as he looked up from jamming his feet back into his shoes.

“Drive safely,” Roy said in his softest velvet voice.

“You’ve never even seen me drive,” Ed said.  “How d’you know I don’t?”

Roy’s grin was obnoxious.  And hot.  “Call it a hunch.”  He trailed a thumb down Ed’s cheek and then stepped back; the grin had mellowed out into a little smile instead.  “Text me later?”

“Yeah,” Ed said.  “Let me know if you wanna do something, or… whatever.”

“I’d love to,” Roy said, and then he paused, looking like he wanted to smack himself, so Ed grabbed his collar and dragged him into another kiss.

“Cool,” he said after.  “See you soon.”

And Roy smiled at him, and he slipped out the door.

He let the backpack fall onto the carpet; he couldn’t bring himself to care.

“I fucked it up,” he shouted by way of explanation.  He slammed the door for good measure.  Probably should have slammed the door before the shouting, but hey.

“I’m sure you didn’t,” Al said, hastening into the hallway, presumably in the hopes of averting further property damage.  “What happened?”

“He—” Ed closed his eyes.  This was Al.  “—dropped the L-bomb.  And I just—I fucking—flipped.”  He tried to muster the energy for stomping over to the couch and hurling himself down on it, but it wasn’t in him, so he just sort of straggled over and collapsed.  “At least I fucked it up early,” he said into the cushion.  “Less baggage, I guess.”

“He just… came out and said it?” Al asked.  “I mean, I’d guessed as much, but…”

“You should’ve said something,” Ed said.  “Prepared me.  I practically fucking cornered him.  And then I—I haven’t—felt like that in… a while.  Since—the letter.  You remember?”

“I do,” Al said quietly.  “I believe I always will.”  His voice brightened.  “But I think you’re being a bit melodramatic here.  Roy seems… hard to rattle.”  He paused.  “You’re all right, aren’t you?  He can’t have just said it; when did this happen?”

Ed shifted enough to look at him around the edge of the couch cushion.  “Last night.”

Al folded his arms, raised an eyebrow, and tapped a foot.  Dextrous, that one.  “Let me guess—he cuddled you and took care of you all night long and made you breakfast this morning, and somehow you’re interpreting his complete acceptance of your reaction as you having ‘effed it up’.”

Ed tried to look as pitiable as possible.  “Sure, it sounds stupid when you say it that way.”

Al rolled his eyes.  “Well, I’m not digging you out of this one; you’re just going to have to sort it out with him.”

Ed made a big show of whining, and Al made a big show of not caring, and then Al came over and somehow crammed himself into the tiny space Ed had left on the couch and touched the back of his head very gently.

“But you’re okay?” he asked.

Ed ground his knuckles into one eye.  “Yeah.  I mean—yeah.  It’s just… I thought… that was over.  I thought it was sort of an isolated thing, and it wasn’t coming back, and… I guess that was stupid, but… it would’ve been nice.  Now it’s hanging over my fucking head again.”

Al was quiet for a while before he spoke.  “We’ll get through it.  We always do.”

“I know,” Ed said.  “’Cause the choices are get through it, or give up.”

“And Elrics aren’t quitters,” Al said.

“Nope,” Ed said.

Al sat there for a long time, tapping at Ed’s spine sort of idly, and they talked about whether the age of the centrifuge could be skewing Ed’s data or not, and then about tide pool ecosystems, and then about whether Winry was right that Ed was exacerbating his scoliosis, and then…

“What’s so bad about him being in love with you?” Al asked slowly.  “Aren’t you in love with him?”

Ed buried his face in the pillow.  Don’t think it; don’t think it; don’t even glance at it— “Yeah.”


“Remember how you said you hated seeing me get hurt?”


“This is how that starts.”


“I mean, you can’t get hurt if you don’t care, right?  But—that’s, like, the most that you can care.  That’s the epitome of caring… ness.  And—it never—it just gets fucked up.  It always gets fucked up, and the fucked up part always starts with me saying that, and I really—I wanted this one to be good.  And stay like that.  That’s all.”

Al sighed, and then he leaned in and rested his chin on Ed’s shoulder.  “Saying it doesn’t make a difference if you already felt it, Brother.”

“Does so,” Ed said.  “Knowing they’ve got that power over you, it… changes people.  It does.”

Al hummed a little in his chest.  “You said he dropped the L-bomb.  Did you say it back?”

“Too busy freaking the fuck out about how I didn’t want him to,” Ed said.

Al got up, stretched, and yawned like a cat.  Which was part of why they didn’t need a cat, obviously; they already had one; it just happened to be Al.  “For my two cents, I think you’re overreacting spectacularly.”

“Whatever,” Ed said.  “We’ll see if he ever fucking calls again.  He’s probably sick of my shit now.”

“I doubt that,” Al said.  “I’m not sick of your stuff, and I’ve been dealing with it for twenty years.  What did he say when you left?”

Ed looked woefully at the arm of the couch.  “To text him.”


“He obviously didn’t mean it.”

“Brother,” Al said again, this time with feeling, “you are the dumbest genius I have ever met.”

Ed glared.  “How many geniuses have you met?”

“Lots,” Al said.  “You want coffee?”

“Fuck, yes.”

Even after he’d drained the very fine cup of elixir of life that Al had made him, Ed didn’t feel like he was entirely done moping on the couch, so he dragged himself upright long enough to go fetch his data from yesterday and then collapsed back onto said couch to languish a little more.  Languishing with data was much better than languishing solo with his stupid, miserable thoughts; at least this gave him something other than his own idiocy to be confused and frustrated about.

The reprieve lasted less than an hour before his phone vibrated.

The text was from Roy.  Of course.  Ed had to tilt his head back against the arm of the couch and berate himself for a long moment before he could work up the guts to open it.

Did you make it home all right?

Stupid asshole bastard piece of shit Roy.  Ed couldn’t tell if that was supposed to be a veiled criticism of the fact that Ed had forgotten (“forgotten”) to text him, or if Roy was just worried, or if he was annoyed because Ed had made him worry, or if—


Safest bet was to offer absolutely nothing, right?

yeah i did

He sat there and stared at the tiny pixels making up those three words until they started to waver.

He was making this worse.  Wasn’t he?  He was making this worse on purpose, because it had started to slip out of his grip last night, because Roy had held his heart out on a silver fucking platter, and Ed was so scared of dropping it that he didn’t dare to take it, and he couldn’t even talk about a trade.  It wasn’t Roy’s fault he was so fucking mangled on the inside over this kind of thing—and it wasn’t Roy’s fault that Ed hadn’t had the balls to warn him beforehand, before it spiraled out of control and nosedived and crashed in a plume of flame.  None of this was Roy’s fault; Roy had tried to do something good, something generous, and because Ed was a fucking idiot and a sick, messed up weirdo, it had totally fucking exploded in his face.  That wasn’t… right.  It wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t what Ed wanted for this, for Roy, for them, if there was a “them” still, if “them” wasn’t curled up and broken on the floor, twitching in its death throes and crying for a little bit of kindness.

He’d damaged this, but maybe—maybe it wasn’t unsalvageable, right?  Maybe Al had a point.  Maybe… maybe a lot of things.

He knew he’d never make it if he tried to talk this out in real time, because his tongue always tangled, and the words always choked him, and then he got so pissed at himself that he couldn’t even start, but—

But that was the blessedness of texting, wasn’t it?

Ed pressed both fists deep into his eye sockets, took a couple deep breaths, and then put his thumbs on the screen.

listen i’m really sorry about yesterday and i want you to know that it’s nothing that you did or did wrong or didn’t do or whatever it’s just.  those words are really loaded for me i guess and i didn’t realize how loaded they were and it’s my fault for being a dipshit and also for needling you about it for no fucking reason but i didn’t know it was that bad, i never thought about it, i mean i tried NOT to think about it because i guess some part of me had an instinct that it was gonna get fucked up in my head but i didn’t know it was going to be like this and i’m sorry. i really really am i mean i feel like you stepped on a fucking landmine in me that i didn’t even know was there and i fucking crumbled and i’m sorry you had to deal with that and i hope you know it’s not because of WHAT you said because honestly what you said is. like really great it’s. anyway it fucking sucks because i feel like we’re off-balance now and that’s my fault and i don’t want it to be like that because this thing with you has always felt so safe and so comfortable and so GOOD and that’s part of what makes it kind of terrifying too because i feel like i have so much to lose if i fuck it up and of course that contributed to me fucking it up and this is my whole life Roy this is what i am and this is all i get and i’m sorry.

He sent it before he could reread it and be tempted to delete it all.

Then he banged the heel of his hand against his forehead a couple times.

Then he added:

i’m also sorry i just sent you a huge fucking pile of wordvomit seriously mustang four out of five dentists recommend that you dump my shit right now and save yourself a lot of trouble from here on out

His phone buzzed while he was gazing at it in dismay.

Good Lord, Ed, I haven’t even read the first part, but -- I am absolutely under no circumstances going to dump you!  Hold on, let me read the other one; give me a moment.

Ed tried to wait, but it went against his nature.

nooooo don’t read it it’s horrible i’m horrible mustang you have to leave me it’s for your own good

Roy was… Roy.

Shut up, darling. <3

Fortunately, the flush burning Ed’s face off distracted him at least a little bit from his abject failure as a human being.

The delay was longer this time—one minute, two minutes slid away from him, and then staring at the clock on his phone and pressing the on button every time the screen went dark started to seem more than a touch pathetic, so he slouched down lower on the couch and rested the phone facedown on his chest.  He could do this.  He could handle it.  He’d waited for worse summonses on this phone, and he’d lived through those, too.

And then:

First of all -- if you ever imply that I’m going to dump you at the first sign of human weakness ever again, I’m going to force-feed you ice cream until you either explode or get that fool idea out of your head, whichever comes first.

Ed stared.

Ed blinked.

Ed texted, what kind of ice cream

Roy’s legendary fingers struck again.

Coffee almond fudge.  I bought some at the store the other night, but I was saving it for you.  Bear with me for a few moments?  This is going to be a bit long…

Ed swallowed hard, blew his breath out so that his bangs flew everywhere, and sent back:


He tried to breathe deeply and steadily while he waited.  It was just a text message.  Roy didn’t even seem mad—or not mad-mad, more like… Maybe a little mad.  But he wouldn’t have been offering ice cream if he was well and truly pissed off; he’d have told Ed where to shove that dumbass, incoherent, rambling excuse for an apology and blocked his number by now.

The phone buzzed.

Edward, Roy had written, nothing about the way that I feel has changed since the moment you walked through the door last night.  No, I suppose that’s not quite true.  I think I feel a little more protective.  I know you asked me not to treat you differently, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to help that; I hope you won’t hold it against me.  As for the rest… Please believe this -- the only reason I didn’t tell you the instant it occurred to me was because I didn’t want you to think it was a demand.  It isn’t.  God, I swear to you, it doesn’t -have- to be requited; you owe me nothing, nothing at all, and I don’t -want- you to feel like you’re under an obligation with me.  I didn’t want it weighing on you.  Perhaps I should have known it might find a way, but it’s not an expectation, Ed.  It is nothing more or less than a promise that I care about you very, very deeply, more and faster than I ever would have guessed I could; it is a promise that I will do everything in my power to make you happy and keep you safe.  That’s all.  You don’t have to pay it back.  I’m not going to take it away.  I love you.  It’s simple.  And if it’s not simple for you -- and I understand that; I do; it took me a long time to make my peace with those words, and their meaning -- then please, Ed, sweetheart, let me help.  Let me make it easier, if I can.  That’s all I want.  That’s all I’m asking.  What do you think?

Ed needed more coffee to deal with this.  And maybe a sedative.  And maybe a Kleenex.

i think you are so far out of my fucking league you’re playing in a different universe and i don’t know what the fuck you even want me around for but just.  i don’t know.  i think.  i mean with Al and stupid Winry it’s like i don’t even remember a time when i didn’t love them but this is different and i always thought ‘falling in love’ was a stupid cliche right because what the fuck does that even mean but that’s what it IS isn’t it?  it’s like falling out of a plane with no fucking parachute and sure the air feels kind of nice and sure it’s kind of exciting but i have hit the ground so many times roy and it never stops hurting. and like duh Al’s right that not saying it doesn’t make it not true but. i mean i don’t believe in superstitions, i’m not into that shit but i do believe in PATTERNS and this is more than a coincidence and i’m so tired of getting beaten down but it’s already too late isn’t it? because i do you know. you said you know. i don’t blame you if you don’t believe a single fucking thing i say anymore but. you’re seriously fucking amazing and i like everything about you and you give me the best fucking goosebumps and you’re too fucking decent to get out of this while you still can aren’t you?

He put the phone down on the table and shifted up to set his neck right on the edge of the couch arm, so that he could sort of half-dangle over the side and stare up at the ceiling.  That had felt… cathartic.  And also completely fucking stupid.  But sort of a good kind of completely-fucking-stupid, and he’d almost said some of the things he wanted to, and arcing near to accurate self-expression was more than he usually managed.

He reached for the coffee mug just in case there might be something left in it, but it was empty down to the last drop.  Well, maybe the second-to-last drop, but the last one was crystallizing in a little ring at the bottom, and his tongue wouldn’t have been able to reach it even if he’d sacrificed the last of his dignity and tried.  If that wasn’t a summary of his whole damn life, he didn’t know what was.

And then… Roy, of course.

Patterns are made to be broken, aren’t they?  I’m not going anywhere.  Don’t give up on us yet, sweetheart.

Ed frowned intently.  Really intently.  To keep from sort of smiling.

are you going to start calling me that every five seconds when i do shit like this because that’s a pretty good motivator to get my act together

You’re the sweetest thing I’ve centered my heart around in a long time, Roy sent.  But to answer your question, yes, it seems to be coming out much more prominently as a reaction to your distress…

Ed wrote, never being distressed again

Roy wrote, My dear, that is my greatest hope.

Ed kind of wanted to kick him, and fling the coffee mug across the room, and also wrap both arms around any available part of him and hold on tight until the universe burned out.

you are so freaking gross mustang i don’t know how you do it. okay i’ve got a lot of shit i have to get done after what i was working on friday so. let me know how your weekend goes and i’ll see you on monday at the shop and maybe we can do something next weekend ’cause i really want to see you

It was the truth.  But he also needed a little time to cobble himself back together after completely fucking disintegrating.  Roy didn’t need pieces of a person.  Roy wasn’t dating rubble.  Roy deserved the best of him, right?  And the least Ed could do was take the time to rebuild enough of his fucked-up stupid psyche to present a united front.

Of course, Roy sent.  To all of those things.  The ice cream and I will be eagerly anticipating it. <3

Ed’s face was a flambé again.  Or one of those drinks that they liked to light on fire before they served them.  How did people even drink those without burning all their hair off?

oh my god barf enough with the hearts already roy

He could almost hear Roy laughing, and it felt… pretty fucking great, to tell the truth.  It felt like some of the tension was dissipating from his shoulders and his spine.

Roy’s next message was about what he’d expected:

I beg to differ. <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

Ed rolled his eyes.

objection overruled no more hearts you are on heart probation until further notice HOW CAN YOU BE THIS SAPPY holy crap

Holy sap, perhaps? Roy sent.  I keep telling you, you bring it out in me.  Take care, all right?  I’ll see you soon.  And, at risk of being held in contempt -- <3

Ed realized he’d sort of sunk into the couch as far as it was possible to go without actually fitting himself behind the cushions.  He hesitated, and then he remembered that this was Roy, and Roy—weirdly, given who he was and what he did and how swanky-posh a life he was leading—really, truly didn’t seem to judge.

So Ed wrote one last message before he shoved the phone back in his pocket and got up to go find some food and venture off to lab:

eugh <3

Monday.  A quarter to five in the fucking morning.  Russell.  If there was a hell, it probably looked exactly like this, down to the last hair in the dumbass swoosh of blond covering half of Russell’s stupid face.

Unsurprisingly, the morning dragged, limped, crawled, and staggered to six, six thirty, seven, seven fifteen, seven thirty, seven forty, seven forty-five—

And then the sun came out, and birds sang, and all of the trees waved their limbs like teenagers at a concert, and so on and so forth, and Ed pretended to find the receipt-signing pens in the cup by the register really exciting.

“Good morning,” Roy said, and his eyes gleamed, and his grin might have convinced a less-adamant agnostic to believe in something.

“Hey,” Ed said.  Where was Russell?  Ed would get on board with the whole religion thing if the answer turned out to be in a trash can somewhere.  “How was your weekend?”

Their text correspondence yesterday had been pretty much random numbers of <3s from Roy at random intervals, and Ed saying at least make them fucking regular you giant nerd, to which Roy’s response was a jubilant No more patterns, remember?


“It was wonderful,” Roy said as he fished out his wallet, “thank you.”

Ed started hitting buttons on the register, trying not to sag with relief at the way that the calm and the warmth between them was back like it’d never wavered.

“I took my best girl out on a date,” Roy said.

Ed’s head snapped up.  He didn’t quite have the presence of mind to be jealous, exactly, because he was too preoccupied with shock.

Roy grinned, and pushed the money across the counter, and turned his phone around to show Ed the picture on the screen.

Ed’s brain realigned itself on a track affectionately known as the world is not collapsing and started chugging normally again.

“Is that the same girl from the picture on your mantel?” he asked.

He already kind of knew the answer—a couple years had passed since she’d sat for the studio portrait Roy had framed above the fireplace, and there was a set of pink- and purple-bracketed braces on her broad grin, and the high pigtails had given way to a set of bangs and a bob cut, but it was pretty unmistakably Hughes’s kid.  Elicia was her name, Ed remembered that much; and apparently delighted selfies with Roy Mustang in front of amusement park rides was her game.

“I try to take her somewhere at least once a month,” Roy said, retracting the phone with a faintly sheepish smile.  “It gives her mom a break, and I get the digest on all of the boys that are in love with her—and a girl, too, this time—and all of the terrible things she’s learning from the television; and how her mother still believes that if you look up ‘spoiled rotten’ in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of a middle-schooler with an iPhone, so she always suckers me into letting her monopolize mine…”

“If you keep letting chicks walk all over you,” Ed said, “you’re gonna get in trouble, Mustang.”

Roy was squinting at his phone screen.  “Precisely what is a ‘Fruit Ninja’, anyway?”

“I can think of a couple answers that aren’t PC,” Ed said, slinging the coffee cup across the counter.

The edge on Roy’s grin turned Ed’s stomach acid into fucking lava in an instant.  “Careful.  You know what happens to naughty boys?”

Ed would’ve suggested something, if he could get a goddamn word out, but his throat failed him completely.

“Have a nice day,” Roy said brightly, winking one more time before he sauntered over to the coffee and thence out the door.

The whole glowing exuberance thing made him look so young Ed couldn’t help wondering… stuff.  Stuff he shouldn’t have been thinking about.  Stuff he shouldn’t have touched with a ten-foot pole, because he knew how he got; he knew how he was; he knew better.  Stuff that wasn’t any of his goddamn business anyway.

Stuff like Isn’t thirty-five supposed to be the part of your life where you settle down and reproduce and have to act respectable?  Isn’t thirty-five when you give up late nights, and you talk about the weather, and you worry all the time about stocks and your retirement?  Isn’t thirty-five when making kids is supposed to make your eyes light up like that?

Even in his own head, he was avoiding the question—the real question.

Isn’t thirty-five when you’re supposed to stop fucking around so you can get married and produce children and buy a golden retriever and a two-story house on the nice side of town?

Isn’t thirty-five when you quit wasting your time with the likes of me?

He had to stop thinking like that.  He had to stop thinking like this was doomed, or he’d turn his own pessimism into a prophecy.

The bottom line was that Roy had chosen him—and now Roy had chiseled in past the layers upon layers of weird-but-more-or-less-tolerable quirks and appearances and tumbled into some of the seriously fucked-up shit beneath.

And Roy was still choosing him.  Every minute, even now.

He had to put a little bit of faith in that, or this was never going to work.

Deep breaths.  Deep breaths, and a couple perfect shots for a perfect latte, and a wet rag over a spray of wayward grounds across the counter, and…

…dumbass Russell, also breathing—breathing down his neck.

“Was he showing you nudes?” Russell asked.

“Holy fucking shit,” Ed said, and even that didn’t encapsulate the abomination of it all—he was going to need to learn German or some shit.  “Are you high?  Like, right now?  ’Cause I can’t think of a fucking universe where asking me that doesn’t get your ass fired.”

“This one will do,” Russell said.  “So what was it, then?”

“None of your goddamn motherfucking business and never will be,” Ed said, and banged a portafilter so hard trying to empty it that he practically broke the stupid thing.

Somebody—Roy, probably; Al knew his schedule and also preferred to call—texted just a few minutes after his shift ended.  At risk of ending up as a streak of blood and gore on the asphalt and totally deserving it, Ed dragged his phone out of his pocket in the middle of a crosswalk as he was trudging along on his way in to class.

Yup.  Roy.  Stupid, perfect Roy.  There needed to be a word for that.  Stuperfect.  Perfupid.

How are you holding up? <3

Ed wasn’t honestly sure how much longer he could go on lying to himself about the unrelenting pace of the life he’d built.  There wasn’t much point lying to Roy either, was there?

feel like death and am so pissed at fucking russell that i can’t even see straight. other than that i guess i’m okay hahaha. if you text at work isn’t riza going to have your guts for garters or some shit. be careful okay you have nice guts it would be a shame if they got mutilated

I’m going to give myself away with laughing, Roy sent.  It’s too late.  Please mourn my once-nice guts for all that they were and could have been.  I meant to tell you -- Elicia wanted to know who I was texting, so I told her about you, and she’s desperate to meet you now.

Ed’s knee was giving him shit for spending an hour going up and down the ladder putting up the stupid Halloween decorations in the stupid store during the customer dead zone after lunch.  The plastic things themselves were stupid, and the ladder was stupid, yes; but the stupidest thing about it was that Rosé was just going to have to rearrange everything anyway, because she actually had an eye for aesthetics that extended beyond “I guess that’s vaguely symmetrical” and “All the lightbulbs work”, which had been the most that Ed and Russell could figure out as far as what was supposed to make decorations appealing.

All the same, he’d made good time on the drive, and he was walking pretty fast partly just to spite his dissenting kneecap and intimidate it into submission, so he had time for a few more texts.

Which was good, because there was a major error presented in the last one.

what kind of lies were you telling her if she actually wants to meet me? did you tell her i have a pony? am i expected to acquire a pony between now and whenever we meet??

Putting the phone back in his pocket seemed pointless.  He really needed to start keeping an eye on his texts, though—or did their plan have unlimited?  He couldn’t remember.  Al always kept track of that sort of stuff for obvious reasons, such as Ed’s demonstration of a few special talents that included losing bills altogether as well as completely forgetting what month it was and then how much they were supposed to pay for rent.  In his defense, he had an awful lot of numbers penned up in his head, and it wasn’t really that surprising if one of them broke through the fence and escaped.

He needed to take a night and get all that shit organized again one of these days.

The phone jittered in his palm.

I told her nothing but the truth, Roy said, i.e. that you’re a brilliant scientist, that you’re very important to me, and that you have extraordinary hair.  And that you make coffee.  Her mother won’t let her drink coffee yet either, so it’s Very Grown-Up and highly enticing.  Oh, Riza and Sheska want to meet you too.  You are indisputably the talk of the town, taking “the town” to mean “my extremely limited social sphere”.

Ed swallowed.  He was getting close to the classroom, and he had to put at least half of his brain towards the task of walking up the stairs, or he was going to do another one of his infamous headers.  He could think of about a thousand things that were better to be famous for than faceplanting on the stairs all the goddamn time.

At the top, he thumbed out one more:

shouldn’t i have had to sign a waiver or a contract or something before i could be nominated as the primary topic of conversation in your little universe mustang.  jeez.  i’m happy to meet anybody you want though but like could you maybe lower their expectations a little bit k thanks

Just before he was going to have to zone in to the lecture and shut out all thoughts of… anything… to make sure he soaked it up, his phone buzzed one more time.

Trust me, darling, none of my peanut gallery is anywhere near as intense as your friend Winry.  They’re going to adore you.  Sometimes I flatter myself to think that they already do, based on the fact that you make me so happy, and they like it when I’m giddy and pliable.  In all seriousness -- if you want to bail, I am a master of convincing excuses.  No pressure.  Just let me know. <3

What a friggin’ douchebag.

A perfect, awesome, psychic douchebag, no less.

Somehow, Ed wound up on the street down in front of Mustang & Hawkeye, LLP at five thirty on Friday, the better to meet up with the whole three-person crew of this unlikely-named ship and set sail for dinner at some restaurant he’d never heard of.

He probably would’ve been a lot more nervous—this Riza chick in particular seemed like both the bolster of Roy’s life, and the bane of his existence—if he wasn’t so preoccupied about his paper.

He’d wanted to put another day or two into it, analyze some more, replace some of the parts where he’d had to write ??? in parentheses because he just didn’t have all the data yet, all of that—but since he’d finally created something like a draft out of the chaos of notes and screwy diagrams and crap that had exploded all over his lab bench over the past week, he’d caught Izumi on her way back in from lunch and handed it to her.  With the caveat “I have no fucking idea if I’m on to anything, but I guess it’s a start, and maybe a biomed journal might take it”, of course.  He knew how to hedge his bets by now.

Fifteen minutes later, she’d stuck her head back out of her office, said “Ed, can I borrow you for a minute?”, and then closed the door after him when he stepped in.

“Take a seat,” she said, and he sympathized with squirrels on the highway as he perched on the very edge of the chair, with the desk in between them, and tried his best not to grip the armrests until the plastic split.

She shuffled the pages of his draft a little and then tapped the sheaf on the desktop to align all of them.

“Is there a reason you didn’t tell me about this?” she asked.

His heart was in his throat, and his stomach was diving towards one knee.  “What?  I—well—I mean, we canceled lab meeting Monday, and I really only thought about it like this last Friday, because—I mean, it’s like one of those optical illusion things, where it’s mostly the same data I had, it’s just that I’m looking at it in a new way, and it shows a whole different picture, you know?  So I just—last week, it sort of—shifted, and then I started thinking about it differently, and then I thought maybe I should start writing, but… I mean, I didn’t want to waste your time if it turned out to be nothing.  It’s just—it was just sort of a stab in the dark using a knife I already kinda had, I guess.”

Her face was totally unreadable, and there was a single sub-zero drop of sweat rolling slowly down his spine.

“I’m sorry,” he managed.  “What’s wrong with it?  I mean—I know there’s a ton of shit missing; I’m still working on—”

“Ed,” Izumi said, turning the papers around to show him the cover page again, where she had written—in huge letters, in red pen, WHERE DID THIS COME FROM, “this isn’t a paper.”

Well, that felt like a slap in the fucking face and a poleax in the fucking chest, and he was deflating like a punctured zeppelin, but there was a part of him—a deep, resolved part—that knew he’d recover, because he’d had worse.  “Oh.  Well.  I can—do you think there’s anything in it I can salvage, maybe?  Some of the data wa—”

“This,” Izumi said, “is a biomedical revolution.”

Ed opened his mouth.

And shut it.

And blinked, like, eight times.

“Say what?” he summoned after a very long battle with his throat and brain.

Izumi smiled faintly, paging through.  “I can’t believe I’m seeing my own name in this.  It’s—Ed, I’ve always known you were incredibly brilliant, but I didn’t realize you were going to tear the whole world apart.  This is… Nature is going to grovel at your feet.”

“Oh,” Ed said.

“Which is why,” she said, and her eyes sharpened as she looked at him, “you’re going to have to protect yourself.  People are going to try to take this from you—everyone is going to try to take this from you.  You need to have the patents filed before you publish anything.  Don’t even talk about this to anyone you don’t have to—don’t share data; don’t lose copies of this; for God’s sake, don’t leave your laptop anywhere.  I’ll tell everyone there are no more visitors here until we’ve locked this down.  Anyone with half a chance in hell is going to try to steal this from you and drag you through the mud.  Keeping this is going to be the fight of your life, Ed—do you understand that?  Are you prepared to go to war for this?”

Ed couldn’t help the funny, twisty kind of smile that was working its way over his face.

“This is just science,” he said.  “I mean—important science, science that’s important to me, but…” He pointed to the draft.  “That’s paper.  That’s tree pulp, you know?  And the data is meaningful, but only to somebody—only acted on.  And yeah, it matters who acts on it, because not all roads lead to Rome, or whatever, and some of them lead to cesspits in pharma’s factories or whatever, but—nobody I love dies if that gets out.  Nobody’s gone forever.  Nobody’s even in the E.R.  And… yeah, I mean, it’ll probably be a bitch to hold onto, but… I’ll make it my bitch.  Life goes on.”

Izumi looked at him for long enough that he started to squirm, and then she said, “All right.  Let’s do it, then.”

Ed—in the present day, or the present moment on the same day, or whatever it was—startled right the fuck out of the reverie when the door to the office building opened, and Roy held it that way for two women to walk through.

One was blonde and almost Roy’s height, with the most precise posture Ed had ever seen in another human being; and one was a shorter brunette with glasses and a seemingly permanent expression of mild awe.  The blonde shot Roy a withering look and muttered something that sounded an awful lot like “Are you trying to impress him?  It sounded as though he’d resigned himself to being stuck with you.”

Ed was pretty sure he was going to like her.

She probably wasn’t going to like him, though—all three of them were dressed to the nines in sharp-lined, stark monochrome suits; Roy’s shirt was dark blue, and the girl with the glasses was wearing bright pink, but the blonde’s chosen chemise was off-white and entirely proper.  Meanwhile, Ed had meant to run home and change, but what with the whole possibly-life-changing paper issue rearing its disruptive head, he hadn’t gotten around to it.  He’d crawled to lab this morning in black jeans and a tattered red sweatshirt, and that was what he was stuck with now.

He was hoping—against hope, against all odds—that whatever place it was Roy had texted him about didn’t have such a super-formal dress code that they’d kick his ass to the curb on sight.  For one thing, he was badly craving an evening with Roy; for another, he was starving.

Nothing he could do about it now, though.

Roy made a pouting face at the blonde woman, which almost made her smile, and then schooled his expression right back into the suave bastard thing.

“Edward,” he said, “Riza, and Sheska.  Ladies, Ed.”

From just Riza’s handshake and five seconds of eye contact, Ed could tell that she was one of those people who had reached a critical threshold of bullshit in their life, decided in a distinct moment to stop taking it, and never brooked any ever again.  But her smile was so warm and genuine it felt… more than welcoming; something bigger than that.  It reminded him of something he couldn’t quite put his finger on.

“It’s nice to meet you,” she said.

“You, too,” he said.  “I’ve heard a lot.”

Riza cast Roy a withering look, and he waved his hands in mock—or possibly real—panic.  “All effusive compliments,” he said, “and paeans of praise.”

Ed caught a gleam of amusement in Riza’s eye and figured he could run with it.  “Yeah, something like that.  Also some shit about prison guards and dictatorships.”

Roy’s arm hooked around his shoulders and hiked him in so that Roy could tug on his bangs in a way he probably thought was reprimanding or something.  “You traitor.  See if I put all that blood, sweat, and tears into cooking for you again.”

“I thought it tasted off,” Ed said, trying to snuggle in a little while making a show of trying to get away, which was pretty fucking difficult, to tell the truth.  “Go easy on the blood next time.”  He turned his attention to the brunette, feeling a vague pang of guilt that he’d let Roy distract him.  “Hey.  Nice to meet you.  I hear you’ve got an eidetic memory.”

Sheska blushed a little.  “Oh—he told you about that?”

And about the alien thing, Ed did not say, because he wasn’t a total asshole all the time.  “Yeah.  I’m totally jealous—I always wished I could do that.  But I guess it’s probably got downsides that most of us don’t think about.”

Sheska’s blush deepened, and her eyes widened—an effect that was only amplified by the glasses, of course.  “Yeah, it’s—yeah.”

“Perhaps we should start over to Chez Charlemagne,” Riza said, “in light of that one memorable occasion on which we waited two hours to discover that they’d lost our order somehow.”

Ed got the sense that nothing annoyed this woman as much as a failure to execute in an area of professed competence.  Accordingly, he got out an imaginary highlighter and circled the part of tonight’s mental game plan that said be humble.  He circled it about sixteen times.  And then underlined it.  And added an exclamation point.

“That was a delightful evening,” Roy said, loosening his tie with one hand and wrapping Ed’s up in the other, to… thread their fingers together.  To hold his hand.  In public.

Ed couldn’t tell if it was a coincidence that Riza drew Sheska a little bit ahead of them and started asking whether Roy’s new favorite mug had made it into the cupboard for the weekend; maybe she’d seen the look on his face that was also making Roy pause.

Roy started to pull his hand free of Ed’s, and he looked kind of—gutted, kind of bitter, kind of crushed, kind of like he was trying not to show any of it at all.  “Is that not—?  I’m sorry.”

Ed fumbled to catch the perfect fingers before they slipped away.  “No, it’s—just—nobody’s ever—I mean, what if somebody—says something?  You’ve probably got a—reputation, I dunno; there’s a ton of people out here, and you have a business to think about; it’s just—”

“If you’ll pardon my French,” Roy said, squeezing Ed’s hand, his whole face relaxing into an unbelievable smile, “fuck that shit.”

Ed tried not to grin back; he really did.  “Now you’re speaking my language.”

Roy’s thumb running over his knuckles, Roy’s arm against his, dinner ahead and the world darkening around them—a guy could really get used to this whole life-being-good thing.  “If heterosexual couples have society’s green-light to go around joined at the mouth like a pair of guppies, we can let our extremities touch in public, for heaven’s sake.”  He took a breath and smiled.  “Unrelated, but… I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you’re famished.  Did you get my text?”

Please eat something more nourishing than Cheetos? <3 right around noon.

“You mean your pile of sap?” Ed asked.  “Al sent me with a couple apples and shit today, so…” He glanced down at himself, then back up at Roy.  “Are they gonna let me into this place, looking like this?”

“Looking adorable, you mean?” Roy asked.  “I don’t see why not.”

Ed side-eyed him until he started to laugh.

The whole life-being-good thing just kept… going.  It turned out that Ch… whatever was a super-laid-back bar and grill kind of place, where you ordered at the counter, struggling to make yourself heard over the sports games, and then picked up your pizza and beer and crap a couple minutes later when they shouted your number over the din.

Riza beelined for the back of the place the second they stepped inside, and Roy caught Ed’s elbow and steered him over towards the line to order.  Sheska must have been almost as hungry as Ed was—she didn’t hesitate for a fraction of a second before she followed them, with her gaze glued all the while to the menu on the wall.

“So what’s good?” Ed asked.

“Just about everything,” Roy said.  “Riza and I have been coming here since we were kids.”

Either there was some world-shattering-career-revelation fluff still stuck in Ed’s ears, or he’d really just heard that and was going to have to process it eventually.  “Wait, what?”

“We grew up together,” Roy said.  “I think we were… seven, when we met.  Eight?  She’ll remember.  We bonded over our love of dogs and a shared inability to relate to most of the other children our age, because the majority of them still had both their parents, and had never climbed the counter to reach the cereal boxes at midnight because no one had remembered to feed them.”

Ed thought his heart was going to crack down the middle.  And then probably crossways, too.  And then the pieces would sort of shrivel up and disintegrate.

Roy glanced at him, did a double-take, and then cringed heavily.  “I—sorry.  Long story.  Long story that is wildly inappropriate for a fun Friday night outing.  The garlic fries are excellent.”

There were a lot of things Ed could have said, but none of them felt right in his mouth, and there was a sort of sheepish tilt to Roy’s cautious smile, and… it could wait.

“What is this thing with you and garlic?” he asked.  “I mean, not that I’m complaining, ’cause it’s the best shit ever, but I’m kinda starting to get suspicious here.  Is it an aphrodisiac or something?”

Roy’s smirk should definitely have been nominated as a wonder of the world.  “Let’s find out.”

Apparently, Riza always had a club sandwich, and Roy always had barbecue pizza; Ed debated for several minutes before settling on a plain old fucking burger, and Sheska gave the menu one last extremely intense assessing glance before selecting a combo thing that included a whole roast beef sandwich, an order of fries, soup, and salad.  Photographic memory and eyes bigger than her stomach—Ed would’ve bet the lease for this restaurant that he and Sheska were going to get along just fine.

Somehow, despite the Friday night crowd, Riza had secured them a U-shaped booth towards the back, where the noise was a little duller—which was a blessing, since Ed was veering dangerously close to sensory overload after the day he’d had.  A day which had started at unholy fucking o’clock, he wanted the jury to recall.

It didn’t hurt either that Roy and Ed somehow ended up in the curve—where Roy could, and did, slip his arm around Ed’s shoulders—with Riza and Sheska on either side.

“So, Ed,” Riza said once they’d settled with their drinks.  She’d even let Ed finish his sip of Pepsi, eliminating the possibility of him choking on it and spitting soda across the table.  Riza Hawkeye was a classy lady, no two ways about it.  “I’m all too familiar with law school, but how is your PhD program set up, exactly?”

Thus it was that Ed somehow ended up telling a woman who was practically a perfect stranger about the various and sundry fears that kept him up at night as the prospect of defending his thesis drew ever nearer.  He’d set himself a timeline that ended quite abruptly in June of next year, but with today’s sudden reimagining of half of what he’d been working on for, oh, five damn years, maybe that was overly optimistic, but he didn’t want to push it back, because hard deadlines were the best motivator, and also it was a bitch and a half trying to get five faculty into the same room for half a day—but if Izumi was right, and he had to build a ton of thick stone walls around everything he’d been striving towards before somebody tried to break in and ransack the place, he’d somehow have to budget some time for it out of the hours he’d planned to have for experiments—

“Breathe, darling,” Roy said softly, one hand running gently up and down his back.

Ed paused, took in Riza’s gentle concern and Sheska’s open-mouthed surprise, and pulled his Pepsi over for a very long sip out of the straw.

“Anyway,” he said, “it’s—yeah.  I gotta take my quals soon.  Then I can defend.”

“I understand you also work at the coffee shop,” Riza said.

“Really?” Sheska asked at Ed’s nod.  He wasn’t about to risk talking again just yet, since apparently he couldn’t be trusted to do it without exploding.  This was starting to become a trend.  “Can you do latte art?”

“I can’t even do art with pencils,” Ed said.  “I don’t have any freakin’ clue how some people do it with milk foam.  Especially since milk sucks, but—that’s a different story.”  Roy was sharing a look with Riza, but there wasn’t time to worry about that.  “I get it conceptually, I mean; it’s like—layers, density, colors, okay, but… how the hell you’re supposed to decorate with that… give me the quantum mathematics any damn day of the week.”  He sipped again, and then he had a small revelation.  It was an instinct honed by years of roughhousing with Al to elbow Roy in the ribs—gently—to get his attention.  “Hey.”

Roy ruffled his hair in retaliation, and Ed writhed.  “Yes, dear?”

Sheska looked like a kid in a candy store.  Riza looked like a prisoner on death row.

“I meant to ask,” Ed said.  “How’d that thing go with Mrs. Reynolds the other day?”

Roy grimaced.  Riza lightened up considerably.  Ed thought that was a very good sign.

“She has cats,” Roy said.

Ed raised an eyebrow.  “So do a lot of people.”

“Let me rephrase that,” Roy said.  “She has nine cats.  I counted.  After I was finished prying the instantaneous mask of airborne fur off of my face.”

“It wasn’t quite that dramatic,” Riza said, although she sounded fairly pleased about the whole incident—which, judging by his baleful expression, did not escape Roy’s notice either.  “And I’m really quite impressed that she can house so many animals despite the numerous delicate collections of porcelain figures.  And the dolls.  And the endless photographs of her children.  And the glass cases of more porcelain.  And the other set of dolls.”

“You couldn’t take a step without feeling like you were being watched from every angle,” Roy said, with a shudder for good measure.  “Between the cats, the dolls, the unblinking Mr. Reynolds and his remarkably resilient eyeballs, and—you forgot the portraits.”

“Ah, yes,” Riza said.  Her sardonically understated delight was a thing to behold.  “We were privileged enough to enjoy renditions of Corporal Reynolds in pastoral scenes, classical scenes—Renaissance, Romantic, I think there was a marble bust—”

“I may never sleep again,” Roy said.  “Which is probably a blessing, given what I’d dream.”

Ed had to bite his lip on a laugh.  “Did you find the checks, though?”

Roy sat back and sighed.  “That’s a whole different narrative—after she made us tea, and quizzed us on the names of all the cats, and force-fed us several very old Milano cookies, she explained that she and Mr. Reynolds made a point of sorting all of the mail alphabetically and/or by topic every single afternoon.  Mr. Reynolds chimed in with an extremely illuminating—”

Riza nodded slowly and piped up in perfect unison with Roy.  “‘Mm-hmm, that’s right.’”

“After a full hour of flipping through envelopes,” Roy said, “we determined that the checks were not, in fact, anywhere in the unimportant mail shelves, or anywhere in the important mail shelves, or under any cats’ rear ends, or anywhere in the home at all—there was not a single trace of military correspondence anywhere to be found.  At that point, we applied basic logic: what if—extraordinary thought—Corporal Reynolds had the presence of mind to be terrified of this hellhole, and had chosen to live somewhere else?”

Sheska was trying to make it look like she was sipping her drink instead of laughing.

“Lo and behold,” Riza took up, “the answer to ‘Does your son have a separate address’—which is all we would have needed to know from the beginning, and which I have heard Roy ask on the phone more than once—is ‘Well, yes, but they should know to send it here.’”  She paused, either for dramatic effect, or— “And, from, Mr. Reynolds—”

Both of them at once again; it was kinda creepy: “‘Mm-hmm, that’s right.’”

“You shouldn’t laugh,” Ed said, struggling to follow his own admonition.  “What if they have dementia or something?”

“I considered that,” Roy said.  “But they have no trouble with all nine cats’ names, or with the dates every portrait was made, and Mrs. Reynolds takes great pride in trouncing all of her friends in bridge tournaments and in telling us the extended history of the feud with her next-door neighbor.”

“It goes back fifteen years,” Riza said calmly.  “The man’s name is Allen.  He is a menace.  They should put people like him away for the good of others.”

Ed shook his head slowly.  “But—I mean, that was the problem, right?  The address?”

“That was it,” Roy said, leaning back against the seat with a sigh.  Under ordinary circumstances, one would think the motion would dislodge his arm from around Ed’s shoulders, but Roy had a talent for not interrupting cuddling.  “We all piled into Mrs. Reynolds’s thousand-year-old Cadillac and drove over to Corporate Reynolds’s apartment—an experience which was without a doubt the closest I have been to wetting myself since I was four.”

“Shockingly,” Riza said, “when Mrs. Reynolds opened the door, we found a stack of mail that mostly comprised of the checks.  Mrs. Reynolds’s only comment was—”

She and Roy spoke in frighteningly perfect unison: “‘But they should know not to send it here.’”

“Then she rummaged through his pantry and found several semi-antique bags of Milanos,” Roy said.  “Which she repossessed.”

“She’s still going to have to pay her legal fees, though,” Sheska said thoughtfully.  “And we don’t accept Milanos.”

“That’s a war that’s going to have to wait for next week,” Roy said, rubbing at his forehead.

Forty-four!” the guy at the counter called.

“That’s us,” Roy said, sliding Riza the receipt.

“Let me help,” Sheska said, jumping up with her.  “Half of it’s mine.”

“Okay,” Ed said, eyeing Roy.  “I see how it is—you’re a perfect gentleman until it requires getting your lazy ass up.”

“It’s not that,” Roy said.  He grinned.  “Or not entirely that—it’s traditional, for the two of us; I order, she picks up.  We’ve done it that way since we were ten, because she lost her voice for weeks with a bout of laryngitis like you wouldn’t believe—and on one of those nights, I managed to trip and dump our tray all over the floor.  She still doesn’t trust me to carry anything fragile.”

Ed tried to look unconvinced, but it was getting progressively easier to picture a young Roy acting like a total dork, and it was extremely easy to imagine Riza banning him from important tasks for the rest of their lives and enforcing the sanction meticulously.

Evidently, nobody had been exaggerating about the appeal of this place: the food that arrived, balanced on trustworthy hands, made Ed’s mouth water so fast he thought he might drown.

After they said goodbye to Sheska and Riza, Roy walked Ed to his car, which was slightly absurd, given…

“You know I know judo, right?” Ed asked.

Roy smiled and slung an arm around his shoulders again.  A guy passing them on the sidewalk gave them a look—a significant look, and significantly bad—but Roy either didn’t notice, didn’t care, or did both but had decided not to react.  “I want to protect you,” he said.  “Perhaps that’s not logical, and perhaps it’s not especially necessary, but I have not felt this strongly about anyone in a very long time, and I’m just rolling with it.”

Ed leaned into him, even though it was sort of impossible to walk evenly when you were half-hugging someone.  The resulting three-legged-race thing was a good sort of awkward, though—and a good sort of stupid, and a good sort of almost-uncomfortable.

“Yeah,” he said.  “I dunno if logic has a whole lot to do with it.”

“Are you all right?” Roy asked.  “Riza intimidates a lot of people, but she’s—”

“Totally gentle underneath if you’ve earned her respect?” Ed asked.  At Roy’s startled blinking, he shrugged into the half-hug-thing.  “She reminds me of Izumi.  Which is good.  I’m okay.”  The parking lot backed onto one of the local dive bars, and somebody whooped loudly, and he tensed up on instinct.  “Uh—mostly.”

Roy held him a fraction tighter.  “You’ve had an unimaginably long day,” he said, “to top off an unimaginably long week.”

There was just the faintest—just the slightest—hint of a purr in that voice.

“Yeah,” Ed said slowly as they neared his indestructible (though not invulnerable) metal steed, “but I’m… not that tired.  ’Cause of the caffeine, probably.”

“I can’t believe you’re still sensitive to it at all,” Roy said.

“Me neither,” Ed said.  The parking lot was a hell of a lot emptier than it had been when he’d arrived; there was space to loiter by the driver’s side door, and Ed made no move to reach for his keys.  “I am kinda stressed, though.”

Roy’s hand drifted down his spine.  B-I-fuckin’-N-G-O.  “Would you like to come by?  I might be able to help you relax a little bit.”

Ed’s blood ran faster, and hotter, and thicker just at the thought.  “That sounds pretty good.”

Roy grinned at him, and Ed pushed up on his toes, and Roy leaned down and kissed him once, twice, three times.

“Meet me there?” Roy said.

“You better run to your fucking car,” Ed breathed.

“Oh, come on,” Roy said.  “You should have gone with ‘Get to your damn Mustang, Mustang.’”

Ed smacked his arm.  But not very hard.

Chapter Text

When Ed starts climbing the stairs out of the Tube station, a revelation is forthcoming in the trail of footprint-dragged water sluicing down: it’s raining.

That kind of figures.

Well, he came here to experience the damn city in between lectures, and London is famous for crappy, piss-drizzling weather when you least expect it, so it’ll be genuine as well as damp and horrible.

His arm’s starting to ache, and his not-exactly-waterproof bags are full of important electronics, and he’s almost laughing as he slips between the pinch-faced business people in their wet coats and tops the stairs.  He used to stand at the window and glare at the rain when he was a kid, and then Al had that one year where he was totally obsessed with musical theater, and every time it rained—every time—he’d come skipping up to Ed, grab both his hands, and swing him around the room singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” from Oklahoma! until he cracked a smile.  Followed by the eponymous number from Singin’ in the Rain, complete with the full Gene Kelly tap-dance, which usually did the rest.

There’s a trash can—they call it a ‘bin’ or some shit here, right?—overflowing with abandoned umbrellas like broken bat wings just to his right as he emerges onto the sidewalk.  That makes a lot of sense as the wind gusts, and the rain spews sideways, and the faces of the passersby screw up a little tighter.  Ed looks around a little to try to get his bearings—luckily enough, the pointing street signs are visible if you squint through the rain, and there’s a pretty obvious patch of tended green ahead, so he’s pretty sure he’s made it to Saint James’s Park.  Theoretically, he should be able to see the landmarks of his destination once he sets foot on the path.

There’s a miserable-looking girl at a streetside kiosk right by the park gates—the incongruously cheerful red-and-white-striped awning over her cart might be doing her a favor or two if the rain wasn’t blowing quite so horizontally at intervals—and Ed fishes in his pocket for unfamiliar change.

“Can I get one of those?” he asks, pointing to the umbrellas—in the process of which he sees that they’re right next to a row of Union-Jack-patterned sunglasses, which nobody in their right mind would buy, today or ever.  Roy absolutely needs a pair.  “And one of those?”

The girl’s eyebrows don’t even move.  There’s probably nothing in the universe you can say that will surprise people who work in the tourist industry in capitol cities.  “Nine pound fifty, then.”

Ed sorts through the money in his hand, which is rapidly soaking up rain.  “Can you guys take tips?”

The girl blinks.  “Sorry?”

Maybe Ed will win this round after all.  “Tips.  Can you accept ’em?  I know there’re rules sometimes.”

She stares at him. “I… don’t think we’re meant to, but—”

“Fair enough,” Ed says.  He hands her a ten-pound bill, takes the giant fifty-pence piece she holds out, and then folds up a five-pound note and tucks it under the nearest pair of sunglasses.  “Whoops,” he says.  “I’m so forgetful.  I’d probably lose my head if it wasn’t screwed on.  Have a good day, okay?”

“Cheers,” she says, staring at the money and then at him, then at the money; and then he opens up his umbrella, shoves the hideous sunglasses in his bag, grins at her, twirls the umbrella like Mary Poppins on a weird-ass bender, and walks away.

Life is good; life is good, and it only gets better if you share it.

The designated path carries him first across a narrow bridge over the lakey-river-thing winding through the middle of the park.  He stops in the center, where he can just make out the place said lakey-river-thing joins up with the Thames—right where the Eye rears out of the drizzling mist, with the Jubilee Bridge wavering in the gray off to the left; brave boats go scudding up and down, and he can’t make out Big Ben from this angle, but it and the Parliament building and Downing Street and Westminster Abbey have got to be off to the right somewhere.  He stands there for a long, long minute, letting the rain drum on his kitschy new umbrella, at the triangulation of some of the most famous freakin’ London landmarks that exist.  He fishes out his camera to get a couple pictures—they might not come out; they might just be rain and shadows, but Roy’ll want to squeal over them anyway.

Fuck you, Mustang, Ed thinks as he tries to fix the camera settings with the umbrella clutched awkwardly in the crook of his arm.  You should’ve been here for this.  Not least so I could peel your wet clothes off when we got to the damn hotel.

Something occurred to him the second he released the parking brake, so he kept his foot on the brake pedal and texted fast.

shit nevermind about my head start i gotta run home and get my shit. meet you there?

He wondered sometimes if Roy had some kind of magic instant-text fairy living in his phone.

Perfect -- see you soon. Don’t text and drive!

Ed made sure to send back the requisite I WASN’T GODDDD before he backed out of his spot and wended his way out of the parking lot.  What a day.  What a fucking day.  It was a good thing he’d resisted the urge to drink anything potent at that Chez-Thing place; he was having enough trouble focusing on driving just through all of the regular noise in his head.

Izumi had been in science and academia for a long time, and she was damn good at what she did, and she wouldn’t blow smoke up his ass—which meant she really, truly, seriously thought that paper was… groundbreaking.  He was pretty much going to have to shift everything he’d planned out for his defense a full ninety degrees and reorient his entire approach, but—groundbreaking.  Fuck that ground anyway; he’d tear it up and smash it to pieces, and then he’d figure out how to build on whatever was left.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

Jesus, he really needed to keep his brain in his skull, his eyes on the road, and his hands on the wheel.  At least one hand on the wheel.  At least, like, three fingers to get some leverage; his steering wheel was pretty forgiving, and then a real grip for turns.

…maybe he ought to ask Al to drive him over to Roy’s place.  The way he was going right now, he was going to rear-end the fuck out of somebody, and he really couldn’t afford to have his car insurance go up.  Fuck that whole eighteen-to-twenty-five ‘high-risk’ age bracket anyway.

Deep breaths.  Oxygen to the brain.  He had this in the bag; he just had to keep a hold on said bag and carry it all the way home.  Or something.  Metaphors.  Jeez.

So maybe it was a small miracle that he made it back to his and Al’s place and even managed to stumble up the front walk without falling flat on his face.  Maybe it was a small miracle that Al was at home, sprawled out on the couch talking to Winry on the phone.  Maybe it was a small—albeit consistent and rather predictable—miracle that Al correctly interpreted the combination of ‘I need you’ and ‘Oh gross gross gross I refuse to believe my perfect angel brother is having dirty phone calls with my almost-sister’ in Ed’s expression and asked Winry if he could call her back.  Maybe it was a small miracle that Al’s eyes lit up like prisms in the light at the news about the paper; that he hugged Ed so tight that breathing was impossible for a long twenty seconds; that he patted Ed’s head—the fucker—and then went to go get Ed’s toothbrush and a change of clothes and pack them into his bag.  Maybe it was a small miracle that he kept side-hugging Ed all the way back to Ed’s car, and then pulled the lever and shunted the driver’s seat back, and then maintained the lilting chatter all the way to Roy’s.

Maybe Ed needed to start believing in miracles.  He seemed to have a lot of little ones in his life right now.

He knocked his forehead gently against Al’s as a tiny extra thank-you as he hugged him goodbye, and then he staggered up the walk to Roy’s front door and knocked.  The lights were on in the front hall; the bastard had to be in there somewhere.  Ed cupped his hands and peered into the frosted glass next to the door, and sure enough, there was a very promising shadow moving in there.

The door opened, and Roy grinned at him, and Ed mustered a slightly weary grin back.

“Come down off your Pepsi high?” Roy asked, holding an arm out to him, which he may or may not have leapt into like a well-trained pet.

“Possibly,” Ed said.  “You can’t prove it.”

Roy kicked the door shut—somehow he managed to do this without breaking anything, and it didn’t even slam very loudly, which was a trick Ed would have to ask him to teach sometime—and then towed Ed down the hall.  “Perhaps we should forgo the extracurriculars in favor of some sleep.”

“Or,” Ed said, “I could get a little bit wasted, and then you could fuck me really hard.”

Roy stopped in mid-step and looked at him.  Ed flashed his most disarming grin—followed by his most challenging one.

“But if you’re tired,” he said, huffing half a sigh and shrugging for good measure, “I guess we can just go to be—”

Roy’s mouth smothered the rest of that, and Roy’s hands caught his hips, and then they were making their tangled way up the stairs—wet, clumsy kisses and the heat of Roy’s hands sending a current through him, jolting in his bones, just barely synchronized with the unrelenting drumbeat of his pulse—

“Going to bed,” Roy panted, both hands fisted in the front of Ed’s jacket now, “and going to sleep are two entirely different processes, for the record.”

“Duh,” Ed said.  He didn’t care to elaborate on that particular point, especially when there were much better things he could think of to do with his mouth—namely, at this moment, sucking on Roy’s bottom lip until Roy actually whined in the back of his throat.  They’d staggered halfway down the hall; the door was already open, except… “Don’t tell me you keep booze in your fucking bedroom, though.  You want me to go get it?  Where’s…”  Roy looked kind of—stricken.  “What?”

“It’s not in the bedroom,” Roy said.

Ed’s internal organs seemed to be shuffling themselves around in his body cavity like a bunch of fucking Uno cards.  Even if he sounded stupid, the question bore repeating: “…what?”

Roy lowered his face into one hand, ground his thumb into his eyes, took a deep breath, hesitated, hesitated again, and then crossed the room and stepped into the master bath.  Ed stood there for half a second, listening to his own heart thumping in his ears, and then followed.

Roy knelt in front of the cabinet under the bathroom sink, pulled out one of the drawers on the left, and reached into it to retrieve…

A bottle half-full of bright amber that read Angel’s Envy, and a shot glass.

“It’s bourbon,” Roy said, looking helpless in a way Ed had never seen him—was it the situation alone, or was Ed making some kind of judgey face?  “It… helps with the dreams, some nights.”

“Doesn’t alcohol usually compromise the quality of people’s sleep?” Ed heard his voice asking as he looked at the little feathered-wings design under Roy’s fingertips.

“Compromised is better than nothing,” Roy said.

Ed bit his tongue on Guess what kills the mood, Mustang?  Did you guess ‘worrying about your PTSD shit giving you a drinking problem’?  ’Cause that’s right on the fucking money.  Ten points.

He forced it down and forced a little smile.

“Well, hell,” he said instead.  “It’s Friday night.  How expensive is that shit?  You gotta have some with me.  I’m not gonna sit here and chug all your medicinal booze by myself.”

The relief that flooded Roy’s face—and then was immediately wiped away in favor of a significantly more normal raised-eyebrow-and-smirk combination—made the sacrifice completely worth it.  “It’s not prohibitively pricey, but… maybe we should run downstairs, and you can take your pick.”

It occurred to Ed that that had been an option all along—the liquor cabinet, the smooth verbal segue, the easy change of subject.  It occurred to Ed that some part of Roy must have wanted him to know about this, because he could have kept it hidden for a long, long time.

It occurred to Ed that maybe Roy needed Ed to love his weakness with the rest of him.

“Good idea,” Ed said.

Roy tilted the bottle.  “This really isn’t meant to be drunk from a shot glass, anyway.  Flattens the nuances.”

“So put it back,” Ed said, “and let’s go get trashed on something cheaper.”

Roy did as instructed without protest—Ed wondered if he should be taking pictures of this moment or something—and pushed the drawer shut before he stood.  “Let’s,” he said.

Ed held out a hand to him, and Roy latched on tight.

Two bottles of ‘less-than-bank-breaking’ chianti later, Roy was trying to describe the smell of Ed’s hair, and Ed couldn’t stop laughing, and Roy’s hands on his ass felt like firebrands, and they almost fell down the stairs three times over the course of the journey back up to the bedroom.  A part of Ed thought that the festive mood was only half inspired by alcohol, and the rest was relief—the rest was from being here, together, feeling wanted, feeling safe, in spite of how fucked up they both thought they were inside.

He was waking, slowly, like a streetlamp flickering to life, to the realization that Roy had just as many demons nipping at his psyche as Ed did—different creatures, with weapons and torments and reaching shadows that weren’t quite identical to the ones he knew—and had just made a habit of keeping them under wraps in his relationships.  The smooth-talking, espresso-worshipping Casanova that Ed had swooned over wasn’t a front—that was a genuine facet of Roy’s being—but there was a hell of a lot more buried underneath it that didn’t always come to light.  It was hard to tell just how many people Roy had ever trusted enough to show them the foundations over the years.  For the first time in his stupid, stupid life, Ed was really glad that he’d lost control of his crazy animal brain and betrayed all of his vulnerabilities so fucking early.  Usually that made people run for the hills, but Roy…

Roy seemed to identify with that.  Roy seemed to be seeing parts of himself.  Roy seemed to be overpowered with fucking gratitude that somebody understood.

Long story short, it wasn’t just the wine that was making Ed’s heart skitter and soar at intervals while they tumbled to the bed, and he dragged Roy’s stupid-gorgeous suit off of his stupid-gorgeous frame.  They had a chance, here.  They had a chance to be each other’s solace, each other’s sanctuary; they had a chance to be what they’d both been waiting for—

Most of the time, the pressure of that—of not fucking up with the vastness of their potential weighing on his head—made Ed’s skin prickle at the cold breath of imminent doom on the back of his neck, but right this second…

Right this second, it felt like home.

And hot damn, running his hands slowly down Roy’s sides, from ribs to abs to hipbones, made his skin burn and his blood sing; hooking both legs around Roy’s waist and grinding their hips together made his breath jump in his chest and scald his throat and choke out of him like a miasma; fisting one hand in Roy’s hair and holding him there, to kiss and lick and nibble at, made his guts clench and his will tremble and his whole body shake with a fervency of goddamn desire he still wan’t used to, no matter how many times he gave in and let it steamroll all his inhibitions.

Roy’s fingertips skimmed down his bare thighs and then back up, lingering to knead his ass until he made a noise that might’ve qualified as a mewl—if the classifier of said onomatopoeia was sadistic and hated him and wanted to be dead to him forever, anyway—and then tracked up his back to settle on his shoulder-blades and lift him from the bed.  Ed’s heart leapt hard and free-fell heedlessly; it wasn’t his fault, it wasn’t, but there were some advantages to being marginally less-big than the average individual in his demographic, and one of them was when hot guys could pick you up and toss you around, but you knew they’d never hurt you.

Roy didn’t even throw him (not that Ed would’ve minded, though he’d die in agony before he phrased that as a request)—just shifted him higher up onto the mattress, since they’d landed on it sort of diagonal and half over the edge.

Ed scrabbled to get a grip on him again as they resettled—an arm, or some hair, or… anything, really.  Any part of him; just touching him felt privileged; just being permitted to be this close, to breathe him in, to earn his attention, to learn the contours of his body, to be basking in the favors of his mouth—

“God,” Roy said into the skin beneath his ear, along his throat, down the side of his neck towards his collarbone.  “I could kiss you forever and never get bored.”

“You prob’ly would get dehydrated, though,” Ed said, heels sliding on the sheets as Roy’s tongue flicked against a tender spot under his jaw so lightly that it tickled.  “Holy shit, stop that!”

Roy’s laugh started low in his chest—low and rich and resonant, and it ran through Ed like a fever, and he couldn’t stop shivering.  “Are you only ticklish when you’re drunk?  How is that even possible?”

Ed tried to squirm away from the fingertips dancing down his stomach, gritting his teeth on the stupid giggles bubbling in his throat.  His dumb, intoxicated meat-brain had decided that he was not going to give in to this.  “No.  I’m ticklish all the fucking time; I’m just better’t not showing it wh—ahh, Roy—nonono—”

Roy, like the conniving fucking bastard that he was, had quickly figured out that his hair tickled even more than the graze of his fingertips, and was accordingly tilting his head to the side and trailing his bangs down along Ed’s side.  That genius fucking maneuver looked so flabbergastingly ridiculous on top of the physical sensation that Ed just couldn’t hold it back anymore.

And yeah, some of it was the wine; and yeah, some of it was the sheer exhaustion, but most of it was just Roy fucking Mustang and his evil-perfect hands and his filthy-perfect mouth.  Most of it was Roy fucking Mustang kissing at his stomach and humming into his skin; most of it was Roy fucking Mustang licking along the crease where his thigh met his pelvis and holding him down when he started to squirm; most of it was Roy fucking Mustang’s incredible fucking eyes turning Ed’s breathless laughter into breathless gasping with nothing but a look

Then most of it was Roy peeling off his boxers and closing that unbelievably talented mouth over his dick, and holy shit, his brain was short-circuiting so violently he might’ve been seeing sparks.  Or maybe that was the combination of drunkenness and ecstasy.  Or maybe the light in Roy’s bedroom was on the fritz.

Point was, holy fucking hell.

He’d obviously done this before, and if Ed had any goddamn say in the matter, he’d definitely be doing it again—and again, and again, and again.  He kept pushing just-fucking-right against the underside with his tongue, and he was practically fucking deep-throating so that when he swallowed it felt like heaven, and every now and then he’d flick his tongue over the tip, and somehow he’d mastered the balance of the suction so that when he bobbed his head Ed’s mind went white

“G-God—” he managed, arching his back off of the bed before he could stop himself—Roy’s hands fixed instantly on his hipbones and shoved him back down, and he choked on a whimper as his weight bounced against the bed; he grabbed two handfuls of the sheet and twisted—

The almost-too-gorgeous heat withdrew, and Roy wiped the back of one hand across his mouth, worked his jaw, smirked, and said, “Just ‘Roy’ will do.”

There was a distinct possibility that the noise Ed made was less of a human noise than an angry cat noise, but he couldn’t really be bothered to give a fuck.

Roy’s cheeks were flushed, and his eyes were bright, and they crinkled up beautifully as he laughed.

“Yeah, yuk it up,” Ed said, which he thought was pretty damn snappy considering the fact that he was naked and needy and still shaking from the hormone high, and his dick was still wet with Roy’s saliva, upon which the cold air was not kind.

But two could play at that kind of game, right?

He folded himself up cobra-quick, like a switchblade, and curled a hand around the back of Roy’s neck to haul him into another kiss—and holy shit, was that what he tasted like?—and bite down hard on his bottom lip.  The appreciative groan rumbled deep in Roy’s chest like a roll of fucking thunder, and Ed drew back just far enough to look him in the eyes when his lashes lifted.

“Hey,” Ed said, twisting his fingers into the hair at the nape of Roy’s neck.  “You were gonna fuck me ’til I screamed myself hoarse.”

Roy’s eyes gleamed in the low light, and he trailed his fingernails so fucking slowly down Ed’s spine— “Was I.”

“Yeah,” Ed said, leaning in to breathe against his jaw, his neck, his shoulder, nipping his collarbone and moving down with both hands—and then he changed his mind, planted his palms on Roy’s chest, pushed him hard onto his back, and climbed up to straddle his hips, which was a much better position for kissing and licking and nibbling his way down Roy’s chest, hands braced on the bed.  Roy’s fingers curled around his wrists, and yeah, fucking yeah, that was the right fucking direction

“Lord,” Roy gasped at the ceiling, rolling his shoulders, shifting his hips, eyelids falling halfway shut, and Jesus fucking Christ, had anybody ever been that gorgeous?  Would anything like this ever fucking happen again?  Ebony and cream on white and white and slate-colored shadows, and the marks Ed’s mouth left were deep, dark red—Roy’s right hand clenched in his hair, tugged so hard his scalp tingled, fuck yes— “Is that what you want?”

“Want’s got shit to do with it,” Ed said, deliberately pulling against Roy’s grip so that the prickle started to hurt.  “Talkin’ need here, Mustang—need you to make me forget this whole fucking week.”  He dragged his tongue over Roy’s ribs, breathed out, nosed at Roy’s chest, looked up through the ragged curtain of his hair.  “Need you to make me so fucking yours I forget everything else I’ve ever been.”

Roy fisted his hand tighter in Ed’s hair, dragging him up into a hard kiss—hard, all teeth, all force and meaning—and he scraped the fingernails of the other hand down Ed’s back so fast there was barely time to register the sting; his fingers dimpled deep into the flesh of Ed’s ass, and that was fucking transcendent, and then he was cradling Ed’s thigh instead, and then he was using the leverage to flip them in one whiplash motion—and the mattress wasn’t unforgiving, but Ed’s hair fell in his eyes, and the room spun, and the breath popped out of his lungs—

Roy pinned him to the bed with one hand and went scrabbling in the nightstand for lube with the other, and both of them were clumsy with the goddamn wine, and Ed kept trying to writhe out from under Roy’s hand—not with any real intent, though, just for fun, just to see if Roy could hold him down, to see if he’d hold out.  His first attempt at escape made Roy lift that hand and then slam it down harder on the center of his sternum, and there was a growl in the back of that gorgeous fucking throat.  Try two got the hand back into his hair again, yanking a little when he moved; he’d had a tie in it, before, and he wasn’t quite sure if it was on the floor or tangled in the ends, but he knew Roy’s pupils fucking dilated when the fall of yellow caught the light.

The third bout of shameless jackknifing under Roy’s hand earned him a thumb pressing on his throat and a hot hiss of breath against his ear and the weight of Roy’s whole body over his—

“You are such a little shit, you know that?”

Ed’s heels got just enough purchase on the sheets for him to hike his hips up against Roy’s, and their dicks brushed soclose, and he felt all the muscles in Roy’s whole body jump, and that was the kind of power you couldn’t buy—the kind you could only beg for.

“You gonna make me sorry?” he asked.

He got his answer in the first slick finger that slid right in without pulling any motherfucking punches and pushed right for his prostate, and hallefuckinglujah

Roy held his wrists to the bed (and whispered That’s all right on your shoulder? and wouldn’t move until Ed nodded, which was the most that he could manage with his breath sticking in his lungs and searing up his fucking trachea)—and finger-fucked him so slow he thought he was melting, thought he was going to shatter, thought he was going to break apart and disappear.  And then Roy’s hands were on his waist instead, and there was a pillow underneath his hips, and he couldn’t tell whose sweat was fucking whose, and what difference did it make?  None, because God, with Roy all wet and furnace-hot and panting like a fucking dog above and against him—with Roy buried balls deep in his fucking ass, perfect-pale skin blazing pink with the endorphins and the exertion and the whole fucking high—with Roy bending over him to suck on the side of his neck in perfect time with every maddeningly slow, dizzyingly deep, fucking magnificent thrust of his body into Ed’s—

A fucking howl crested in Ed’s throat when Roy’s hand wrapped around his throbbing dick and stroked so fucking slow, like they had all the time in the goddamn world, like it was too fucking important a thing to be rushed—

And Roy’s mouth on his jaw now, Roy’s ribs crashing into his as they both gasped for air, Roy’s hips fucking him into the goddamn mattress—Roy’s voice and his fingertips still so fucking soft while his dick tore the whole fucking world down into streaks of white and a frantic pulse of wanting—

“I’ve got you—I’ve got you, Ed, I’ve—”

By the time he blinked his way back to a recognizable reality, Roy had already wrapped both arms around him and was carding gentle fingers through his hair.

He had to make no less than four false starts before he could manage any words, and even then, it wasn’t much to write fucking home about:

“I…” he said.  “…wow.”

They were both totally splattered with cum, and Roy must’ve hated having that in his bed, except he wasn’t bitching about it at all—just pulling the blankets in a little around Ed and guiding his matted bangs back from his face.

“Good?” he asked softly.

Ed tried to figure out how to work his brain.  “Fucking understatement of the fucking year.”  Roy grinned, but there was a hesitation in it, which— “What?”

“Nothing,” Roy said.

“Bullshit,” Ed said.

Roy smiled thinly, twirling a lock of Ed’s hair around his finger, which was beyond lame and also kind of wonderful.  “Fair enough.  Just…” The smile slipped, faded, and was gone.  “I’d never forgive myself if I hurt you.  Whatever you said you wanted; whatever you asked for, if I…”

Ed sort of couldn’t help nestling in closer in under his shoulder and against his chest—Roy was always so damn warm he was like a radiator, only without the clanging and clacking and burning-your-hands-on-the-metal.  Just the constant, comfortable heat.

“You didn’t,” Ed said.  “And you won’t.”  Apparently the wine was still lubricating his vocal chords, even though he felt like he should be sober by now, because he thought the words Shut your fat mouth right there, Elric, quite clearly, but they didn’t stop his stupid tongue.  “I—one of the guys that I… dated—seriously, I mean, for a while, not just, like, ‘Hey, you wanna get fast food and then have a quickie at your mom’s house’ shit—one of the guys I was with, he…” His finger was drawing pointless loops and circles on Roy’s skin.  “He was sort of—it was kind of his thing that anything worth doing was worth overdoing, right?  Like, he didn’t just want to eat; he wanted to starve and then fucking glut himself, you know?  I mean, he didn’t begrudge quality, and he could appreciate it if he took his time, but he just wanted—stuff.  Everything he could get his hands on.  And it makes him sound like a fucking douchebag, but he wasn’t, really; he was—I mean, you should’ve seen him with animals.  Or kids.  He had this weird sort of charm because he wasn’t even trying; it was like the reason he wanted so much of shit was because he just loved living so much, and he wanted to maximize every second he got, and… when he… turned that on you—when he picked you out of the fucking muddle, and it was like ‘Yo, I want the best and the most of everything in the whole fucking universe, and right now I want you’—that was… I dunno.”

“Gratifying?” Roy said, brushing his hair back again.

“Addictive,” Ed said.  “Jesus, shut me the fuck up.  Anyway, the point—point of this whole thing is, he didn’t… you know, he wouldn’t just get tipsy.  He’d get so fucking hammered he couldn’t see, and life was a fucking lark on crack or some shit, and—I mean—he was a nice drunk, mostly, but we’d—y’know, he’d get smashed and then want to get laid, and…”

Roy was trying to stay very still and very neutral, but the muscles in his jaw had tightened, and his heart was beating faster; Ed could hear it.  Very, very softly, he said, “And?”

This was so fucking humiliating.  Ed hated fucking wine.  Also, himself.  Also, the way he knew the embarrassment of all of this shit was going to seep red-hot into his very fucking bones tomorrow morning when he woke up.  “It wasn’t ever like I really felt unsafe, ’cause I could’ve kicked his ass and still had time for tea, and he never would’ve known what hit him, but… there was this… edge on it.  I guess.  Like—not danger, just—unpredictability.  And sometimes that was almost kind of hot, I guess, like—thrilling or whatever shit, but—sometimes I thought… he might.  Y’know.  Hurt me.  Not on purpose, and I don’t—I mean, I wouldn’t’ve held it against him, or I would’ve tried not to, but…”

This had completely spun away from him, and now he was talking out of his fucking ass, and he hated when he did that, and now he was pissed off at himself, too.

He rubbed his eyes hard—better not to think about what kind of bacteria and shit was on his hands right this second—and ground his teeth.  “I mean, the fucking point is—you’re not like that.  You weren’t.  Just now, I mean, tonight, whatever; I think you’re never like that.  ’Cause the thing is—I mean, alcohol just makes people more of what they are, right?  Like, it just sort of fucks up all the shit we put on top of who we really are, and it exposes us, or whatever, and—” He buried his face in Roy’s chest and tried not to feel like the world’s single biggest fucking moron.  “And you’re—I dunno.  You’re good.  You’re fucking—decent.  You’re gentle.  Even when you’re trying to be all fucking macho and dominant and shit, it’s like—it’s safe.  I’m safe.  ’Cause I can fucking feel it in everything you do that you fucking love me, and that’s terrifying, ’cause I might fuck it up, but—but it’s sort of amazing, too.”

“You’re not fucking it up,” Roy said softly, lips moving against his ear and then pressing his temple in a definitive kiss.  “You’re not fucking anything up.  Except perhaps my ability to go through hour-long meetings without thinking of you sprawled out in this bed without pants, a mental image which is equal parts distracting and persistent when I’m trying to work.”

“Perv,” Ed mumbled into his collarbone, and it came out even less reprimanding than he’d intended.

“You bring it out in me,” Roy said.  He stroked flyaways back along Ed’s hairline with his fingertip, so lightly Ed had to suppress a ticklish shudder again, and his skin tightened at the sensation of it.  “You also seem to bring out my protective instincts.”  He sat up, made a face, and held an arm out.  “Come on.  Step into the shower with me, or we’re going to mildew overnight.”

…but Ed was so damn comfortable.  “’S… highly biologically unlikely.”

“Why risk it?”

Ed nuzzled deeper into the pillow, which felt like heaven-cloud right now.  “B’sically statistically impossible.”

The mattress creaked as Roy slid to the edge of the bed and stood, and Ed kept his eyes staunchly closed until there were two rather familiar arms sliding under his shoulders and his knees.

By the time he’d sputtered out the requisite “Hey!”, his weight was already settling against Roy’s chest, and his automatic impulse was to flail around and then loop his arms around Roy’s neck to support himself.

“You and your fucking sheets,” he said, trying to get as cozy as he’d been in the bed against Roy’s neck instead.  It was… frighteningly easy, actually.

“Those are indeed the designated sheets for fucking and related activities,” Roy said, hefting him just a little higher and then starting for the bathroom.  “I just don’t want us to stew in our own fluids.”

“Gross,” Ed said.

“Exactly,” Roy said, pushing the door open with his foot.

Ed yawned so widely that his jaw cracked.  Cute.  While he was considering the possibility that he’d damaged his mandible, a stray thought made a break for freedom.  “I like it when you carry me.”

…motherfucker, he’d just said that.  Couldn’t take it back.  Also couldn’t take back the damning rush of blood to his face.

Roy cleared his throat, and the grin in his voice was deafening.  “Do you.”

“I—uh.”  Ed couldn’t even get words out.  Could that be credibly blamed on mandible damage, rather than sheer stupidity?  “Fuck.  Al’s got this thing about how I have—y’know.”

Roy kissed his forehead and then carefully set his feet on the cold tile floor.  “A honeymoon fetish?”

The color of Ed’s face would probably make stop signs jealous.  “…daddy issues.”

Roy looked at him.

Ed burned alive a little more.

“Really?” Roy said.

Ed tried, largely unsuccessfully, to clear his throat.  There may have been some foot-shuffling involved.  This would have been marginally less totally fucking mortifying if they hadn’t both been standing naked in Roy’s bathroom, covered in fucking cum.

He cleared his throat.  “Most of the guys I’ve—y’know—gone for were… older, and… established, I guess.  And—I dunno.  Powerful.  Kinda.”

Roy continued to look at him.  Ed would have ventured to say that it was less of a look now and more of an outright stare.  “Am I—included in that?”

“In what?” Ed asked.  “The ‘powerful’ part?  I mean, you’re… high-powered.  You’ve got your shit together so well it fucking scares me sometimes; look at you.”  He waved his arms at the… at everything.  “You own a fucking house and run a business and shit.  You’ve got this really great life all put together, on top of which you’re gorgeous as all get-out and fucking charming to boot.  I mean, maybe that’s not the kind of power that rules countries or decides who lives or dies, but you’ve got power over people.”  He swallowed.  Fuck this; he was starting to get cold, and the standing-around-buck-naked thing was starting to make him way more self-conscious than he ever felt when he was buck naked and moving.  He went over and jacked Roy’s bathrobe where it hung beside the towels.  “And obviously you… have power over me.  So.”

He was looking very, very intently at the tile on the floor—which was so clean it kind of reiterated his whole point about the having the shit together and stuff—and he startled a little when Roy’s fingertips grazed his cheek and settled along his jaw.

“That’s a two-way street, you know,” Roy said.  “The power here.”

“I’m starting to get that,” Ed said, which was more or less true, because even when they were in public—even when they were in front of Roy’s childhood best friend and a young employee—the way Roy’s whole face changed when his eyes lighted on Ed was sort of undeniable.  “S’got perks, too.”  He fluffed at the lapels of the bathrobe.  “Like stealin’ your shit, for one.”

“It’s hardly stealing if I’m happy to give,” Roy said, leaning down and kissing the top of his head, which should’ve been frustrating as hell instead of… kind of great.  “Although I’d rather you didn’t step into the shower with that on.”

“Oh, right,” Ed said.  He shrugged it off and handed it over.  “Forgot why we were here.”

Roy grinned at him.  “I daresay we distract each other a bit.”

“Something like that,” Ed said.

After a brief interlude with the shower and a careening run down the stairs (bathrobe-clad once more) for Ed to retrieve his toothbrush, it was only a matter of minutes before the bed was welcoming them again.  Ed loved this bed.  Goddamn, he didn’t even want to think about how much a bed like this would put you back, but every penny on that price-tag had been well fucking spent.

Roy had also made him drink some water from the tap, so theoretically he wouldn’t be quite as hungover tomorrow, but the last of the wine was still making its merry way around his system, and he felt woozy and cozy and hazy and light.  Roy curled up with him, and the bed was perfect, and Roy’s skin generated incredible amounts of heat, and he smelled like a fucking blessing, and… basically, Ed had gotten everything he wanted tonight.  When was the last time he could say something like that about his stupid fucking life?

Ed had officially decided—as in, officially, with a placard and a small bronze statue in his head—that spooning with Roy was the single most pleasurable experience humanly possible to undertake while lying in a warming bed.  No question, no contest, no comparison.

Roy nosed at the back of his head a little, kissed the base of his skull, and then settled.

“Charisma,” Ed said as the word ricocheted up out of his sleep-numbed vocabulary and pinged off the walls of his throat.

Roy snuggled in closer.  The man was such a fucking puppy some days; it was staggering.  “Mm?”

“It’s not really power that I’m attracted to,” Ed said.  Maybe he shouldn’t keep going; probably he should’ve shut his damn mouth and pretended that he’d sneezed and said ‘goodnight’ and been done with it.  “Or not just in a general way.  It’s… charisma.  That’s what… does it… for me.  I guess.”  He managed to swallow the rest, and it scalded all the way down—That’s what everyone who’s ever broken my fucking heart had in common.

Roy was quiet for long enough that Ed started to wonder if maybe he’d done the smart thing and gone the fuck to sleep, but then he exhaled softly in a sigh-ish way against the back of Ed’s neck.

“I think it’s enticing to a lot of people,” he said.  “This… the man you mentioned earlier.”

“Greg,” Ed said, and it still stuck; three years later, it still tasted like sourgrass and bile.  “You wanna know what happened, right?  ’Cause I was fucking devoted, so what could’ve gone wrong?”

Roy’s arms tightened just slightly around his waist—just the littlest contraction of the muscles, just the faintest sign.  “If—I don’t mean to pry.  It’s really none of my business.  I’m sorry; never mind.”

“It’s fine,” Ed said.  It wasn’t, and it probably never would be, but that wasn’t Roy’s fault, so what was the point of taking it out on him?  “Just—it was part of how he operated.  All or nothing.  That’s who he was—is, I dunno.  So—I mean, once you—commit to that, it was like… he wanted to be my even-more-than-everything, and he wanted me to be his, and… that was what he was looking for, right?  And he wasn’t unclear about it, or anything, but I thought I understood that more than I did, I guess, ’cause… I’d just started the PhD, right?  I was a year in, and I’d just joined the lab after rotating and trying a couple different ones, and I was just starting to settle when I met him.  So I had that, and I’d been working in town since I finished my BS—’cause I’d been doing work-study for that—and then Al’d just transferred from the school where he started his undergrad degree, so he was home again, and… y’know, I had stuff.”

“You had a life,” Roy said.

“Yeah,” Ed said.

Roy’s hips shifted in closer against his, which was tantalizing and delightful.  “And he resented that?”

“Well,” Ed said, “no.  He didn’t.  At all.  He accepted it, right off the bat, no problem.”  Here came the hard part.  Here came the fucking kicker, with the gut-twist and the heavy, heavy shadow sinking in and spreading through his bones.  “Which—was the problem.  And I fucking believed him, too, like a fucking moron; I thought maybe he’d just—I dunno, make do, maybe he’d compromise or some shit, but—I should’ve known better.  I should’ve known him better.  He wanted fucking everything; I knew that.  He wanted all of me and a hell of a lot more, and when I couldn’t give him enough—”

“Ed,” Roy said softly, smoothing careful fingers through his hair.

Good damn thing they’d hit the lights; pitch-dark was a safer climate for this conversation.  Ed pulled the covers up to his chin anyway.

“I should’ve known, though,” he said.  “I mean, I should’ve—seen the signs, or something; it was fucking two plus two shit; he wanted more and more and more, and I said ‘Look, I—love you, but this is all I got,’ and he was mopey for a week and then… fine.  Great.  Better than ever.  And I thought—I mean, a part of me thought it seemed fishy, but I thought ‘Maybe, for once in my fucking life, something just went really right,’ and… I just let it go.  So everything was great, and great, and great, only then… I had one of those days so shitty it was actually kind of hilarious, you know?  The only thing it wasn’t was a Monday, which I remember ’cause it was a Friday, but—six thirty, customer startled me at the little coffee place in the bookstore where I worked, and I spilled coffee all over myself, and I had to buy one of those fucking T-shirts on the wall so I’d have something to wear, but all they had was puke-neon green, and I was like, ‘Okay, whatever, I’ll slap on some burn gel and rock this,’ right?  And then it poured rain on my way to class, and my problem set got soaked, so I had to stay late to translate the fucking ink-muddle for my professor, but it was like—fine, I wasn’t getting marked down; it was just a pain in the ass; she understood.  So I finally got to lab, and two seconds after I put my samples in the centrifuge, it fucking exploded, and all my shit went everywhere, and plastic shrapnel impacting burn wounds is seriously not a lot of fun.”

“Oh, God,” Roy said faintly.

“Yeah,” Ed said.  He should’ve quit then.  He should’ve quit at the beginning; should’ve pretended it was a backwards thought and changed its course.  Too late now.  “Then facilities said they couldn’t get the maintenance guy in until Monday, and I was like, ‘You know what, fuck it, there’s no point restarting that whole fucking phase of the project right now anyway; I’ll just go to Greg’s and bitch about it, and then maybe we’ll get takeout and some beer, and it’ll be fine.’  Not that I was legally supposed to be drinking beer, ’cause I was, like, two weeks shy of twenty-one, but—y’know.  Like he gave a shit.”

Roy’s hand stroking through his hair kind of made it bearable.  Maybe.

“You don’t have to finish,” Roy said softly.  “I don’t need to know.  I didn’t mean to dredge up… well, anything.  I didn’t mean to resurrect all this.  I’m sorry.”

Ed sucked in a breath, sighed it loose, and drew Roy’s hand up to kiss the back.  “Not talking about the past doesn’t… erase it.  It doesn’t stop being true.”

“No,” Roy said, voice barely audible even though his mouth was five inches from Ed’s ear.  “I suppose not.”

Ed ran his thumb over the little hill-and-valley contours of Roy’s knuckles, savoring the slight roughness of the skin.  His fingertips seemed more sensitive in the dark.  “I… anyway.  So… I went over to his place, and… he’d given me the keys a couple weeks before that, which I always thought was kind of—I mean, maybe not weird, but… well, Al says I’ve got trust issues wrapped up in all the other shit, so—there’s—that.  Anyway, I wasn’t sure if he’d be home yet, and I thought maybe I’d make us some coffee, ’cause he had a sick espresso machine, because, y’know, wanting the best of everything and all, and…” He clasped Roy’s hand between his two and tried to see its outline in the weak, weak light.  “I didn’t get that far, because he… was on the couch in the front room getting it on with some girl I’d never even seen before.  So—so I was just standing there in the doorway, and the door was still open, ’cause I couldn’t even feel my hands, let alone fucking use them, right, and—and there was this… silence… and then he just sort of paused and looked at me and said ‘Hey, babe.’”

Roy buried his face in Ed’s hair and made a soft noise of… pain?

Ed worked the saliva around in his mouth, cleared his throat, and curled Roy’s fingers up between their palms.  “So… yeah.  That sort of—broke the spell, I guess, and then she screamed and jumped off him and started going through the clothes all over the floor and grabbing stuff and trying to put it on, and she kept getting stuck, and I—I actually—I felt—bad for her; she was—she started crying, and she kept saying ‘You didn’t tell me, you didn’t tell me you had someone, you piece of shit, how could you,’ y’know, stuff like… and I just kept… standing there.  I couldn’t even… feel… anything; I just—all I remember is just—numbness, and thinking ‘Why is she the one crying, why isn’t it me, what the hell is going on?’, and then she’d gotten her stuff, and she was running for the door, but obviously I was still blocking it, and she just—stopped, and she looked at me for one second, and—just—there was this agony in her eyes, I didn’t—like it was her fault, or something, and I just… I stepped out of the way, and she bolted, and I kept thinking, ‘It’s broad fucking daylight, people are gonna think horrible things, does she even have her shoes?’, and by the time I’d put the brake on all that shit racing through my head, fucking Greg had his fucking pants on and was getting off the couch, and he said—”

Three fucking years, and the words still echoed in his fucking skull.

He laid Roy’s hand out on the mattress and arranged the fingers gently.  “He said—‘Babe, what’s wrong?’”

Roy was breathing so, so quietly, like he was scared to make a sound.  “Ed…”

“It’s okay,” Ed said, which it wasn’t, but—well.  “It’s actually—it’s—I never… talk about this.  I try not to even think about it, and maybe it’s—healthy or something.”

Roy’s hand slipped out from under his fidgeting ministrations and flattened itself on his chest.  “If you’re sure,” he said.

Close enough.  “I—yeah.”

With Roy’s body against his back and Roy’s fingertips stroking slowly at his hair and his chest and his collarbones, maybe… it wouldn’t be as bad.  “All right.”

The never talking about it thing, though—the deliberate avoidance, the denial—that had turned it into some kind of phantom, almost, in his head.  And it wasn’t.  It was a shitty thing that had happened to him, yeah, but that was all it was.  He had a long damn list of those, and it wasn’t the worst, and he’d fucking survived, and it couldn’t hurt him anymore.

…well.  Most of those things were true.

“So—” He cleared his throat again.  “So… I was just standing there, staring at him, and I couldn’t even process any of it yet, and I looked at him, and I said—” Deep breath; high hurdle.  “—I said, ‘You told me you loved me,’ and—I mean, even to myself, I sounded like a fucking kid, but—and—he said, ‘Of course I do.’”

Roy’s hands had stilled against him, and this close he could feel the pulse in all those veins beating just that little bit faster.

“I couldn’t—speak, I couldn’t—and he was coming towards me with his hands out, like he was pleading or something, and he said, ‘Why does that change anything?  She doesn’t change anything.  She doesn’t matter.  Isn’t this what you wanted?  I just don’t want to tire you out, babe.  I know you’re busy.  I love that about you.  You’re all feisty and independent; you’re so strong.  Why are you looking like that?  She’s nobody.  You’re the one I love.  They’re just… bodies, while I wait.  You’re the one I’m waiting for.’”

He shifted back and tucked his head a little better under Roy’s chin, and he swallowed three times to clear the old, old, indefuckingstructible ache in his throat.  He’d never kill it, but he could damn well push it down.

“That was when I woke up,” he said.  “That was when I got fucking pissed.  Because she was somebody; she should’ve been; she’d cared about me in that second we shared a fucking room more than he had in six fucking months, and—how long had he been doing this to people?  How many were there?  How many of them didn’t even know about me, and thought they meant something, and thought—how many?  And I didn’t… I saw—red, I saw—the edges were black, like my whole vision was burning at the corners, like old film reel shit—and my hands were shaking so hard, I put one out for the doorknob and missed, and he was reaching out to me like—and I said ‘Don’t touch me,’ and I didn’t even recognize my voice.  And then he was starting to get annoyed, right, ’cause he’d explained it, and I wasn’t biting, and he said ‘What?  What the hell’s with you?’, and I said—I said ‘If you fucking touch me I swear to God I will tear your fucking fingers off,’ and he looked at me like… and… I turned around and walked out, and he kept yelling, like, ‘Don’t be like that, just talk to me, babe, come on,’ and I gave him the fucking finger over my shoulder and just kept walking until I got home, and… that was it.  That was the whole fucking thing, just—gone.  Two minutes.  Maybe three.  And all of the shit I’d put into it just… came undone.  Unraveled.  Dead.  Just like that.”

He drew an unsteady breath and let it out again.

“Al went over later that night to get my stuff, and… He came back with his face all tight like he was hurting, but there wasn’t a mark on him—I mean, not that anybody but Bruce fucking Lee could land a hit on him if they wanted to—and he held his hand out and said ‘Phone,’ and I was just… all I could hear was static in my own fucking head, and I gave it to him, and he deleted Greg’s number, and took him off my Facebook, and he looked at me with this—weariness—in his eyes, and he said… ‘He’s never going to speak to you again.  And if he does, you tell me.’  I dunno what he said, but… Greg’d been saying while I left that he’d call, and it’d be okay, and what was wrong with me, and all that shit, but—whatever Al said… not a fucking trace.  Not once.”

“Ed,” Roy said, and his voice wobbled just a little, and that was sort of fucking scary, and there was an urgency to the movement of his hands that made Ed roll over and sling an arm around him, and that seemed to settle them both a little bit.

Except that wasn’t it.  That wasn’t even the worst part.  “The thing is—” He tried to crush his face into Roy’s chest better.  Maybe he could disappear.  “If—if he had called.  If he’d—said something, if he’d just tried to apologize—even if I just hadn’t been coming off of such a shitty day, and he’d just touched me—I mean—I probably would’ve—forgiven him.  Just like that.  If Al hadn’t forced him the fuck out of my life for good, I would’ve taken him back in a second, because I don’t—because that’s what it does to me—” He tugged a little on Roy’s shirt.  “You get it now?  Unless it’s from Al or Win or somebody who’s family, I just think—my whole life has taught me that’s what love is, is letting somebody treat you like shit and still being so fucking desperate for their approval that you’d crawl on fucking coals to make them happy, and—” His voice stuck.  “Mustang, if you walk on me, I’m gonna—let you, okay?  That’s how it works.  That’s what this does to me.  That’s what—I mean, life’s taught me that’s what—love—is.”  He tightened his grip on two fistfuls of Roy’s soft pajama shirt until his knuckles cracked.  “That’s why—I mean, I didn’t want—to say it, but—not like it matters; it’s too fucking late.”

Roy held him so tight he felt… cocooned, almost.  And that was—nice.

“I never want to hurt you,” Roy said—whispered, really, forehead pressed to Ed’s, the pads of his thumbs smoothing over Ed’s cheekbones, then his jaw.  “I know promises are meaningless, but I mean that; I do.  Please don’t be afraid of this—of me, of us, of what we could be.”  He made a discontented sound in the back of his throat.  “And please don’t remind me tomorrow morning that I said that; I sound like a Hallmark Channel original movie.”

Ed felt himself starting to smile whether he liked it or not.  “One I’d watch the hell out of.”

“I suppose they’d have to edit out all the sex,” Roy said.  “And every other word that comes out of your mouth.”

“Rude,” Ed said.

“Honest,” Roy said, and he leaned in and kissed the tip of Ed’s nose, which was—if you thought about it—sort of an amazing thing to do in total dark.  He had to have had the proportions of Ed’s face pretty much memorized, which…


“You’re out of control,” Ed said, releasing his long-held grip on Roy’s shirt and trying to smooth out the wrinkles he could feel rippling outward from the epicenters where his hands had been.  “Go to sleep.  We’re gonna be so fucking hungover tomorrow.”

“And we’re going to make pancakes and down Advil and lie around and pity ourselves,” Roy said.  “When I was your age, that’s what Saturdays were for.”

Ed felt his face contorting.  “Pretty fucking please never, ever, ever say that again.”

“‘When I was your age’?”

“That’s the one.”

Roy laughed.  Because he was a sadist.  And a bastard.  Because he was a sadistic bastard who was really, really lucky that he was so fucking hot.  “How about ‘In my youth’?”


“‘Back in the good old days’?”

“Eighty-five-year-old grandpa in a rocking chair on the front porch.  Instantly.”

Roy started nuzzling at every available portion of his face, and Ed made a token effort to push him way.

“But sonny,” Roy said, “you have to understand, in the olden days, comic books were ten cents, and just a nickel could get you a soda-pop, and if you’d worked real hard all summer, another quarter could buy you a ticket at the moving-picture show—but kids these days don’t understand hard work; you young’uns with your iThings and your whatnots—”

The effort of containing laughter made Ed’s throat burn and his lungs ache.  “Stop.”

Roy kissed his eyelids one after the other.  “I’d say I could keep it up all night, but I’m too old and decrepit for that sort of thing.”

Ed summoned a long, detailed gagging noise.

“You’re so precious,” Roy said.  “Let me pinch your cheeks.”

“Mustang,” Ed said, “in another second, I am seriously gonna get out of this bed and go barf for, like, an hour.”

“Forgive me,” Roy said, and then he was running his fingers through Ed’s hair again—with the fingernails on the scalp, and oh, God, that was good.  “The blessing of your proximity makes me giddy, and then the wine…”

If alcohol made people more of what they were—more truly what they were—then Roy was a sweet, stupid nerd with a dumb sense of humor and an easy laugh and the gentlest mouth of anybody Ed had ever met.

Being this fucking happy felt like falling.

“I apologize in advance if I wake you up in the middle of the night having to get up and go pee and/or vomit,” Ed said.

“So long as you don’t attempt both at once,” Roy said.  “I’d be concerned for your safety.”

“Go to sleep, dumbass,” Ed said, deliberately closing his eyes—a gesture which would have been slightly more pointed if Roy had been able to see it, but it seemed like a nice thought.

“All right,” Roy said.

After another minute or two of jostling around on the mattress, they both managed to settle.  Somehow they ended up with Roy’s hand laid over the back of Ed’s—just lightly, on edge of the pillow in between them.

And maybe Roy was right that they didn’t have to say it in so many words, because the squeeze of his hand as Ed drifted off towards sleep was an I love you loud and clear.

“Whoa,” Al said when Ed staggered back in just before eleven.

“Shut up,” Ed said.

“I didn’t say anything,” Al said.

“Did so,” Ed said.  “Interjection counts.”

“That’s a technicality,” Al said.  “Did you have a nice time?”

“Yeah,” Ed said.  He collapsed on the couch facedown, which was a mistake, because it made speech pretty much impossible.  Rolling over required a herculean effort, but once that mountain had been scaled, he blinked up at Al, who had wandered in with a cup of tea—of course.  “Can I talk to you about some science shit?”

Al grinned, sipped, and grinned some more.  “Why did you ask that like there are answers other than ‘heck yes’?”

Chapter Text

The rain clears up a little as Ed makes his merry way along the sidewalk—which is called something else here; is it ‘pavement’?  Fucked if he remembers; Roy bought him some Separated by a Common Language book, which was almost but not quite interesting enough to skim beyond the chapter headings of.  Whatever it’s called, he’s using it to saunter past locals and tourists alike with their heads down and their collars up.  The ducks and swans are mostly unperturbed, although the pigeons seem to be clustering under the trees to avoid at least a little of the wet.

He takes twelve pictures of Big Ben, and then the gloomy sky stops spitting long enough for him to cross Westminster Bridge as slowly as he can bear to walk, snapping more shots for Roy as he goes—the Eye, the Jubilee Bridge across the water, the tacky souvenir stands dripping rain.  Somebody goes by on a unicycle.  There’s a big, open grassy spot near a hospital off to the right that looks so familiar it must have been a set on one of Roy’s BBC favorites.

His hotel’s just on the other side of the big white building with the Eye out front; he can’t check in until two, but they’ve got a bewildering touch-screen reservation confirmation machine in the lobby, and then the guy at the desk cheerfully stashes his bags in a side room so that he can wander while he waits.

He takes his laptop across the street behind the place to a little slice-out-of-the-wall restaurant promisingly titled ‘Ned’s Noodle Bar’—although they have a grand total of zero chairs available, so he settles down on the driest step out front and inhales egg noodles with Thai sauce while he looks through his slides again.  It’s not like he expects the presentation to have changed, or anything; and it’s not like he hasn’t given variations on this talk a thousand times; and it’s not like he doesn’t know the data back, forth, inside-out, upside-down, and in Pig Latin anyway.  Roy insisted that he leave himself a full, twenty-four hour day between landing in this country and delivering the first of his lectures so that the time zones won’t fuck him so bad, and he’s not nervous about it—or any of the others, or even any of the panels.  It’s just… habit, maybe?  A weird kind of compulsion to try to make the experience as perfect as possible for anyone dumb enough to come listen to him stutter his way through it?

It’s not that the minor celebrity thing—well, “celebrity” comes with heavy air-quotes: in the scientific community, he’s a fucking rockstar; and to the average person on the street, he is… another average person on the street—disagrees with him.  It just… doesn’t… quite… fit.  It’s like a coat tailored for somebody else, but it’s the only thing he’s got to wear, so here he is—presentable, but shifting uncertainly when the shoulders pull, and subtly tugging on the places where the fabric cuts in all wrong.

He fiddles with one of the transitions, sort of aimlessly, and then flicks through all the slides again.  Sure enough, they’re exactly how they were on the plane.  No gremlins in his hard-drive just yet; that’s always good to know.

Momentarily, he realizes that his noodles have vanished into the ether—because he definitely did not empty the entire carton and clean the sides; he will not be held responsible for that—and packs up his computer again.  It’s time for some serious tourism.  He’s going to do it.  He’s going to go on the goddamn glorified ferris wheel, and he’s stupid-excited, and… there’s probably no hope for him at this point.

Actually getting onto the Eye turns out to be a significantly more involved endeavor than he expected.  There’s a line to buy a ticket, and then they try to convince you to go watch some stupid ten-minute movie about the very thing you’re about to do, and then you wait in line again to get on board, and then they reiterate some safety crap about eight more times, and then, when you think you’re finally about to get shunted into a little glass capsule, they put a hand out and make you wait for the next one while a family of twenty-eight crowds into the one before you.

Right when Ed’s just about done lamenting the state of humanity and the universe and so on, the ticket-taker beckons him forward and waves him on through the steel-framed door into the giant glass egg.

He finds himself instantaneously glued to the far end of the ovoid, practically pressing his nose to the glass.  The river laps lackadaisically at the pier below them; they’re moving so slowly that you can barely tell it’s happening at all.  He doesn’t want to be That Guy, but he takes out his phone, balances the edge on the silver railing, and turns it on to video.

“All right,” he mutters before any of his fellow passengers have come close enough to hear him.  “You better blow me for this, Mustang.”

Holding the phone steady for the whole half-hour ride and trying to take pictures with his other hand is a bit of a challenge, but Ed wouldn’t trade it back if there was money on the line.

Izumi had been right, as Izumi tended to be: Ed was onto something.  Ed, as Ed tended to do, had managed to stumble onto a something that was both enormous and extremely controversial.

Friday night found him pacing back and forth in Roy’s living room, gesticulating wildly as he explained the something in question.

“…so really, RNA-seq has the potential to stop certain types of cancer cells from propagating if we could figure out how to inhibit the proteins that are promoting the duplication of cells with the mistranscribed RNA, and I think I’m onto an algorithm that’ll line all of those fuckers up like dominos, and…” He paused for breath and noticed Roy’s soft-eyed smile.  “Why are you looking like that?  I’m talking about cancer vaccines, Roy.  I’m talking about maybe getting stalked in the streets and jumped in dark fucking alleys because other people are going to want to commercialize this, and pharma is going to kill to make a profit off of saving all those lives.”

“I’m sorry,” Roy said from his rather enticing sprawl on the couch, grinning now and not looking sorry in the fucking least.  “That’s wonderful—well, not the stalking and getting jumped—”

“Al said it,” Ed said.  “And he’s paranoid-slash-overprotective, so he’s probably exaggerating.  It’s not like pharma actually hires big, beefy goons who dress in black and go around beating up competing research scientists.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Roy said, and the arch of his eyebrow was still amused, and Ed was going to punch his smug face in a second.  “And your research sounds incredible.  I’m not laughing at you; I promise—it’s just that I haven’t understood a single thing you’ve said for the past half-hour, but I wasn’t bored for a second, because you’re so passionate about it that I don’t even need to understand.  Just listening to you is glorious.  And your hair does a truly wonderful little flip thing when you turn at the end of the room to pace in the other direction.”

Ed tried to remember whether he’d even attempted to put all of this into layman’s terms before he dove into the middle of it.  Probably not.  The only person who was usually privy to his brain-thunderstorms was Al.  “Oh.  Sorry.”

Roy swung himself up off the couch, crossed to Ed, and settled both hands on the sides of his neck.  “Don’t be sorry.  It’s an absolute privilege to be this close to your genius.  I don’t have the faintest concept of the specifics of that genius, but I caught enough here and there to be in awe of you all over again.”

Ed felt a flush creeping up his skin.  The start of it seemed to be localized right under Roy’s hands, as if it hadn’t been agonizingly clear enough that it was his damn fault.  “Well—jeez.  I’m just—figuring stuff out.  There’s nothing really genius-y about it.”

“I’m fairly sure that’s what genius is,” Roy said.  “Identifying a solution that’s always been possible but has never been defined.”

Ed frowned up at him, but not aggressively, because those hands felt really nice, and scaring him off would be a poor choice.  “I’m pretty freakin’ dumb, though.”

“No, you’re not,” Roy said, and his palms lifted from Ed’s skin, but then his fingers were guiding Ed’s hair back, so that was okay.  “You’re young and vibrant and enthusiastic and uncertain, which are all entirely valid things to be as you’re sorting out your own existence.”

Ed swallowed.  The pad of Roy’s thumb chased the lump down his throat, which made everything tingle right down to Ed’s fingertips.  “I just—I think I sort of tripped over my life’s work.  But there’s still so much to do, and there’s still so much shit I don’t know, and there’s so much time left to fuck it up before I’ve even started.”

Roy kissed his forehead.  “I thought half the fun of science was fucking up and discovering something new on accident.”

“It is,” Ed said.  “Except when it’s important.  And then it’s not.”

Roy kissed the bridge of his nose, then the tip.  “Darling,” he said, “relax.”

Ed wrinkled his nose and wrapped his hands around Roy’s wrists, more to give them something to do other than hanging at his sides than anything else, although that had the distinct side benefit of requiring him to touch the hottest guy on Earth.  “Been trying.  Just can’t.”

Roy kissed his mouth this time, lingeringly.  “I know a remedy or two for that.  I’m prescribing you some ice cream, a long and thorough cuddle session, and a good night’s sleep.”

“I’d like to see your medical degree,” Ed said.

“Absolutely,” Roy said.  “It’s in the bedroom.”  He offered up another of his patented giant cheesy winks.  “If you know what I mean.”

“Jesus,” Ed said.

“Close,” Roy said, “but it’s R—”

“Is this ice cream you’re promising the fabled coffee almond fudge?” Ed asked.

Roy wrapped an arm around him and started towing him towards the kitchen.  “Come and find out.”

Apparently, there was pretty much no existential and/or scientific crisis that ice cream, cuddling, and passing out curled up with Roy Mustang couldn’t at least ameliorate.

Waking up to mid-morning light and the subtle shift of the sheets as Roy nestled in a little closer to his back didn’t hurt either.

“Good morning, beautiful,” Roy said softly, and Ed’s heart sort of flipped over and turned to goo.  “What do you want for breakfast?”

“Sex,” Ed said.  His brain before coffee and the awakening of his Society Filter was an interesting place.  “Failing that, bacon.”

Roy kissed his shoulder.  “How about both?  Perhaps not simultaneously.  Grease burns are terrible.  Especially in sensitive areas.”

“Don’t tell me why you know that,” Ed said.  “One at a time’s good.”

“Mm,” Roy said.  He kissed each shoulder-blade in turn and then lifted Ed’s loose hair off of the back of his neck to kiss that, too.  “Don’t move.  I’ll bring it up.”

“Wait,” Ed said as Roy slid to the edge of the bed.

And—just like that, Roy paused, and looked at him, and smiled.

“S’just I forgot,” Ed said.  “In the… ’cause science.  I brought you something.”

By the time he’d succeeded in crawling off of the bed on his side, Roy was waiting with the bathrobe held out, which… was awesome, since Ed couldn’t stand to sleep with a shirt on, which tended to make for cold-ass mornings.  Well.  Cold-torso mornings.  Cold ass, too, sometimes.

“It’s with my stuff,” Ed said, and Roy took his hand and led the way down the stairs.  “It’s not, like, a winning lotto ticket or anything, so get your hopes down, okay?”

“The best gift in the vast universe is waking up next to you,” Roy said.  “Everything else is icing on the cake.”

It was way too early for this sappy shit.  Ed kind of wanted to cry and also kind of wanted to throw things and also kind of wanted to grab a handful of Roy’s shirt and try to lick his brain through the roof of his mouth, but none of those things would be especially safe while they were on the staircase, so he refrained.

“Now I want cake,” Ed said, in defense of his title as Mood Killer of the Century.

Roy had a knack—or, as most people would probably call it, a weird and extremely consistent propensity—for smiling beatifically when Ed said shit like that.  “I’m sure that can be arranged.”

They reached the foyer, where Ed had dumped his backpack on arrival.  From its long-lost-paper-laden depths, he retrieved the white box he’d tossed in yesterday morning, which he held out to Roy.

Roy opened the top, peered in, and raised his eyebrows.

“It’s a French press,” Ed said.  “The timer’s busted to shit, so Marta said we couldn’t sell it, so I asked if I could have it, so you won’t have to go coffee-less anymore.  You can set the microwave timer instead; it’s just supposed to give the coffee time to steep or whatever.  I’ve only used ’em a couple times, but they work pretty well.”  He excavated the part of the present that he’d actually worked for and held that out, too.  “I comped you some grounds so we can try it if you want.”

Roy slipped into the kitchen, set both items on the countertop, and ghosted back to catch Ed up in his arms and spin them around so suddenly that Ed couldn’t help freezing up at the surprise.

“I think the only appropriate way to thank you is with French kissing,” Roy said.  “C’est seulement logique, n’est-ce pas?”

“No,” Ed said.  Roy had lived in Italy, too, after all, and now— “No fuckin’ way.  How many fucking romance languages do you speak?”

Roy grinned at him, because Roy was a bastard; and then Roy kissed him again, long and slow and deep, because Roy was a sexy bastard.

“As many as you want to hear,” he said.

“Fuck,” Ed said.

The thing was, as much as activities—and, ahem, activities—with Roy were fucking fantastic (including the fantastic fucking), the best part of the whole crashing-his-place-on-weekends drill was the laziness.  Roy was a serious fucking pro at laziness.  He could spend hours at a time doing nothing whatsoever, and somehow he even made it kind of fun.

Ed had been firing on all cylinders and running after golden rings just out of reach since before he turned ten.  Sure, he took weekends “off”—meaning that he usually spent them cooped up in lab or at home, reading every science journal he could follow on the internet for free until Al enlisted his help to clean the apartment.  There was always laundry to do; and groceries to search for coupons for; and Al would go through the receipts they’d stuck up under the industrial magnet on the fridge to make sure their budget for the month was going to be sustainable, and Ed couldn’t let him do that by himself either, so… stuff.  There was always stuff, and stuff needed someone to do it, and Ed had always found himself getting jittery, in the past, if there wasn’t something laid out on his agenda that needed his attention.

Roy, though, had turned not doing jack-fucking-shit into an actual art form.  He was a maestro of absolute indolence, and it was really pretty impressive to watch.

Making breakfast was all good and well, but then there was a full hour whiled away just lying on the couch in aimless conversation before either of them even moved to take a shower; and then Roy made half of the bed before getting bored and suggesting that they see if anything was on TV; and when nothing was they put on old Doctor Who and tried out the French press; and then it was about lunchtime; and then an entire afternoon somehow passed while they accomplished nothing more than a raid of Roy’s extraordinarily outdated board games cabinet.

Weirdly, doing nothing whatsoever, but in Roy’s company, was about the best way Ed had ever found to spend a Saturday.

He woke at fuck-knows-o’-clock to the soft creak and the balance shift of movement on the mattress.  Clouds had gathered to spit a little rain at them when they’d been window-shopping downtown, and apparently the cover had stuck around; the city lights reflected back and lit the room with a faint, sickly orange glow.

Roy was sitting up, drawing the blankets with him as he pulled his knees up to his chest, wrapped his arms around them, and buried his face in them, shoulders heaving.  He was breathing so fast and so rough-edged it made Ed’s lungs hurt—sympathy pain, how about that?

“Hey,” he whispered, propping himself up on his elbow without moving any closer.  “Roy.”

Roy’s breath caught, unstuck, and shuddered.  He swallowed, audibly, but didn’t raise his head.  “H-hey.”

The primary thing Ed had learned over the course of the last couple incidents—he fucking hated that word for this; like Roy’s fucking pain was a traffic violation or some shit; like it was a clinical fucking footnote to be cited in somebody’s statistic—was to wait until Roy settled a little and reached out before touching him.  It seemed to make it worse to touch him too early—he tensed up even more and tried to pull away, and then he got even guiltier, and that was just shitty from start to finish.

Still.  Even knowing that, even with a few different nights’ experience—this felt like walking through a dark hall waiting for the tripwire.

Ed cleared his throat.  “You want me to get you some water?”

The shaking had slowed a little, but Roy had lifted one hand and clenched it into his own hair.  He shook his head without releasing it; his knuckles had gone white.  “No.  No, thank you.  I’m all right.”

The temptation to say Obviously not was very small, and Ed quashed it.  “Do you need anything?  S’there anything I can get you?”

Roy shook his head again, grinding his face into the arm he still had folded over his knees.  The hand in his hair loosened, slowly, shaking, and then dropped to the bed, and then extended—

Ed wanted to fucking leap on it, but he wasn’t stupid; he met Roy’s fingers halfway, and he did it slowly, and carefully.  Roy jumped at the first brush of contact, but then he curled his fingers around Ed’s and gripped them tightly.  That was permission for Ed to crawl in closer, as long as he didn’t let go of Roy’s hand, and then wrap the free arm around him and lean in against his shoulder.

Ed bumped his head very gently against the side of Roy’s and didn’t raise his voice above a whisper.  “You okay?”

Roy drew a tremulous breath, released it, and lifted his face just enough for Ed to see the glimmer of one eye.

“Nearly,” he said.

Ed put both arms around him—Roy’s hand still twined with his—and pressed a kiss to Roy’s ear, since that was the easiest part of him to access.

“I’m sorry,” Roy said, muffled by his own forearm, of course.

“None of that crap,” Ed said.  “You help me carry my shit, I’ll help you carry yours.  Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work?”

“I’m not sure,” Roy said.  Both eyes were visible now, just barely.  “I don’t know that I’ve ever… Maes used to… but I had a lot less shit back then.”

“I’m not sure either,” Ed said, “but it makes a lot of sense.  Trust me.”

Roy leaned in.  “You know I do.”

Sunday morning dawned—or, rather, several-hours-past-dawned—to a small puddle of Ed’s own drool under his cheek, and an empty bed beside him.  Blearily, his brain geared up for alarm before it realized that pancake-ish smells were drifting steadily up the stairs.

He sat up, rubbed his eyes, tried to wipe the drool off of his chin, succeeded only in smearing it, slipped out of the bed, hitched his boxers up, and darted into the bathroom.  Roy’s robe lived in there, and jacking it before braving the cold outside the room was a priority; and while he was there, he scrubbed the worst of the saliva trails off of his face.  He was just going to have to leave the remainder of the damning evidence on the pillow and hope it dried clear enough on the white sheets that Roy wouldn’t notice.

By the time he straggled downstairs and into the kitchen, Roy was spatula-ing the pancakes out of the frying pan and onto plates.

“You have excellent timing,” he said.

Ed went over to pick up a pancake between two fingers.  They were hot, but, like, eatable-hot.  They’d cooled to an only-a-little-bit-of-roof-of-the-mouth-scalding level at this point.  “Would you believe I’ve never heard that before in my life?”

Instead of telling him to learn some manners or that he’d burn himself or that he was a mouthy little prick etcetera, Roy held the plate under his mouth while he took a bite to catch the crumbs.

Fuck, Ed loved him so much it felt like his heart couldn’t hold it.

“Yes,” Roy said.

In what would probably be a vain effort to distract from the fact that his cheeks were going pink, Ed glanced over towards the table, where a plastic bottle proudly bore the name of Ocean Spray.

“I see we’re at the next stage of cranberry juice obsession,” he said.

“It’s not an obsession,” Roy said.  “You’ve never had a UTI, have you?”

“No,” Ed said.  Roy handed him his plate, and he grinned broadly and then took it over with him while he went to go examine the label on the bottle.

“I could tell,” Roy said.  “If you had, you’d be chugging that stuff.”

Ed bit into another pancake.  There was a hell of a lot of sugar in this supposed miracle liquid.  “Can you put it in coffee?  What the hell good is it?”

“You could,” Roy said.  “I imagine you might have to exorcise the results.  I’m trying to save you from the possibility of not-insignificant pain and a multiple-day course of antibiotics, my dear.”

“My hero,” Ed said, and then his eyes drifted over to the contents of the manila folder splayed out further down the tabletop.

The world narrowed to a tiny point of cold, cold light, and all he could hear was a roar like a fucking hurricane just past his ears, and the slam-bang-pound-rush of his heart breaking into a gallop and then staggering and then skittering too fucking fast for him to breathe

“Ed?” Roy’s voice asked.  Something touched his shoulder.  “Ed, sweetheart—”

Words rattled out of him.  “Who the fuck is that?”

He couldn’t find his hands to point, but Roy couldn’t have thought he meant anything except the little mugshot photograph stapled to a page.

“I—that’s—his name is Soph—Sophocles, that is—Kimblee.  He’s been getting into some trouble with the authorities lately over property disputes, and he called last we… Ed, look at me, please—you’re scaring me; what’s wrong?”

He had to get this out.  He had to.

“Don’t represent him,” he made himself say.  “Don’t go anywhere fucking near him; don’t even—don’t—don’t even let him know who you are; don’t—just stay the fuck away from that—from him, just—”

A pale hand flitted into his tiny field of vision, stacked the papers briskly, and slapped the folder shut.

Ed heard himself drag in a full breath, and then another, and then he shook awake and found himself leaning on the table, and his knees were like fucking jelly, and his head spun—

“Edward,” Roy said softly, so softly, soft hands on Ed’s shoulders and his face; everything so nice.  Always with the nice, with him.  Always with the careful.  “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Ed said.  That was a pathetic attempt at a shitty lie; Roy deserved better.  He swallowed once, twice; it stuck; it rankled.  “I—don’t—I can’t—talk about it.  Just—don’t—get near him.  Please?”

He dropped into the waiting chair, near where he’d left his breakfast in what seemed like a parallel universe he’d never meld back into ever again.  If he was here—if he was in town, fucking stuff up, trying to get bailed out of whatever shit he’d stirred up—if he was already close enough to be scraping at the edges of Ed’s cautious little life away from his fucking gaslighting torments and sick fucking games—

Couldn’t think about it.  Couldn’t give it any traction; couldn’t lend it any weight.  Ed had clamped down on worse thoughts and shut them out, hadn’t he?  He’d gritted his teeth through the night when the morphine ran out and bitten back the screams when the nerve flared and held his tongue while he waded through bullshit the likes of which would bring most people to their knees—

He’d think about it later.  Not now.

It couldn’t touch him (such light, light fucking fingertips, always so faint, like the ripple of the goosebumps on his skin was the goal, like pleasure was secondary and listening to his breath stutter came first; always so light until the nails dug in) if he didn’t let it.

Roy was holding tightly onto both his hands, kneeling on the floor, staring up at him in something like… terror.

“Ed,” he said, and one hand lifted to tuck Ed’s loose hair back behind his ear and then settle on his cheek—and his instinct was to writhe away, but he stilled his tensing muscles, and he fought it.  “Can you tell me?  I just want to help; can—”

Ed shook his head, shook it harder, crushed some rubble in his throat.  “C-can’t.  Just—can’t.  Not—I’ll—someday.  Okay?”  He could do this.  Roy’s hand was so warm; the soft pad of his thumb was stroking back and forth across Ed’s cheekbone; Ed laid his hand over it, and that was good.  This was good.  He was safe; he knew where he was, and he was safe here.  “It’s—nothing.  Never mind.  Okay?  Let’s—for fuck’s sake, the pancakes are getting cold, and I wasn’t even close to done makin’ fun of your cranberry juice, and—”

Roy met his eyes, held them, and smiled very slowly, very gently.  “Okay,” he said.  He got to his feet, and Ed didn’t miss the little wince or the way one hand strayed to the small of his back.  Thirty-five.  Thirty-five and perfect, and he wanted Ed, of all the people on the whole damn planet; Ed was the one he curled up with every weekend night.  “Let me get you some syrup for those; I can’t believe you got started without it.”

“Your pancakes are fucking awesome,” Ed said as Roy squeezed his hand one more time and went for the fridge.  “It doesn’t hurt, obviously, but they don’t really need it to be great.”

Roy smiled.  “As you may have noticed, flattery will get you everywhere in a tearing hurry.”

“Tearing your clothes off, I hope,” Ed said.  “You’re pretty great without syrup, too.”

Roy grinned at him this time, and he just about managed a grin right back.

“Oh, dear,” Al said when he was only two-thirds finished swanning across the front room to collapse on the couch.  “What happened?”

Ed tried to make the landing as dramatic as possible even though Al had totally ruined the suspense.  Then he had to figure out what the fuck he was supposed to say to encapsulate this.

He settled on: “I… dunno.  I think I’m cracking up.”

Al padded over in the cat-face slippers Ed had bought him two Christmases ago and sat down in the little patch of cushion next to Ed’s waist, the better to pat his back.  “How do you mean?”

“You remember,” Ed said, slowly, carefully, because Al did, was the thing; Al remembered every stupid part of him and every stupid thing he ever said, “how I said I—I had one of those—kinda—breakdown—things—the other night, at Roy’s, ’cause… I just can’t even—deal with—the idea that this could go bad like all the others, ’cause it could, and…?  Anyway.  It was fucked-up.  I scared the fucking crap out of him.  And—today—just—”

Al kneaded with a thumb at the horrible knot under Ed’s shoulder-blade, ignoring his semi-articulated noises of protest.

“…quit i… ahh, okay, that was good—but—fuck, ow—Al, it’s—Kimblee.”

Al’s hand froze.  Ed twisted around to peek up at him, and his eyes were huge, and his expression was… about a perfect summary of how Ed felt—disgusted and horrified and edgy and resigned.

“I guess there’s some legal shit,” Ed said, because that face deserved an answer, or as much of one as he had to give.  “And—yeah.  Small fucking world.  I—I sort of—flipped my fucking lid again, and—I asked Roy to stay the fuck away from him, and he said he would, and… yeah.”

Slowly, Al’s knuckles started digging into the myriad miseries of Ed’s back again, and to anyone else, his gaze might have seemed sort of vague and distracted, but Ed saw it flick briefly to the deadbolt on the door.

“We’re going to have to be careful,” Al said.

Ed buried his face in the couch cushion again.  “We always are.”

“That’s because we learn quick,” Al said.  “If only it helped once in a while.”

“Preach,” Ed said into the cushion.

Al patted his head, which was fucking obnoxious, but also kind of nice.  Al was weird like that.  “Let’s… talk about something else.  For instance, the fact that you’ve been zombie-fied and skittish for a while now, and Roy’s making it a little better, but… Have you considered that this was a long time coming?”

Ed shifted again, as slowly and menacingly as he was able, to narrow his eyes at Al.  “Exactly what the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

Al gave him the don’t get mad at me because you’re mad at yourself Brother pout, which was a really bad sign, because it meant he was about to elucidate some way Ed was mad at himself that he hadn’t even discovered yet.  “Have you ever entertained the possibility that you’re overextended and stressed, and you hardly remember to eat and never leave time to sleep, and it’s finally catching up with you?  When you take better care of yourself, you’re—stabler.  It’s true.  And it makes sense.”

“I’m plenty stable,” Ed said, and it took every last fucking iota of his willpower not to wince.

Al patted his head again and then sat back a little, looking like he was weighing his words.  “Maybe—maybe you should think about cutting down your hours at Has Beans.”

A chain link fence sprouted out of solid concrete in Ed’s head.  Searchlights panned across the pavement.

…maybe Al was right about the commitments getting to him a little, but come on.  His life, his rules.

“I crunched the numbers the other night,” he said.  “We c—”

“When was that?” Al asked.

“I dunno,” Ed said.  “One in the morning or some shit.”

“When you had to be up for work in three hours.”

“The point is,” Ed said, through a scowl now, “that we can’t afford for me to quit.”

“I didn’t say ‘quit’,” Al said.  “I said ‘reduce’.  Well—not verba… Brother, you start working before five, and you don’t get home until eight at night, and half the time you don’t even sleep well—”

“I sleep like a baby,” Ed said.  It had been a major tactical error to let Al start this conversation when he was lying on his front; having to twist his neck around to argue was killing him.  “How the hell do you know how I sleep?”

“Because I hear you banging into things in the kitchen at ungodly hours when you give up trying,” Al said.

Ed’s stomach sank like a fucking boulder into a fucking swamp, which was even more impressive given that he was horizontal.  Al cherished sleep—treasured it, adored it; he loved dozing and dreaming and pillows and fuzzy blankets and teddy bears and stretching like a cat—and the very abstract thought of ruining his precious nighttimes was devastating.

“I’m sorry,” Ed said, which felt ludicrously inadequate, but at least it was a start.  “Al, I’m—I mean, maybe I could—I could sleep on the couch; it’d be quieter if I got u—”

Al shot him a look so severe his voice gave out.  “Don’t you dare guilt-spiral on me while I’m trying to talk sense into you, Edward Elric.  Listen.  Just—I was thinking.  If Winry moved in, we could split the rent three ways, and then you could work half as much at the shop, and we’d still break even.”

Ed glared back.  “Okay.  Where would she sleep?  And if you say ‘my bed is big enough for two people’, I’m gonna beat you over the head and then re-teach you geometry.”

Al glowered.  “She could have my bed, and we could get a futon.”

Ed levered himself up far enough on one elbow to scrub at his face with the other hand.  “God.  Whatever.  I don’t know.”

“I don’t either,” Al said, more softly now.  “But I know you can’t go on like this.”

Ed laid his head back down on his forearms.  Al rubbed gently at his back.

“Yeah,” he said.  “I know.”

Monday morning, Roy caught Ed’s hand, very gently, when they both reached out for Ed to pass the change.  He held it—cupping it from underneath; Ed still had the coins in his palm—and met Ed’s eyes for a very long moment.

There was so much in that single fucking second of eye contact that Ed felt bowled over.  Predominantly it was a sort of Are we okay?  Are you okay? kind of message, but it was so much… bigger… than that.  It always was, with Roy, wasn’t it?  It was always so freaking important and so freaking real.  He mattered, to Roy.  All the time.  A lot.

So he mustered the strongest smile that he could manage and flipped his hand to tip the change into Roy’s, gripping his fingers for a second en route.

“Text me later,” he said.  “Regale me with your paperwork woes or whatever.”

Roy grinned.  “You know me too well.”

Ed didn’t figure that was possible.

Tuesday morning, Roy looked kind of… groggy.  Hot-groggy, of course, but the basic grogginess couldn’t be denied.

“Your coffee is free,” Ed said as Roy opened his mouth to order, not that ordering was necessary anymore.  “You look like you need more than twenty ounces.  Maybe an ocean.  Are you okay?”

Roy attempted a cheery smile that came off largely unconvincing.  “Just a little under the weather.  Nothing some caffeine and a lot of whining can’t fix.”  He paused.  “Well—a little bit of whining.  I have a whining cap.”

Ed felt his eyebrows rising.  “Oh, yeah?”

“It’s based on elapsed time,” Roy said, “rather than a fixed number of sentences, so loud sighing counts against me.”

“Yeah, but how loud?” Ed asked.  “Does she have your office bugged, or does she have to be able to hear it through the wall?”

“She’s got Sheska listening in,” Roy said.  “It’s a conspiracy.”

Ed handed him the coffee cup and comped it on the register.  “It always is.”

“Don’t say that,” Roy said, summoning up a wink.  “They’ll hear you.”

Wednesday morning, the grogginess had moved in to stay, and the guest of honor at the housewarming party was a generous helping of death warmed over.  Roy shuffled up to the counter rubbing at his eyes.

“Holy cr—” Ed remembered in the nick of time that he was at work.  “…crow.  Holy crow.  Go back to bed; you look terrible.”  Oh.  Oops.  “I mean—sick-terrible, not bad-terrible.  You always look great.  Just—less-great.  Right now.”  News flash: Edward Elric was a long-time sufferer of chronic foot-in-mouth disease.  “Fu… dgesickles.”

Roy cracked a smile.  “Would you believe this is the best I’ve felt since I got up?”

“You shouldn’t’ve,” Ed said.  “You should go home and go back to sleep.  You’ll make it worse if you try to work all day—I bet that’s what happened yesterday, isn’t it?”

“There’s a possibility,” Roy said mildly.  He was really pale, and his voice was all nasally, and he wasn’t holding his shoulders sharp or his back straight.  It was kind of uncanny.

“So go home,” Ed said.  “Don’t make yourself sicker.”

“I just need coffee,” Roy said.  “The rest isn’t so bad.”

He didn’t have a tie on today.  If there was another red-flag, alarm-bell warning sign anywhere near as significant for Roy’s health and awareness, Ed didn’t know what the hell it could be.

“I’m comping you this one, too,” Ed said, lowering his voice so the other regulars wouldn’t get all jealous, and so Russell wouldn’t emerge from the woodwork and bitch about it.  “But you gotta promise me you’ll pack up and go home and take a nap if you don’t feel better in a couple hours, okay?”

Roy cleared his throat, paused to turn away from the counter and cough into his sleeve—deep, loud, and racking—straightened, and tried for a smile.  “There’s… quite a lot to do this we—”

“Promise,” Ed said, holding the coffee cup out of reach.

Roy eyed it, then him, then produced a shaky grin.  “I promise.”

Ed handed it over.  “You’re no good to me dead.  Or passed out in a pool of your own phlegm.”

Roy grimaced.  “Suddenly I’m glad I slept too late for breakfast.”

Ed pointed at him.  “That’s a big, flashing neon sign from your body saying ‘Check yourself before you wreck yourself.’  You fill your pockets up with Kleenex before you left the house?”

Roy looked like he would have looked embarrassed if he hadn’t been so busy looking ill and zombie-ish.  “I… did not.  Presumably if I grovel, Riza will take pity on me and trust me with a few.”

“Hop to it,” Ed said, and Roy started to sigh, and Ed’s heart did a funny, fucked-up kind of flipping thing.  He reached out—he wasn’t sure what for—before Roy could move away.  “No, but—seriously—just—would you take care of yourself?  Please?”

Roy brushed the tips of his fingers over the back of Ed’s hand, lighter than the beat of butterfly wings.

“I will,” he said.  “Thank you.”

Ed watched him go, walking marginally less zig-zaggy this time.

“You are disgustingly sappy,” Russell said—although he was just smart enough to say it from a safe distance this time; last time Ed had spilled fresh whipped cream all over both of them, which was zero percent as sexy as it sounded.

Attempting to ignore the useless wordvomit emanating from Russell, Ed focused on wondering if it was legal to hire kidnappers to abduct somebody and return them to their home if it was for their own good.  Pity the only person who’d be able to guide him on that was the one it’d be affecting.

…on second thought, there wasn’t really a question about the legality or lack thereof.

Ed sighed and turned to wipe down the espresso machine.  “Shut the fuck up, Tringham,” he said.

Just after noon, as he was settling in with a pile of dead trees to get the data-analysis party started, his phone buzzed.

Then it buzzed again, and again, which meant it was a call, not a text, but Al knew he was in lab, which meant—


He slapped the papers down on the benchtop and fumbled the phone out of his pocket; his heartbeat was deafening and uneven and probably unhealthy; let it not be—let it not—

It was a number that looked vaguely familiar, but not for what he’d feared.


All the same—

The second you underestimated, the second you got complacent—that was when the shit hit the fan, and you turned around, and you were fucked

His thumb missed the swipe bar twice before he got the damn thing to work, and he raised the phone to his ear, swallowed the grit in his throat, and choked out, “Hello?”

“Ed?” a woman’s voice he knew asked calmly.  “This is Riza Hawkeye.”

The flood of relief coursed through him so fast and so ferociously that it left him shaking.  He barely kept his grip on the fucking phone.  God, was anybody around here watching him?  He’d look crazy.  Maybe he was.

“Hey,” he said.  He cleared his throat and coughed into his fist in the hopes of evening out his voice, and then he tried again: “What’s up?”

“Roy is probably going to text you momentarily,” she said, “while he’s in the car, to let you know I sent him home on pain of death.”

Sounded a bit counterproductive, the whole If you don’t go home and get better, I’ll kill you! thing.  Also sounded exactly like something Ed would say.

“Just wanted to give you a heads up,” Riza said.  “He’s pure stoic endurance when he’s refusing to give in to being sick, but the moment he accepts it, he turns into a pathetic lump.”

Well, don’t mince words, Ed thought, but he wasn’t quite sure yet that he wouldn’t go in front of a firing squad for sassing this woman too much.  “Right.  Uh.  Is it my sacred…” He elided the word ‘boyfriend’ at the last second just in case some fucking busybody was listening in.  “…duty to go babysit?”

“There isn’t any obligation,” Riza said, rather delicately, Ed thought, “but he’s going to pull out all the stops to try to guilt-trip you.  And it would be wonderful if you had a chance to stop by and check in on him sometime today just to make sure he hasn’t buried himself in a mountain of used tissues, never to be seen again.”

“That would be a fittingly melodramatic end,” Ed said.

Riza made a faint breath-through-the-nose noise that might, by her standards, have qualified as a laugh.  “Quite.”

“I’ll go over there,” Ed said, nudging his papers into a slightly less chaotic stack.  His hand was still shaking.  “Dig him out of the detritus.  Make some soup.”

“That would be very kind of you,” Riza said.  “Just don’t let him take advantage.”

“I’d like to see him try,” Ed said.  He wouldn’t, but it sure sounded snappy.

“Excellent,” Riza said.  “Thank you.”

“You bet,” he said.

He was also betting that this whole nursemaid-to-the-sick-boyfriend bit was easier said than done.

But he’d never find out if he didn’t give it a whirl, as was always true of… well, anything, really.

His phone buzzed again as soon as he shoved it in his pocket, so he dragged it back out.

Riza sent me home for exceeding my whining quota.  Or because I spewed snot on some case files.  Perhaps it was both. :(

The woman was psychic.

don’t text while you drive, Ed sent.  be there in like an hour. <3

To make good of the promise, he packed up his data, double-checked that everything he was postponing wouldn’t blow sky-high before tomorrow, stuck a note on Izumi’s door comprising several lines of brilliant poetry (personal crap to do sorry thanks have my cell. —e.e.), and booked it to the parking lot.  He had to swing by home and then the grocery store and then get over to Roy’s—an hour would be cutting it just a little close, but he’d been known to glare at clocks until they slowed their shit down sometimes.

He got a text from Roy while he was in the spices aisle, holding his basket at a stupidly awkward angle—not that there was any other way to hold one of those fucking things—and skimming the labels on the different brands of cayenne powder to see which ones had the right stamps of approval.

Did Riza tell you I was texting in the car?  How could she possibly know that for -sure-?  I object.  You don’t have to come; I’d hate to spew snot on you.  I’d never forgive myself.

suck it up mustang, Ed sent back.  i’m halfway there.  you’re going to have to peel yourself out of the sick nest to let me in though.

He just sort of gazed glazedly at the labels for another second, because he knew that was all it would take before the phone vibrated again.

I’ll leave the door unlocked.  If anyone enters with burglarizing intentions, they’ll be subject to a barrage of phlegmy facial tissues, which presumably qualifies as biological warfare… You really shouldn’t come inside the quarantine zone; I’m sure I’m contagious.  I just wanted to whine without a quota. <3

tough shit, Ed sent.  be there soon. <3

For all of the unrestricted whining, Roy had evidently succeeded in oozing down the stairs to unlock the door, since it opened at a touch as Ed tried to manhandle all of his bags inside.

“You alive?” he called up as he dragged everything into the kitchen.

“Possibly,” a faint impression of Roy’s voice called back.

“Cool,” Ed said.  “Schrödinger’s Mustang.  I’m down.  Based on the possibility you’re alive, I’m making soup for you.”

There was some rustling upstairs, followed by a thump, followed by a very piteous “Oww,” followed by Roy staggering down the stairs in his pajamas, holding a blanket around his shoulders with one hand and carrying a jumbo-sized Kleenex box in the other hand.

“Holy hell,” Ed said, putting the bags on the counter and crossing the room.

“Don’t,” Roy said, waving the Kleenex-laden hand.  “I’m a germ factory; I don’t want to get you s—”

Ed grabbed the collar of his pajama shirt, hauled him down, and kissed him.  Then Ed let go and felt his forehead.

“I’d rather get sick for a week than not touch you when you’re suffering,” Ed said.  “You’re running a little bit of a fever.  Have you taken any aspirin or anything?”

Roy’s smile was small, and wobbly, and grateful, and heart-rending in the best kind of way.  “I had some at work for the headache from all the sniffling.”

“C’mere,” Ed said, towing him over to the kitchen table.  “Sit.  I’m gonna get you some tea first, and then soup.  You’ll pee forever, but at least you’ll be hydrated.”

With Roy sat—well, slumped, really—at the head of the table, Ed braved the rows and rows of tea boxes in the pantry.  He was pretty sure he’d seen echinacea and a couple mint ones.

“Is it chicken noodle?” Roy asked, sounding marginally more lively.

“Sorta,” Ed said.  Echinacea it was; by some miracle, he managed to withdraw a teabag from the box without upsetting the order of the whole arrangement.  “Cajun chicken noodle.  It was always my mom’s thing when we were sick.”  He filled Roy’s electric kettle from the sink and turned it on, then went mug-hunting in the ridiculously high-set cabinets.  “She was actually from Louisiana originally; her family came out here when she was in high school, I guess, and then just… stayed.  And then she met my dad, for all the fucking good he was.”  There was a mug he could reach without any undignified tiptoe stretching, so he snagged it.  It said nothing more or less than Tea, Earl Grey, hot.  “Anyway, when we were sick, she always used to make the chicken soup this way, ’cause the spiciness clears your sinuses a little, too.  After she died, Al and I found a little notebook she had where she’d jotted down a couple of her recipes, and this was one of them, so Al’n I both make it for each other when we need it.”

The part of Roy’s face that was visible around where he’d buried most of it in his folded arms had a weird sort of expression, but Ed was having the kind of day by now where you just ignored the weird shit and hoped it went away instead of analyzing it too much.

“This is gonna take a little while,” he said, unpacking his arsenal.  “Once your tea’s done, you should go sit on the couch with the TV on or something.”

Roy extracted his face from his sleeve just enough to rub at his eyes.  “I can’t imagine there’s anything on but soap operas and informercials.”

“The two modern pinnacles of accidental self-parody,” Ed said.  “C’mon, you have a billion DVDs.  Just pick something you can fall asleep to; I’ll put it on.”

So it was that Roy curled up on the couch with a box of tissues and a mug of echinacea tea and gradually dozed off to ‘Fellowship of the Ring’.  Apparently the man found fucking Nazgûl chases soothing or some shit.  Ed was completely baffled, and completely in love with him.

In the meantime, Ed assembled the magic panacea soup and left it to boil for a while, trying not to bang any of the pots against each other or the stove range so he wouldn’t disturb Roy’s Tolkien-enhanced slumber.  He cleaned up while the chicken was cooking and then put the pasta on, and it all timed out just about right.

There were maybe half a dozen things he could actually cook.  He still stood by the I dunno, throw some shit from the fridge in with the ramen and see what happens school of cuisine, but when it came to Mom’s specialities, you sort of had to go all-out, and he was almost kind of good at it—when he focused, anyway.  When he didn’t… well, the point was, he’d learned the lesson by now.  The lesson involved awkward conversations with firemen and swearing to Al that he’d pay attention next time.

Frodo et al. had just made it to Rivendell when Ed went over and touched Roy’s shoulder, at which the resident invalid stirred and blinked extremely hazy eyes.  The instant they found Ed, he smiled softly, like it was a fucking involuntary muscle response, and maybe Ed was catching some of whatever it was, because his throat went sort of tight.

“Hey,” he said through it.  “Try this.”

He ended up having to put the bowl down on the coffee table to help Roy sit up straight, and then he just sort of gave in and sat with him, so that Roy could lean on his shoulder for balance.  When they were nice and stable and not too likely to spill soup all over themselves, he picked up the bowl again.

“Mom used to do, like, bow-tie pasta and penne and a bunch of other kinds,” he said, shifting the spoon around to distribute everything a little better, “and they were all supposed to be, like, clothes or instruments or something—like they were all parts of this sort of New Orleans jazz thing she had going, and she’d tell a whole story while she was feeding it to you—but… I only had macaroni.  Which is because Al is obsessed with different kinds of cheese right now and keeps experimenting.  Anyway.”  He held it out to Roy.  “Be careful.  It’s pretty hot.”

“So are you,” Roy said, and his smolder-gaze was a bit subdued by the general malaise, but Ed still couldn’t believe he was flirting when he felt like this.

Ed held his breath as Roy raised the spoon.

Roy blew on it, sipped at it, put it in his mouth, returned it to the bowl, and…

Startled, blinked, and coughed into the back of his hand.

Damn,” he said.

Ed saw that his own right hand had started worrying at the edge of the blanket without his permission and forced it to let go.  “Is it okay?”

“It’s amazing,” Roy said.  “But you weren’t kidding about the heat.”  He stirred with the spoon.  “Are those shrimp?”

“Cajun as fuck,” Ed said.

“As long as you didn’t put in any alligator,” Roy said.

“Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it,” Ed said.  “I would, if you could find a good gator steak anywhere in this state.”

Roy stared at him.

Ed grinned.

Roy sipped at the soup, coughed again, shook his head, and smiled.

“You’re something else,” he said.  He leaned over and kissed Ed’s forehead.  “Thank you.  For this, and for being here.”

“Being sick blows,” Ed said.  “The only thing that blows more is being sick and alone.”

“Funny,” Roy said, blowing on the next spoonful of soup.  “I was getting rather sick of being alone.”

Ed had a funky sort of premonition that he didn’t just mean today.

He settled in a little closer, and Roy did an admirable number on the soup, and even Gandalf falling in Moria wasn’t quite so bad like this.

Ed crawls out of the extremely purple bed in his extremely purple hotel room and almost regrets last night’s decision to wake himself up at one-thirty in the morning (local time) to Skype with Roy for twenty minutes.  He managed to keep his voice low enough that nobody from the adjoining rooms tried to get through his door with a hatchet to kill him, and it was a hell of a lot easier to get back to sleep after having heard Roy’s voice for a little while, but… Jesus, if he doesn’t feel like he’s been hit by a truck and then backed over.  Twice.

A shower in the extremely purple bathroom alleviates that condition somewhat, and then he puts the little electric kettle on in order to fortify himself with the strongest tea they provided before he braves the morning.  He made the very, very unfortunate discovery yesterday afternoon that the British hate coffee and everything it stands for, and they refuse to produce it in any remotely palatable way.  Roy received a slew of texts of horror and outrage upon Ed’s revelation that even Starbucks hasn’t enforced its famous standards in this country, and everything labeled ‘coffee’ in this entire nation is apparently burnt-bean-flavored tap water.  It was a tragedy of epic-poem proportions.  Roy suggested resorting to tea; Ed’s soul wept; the tea was pretty damn good, actually; it was all very sad.

To give the Brits a little credit, there doesn’t seem to be such a thing as mediocre tea around here.  Ed sugars his up, chugs it, and laments the gentleness of the caffeine infusion.  Roy has succeeded over the years in convincing him that tea kind of gets the job done, but coffee gets it done fast, which is much more efficient given how little time there tends to be of a morning before the obligations start pouring in.

Then again, Ed’s nerves are already kind of piqued, so maybe a brutal caffeine rush wouldn’t be the best thing to throw on top.

It’s a hop, skip, and a jump—or, if you want to be literal, a twenty-minute span of purgatory crammed into a Tube car at a peak commuting hour—on the Northern line from his hotel to Goodge Street, which is rising on his list of favorite station names, although Elephant & Castle is going to be difficult to displace.  He’s also getting fond of Russell Square—maybe he’ll stop there sometime this week just to take a picture, so that he can add the words “is a” in between and send it to a certain stupid-haired douchebag who is presumably still alive and crashed out surrounded by hookahs somewhere.

The professor who had invited him to talk at UCL had, when sending him the directions, indicated that someone would meet him out by the main gates—which would be proving slightly less ambiguous if there weren’t about six billion gated areas on Gower Street.  Ed eventually finds one with a pretty telling three-letter label, and sure enough, there’s a kid standing a little ways inside who spots him and hurries over, beaming fit to pop out all of the piercings in their eyebrows.

Ed sort of has to go with ‘their’—the kid has a really androgynous kind of face and is wearing really androgynous kind of clothes, all of which is complimented by the androgynous dyed-black hair in a sort of poof-wave off to the left side.  There are studs and safety pins all over the outfit, which is predominantly black except for a bright green pin that says please use “they” and a neon-rainbow belt.

All of which he’s barely had time to register before his hand is being pumped up and down fast enough that he thinks he might momentarily lose feeling in his elbow.

“It’s an honor to meet you, Dr. Elric,” the kid says.  “Andy McMahon—I’m on the cancer biology course here; it’s amazing to see you in person—would you like a spot of breakfast?  Was the trip all right?”

“Ed’s fine,” Ed says, trying to catch up.  “Uh—probably better if I don’t eat until after the talk; I get nervous.”

Andy is staring at him, eyes shining.

“So where are we headed?” Ed asks.  The whole adulation-from-young-scientists thing somehow always manages to be simultaneously inspiring and gut-wrenchingly awkward.

“Right this way,” Andy says, waving a hand and leading him towards the main hall.  “Still about an hour before your talk, yeah?  I can give you a bit of a tour.”

On the way to the lecture hall, Ed finds out that Andy started out studying history but took a class on genetics to fill a hole in their schedule and absolutely fell in love.  When Ed mentions that it seems like many of the people who ended up in science ‘on accident’ bring a passion and humility to the table that the career scientists sometimes don’t, Andy looks like they might just cry.

Which—again.  Inspiring, and awkward as shit.

Ed has to admit he kind of loves it.

When they actually arrive at the lecture hall, Ed discovers that it’s more of a giant colossal theater of doom than it is a hall, which grinds his last stable nerve down to a quivering core of mounting panic.

He can do this.  He’s going to be fine.  He can do this; deep breaths; he’s pointed at these slides so many times, he can shut his whole brain off and do this on autopilot; he’ll be fine.

There are, like, sixteen other hands he has to shake as Andy ushers him in and then plops down in the front row and pulls out a notebook.  Most of the seats are already full, and people keep streaming in even as he tries to keep his mind on the numerous important introductions—he’s forgotten the provost’s name already, but fuck it; it’ll be on Wikipedia; later he can check discreetly on his phone.  He can handle this.  It’s really not any different than lecturing to undergrads—these people want to be here, so they’ll probably be way more respectful, really.

There’s a surreal moment where his stomach bottoms out as they all realize that the tech support guy forgot to bring a US-UK power adapter, but then he wonders… and when he opens up one of the front pockets of his laptop bag, he finds that Roy put one in for him, brand-new and still packaged tightly.  It takes three of them to fight it out of the impregnable clamshell plastic, and sharing a laugh about it with a bunch of hoity-toity Brits in nice suits quiets the screaming terror in Ed’s head a little bit.

By the time they’ve gotten his laptop to mirror properly onto the huge projector screen, he’s heard at least three people gasp “Look, it’s him,” which is rather unsettling, and the whole enormous room is buzzing with low-voiced conversations and anticipation.

The clock strikes ten, and then ten oh-two, and Ed is profoundly glad that Andy’s impromptu tour included a stop at a restroom with delightfully typical university graffiti, because otherwise it’d probably be just his luck to be feeling the tea right this second.  He takes a deep breath.  The currently-nameless provost guy introduces him.  He takes an even deeper breath.  The room riots with applause.  And then…

Then it’s just him, stranded at the front of an incomprehensibly large lecture space, blinded by the lights, with two-dozen slides about science.

He can do this.

“Good morning,” he says, suddenly hyper-conscious of his own voice.  As if the vowel-flattening Americanness wasn’t enough, public speaking is the only thing—other than tongue-strangling rage—that makes him slip a little into the Louisiana drawl he inherited from Mom.  There’s something about that specific kind of adrenaline that spikes right into his vocal chords and stabs through all of the careful covering up he did way back in the day, as a child just self-aware enough to know that difference means ridicule.  “Just to warn you, none of this is anything you couldn’t find on the internet if you wanted—assuming that my brother hasn’t hacked into my lab site and changed everything as an early April Fool’s joke again, which I’ll be the first to admit makes the whole research section much more interesting.  Anyway, I’m going to try to finish up fast and leave a lot of time for questions, but if you’re bored out of your skull, feel free to take a nap until then.  Just don’t snore if you can help it; think about your neighbors.”

Andy laughs heartily, and they’re not alone, and Ed’s heart feels like a badly-oiled machine going into overdrive, but he’s sinking into the part of himself that knows how to play this game.

“Right,” he says.  “I figure you all probably know who I am, but just in case—Edward Elric.  I’ve got letters and crap after my name, but those don’t really matter, and I’m about to tell you why.”

The combination of sleep-deprivation, jet-lag, and epinephrine like a shot of heroin sends him blazing through the whole slide deck like he was born to this.  He garners a couple murmurs and some muttering here and there; the crowd energy is electric the whole way through, and when he finishes and asks for questions, hands fly up everywhere.

There are a couple about the science, which are fun; and then the curveballs start coming.

Andy’s hand goes up, and Ed points at them: “What’s your biggest inspiration?”

“My brother,” Ed says instantly.  “He’s believed in me since he was old enough to have complex thoughts, even when I didn’t deserve it—especially when I didn’t deserve it.  I called him at four in the morning one time a couple years ago, ’cause I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t have a damn clue what time it was—and he just picked up the phone and said ‘Science?’, and then I looked at the clock and started trying to apologize, and he said ‘Shut up and let me get a pen.’”

He shifts his weight.  It’s hard to say this without it sounding cheesy.

“And… I mean, I’m in this field, and I did this work, not because I wanted a prize, or recognition, or a pay raise, or any of that shit—sorry, my filter just… sorry—but because… of… what he and I went through as kids because cancer took our mom away.  And I just thought… y’know—fuck that.  Fuck that.  We can do better.  Humanity can do better.  We’ve got these stupid overdeveloped brains for a reason, and I’m gonna use mine for all it’s worth, and maybe we can get to a place where people like my mom don’t have to waste away in fucking hospital beds while their kids watch—people who are still so young, and they’ve still got so much they want to do.  I’m older now than my mom was when she died.  How fucked up is that?  She got dealt the wrong hand, and there was nothing she could do about it.  If she could’ve fought it, she would.  If she’d had any chance, any hope in hell of winning, she would have, because she was a warrior underneath all the nice Mom crap.  She was steel under that.  But cancer ate her from the inside, and no amount of love or money or hope or risk could’ve saved her.  And I wanted to change that.”  He drags in a breath, pulls at the end of his ponytail, and manages a sigh.  Andy is gazing at him starry-eyed, and Ed kind of wants to adopt that little spot of gothic sunshine.  “So… I did.  Remember that, kids—any obstacle in your life can be overcome with enough sheer freakin’ stubbornness.”

Next he calls on a girl a couple rows back.

“Are you single?” she asks.

“No,” he says.

There is a completely bizarre collective Aww, and then some scattered laughter at how floored he looks.

“Is there something in the water here, or what?” he asks.  “Y’all’re scaring me.”

Somebody else has a science question, and then they’re pretty much out of time, and then he has to shake hands with eight more university officials and twelve professors.  Three of those drag him into a really involved discussion of his last paper, and he doesn’t notice how much time is passing until Andy appears out of nowhere, holding out a little wax-paper bag and a steaming paper cup.

“Breakfast,” they say, beaming again.  “Didn’t know how you took your tea, so there’s sugar and creamer in with the scone, and—”

“You are a friggin’ angel,” Ed says, taking all of the offerings.  “Can I put you in my suitcase and take you back with me?”

Andy laughs as Ed starts dumping all the sugar packets into his tea—he’s actually kind of serious, though.  He needs to find out how many years are left in the kid’s degree; maybe he can fund them as a postdoc after th—

“Edward,” a voice says.

No amount of intervening years would change the way that voice rams right into the marrow of Ed’s bones—the way it scrapes against his soul like the sick screech of metal on metal; the way it freezes his whole skeleton at once; the way he’s eight years old again, and devastated, and he and Al are pressing their ears against the bedroom door and listening to their mother cry.  She always tried to hide it, but they always knew; they always knew—

He looks up, and his father’s face has barely changed at all.