"What are you doing?" Roy asked as he walked into the study.
Edward was sitting at Roy's desk, writing furiously in a notebook. Around him, books were scattered on the desk and floor, most closed but some open to the last page Ed had read before becoming distracted.
"Writing out some theories," Ed said. He looked up and gestured to the bookshelves lining the two walls behind and to the left of Ed. "You have some really interesting books here."
"You'll have to come back after you've finished traveling," Roy said. "Though I don't think you'd be able to stay long enough to finish my entire library."
"Challenge accepted," Ed said with a laugh. He turned back to the paper in front of him. He may not have his alchemy anymore, but he was still an alchemist. His brain wouldn't stop producing the same crazy ideas it had since the first time he opened an alchemy book.
"Are you working on any theory in particular?" Roy asked as he took a seat on the couch in front of the fireplace that was to Ed's right.
"I'm just finishing up a few that Al and I were playing with earlier. They should be ready for him to test out tomorrow morning." Ed looked up just in time see Roy drop his eyes. He still wore his smirk though, and the downcast eyes made Roy's face look sadder, more bitter. There was something in his eyes that Ed couldn't quite place, but it had been there since he walked in the room. Pride? But that didn't make sense. Why would he be proud? Of Ed? It seemed that way, but Ed was just working on some theories, he hadn't even tested them out yet.
He sketched out one last array. He hesitated for a moment before pressing his fingers to it. Nothing happened. Nothing ever happened. Ed sighed.
He stood and stretched. Then he walked over and fell onto the couch next to Roy. Ed let his eyes fall closed, and with a yawn, slid to the side until his head landed on Roy's shoulder. Roy moved his arm so that it was curled around Ed's back a little more. Ed thought he felt Roy's hand on the end of his hair for a moment, but then it was gone. It was probably an accident. His hair was really getting too long, especially when it was down the way it was right then.
"So, what exactly happened with that Marley girl? You're letter didn't really explain," Roy asked.
With a groan, Ed slumped in the other direct until his forehead hit the arm of the couch. He felt the cushion move as Roy readjusted. Ed peeked and saw that Roy was sitting with his arms loosely crossed and had turned so that he was settled in the corner of the couch with one leg half on the seat.
"Do we have to go into this?" Ed asked.
"I'm just curious," Roy said, "I didn't hear many negatives about her in your letters."
"She didn't really have many negatives." Ed sighed. He closed his eyes and pressed his face into the couch arm, making it become more muffled. "Smart, beautiful, funny, great with Al, and she even had a cat that she let him play with." Ed sat up and turned to face Roy. "But I just- I didn't… You're supposed to feel something, right? Like, what is it, sparks or something? People call it chemistry, and to me that's reactions, and change, two becoming one, lonely elements becoming strong, superior compounds, and making sparks, or fire, or foam that's too much for a beaker to contain. But with her it was just…. We were water and oil, you know? Not that we didn't get along well, but we just couldn't mix. We couldn't form one, and we could be easily separated." Ed knew he was rambling, knew he sounded, and probably looked, desperate, but he couldn't stop. "But why? We got along so great, but there was just never- I just can't seem to connect with anyone." He looked down with a sigh. "It's like this with every girl I talk to."
"Even Miss Rockbell?" Roy asked.
"Winry's Winry," Ed said, brushing the question off. "She's like my sister, I just don't see her like that. Al does though, I think." Ed leaned back in the seat, his head tilted towards the ceiling. "She keeps picking on me because apparently I don't notice when the girls in town look at me. I just don't really notice that sort of thing, you know? Like I'm not tuned in to girl radar, or frequencies, or whatever… I don't know. But then when I try I just fail at the relationship part. Maybe something's just wrong with me." Ed looked up to see Roy staring at him. His face was really intense and curious. Ed gave him a questioning look, but he just kept staring. Ed nudged Roy's leg and said, "Besides the usual, right?" He flashed Roy a smile. This was how they were supposed to go. Roy was supposed to say something mocking, yet reassuring.
"I don't think anything's wrong with you," Roy said slowly. "Maybe you just really are tuned in to a different frequency."
"What? What does that mean?"
"Ed, maybe," Roy started but paused. "Maybe you should consider the idea that those girls aren't what you're looking for. Maybe they're not the variable missing in your chemistry equation."
"Then what is?"
"Have you ever felt a connection with someone else? Maybe even just the beginnings of one? That kind of feeling you were talking about?"
"With someone not a girl?"
Ed stared at Roy. His brain stopped working for a moment. Not a girl? But then— "You think I'm gay?" He asked, incredulous.
"I just think—"
"I thought you said you thought there was nothing wrong with me. Then how do you—" Ed cut himself off. He wasn't expecting the hurt look that flashed across Roy's face.
"You think loving another man means there's something wrong with you?"
"I— I don't know." He really didn't. Ed had never thought about this. It was a subject that he knew was a little more accepted in Central, but it wasn't talked about in Risembool. It just wasn't. And when he was traveling through Central and the other cities, he had bigger problems on his mind then his opinions on sexuality.
They stared at each other for a minute, at least. Ed almost expected a cricket to start chirping.
"You should consider all possible variables to an experiment before declaring it a failure," Roy said, and Ed could see his mask falling back in place. He hadn't even realized how much more open Roy had been lately. He watched Roy stand and walk to the door. "Goodnight," he said without turning back towards Ed.
"Yeah, g'night," Ed muttered.
The next night, Ed sat down wearily to dinner. He hadn't seen much of Roy all day, and wasn't sure if things were still tense from the night before. Ed had slept in that morning, which meant Roy had already gone to work by the time Ed had gotten up. Then he had spent a good portion of the day supervising alchemy experiments performed by Al. This had caused some damage to the Brigadier General's yard, so another couple of hours had been dedicated to clean up; although Ed suspected that was Al's nice way of saying cover up. Al seemed to think the best way to keep the damage and cover up a secret was for them to stay away from Roy until they were absolutely positive that he wasn't going to notice. So Ed was barricaded in the library "doing research" with Al until their hunger drove them out for dinner.
Their worries turned out to be unfounded because Roy acted perfectly normal throughout dinner. Both Elrics relaxed as the conversation stayed on topics like Roy's work, and Ed and Al's travel plans.
It wasn't until he was Ed was left alone with Roy that he realized he had been lulled into a false sense of security.
Al had excused himself early to take a phone call from Winry in another room while Ed and Roy finished eating.
"Al seems to be getting along with Miss Rockbell," Roy said.
"Yeah, well like I said, he likes her. She likes him too, they're just dancing around each other now." It was quiet for a moment before Ed realized what he'd just said.Shit, he hadn't meant to bring up their conversation.
"Ed, about last night..."
"We really don't have to talk about that… Ever. I mean people don't really talk about that, right?"
"It's true that it's not a subject usually discussed over dinner."
"But we're discussing it over dinner?"
"Well, come on, Ed, since when have you ever followed social niceties? Besides we seem to be done with dinner. Perhaps, it's a conversation entirely suitable to hold over a sink full of dishes."
Ed snorted, but followed Roy over to the sink carrying his share of the china.
"I just think-" Roy began as Ed added soap to a plate.
"You made it pretty clear what you just think," Ed said. He had to force his hands to relax on the plate. Damn, this is awkward, he thought, but as much as Ed wanted the subject dropped, his mouth had other ideas. "Can't I just be normal at this one thing? Why do we have to poke and prod and turn it until I'm even bigger freak than just a kid with a metal leg?"
"You're not a-" Roy cut himself off with a sigh. As Ed passed him the plate he noticed Roy's jaw tense, he seemed to be stealing himself up for a change in tactic. "Do you think I'm a freak then?"
"What?" Ed asked as he started washing a glass cup.
"Well, if you think that makes someone a freak, then you must think that I'm a freak," Roy said, eyes focused on the plate he was drying.
"What are you saying?" Ed said with a laugh. "You're making it sound like you're…" he cut off as the now clean cup almost slipped from his hands. He whipped his head around to stare at Roy. "But your not."
Roy reached over and grabbed the glass from Ed. "I think I would know better than you," he said with a twist to his mouth, and still avoiding Ed's eyes.
"No, but— but, you date women all the time. Women, Mustang."
"Do I?" he asked with a raised brow. He put down the glass and turned to Ed.
"Yeah, I used to hear about it all the time. Elizabeth's and Jacqueline's, and probably a dozen others."
Roy laughed. "Elizabeth is Colonel Hawkeye, and—"
"You're dating Hawkeye!?" Ed asked, shocked. He was facing Roy too by this point; the dishes lay forgotten in the sink.
"No. It's her code name for in case anyone is listening in on my phone line. Jacqueline is Jean Havoc."
"So you're dating Havoc then?" Ed asked. He was so confused. This conversation was not going any of the ways he had pictured it. Roy gave him an exasperated look. "Ok, fine," Ed said, "But- but then—"
"But then most of those girls you heard about were your co-workers on secret missions for me, and the rest were probably meetings with informants made to look like dates," Roy said. Ed wanted to sit down. His whole world was being realigned, and Roy didn't even seem to notice as he kept talking, "Ed, maybe you're right and you just haven't found the right girl, or maybe now just isn't the time for your mind to be focusing on relationships so it's resisting, I don't know. But if I'm right, then things would become less confusing if you just opened yourself up to the idea."
That wasn't right though, was it? Ed was straight, he was just having some girl trouble lately. That didn't mean— He was just… But hadn't he felt more of a connection with Ling Yao than he had with any of those girls?
Roy reached out to him, and he instinctively stepped back. Roy pulled his hand back as if burned, and hurt flashed in his eyes.
Ed's eyes widened. He hadn't meant to do that. It wasn't Roy; he was just so confused, and there were so many thoughts, and he just didn't want to be touched right that second. But even more than that, he didn't want to hurt Roy, who was just trying to help. Even if he was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
"I didn't—" Ed started, reaching a hand out to Roy this time, but Roy didn't see that. He was focused on where Al was coming into the kitchen behind Ed.
"What are you guys talking about?"
Ed watched all genuine emotion leave Roy's face. His mask was back in place; the usual smirk, but there was something missing from his eyes. "I was just asking your brother about my fence. It's seems even cleaner than usual, you boys didn't have to do that."
"Well, you know, we just…" Al mumbled.
"Thank you both. I'll have to go out and inspect it more thoroughly later."
The color drained from Al's face. "Right. Umm, you're umm, welcome. I just— I uh, just remembered something that I forgot to tell Winry. Talk to you both later," Al said in a rush before running out of the room.
"My brother is a coward," Ed mumbled. He flashed Roy a small, tentative smile, but it wasn't returned as they both went back to washing the dishes.