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Roy regrets everything.  Roy regrets the entirety of his existence.

Well—wait.  To be fair, there might have been a moment, once, when he was about eighteen… Maybe two.  Maybe two moments.

The rest of it he regrets.

“So,” Ed says, calmly, rattling the chain.  “Anything to say for yourself?”

They’re trussed up back-to-back, so Roy can’t see him, which is a terrible shame.  A crime, even.  A travesty.  He always assumed there would be a point at which Ed’s attractiveness would plateau, but every year carves out some new angle, and his jaw sharpens just a little, or his hair starts to fall into his eyes.  He was a startling child; he is a stunning adult.  Roy mourns the years Ed spent on the other side of oblivion, so much further than just out of sight; Roy rejoices that he returned, a year ago yesterday, every bit as suddenly and inexplicably as he had disappeared.

“For starters,” Roy says, “I’m sorry.”

The depth and duration of the silence makes him consider that perhaps he hasn’t said that to Ed more than… never.

He’ll have to mull over that one later, if they make it out of this alive—or if he does; he’s determined to make sure that Ed will, one way or another.  Ed has proven nearly indestructible several dozen times before.  That’s quite a comfort at moments like this.

Also a comfort is the bizarrely profound sense of weightlessness imposed by the dimness and the almost-silence.  If they’re going to be left for long stretches between bouts of more vigorous torment, this is a fine place for it: the sewer grate directly overhead isn’t dripping water, and almost nothing has passed across and blocked the distant orange streetlamp light; they must be underneath a very quiet street.  Admittedly, the dankness of the walls has spread a chill through Roy that makes his clavicles ache, so he can only imagine how much the automail ports are hurting Ed, but all the same—they’re alone, bound to a metal chair each, with a thick length of chain wrapped around their chests to tie them to each other, one wrist secured with twine to each side of their chair’s frame.  They were smart enough to take Roy’s gloves, but not enough to take Ed’s arm, which tells him something.  Before last night, he would be making all kinds of deliberately awful innuendos about this.

A lot has changed in the last thirty-odd hours.

He regrets all of it.

“This may be difficult to get used to,” he says, “but I believe you’re collateral damage this time.”

“Somehow my ego will recover,” Ed says.  “The fuck do they want, anyway?”

“Revenge, I suspect,” Roy says, keeping his voice low in case anyone is lingering.  “There is a fairly well-established cadre of Bradley sympathizers still out on the hunt for answers.  There are a number of rumors that I was near his estate at around the time that it began to burn, so you can understand why they might suspect foul play.  But the government can’t—or won’t—confirm anything in particular.  I imagine it’s very frustrating.”

“Yeah,” Ed says.  “Boo fucking hoo.  It’s been, like, five years.  Get the fuck over i—”

“Now, now,” Roy says.  “Not everyone is quite as resilient as you are.”

There is a very different depth to this silence—a suddenness, like dropping off a cliff.

Roy realizes what he said, and what Ed must have heard, and winces hard enough that his split lip sluggishly starts bleeding.

He deserves that.

“I’m sorry, too,” he says, much more softly, “for… what was said.”

Two, three, four seconds tick by—or they would, if Roy could hear his watch; he counts to the beat of his pulse instead, which is probably unreliable.  Ed has a way of effortlessly interfering with all of his vital signs.

“Not for what was done,” Ed says at long last, and Roy cringes harder.  He should have thought… should have known.  Can he blame it on the concussion?  “Figures.  You are a piece of fucking work, Mustang.”

“Thank you,” he says, automatically.  That’s the concussion.  “A masterpiece of portraiture, I like to think.”

This silence stings.

“I meant it,” he says.  “I’m sorry.  For all of it.”

“You’re sorry I didn’t roll over and let you fucking walk on me,” Ed says, “and then let you walk away.  You’re sorry I called you on your shit.  You’re sorry I like myself too much to buy what you’re selling at the low, low, one-time price of my self-respect and the last of my fucking dignity.”

Roy closes his eye and listens to his heart beating in his ears.  This is his own fault—start to finish; every moment in between.

He opens his eye and forces himself to smile.  He’ll get Ed out of this, and/or he’ll die trying.

He knew, didn’t he?  He sees more, now.  He sees details that he didn’t before; he sees to the black heart and the bitter soul of things even as they happen.  He sees silhouettes moving on another plane that doesn’t quite coincide with the one most people walk on.

He knew that the way Ed was watching him last night—half-lidded dark gold eyes, sharper by the second, lit hotter and hotter from the inside with every drink he downed—was not a come-on, not a come-hither, not a come-what-may.

It was a surrender.

It was the assessment of an animal who has had a season to grow new fur over old scars—who knows there will be jaws around its throat if it continues, but maybe this time, the blood will be so warm it won’t matter how long the wounds will take to heal.

Roy knew.

But he was just so hungry.

He was just so hungry, and just so cold; and he has always, always, been fool enough to play with fire.

And he thought—

He hoped

Against hope, against logic, against reason, against a truth he could see the shadows of—

He hoped that if he was gentle enough, perhaps—perhaps—they could both emerge from this unbloodied and unburnt.

He knew, of course, all along, that both of them are too jagged for this ever to have amounted to anything unbroken.

“No,” he says.  “I’m sorry I was weak enough to go into it even when I knew that it would hurt you.”

“You don’t have to let me down easy,” Ed says, and his voice is ice straight through.  Some people forget that frostbite feels like burning, too.  Roy isn’t one of them.  “I’m not some doe-eyed kid who thinks a pity fuck will solve my problems.  It was an experiment.  I got my data.  It’s done.”

Forcing Ed to listen to what is actually being said—even, or perhaps especially, when it’s for his own good—sits in a place of pride on the long list of things that Roy has never been able to accomplish.

He’s not sure what’s left to him but cutting his losses and carrying on.  It’s what Ed would want, at least in a theoretical way.

“If it was a pity fuck,” he says, because he does have a dwindling thread of courage left, “the pity was on your side and yours only.  Aside from which—I’m sorry for this situation.  This is my fault.”

“You’re damn right it is,” Ed says.

It is a remarkable testament to the elasticity of the human brain that Roy has thought of nearly nothing but Edward Elric for years on end, and has simultaneously somehow forgotten just how forthright he can be.

“Well,” he says, trying for a dry sort of levity.  “Don’t mince words.”

“Never do,” Ed says, serving it right back—and that’s so much of what’s so gut-wrenching about all of it.  They should work—shouldn’t they?  They make sense.  How in the hell did it come to this?  “If you can’t tear ’em off the bone with your teeth, they’re not worth saying.”

He’s probably right about that.

Just as he was probably right about the fight, although they’ll never know for sure.

It’s been too long since Roy had to hold his own anywhere other than a battlefield of wits—too long since he played anything but the long games, with the little knives and the small betrayals and the calculated risks.

The knives that appeared in the alley behind the bar several dark hours ago were bigger, and much more literal.  There were three guns.  The alley walls were just close enough to hinder Roy’s damaged depth perception, and his heartbeat was just loud enough to cloud his mind.

All he could think was I dragged him out here; and all he could do was shove Ed behind him.

Even so many years later, his hands move faster than anyone else’s, and once again it’s the reason he’s alive.  He had the time—stole the time—to snap his fingers once, and tongues of flame streamed up from nothing to encircle all of their opponents, and Ed said, “Don’t kill them!  Let me—”

The dull slap of Ed’s palms meeting heralded a burst of blue light, and the cobblestones writhed and arched and split into three, four, seven towers underneath their feet—

Roy reared back from the edge instinctively, because he couldn’t tell how high they were—because of his damn eye—and stumbled, and the wind caught his cavalry skirt—

Ed’s “Fuck!” ushered them back down to the broken ground, already re-forming as he clapped again—but then the bullets, and Roy turned, but too slow, and the plume of flame unfurling from his fingertips veered wide.

And Ed, still—still, after the ravages of some other world that pried the last few sparks and glimmers from his eyes—fought like a wildcat, cornered and snarling and incandescent in the light of his own genius as it fragmented the ground again, stones leaping, and then shattered the alley wall, and bricks tumbled on two of the attackers—

Roy caught another with a swift curve of flame too fragile to do more than singe him a bit and send him staggering backwards, clutching at his face.

Over the impact and the shout as Ed put his shoulder into one’s side and bowled him over, Roy heard a scrape of a footstep, and then—

An arm hooked around his chest and the unmistakable cold metal shape of a gun barrel underneath his chin, pressing back against his throat too hard for him to do anything but gasp in another half a breath.

Half a breath was not enough to carry It’s me they want; I’m too valuable to kill—just run.

Ed had sunk into a crouch that made it clear he’d never misplaced much, if any, of his finesse for this, and he had both hands poised and waiting, ready to tear down and reshape this whole alleyway if he had to—

But he stayed, still but for panting softly, with his eyes fixed to the gun forcing Roy’s mouth shut.

And when they reached for him, he let them take him—chest heaving; eyes gleaming; mouth in a thin, angry line.

It was the last thing Roy saw before the man behind him clocked him in the jaw with the butt of the gun, hard enough to split his lip, loosen a tooth, and send some thousand stars spinning across his vision.  There was a very rough, dark, stuffy hood after that—which was absolutely ludicrous, because they could have just flipped the eyepatch to the other side.  Attempting to tell them so earned him a vigorous and rather humorless cuff to the back of the head.

Roy would have liked to have said a great deal more—beginning with the observation that, in the good old days, kidnapping ruffians would have waited until their target finished his conversation before they rudely interrupted.

The part about the ruffians wasn’t true, though it would have been terribly witty.

The part about the conversation was.

They’d only just started.

It hadn’t been five minutes since the moment he reached for Ed’s left arm, hesitated two inches shy—gestured, raised his eyebrow, chanced a hesitant half-smile—

And Ed had pushed his drink away, stood from the table, and followed like a man going to the gallows.

Roy should have known in that instant that he was drawing them away from something like safety; that the world could not be kind to either of them no matter how many times they tried to pay their dues.  Roy should have remembered, the moment that he stepped out the back door of the bar, that he is a magnet for misery, and he was pulling Ed into the worst of it right alongside him.

“What happened,” he’d said when the door to the bar swung shut, and the darkness hemmed them in.  “Last night.”

“Nothing ‘happened’,’ Ed said, and the starlight couldn’t resist his eyes, or his teeth.  “We did something.”  He folded his arms, curled his fingers into his sleeves, and fixed his gaze on the wall.  “And what we did was a mistake.”

And Roy had felt—


He’d been prepared for reluctance, for reticence, for uncertainty—even for refusal, if Ed felt that he’d been so profoundly disrespected that there was no way to atone for it.

But not for this.

Not for an outright rejection of everything Roy was—because that was what he’d been about to put on offer, and Ed had to know it; he had to understand that much.

Didn’t he?

Surely he realized—surely he sensed, guessed, believed

Surely he knew Roy had been about to say I know it was abrupt, and more than a little clumsy—I wish we hadn’t rushed it like that; in my right mind, I never would have dared—but even so, it was good, wasn’t it?  We were good together.  And that’s all I want.  I want the opportunity to make good things happen to you.  I want to give you good things, good feelings, good moments.  Do you think perhaps we could try from the beginning?  I won’t ask much.  I won’t ever ask for much.  I just want to be allowed to love you.  I have all this practice, you see.

But then there had been the miscreants, and then there had been a very long stumbling walk towards somewhere, and a bit with a ladder, and several more attempts to maul the few remaining bastions of magnificent attractiveness on his face, and then these chairs and this chain, and…

And here they are.

It’s really remarkable that Roy managed to foul it up so thoroughly—not just the kidnapping; that’s a blip in the radar next to what’s happened with Ed.

No—what he’s done to, with, about Ed.  What he’s done to himself.  What he’s done to the space between them.

Ed’s right.  Some things happen, but this isn’t one of them.  This was built on thoughts and choices.

He wants to say so—there’s still sometimes a little flash of triumph in Ed’s eyes when Roy, specifically, cedes an argument.  Even if Roy can’t see it, the possibility of its existence would be… nice.  There are precious few nice things in the world; if he can foster just one more—

But then there are echoes of approaching footsteps, which are filled by boots, which are accompanied by torchlight, which is followed by a face.

Chapter Text

Roy doesn’t recognize either the face or the torch, although he sees enough faces day-to-day that it’s possible he’s forgotten a few of them.  Torches are a bit harder to come by, but there’s nothing especially distinct about this one, so its identity is a mystery to him, too.

If he’s going to push his luck, he might as well shove it and hope there’s a cliff somewhere.

“You have the wrong person,” he says.

The miscreant with the torch—who may, judging by what looks like a recent burn up the side of his cheek, be one of the ones involved in their capture—glares at him a little more intently.  “He called you ‘Mustang’ a minute ago.  I heard him.”

Perhaps Roy knows Ed too well—is it possible that that’s the root of this?  He knows, without looking, on the factual level of blood and bones and breath, that Ed is wincing.

But he’s facing the opposite direction, so it doesn’t matter much.

“My dear man,” Roy says, “do you have the slightest idea how many Mustangs there are in the Amestrian military?”

The miscreant’s eyes narrow, and the corner of his mouth turns down.

Got him.

“How many of ’em use alchemy?” the man asks, trying to maintain a condescending tone.

“I’m not sure,” Roy says breezily.  “I am sure that I would hate to have gone to all of this trouble and tied up the wrong military official.  Wouldn’t you?”

The man grinds his teeth and weighs his options, but a temporary loss of face in front of a prisoner—who is still, regardless of the power play, chained to a chair—is objectively preferable to the possibility of what Roy has suggested.  Now that he’s planted the seed—

“Don’t fucking move,” the man says, and then he turns on his heel and strides off back the way he came, torchlight dwindling away with him as he goes.

“What the hell was that?” Ed asks.

“Buying some time,” Roy says.

“You would,” Ed says.  “You would procrastinate on a hostage situation.”

“I’m not sure it counts as procrastinating when I’m the hostage,” Roy says.  He shifts, rolls his shoulders, winces at the way that pulls at whatever they did to his back at some point, and twists his wrist around.  “There’s a pin in my right jacket sleeve—just underneath the cuff.  It should be parallel to the cuff’s edge, about an inch below.”  He contorts his forearm as far as he’s able, and his fingertips graze Ed’s, and he does not flinch.  “Can you reach it?”

“Shit,” Ed says, although it sounds almost as admiring as it does surprised.  Roy holds his arm as still as he’s able, and Ed’s fingers sweep across the fabric of his sleeve, slide inside the cuff, fumble— “Good damn thing it was on the right side, huh?”

“There’s one in each,” Roy says.  “I thought this side would be easier for both of us.”

“Right,” Ed says.

There’s a pause.

“Pun… not… intended,” he says.

“Just take credit and run,” Roy says.

“Is that your model for government?” Ed asks.  His fingertips dapple against the fabric of the sleeve, and a part of Roy laments the layers in between their skin.  “Maybe I’ll go back to fucking England.”

“That’s my model for everything,” Roy says.  “I’m deeply wounded that you don’t know that after all this time.  Do you pay any attention to me at all?”

“Eh,” Ed says, because indifference is—as he surely knows—six times as devastating as denial.  “When I can’t avoid it.  Where did you want this stupid pin?”

“Can you pass it to me?” Roy asks.

Ed mutters under his breath so faintly that Roy can’t hear a whit of it, but before he can inquire, the head of the pin prods at his index finger, and then he’s gingerly attempting to accept it without stabbing either of them.


“Thank you,” he says when he’s grasped it well enough for Ed to let go.

“So what’s the plan?” Ed asks.  “I mean, I’m assuming you have a plan.  Which I guess might be too generous.  Can I deduct that from my taxes as an act of charity?”

“I’ll write up a receipt for your donation,” Roy says, scooting his chair as much as he can manage and craning his neck so that he can just see the floor below his right hand.  He needs to think this through first, because all he’s going to be able to focus on once he begins is timing it perfectly.  “You can submit it with your tax forms and hope for the best.”

“Oh, good,” Ed says.  “I always wanted to be buried in bureaucracy.  Dirt is so passé.”

“Try snow,” Roy says, angling the pin very carefully.  He leans a little further out, trying to identify a link on the chain without an abundance of rust on its surface.  “It’s somewhere in between.”

Ed’s silent for a moment while Roy runs the side of his knuckle against a promising link to see if it’s as even as it looks.

“I sort of wanted to ask you about that,” Ed says.

“It would have been much easier to ask me things,” Roy says, “if you had avoided me just a touch less intently.”

Obviously,” Ed says, as though Roy’s very existence is an unconscionable affront to humankind, which at least is nice and familiar.  “The avoiding you was a higher priority than the asking you.  At least at the time.”

“That’s fair,” Roy says.  In a cosmic sort of way, it is.

“Question for you now, though,” Ed says.  “What the hell are you doing?”

“Laying groundwork,” Roy says.

“That is a characteristically vague and completely useless answer,” Ed says.  “Five points.”

“Thank you,” Roy says.

He tries to relax his shoulder so that his neck won’t start to ache halfway through, and then he pricks the tip of his index finger with the pin.

He uses his thumb to push it back gently and tucks it in against his palm, and he watches, to the best of his ability, as a gleaming red droplet starts to form.

It’ll blot all over his canvas if he lets it swell too large; he gives his unlucky capillary just a moment to produce some ink before he touches the tip of his finger to a likely link of the chain and draws out the widest circle he can fit.  It leaves him very little room for detail, but he does his best to cram a few lines and the most important sigil inside without mangling their presentation too much.

When that’s set, he crooks his finger and massages along the length of it with the pad of his thumb, calculating as he waits.  Sure enough, his neck hurts like hell.  But so does being murdered by fanatics, presumably, and that one can’t be fixed by a night at home with a hot water bottle and a few glasses of wine.

He extends his curled hand as far as he can reach while still encumbered by the twine, and then he turns it over and lets the quavering droplet fall.

The splash doesn’t spread the color too broadly.  Good.

In some ways, this is much easier, because this array is carved into every plane and curve and corner of his mind.

In other ways, it’s all the more difficult, because he hasn’t sketched it slowly in longer than he can recall, and there are very few slower ways to draw an array than by waiting for yourself to bleed it out onto the floor.

“Oh, Christ,” Ed says.  Evidently he’s twisted around enough to see now.  “I thought that might be what you were doing.”

“Who or what does ‘Christ’ refer to?” Roy asks.  He presses with his thumb at his index finger again, but the dripping has turned to a sluggish sort of dribble.  He squeezes another few centimeters of the outer circle out of it and down onto his makeshift canvas, and then he pierces the tip of his middle finger with the pin.  “It’s a holdover from the other side, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Ed says.  “It’s complicated.  But it rolls off the tongue, and it used to piss people off over there, so I made a habit of using it.”

“That sounds like you,” Roy says.

“Who the fuck else would it sound like?” Ed asks.

Roy would like to offer him some clever witticism in response, but he can’t tear his mind away from rolls off the tongue, rolls off the tongue—Ed’s tongue is a thing of wonder; Ed’s tongue is a gift to only the most fortunate, to only the most desperate, to only those who will never have the indescribable pleasure of tasting it again—

Last night, Ed’s eyes were on him half the time they shared a table, and that tongue kept darting out to graze across his lip.  Last night, Ed’s mouth was doing ungodly, unspeakable things to the rim of a pint glass.  Last night, Roy had had too much; Roy had pocketed the inhibitions that kept him carefully restrained, and with the alcohol buzzing softly—with the fizzing flood of it all through his brain—he couldn’t quite remember where he’d put them, and he reached out with these same two fingertips and touched Ed’s cheek.

He thought the scowl was the worst that Ed could do to him—bottom lip pushed out and shining, much more pout than frown, tipping so much closer to coy than anything like hostility—

But then Roy said “I could try do to a cartwheel, if that would cheer you up,” and the smile started as a glimmer in Ed’s eyes, and then their corners crinkled, and then it spread across his whole face, wildfire-bright—

Like a moth to light Roy needed to be near him—a yearning, a compulsion, too fundamental to fight and too instinctive to deny.  There wasn’t time to cry for help or beg for mercy; there wasn’t time to second-guess, and he’d drowned the voice of reason in one, two, three too many drinks.

He set these same two fingers under Ed’s jaw and tilted his chin up and leaned around the table to kiss him.

And now he’s draining them to try to save their skins.

He dug a little deeper with the sharp end of the pin this time, which has increased the speed of his progress—the downside of which is that he edges ever nearer to the moment when he’ll have to free-hand a complicated pictograph with splattering blood from four inches off the ground.

“Are you making what I think you’re making?” Ed asks.

“Yes,” Roy says.

He makes a noise in the back of his throat, and Roy suffers.  “Am I supposed to just ‘let you handle it’?”

“Yes,” Roy says.  Suffering is secondary, after all, to bastardliness.  Everything is.  Those are the rules.

“Do you really think I’m just gonna sit here and—”

“Of course not,” Roy says.  “Hush a second.”

“When we get out of here,” Ed says, “I am gonna whip your ass.”

“So long as you give me a safeword,” Roy says.

Ed sputters.  Roy joins the last vertex of the last triangle, and then…

Would it be a lie to say he’s never been an artist, when he’s spent so much of his life creating things that weren’t there before?  Ed’s always called alchemy a science—like it’s clinical and mathematic; like it’s stable and simple and cold.

And Ed has always been the first to demonstrate that it’s not any of those things—that the love you put into it and the heart you put behind it affect it every bit as much as the lines that you lay down.

Roy guides the slowly-trailing trickle through one last twist, resisting the urge to flick his fingertip; showmanship would sink him; and…

It’s done.

He clenches his hand into a fist, and the hot beat of his pulse feels like satisfaction tastes.

He would know.  He had his mouth full of it that night; his heart was overflowing with the words he couldn’t speak and an incandescent joy and something like redemption; he had a ribcage full of stars—

He drifted off to sleep swimming in the beauty of it.

And when he woke again, the other side of the mattress was long since cold.

“You are fucking incorrigible,” Ed says.  “You know that?”

“I would have to be quite a lot stupider not to have noticed,” Roy says.  “Thank you, by the w—”

“Wasn’t a compliment,” Ed says.

Roy smiles.  He’s trying to stop the bleeding, though he supposes it doesn’t matter as long as he doesn’t spill any more on his recent work.  “Anything can be a compliment if you look at it the right way around.”

“Deep,” Ed says.  “You get that out of a book, or did you make it up all by yourself?”

“You said it,” Roy says.  “Six years ago.  I believe I’d just called you reckless, feckless, and remarkably explosive.”

Ed is silent for three full seconds.

“But that one does sound like a compliment,” he says at last.  “’Sides which—are you really borrowing philosophy from the likes of me at the wise old age of fifteen?”

“You were wiser then than many people I know are now,” Roy says, meaning it.

Ed snorts.

And then they both shut up at the sound of approaching footfalls from down the corridor—lots of approaching footfalls.

“Okay,” Ed says quietly.  “Your time to shine, Mr. Mastermind.  What do you want me to do?”

If only there was time to glory in that; it’s darling.

“Cover me,” he says.  “Something is going to go wrong.”

“And here I thought I was a downer,” Ed says.

“It’s called ‘realism’,” Roy says, “and it saves lives.”

“Like ours?”

“I hope so.”

“That’s more like it.”

The same man returns at the head of the party, bearing the torch—and, this time, an expression so sour one has to wonder who convinced him that raw lemons were a delicacy.

Before Roy can gloat properly, he steps aside, and a second man comes through the doorway.  Several others crowd behind him, and Roy sees the gleam of yet another handgun, but the people carrying them are irrelevant.  The man in the front is the one who matters.

Not just because every other potential murderer in the room is watching him for cues—that’s a hopefully-no-one-dead giveaway, of course—but also because he’s wiping the blade of a melodramatically long knife on his sleeve as he saunters over the threshold.

He glances up as though he wandered in here by mistake, and then he smiles.

The genuine delight in his eyes is the real concern.  It’s a complicated thing—tainted by a sick sort of triumph, bolstered by relief.

You can’t negotiate with a man who’s already gotten exactly what he wants.

Then again, Roy’s always loved a lost cause.

“It’s him,” the man carrying the torch says, gesturing with it before realizing that that’s a rather poor strategy.  “Isn’t it?”

“Yes,” the man with the knife says.

“Damn my popularity,” Roy says.  “Understandable, of course, but—still.  A bit of obscurity really wouldn’t go amiss sometimes, don’t you think?”

The man with the knife smiles wider.

“My guess is that you’re going to enjoy eviscerating me very slowly,” Roy says, letting his eyes linger on the way the torchlight licks the blade.  “Which I completely understand; don’t get me wrong.  But given that I’m going to be so very rewarding to dismember at a leisurely pace, I hope you might consider doing me a favor first.”

“Oh,” Ed says in an undertone, “my God.”

The man with the knife is tilting it back and forth so that the reflection of the firelight dances across the walls.  “No promises,” he says.

“Ed has done nothing,” Roy says.  “He had nothing to do with Bradley, and he has—wisely—had very little to do with me in the intervening time.  He’s hardly even been here.  You can check the records, if you like.  Let him go.  It’s in your own best interests, really.  There will be an extremely special kind of hell to pay if anything happens to him.”

“Trust me,” the man with the knife says, which is very cute.  “I’ve seen the records.  I know who he is.  And I know you’re full of shit, Mustang, but that’s about what I expected.”

Evidently, he hasn’t seen enough.  Evidently, he doesn’t know about Al.  Evidently, he has no concept of what the Elrics mean to one another—no concept of what would befall him if Ed was dead, and Alphonse had nothing left to lose.

So it’s for all of their own good, really, if you look at it that way.  At least Roy’s going to make it quick.

The man steps forward, and the angle of his wrist makes it quite clear that he knows how to use the weapon in his hand.  “I was going to start out with your other eye,” he says, “but you know how plans change, Colonel.  I want you to get to see what happens to him, and then what happens to you.”

“Nothing is going to ‘happen’,” Roy says.  “Things will be done, deliberately, and we’ll take responsibility for them.”

The man smirks.  He is, Roy wants to note, an amateur at that.  It isn’t balanced right.  He can’t call up the right balance of bittersweetness.  “Pithy.  Anything else you’d like us to write down for your obit?”

“Not really,” Roy says.  “Ed?”

“Yeah,” Ed says.

“I’m sorry about my aim,” Roy says.  He jams the pin back up into his sleeve—haphazardly, but it’ll hold.  “It’s improving, but it’s still not what it was.”

“S’fine,” Ed says.

The man with the knife looks terrifically unamused.  “I’d heard you were a talker, but this i—”

Roy reaches up behind himself and touches an unbloodied fingertip to the first array.

The chains split in fifty places at once, and the links slip and shudder loose, tumbling every which way—

The surprise has barely even begun to register.  Roy tips his chair.

Upon hearing the sick snap of bone and tendon and Lord knows what else, it occurs to him that he miscalculated a bit.  He hadn’t factored in the likelihood—or, perhaps, the guarantee—that flinging the combined weight of his entire body and a sturdy chair onto the bound, bent hand he’d extended would immediately break his wrist.

It occurs to him—as the pain blossoms up and out and floods his nerves, bright-white-blinding and breathtakingly acute—that that was rather stupid.

But his hand’s on the array.

He drags two tendrils of the torch directly towards them, swirling in to sear straight through the thickest portions of the twine, hoping with everything left in him that Ed hasn’t moved—

And he blasts another dose of it—only the narrowest curtain of real flame, but accompanied by a rush of sizzlingly hot air—back towards their adversaries.

Shreds of disintegrating twine crumble away from both of his wrists; he rolls far enough to brace his working arm beneath him and scramble to his feet, trying to keep track of his own footing as well as the cadre of killers staggering backwards, howling and waving the flames out of their faces.  It is exceedingly difficult to watch two things at once when you only have the one eye to work with.

Ed spares him some of the trouble by seizing his sleeve with both hands—the metal one especially ungentle—and hauling him sideways.  He slips; Ed heaves him what would have been two steps further and then claps, and slaps both hands to the ground, and the floor seethes and reforms into a stone barrier between them and the door.

Not a moment too soon: gunshots echo as the first bullets ricochet off of the other side.

“Not bad,” Ed says, and by the feral gleam in his gorgeous eyes, it looks like he believes it.  “Now what?”

Forcibly, Roy ignores the angry, urgent throbbing emanating from his right hand in order to draw the pin back out of his sleeve with the left.  He’s shakier with this hand, but he can still etch out a passable array on the surface of the stone.

“We’re leaving that way,” he says, tossing his head upward to indicate the sewer grate in the ceiling.  “I need you to get us there.”

“Done,” Ed says.  “You gonna hold ’em off?”

“But of course,” Roy says.

Ed grins—grimly.  There were times, in the life before Ed disappeared, that Roy thought they would both be dead by now.  There were times he thought that both of them were too damn destructive to make it this far.

They have more in common than could ever be safe.  Given the choice, they’d sacrifice themselves for just about any other life, because they gauge any life’s value fundamentally much higher than their own.

But in a situation like this—when it’s down to guts and grit and impulse—the self-preservation instinct is just too fucking stubborn to snuff out.

Ed eyeballs the distance; his palms meet; the steel one smacks down on the floor, and a column of stone surges skyward, popping the grating off the opening as though it’s wax, not wrought iron.  The peak of the platform drops again, below the level of the ceiling, to clear the space, and then a series of progressively lower blocks follow—a staircase; he’s making—

There’s no time: if Roy’s caught on, the individuals actively attempting to murder them will be only moments behind—

“Go,” he says, tossing the pin aside to flatten his working hand on his array.

Some men are willing to die for what they believe in.  Some are willing to die for others.  Some die because they’re ordered to; some die because someone else has orders.

But very few of them—Roy is a betting man, some days, and he’s gambling tonight—

Very few of them would walk through a wall of fire to ensure the death of another.

He’s much less invested, now, in any precautions towards the possibility that these bastards make it out alive.  He isn’t careful.  He doesn’t hold back.

Their only saving grace is that he can’t see what hell he’s wreaking, or all of them—every last rotted soul—would be forsaken.  They came for Ed.  They had every opportunity to spare him, and instead they elected to torment him for Roy’s crimes.  If they were in his sights, one eye or two, the grease of their meat would drip slowly off of the charred skeletons, and the police would have to identify them by their teeth.

No part of love or war has ever felt fair to Roy Mustang, but anything is justified in self-defense.

Ed makes a break for the stairs as red light envelops the rest of the room—over the crackling, Roy can just make out a scream, or two; and then the heat and the smoke blast by him, and he gathers his right arm to his chest and forces his body to run after one of the last things in this miserable world that really matters: Ed, alive.

The acrid air siphons the breath out of his lungs and scalds it as he tries to choke it back down, and the steps Ed made keep splintering as his weight hits them.  The fire that had swallowed the door starts fading as he scrambles upward—just two more cracking blocks; just one—

He fixes his eyes on the target; the hole in the ceiling is so damn close

A gleaming silver hand dives back down through the open space, fingers reaching; Roy offers up his left arm, and Ed grabs on, and Roy scrabbles for traction, and Ed heaves back—

The balance tilts, and tips, and Roy tucks his elbow in and rolls as his body hits the pavement—but he doesn’t make it far before Ed’s boots scrape, and metal fingers grip his arm and drag him upright.

“Fucking hell,” Ed says, brushing him off.  “What’d you do to your h—”

Roy uses the left to shove him in the direction they’ve selected by default.  “Run.”

“Hey!” Ed says, but even as he snarls, he obliges.  “Don’t you fucking push me around, y—”

Roy must remember that leading by example motivates Ed much better than instruction.  Which is convenient enough, really, given that he wants to get both of them the hell out of here as soon as humanly possible.

By the towering silhouettes, the flickering streetlamps, and the boarded-up windows, he would plot their position towards the outer edges of the warehouse district.  They need to find a place to hide; they need to find a way to call i—

The first bullet glances off of the asphalt, spitting sparks, three feet to Roy’s left; the second strikes a streetlamp—

Roy breathes “Shit” on his exhale—and prayers and oaths aren’t all that different, are they?

Chapter Text

The next gunshot and the brightness of the bullet colliding with the road ahead burst nearly simultaneously.

Roy puts his shoulder against Ed’s as gently as he can while they’re both moving—he has to push laterally alone, without enough force to destabilize Ed entirely; with just enough to send him stumbling out of the way—

Ed’s hair whips as he turns, teeth bared: “The fuck, Roy?”

The fourth bullet hisses past overhead, too high for a headshot by a matter of inches; the fifth misses much too close to Roy’s left shoulder—

He reaches up to fasten his fingers in Ed’s sleeve, guiding them towards the gutter—towards the shadow of the dead, yawning husks of the disused buildings; they must have made it nearly out of range by n—

The sixt—


Oh… God.

Roy almost pulls Ed down with him, but Ed’s fought gravity so many times, in so many ways, that he somehow keeps his footing even as Roy drops to his knees.

Roy’s hand has pressed down against it before he realizes that he’s released Ed’s sleeve—it can’t be as bad as it feels; it can’t be tantamount to the firecracker flash of indescribable pain and the spurt of blood onto the pavement.

But it’s deeper than he dares to hope against.

“Roy!” Ed says.  Funny—one would almost think he’d forgotten the name, between last night and now.  Which isn’t to say that Roy didn’t, at several points, try avidly to make him forget that syllable and everything else he knew besides.

Both hands, the soft one and the steel, are batting at his shoulders and his chest; in turn they grab handfuls of his uniform and winch him back up to his feet.

Come on—” Through clenched teeth as Roy does his damnedest to support his own weight: “It’s—it’s not—you—”

“It grazed me,” Roy says, swallowing down his body’s urge to gasp for breath, to shake, to lie down right here and clutch his side until it’s over— “I’m—fine—”

“Good,” Ed says, towing him again—he turns them rightward at the first cross street, drags them another impossibly long and laborious half a block, then turns left— “You’d better be.”

Roy almost manages a smile.

A right turn; a left turn; another right—

Ed lets go of him and darts up across the sidewalk to kick in the door of the next warehouse, and then returns to grasp his arm again and pull him inside.

He frees Roy’s sleeve long enough to step over to an old workbench, using the automail forearm to sweep away all of the detritus piled atop it; metal clangs, and pieces clatter to the floor—

“All right,” Ed says, storming back over and grabbing him again, the better to lug him over to the bench and plop him down.  “Sit.  Stay.  Good boy.”  Ed strides back to the door, shuts it, and claps and smacks both hands against the lock to repair it; en route back to the workbench, he gives a dangling cord a sharp tug to illuminate a single bare bulb suspended from the ceiling.  It flickers, but then the tungsten hums, and the light holds.  “How bad is i—”

Knowing precisely what is barreling towards him at an absolutely inevitable speed, Roy lets his hand be pried away from the soaking mess of wool.



“You fucking liar,” Ed says.  “It didn’t graze you; this is a fucking—”

“It didn’t go through me,” Roy says, pressing his palm against it again.  So far that hasn’t done much to stem the rhythmic gushing in time with his pulse, but occasionally one has to be optimistic purely to spite the caprices of one’s fate.  “Or not quite.  What terminology would you prefer?”

“Holy fuck,” Ed says, so faintly that it may be directed at the larger universe, rather than at Roy in particular.  “You better fucking hope that kills you, because otherwise, I’m gonna do it.”  Roy opens his mouth to ask the obligatory question about the size of this particular death, but Ed preempts him with a metal hand spread on his chest, and a rather meaningful application of force.  “Down.”

Ed reaches towards the wound—and then withdraws both hands like he’s been burned, before any of his fingers have made contact with Roy’s skin, and that… stings more than it should.

Except that on closer inspection, to the best of Roy’s muggy-headed ability, it doesn’t look quite like a refusal to touch so much as… fear?

Ed’s hands are shaking—both of them.

“There’s—fucking shrapnel,” he says.  “I—I mean, enough that—is it—is it safe to stitch it if—?”

Roy hears his heart in his ears.  It sounds like a drumbeat timed to a countdown.

It doesn’t just sound like one.  It is.

“The infection rate,” he says, “increases significantly in a situation wh—”

Fuckers,” Ed snarls, and he holds the back of his left hand over his eyes for a second, head lowered, shoulders taut— “Of course those fuckers would—and of course I can’t fucking remember a single fucking thing from Marcoh’s—”

“Even if you did,” Roy says, “I couldn’t let you use i—”

“What the fuck good is it?” Ed asks, voice faint.  “When the chips are down, what good does it even do?”

Roy has spent most of his life looking for an answer to that question.  Alchemy has killed and wracked and ruined more than it’s saved.

Before he can invent something worth saying, Ed looks up again, and his eyes have hardened, and his jaw is set.

“Bet we can slow down the bleeding a lot if we get enough pressure on it,” he says.  “Sit tight.”

“I was planning on a jig,” Roy says.

“Let me rephrase that,” Ed says.  “Sit tight, and shut up.”

“Sir, yes, sir,” Roy says.  He shifts, winces, grits his teeth, shifts further, and settles on his back.  He is still bleeding freely—perhaps more freely than he’s done anything else in all his life.

He may be just a smidgeon lightheaded at this point.

“Fuck’s fucking sake,” Ed says.  He’s… unbuttoning his waistcoat.  Is Roy unconscious and dreaming already?  That’s nice.  “Can’t take you anywhere.”  Ed flings the waistcoat down onto the nearest available surface—a low filing cabinet, by the looks of it—and then claps and applies his hand to it, and the fabric reconfigures itself into several long strips.  “Especially not fucking hostage situations, apparently.”

“My apologies,” Roy says.  “I am only a slightly better hostage than a houseguest, and only a slightly better houseguest than a date, and o—ah.”

Most likely it should come as no surprise that having makeshift woolen bandages applied, not exactly gently, to the site of a fairly considerable flesh wound is a strikingly painful process, but it startles him all the same.  The last time Ed manhandled him was much more pleasant all around.

“Do you ever shut up?” Ed asks.

“Not that I know of,” Roy says.  “Sometimes, when I’m alone, I whisper.”

The look Ed gives him might shame a man who had retained some modicum of dignity.  Fortunately, Roy is immune.

Ed ties off the bandages, although Roy suspects that the impressive quantity of blood would probably adhere them to each other either way.

“Don’t fucking move,” Ed says.  “I’m gonna figure out where we are and then find a phone and call Lieutenant Hawkeye.”

“Thank you,” Roy says.

“‘Don’t fucking move’ includes your mouth,” Ed says, crossing to a shuttered window and peering out.

“That’s cheating,” Roy says.

“Tough shit,” Ed says.

Roy smiles.

Ed wipes his hands on his shirt.  He stares down at the bloody handprints for a long second, like he’s vaguely confused about their presence, and then he sets his jaw, gives Roy a preemptively reprimanding look that Riza would be proud of, and heads off through a doorway leading heaven knows where.

Roy lies as still as he can, holding his operable hand to the wound.  Is it a good thing that the bullet tracked lower than his ribcage, missing the bone?  Some part of him thinks…

Some part of him thinks he should stop thinking about the various and sundry sources of pain.  Another part of him notes, jarringly cheerfully, that he’ll probably bleed to death a bit slower if he can calm his breathing down and minimize the rate of his heart.  He’s not sure how long he has; he supposes it doesn’t matter.  Stretching the time he’s got is the most practical option either way.

Laying his own hand near his ribs makes it nigh-on impossible not to reflect on the fact that it’s not the most appealing hand that’s been there—that debatable honor belongs to the young man who just prowled out of here swearing under his breath.

Remarkable, isn’t it, that being shot somehow registers as the least excruciating part of this.  Remarkable that Ed is capable of wringing Roy’s heart out so slowly that the juices of it run hotter than the blood seeping up his side; remarkable that there is enough love left in him to feel something—anything—when what little he has to offer winds up on the ground.

And it seemed—

At first it seemed—

Like it was going to be something beautiful.

Ed was.  Ed always is; he breathes it out like a contagion, and everything around him takes on a shade of it, but the sickness is so rooted that the symptoms never fade.  Was it wrong to need so badly to bask in it for a while?

Even if Roy didn’t know the answer, his equivalent exchange for it rather succinctly proves the point.

And yet—and yet.

He regrets what was said, afterwards; he regrets how it started.  He regrets that he was too damn muddled from drinking to try to quell the fire in him, kindled and caught and stoked to a conflagration by the brightness of Ed’s eyes.  He regrets that he pretended not to know that alcohol is flammable, and that his better judgment is a wooden wall.

He regrets the evening he watched the smoke rise and reached out through it regardless.  He regrets the morning.  And he regrets that reckless desperation brought them here.

He does not regret the night.

He does not regret learning the lines of Ed’s torso, the pressure of Ed’s hands, the taste of Ed’s mouth and fingertips and sweat—

He does not regret the stint in heaven—he regrets the brevity, and the aftermath, and the fact that as of yet he has failed to salvage anything from the wreckage of himself.

For once, it’s not his own pride that’s at stake here; it is Ed.  Ed has done, and been through, and suffered enough.  Roy’s intentions were almost as noble as they were immensely selfish; he did, genuinely, want to give Ed the best of him, whatever that amounts to, and try to salve some measure of the pain.  Everything hurts just a fraction less when someone else wants to bear it with you.

In the very beginning, years ago, that was all he ever wanted.  In the very beginning, backlit by a sunset streaked blood-red and violet, they touched hands and touched souls, and it ignited something in Roy, yes, but the flames were gentle—small and tentative and warm.

His only intention was to foster something soft there, between them—both of them, Lord knew, had spent more than their share of time navigating through knives.

And that changed, of course.  The world warped it; the universe can’t resist the opportunity to dig its claws into something cautious and start to tear—but parts of it survived.  Parts of it stayed in him, stayed sweet, stayed perilously fragile, and when their mouths met last night, the core of Roy Mustang’s being offered four words in a voice that moved like molten iron:

Be good to him.

As if Roy’s heart would give him any other choice; as if it wouldn’t stretch itself out on a bed of coals to make Ed’s passage kinder—

He had had just enough intellect left after the mind-scalding obliterative effect of Ed’s mouth against his to flag down a cab, bundle them both into it, and route it towards his house.  Ed’s left hand brushed Roy’s thigh, and even with two damning layers of blue wool in between, the implication alone ignited every last milliliter of Roy’s susceptible blood, and—

And when Ed’s fingers curled into the fabric, and Ed’s fist rested there, tantalizingly too-warm, for the remainder of the ride—

Slowly, lightly, he’d laid his hand over Ed’s.  And Ed didn’t shift, or shiver, or recoil; and Roy thought that maybe, maybe, it could be like this, last like this, grow like this—that maybe it could become something gentle and simple and warm.

The cab ground to a halt in front of the building that was nominally his home—a smaller townhouse he’d bought after Ed’s initial return had untied the noose with which the North had held him.  Ed said something disparaging about the lawn; Roy tipped the cabbie high enough to encourage discretion; they tumbled out of the car.

Through an enormous and impressive exhibition of will, Roy managed to keep his hands off of Ed until he’d unlocked the front door, ushered a certain angelic hellion through it, and locked it securely behind them.

And it was remarkable, too, that despite multiple decades of digging for the reasons and the roots beneath the actions of others, Roy could only begin to guess at the kinds of consequences that had taught someone like Ed to wait until the door was bolted before he pounced.

But pounce he did.

Neither of them had ever made good lapdogs for the military machine; Roy had played the part, but he’d had too much wolf’s blood in him ever to be tamed.  Ed, however, had never been a dog.  Ed had always been a panther.  The yellow eyes should have given it away a long damn time ago, and yet—

Somehow he’d fooled them all, and Roy had never reveled in deception quite as avidly as when it was pushing him up against his front door to kiss him significantly harder than it had in the bar.

A part of Roy wished that he was a better man—a stronger one, a smarter one, of the caliber to fight a temptation like this.  He knew he should have waited.  He knew he should have done it the right way, slowly, doling out the milestones, leaning on traditions, with both of them awake and aware and making conscious, considered choices.  He knew he should have waited until they were sober, and he was sure that Ed knew that he was knee-deep in leech-infested quicksand, and that Roy was going to try to make it worth his while, but he’d never managed miracles before.

It seemed to matter a great deal less when there was currently a miracle nipping at his lip and dragging him towards the staircase.

“Watch your step,” Roy mumbled into the half-inch of temporary space between their mouths.

Ed drew back to glare at him, and they staggered to a stop in the middle of the foyer, and the intensity of his eyes made Roy’s heart leap and then dip and then crumple—

And then Ed laughed so hard he had to double over, and the hand curled in the braiding of Roy’s uniform was the only point of leverage that kept him off the floor.

“Don’t take orders from your dumb ass,” Ed managed once he’d mostly caught his breath.

“Or from any other part of me, I’ve noticed,” Roy said.

Ed howled with laughter again, and it was absolutely unreal that he could be so devastatingly beautiful in every single mood.

And that he could be so close.

Roy’s hands moved—with his heart’s enthusiastic permission, naturally; and his head was spinning too fast to formulate a protest.  He reached out to cup one hand under each side of Ed’s jaw, stroking the pads of his thumbs up the angle of it, with the intention of drawing him in for another kiss.

But Ed was moving backwards, now that he had found his feet again—he caught Roy’s hands under his and held them, leading them both back towards the stairs, and just before they hit the bottom step, he turned his head and kissed the palm of Roy’s right hand so goddamn lingeringly

That wasn’t a one-night stand sort of gesture, was it?  That was the caress of a lover.  That was genuine.

They made it up the stairs somehow—Roy didn’t remember falling; evidently arousal was a powerful aid to one’s balance, at least if one was desperate enough.  When they topped the landing, Ed paused, looking around himself in comically emphatic bewilderment.

“Right this way,” Roy said, lowering his voice just enough to make it resonate a little deeper, and the shiver that rattled through Ed at the sound of it was a greater reward than he’d dared to hope for.

He grasped Ed’s hands—one cold and steady and solid; the other reassuringly warm and shaking just a bit—and drew him down the hall, over the threshold, into the bedroom—

Was this actually happening, or had he drunk too much and toppled straight into an immensely pleasant dream?

Ed hooked both arms around his neck so that he couldn’t help but follow when Ed dropped onto the bed, dragged him in close again, and kissed him like it was the only thing in the miserable world that he’d ever wanted to do.

To be fair, the world seemed much less miserable all around when their mouths met, and Ed’s breath stuttered against Roy’s lips, and he could trace both hands slowly, slowly, slowly down Ed’s chest, memorizing the contours of the bones beneath his skin—

Ed threw his head back, gold flooding over the white sheets, and Roy couldn’t resist the invitation to drag his tongue up over the ridges of Ed’s throat, to kiss along the tender skin beneath his jaw.  Ed kept baring the open spaces, the vulnerable spots—the soft places where human beings were so assailable that you could set them to trembling with the mere intimation of a kiss.

Roy fumbled for the reins to his psyche, which was making a break for the horizon, and hauled back.

He settled his hands on Ed’s hips—one of the most sublimely cruel parts of a consistently merciless anatomy—and forced his yearning body to be still.

He waited until Ed caught his breath, or tried to, and swallowed, and looked up.

“Are you sure?” Roy asked.  “We don’t ha—”

“Christ,” Ed said.  “Of course we don’t.  You think I’d be here if I didn’t want to?”

“Edward,” Roy said, and Ed’s hips hitched in his hands—instinctive, unmistakable; God, that was a rush.  “You do know, don’t you, that you could have anyone that you made eye contact with.”

Ed frowned, just slightly, with a consternated turn to his mouth, and Roy couldn’t contain the heat anymore; it sublimated free of him, and he leaned down to mouth at the join of Ed’s collarbones; the fingers of his right hand rose to the buttons of Ed’s shirt.

“You think that?” Ed asked—breath catching, back arching; Roy hadn’t lost his touch.  “You think I could—have a-anybody—”

“Anyone with at least one eye and a fraction of sense,” Roy said.  He meant it.  And he intended to prove it by undoing Ed’s shirt so slowly that one shiver rolled into another, and he could drink the heat off of Ed’s skin.  “I suppose that’s a bit generous as far as my intellect is concerned.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Ed said—breathed, gasped, and perhaps heaven did exist; perhaps it stored snatches of absolution in the coils of shadow rippling through Ed’s hair.  There was more than a fragment of sanctity in the first gleam of sweat on his forehead; there was more than a morsel to worship in the bat of his eyelashes against his cheek as he writhed, and whimpered, and bit down on his bottom lip.  “L-like I’d be in your fuckin’ bed at the drop of a hat if I didn’t think the f-fucking world of you—”

Roy had to stop—had to stop everything.  He had to stop moving, had to stop breathing, because he needed to hear his own heartbeat to be sure that he was still alive.

For a split-second, Ed looked surprised that he’d said it—and then the stubbornness set in, and he scowled, as if reacting with disbelief was some sort of uncatalogued crime that merited jail time and a substantial fine.

“You already knew that,” he said.  “And—fuck’s sake, it’s not—it’s not like the stupid fucking eyepatch is enough to stop you from getting laid six ways from Sunday if you want it, and—”

Roy was fairly certain—admittedly, it was the fuzzy, inebriated sort of certainty, but it counted—that this was a conversation better held in other circumstances.  Over the breakfast table tomorrow, perhaps, if neither of them was too hungover to bear the light.  Or in this bed, but in a different configuration, likewise in the morning, if Ed didn’t want to move.

Judiciously, Roy felt, he initiated the hiatus by tugging the tails of Ed’s shirt free of his trousers and sliding both hands slowly up underneath it, spreading his fingertips over every last centimeter of skin.  He realized, a bit belatedly, that he needed one hand to apply to the buttons if he was going to get this thing properly out of the way; he kept the other stationed there, massaging at Ed’s hipbone, and earned an indescribably lovely little groan.

“And?” he prompted, entirely for the sake of being smug.

“And fucking what?” Ed said, bucking his hips against Roy’s grip in an extremely unambiguous way.  He was also, if Roy was not mistaken, grinding his teeth—which was the wrong thing to be grinding, but it was too early to complain.  “You want a signed, sealed fuckin’ invitation, or is ‘fuck me already’ good enough?”

Roy’s whole body was ablaze with it.

“That’ll do,” he said.

A disproportionately large commotion from deeper in the warehouse heralds Ed’s return—and Roy would love to say so, in so many words, and reap the reaction, but he suspects that drawing a breath deep enough to shout with might muster a new surge of blood through the wound on his side.  A modest pool has formed on the workbench beneath him; he can hear it dripping to the floor—slowly, for now, but presumably that will change.  Fluid dynamics.  Volume.  Surface tension.  Ed will know the formulas.

Chapter Text

“Fuck,” Ed says, characteristically, as he enters.  “Okay.  I found—street signs, and—I got Hawkeye on the way, but—it’s gonna take her a couple minutes.  We’re a ways out.”

“Charming,” Roy says.

The doorway’s to his left, so he has to turn his head in order to see Ed standing in it, scuffing one foot against the concrete floor.  Even backlit, just enough of Ed’s face is visible for Roy to make out a truly frightening amount of an emotion he can’t qualify as anything short of anguish.

Short of—that’s funny.

…no.  No, it’s not.

“Are you all right?” Roy asks.

“The hell are you asking me for?” Ed says, coming around and pulling a stool up towards the bench to sit on.  He glances down at the blood on the floor.  His jaw tightens.  “How are you holding up?”

“About as well as can be expected,” Roy says, “given the fact that I got shot.”

Ed forces a smile.  “I thought it grazed you.”

“Ah,” Roy says.  “Yes.  Important distinction.”

Ed goes quiet for a worryingly long series of seconds.  Roy counts them out by the tiny droplets bursting when they hit the floor.

He’s reached eight before Ed clears his throat, looking at the concrete.

“I’m—sorry,” he says.  “It’s… it’s my fault.”

Roy stares at him.  Ed shifts, rolls his shoulders, glances up at Roy, and then fixes his gaze on the bloodied edge of the bench.

“It fucking is,” he says.  “If I hadn’t—bolted.  When I woke up.  If I hadn’t—done that, we wouldn’t’ve… had to have that conversation, and then you wouldn’t have ended up in that alley in the first place, and—”

“Ed,” Roy says, trying to keep his voice soft, which is a bit of a challenge when it feels like Ed just jammed a spearhead in between his ribs, “that doesn’t make it your fault.  It’s the kidnappers’ fault they kidnapped me, regardless of the… And besides, if they had their hearts set on doing it, they would have found me somewhere else if it hadn’t been tonight.”

Ed pauses in avoiding Roy’s eyes in order to glare at him.  “But it was tonight.  So—”

He looks away, into empty air this time, and his throat works as he swallows.

“About that,” he says.  “The—leaving before you woke up… thing.  I—it’s not—it wasn’t—you.  I mean—it wasn’t anything you—did, exactly.  Just—” He drags in a deep breath and rakes a hand back through his bangs, not seeming to notice the half-dried blood he’s smearing up the side of his forehead.  “I—okay.  Listen.  I—there are these doubles, in the other world.  Right?  I think Al said he’d told you about some of that, or… something.”

Doppelgängers was the word Alphonse used.  He seemed to think that was dryly funny for some reason.

“In Germany,” Ed says, “when I first moved out, there was—I ran into Al’s double.  Practically right away.  Like fucking destiny.  Only he wasn’t—he wasn’t Al; he was himself, but he was like Al in a lot of ways, and—and that’s what makes that shit so fucking complicated, and obviously none of them have any damn idea that they’re copies of people I already knew—”

He blows out a breath that makes his hair flutter—except the parts that are now matted with Roy’s blood and sticking to his temple.

“We could’ve had something,” Ed says.  “Me an’—Alfons.  We could’ve had something fucking amazing; I felt it, but—but we were both just… scared.  He was dying.  He knew it, and he wanted to make the rockets work so they’d immortalize him, at least in a historical sort of way.  And I was scared that I was fucking crazy.  I thought I was—some days I thought I’d made it all up; I thought—maybe it was just that I’d been in such a traumatic fucking accident that it’d rewritten everything in my brain, and I really thought I’d been some sort of magic-wielding hero in some other world, but it was all…”

He waves his left hand, helplessly.

“Anyway,” he says.  “We fucked a couple of times, but it was all just—fear.  It was just that we were both so fucking desperate not to be alone, and not to get forgotten, and… just… trying to be real.  Both of us trying to feel real for a couple of minutes at a stretch.”  His face closes up in the most remarkable way now—like a house where all the shutters slam at once, and every single light winks out.  “He’s dead.  That’s my fault, too.  But that’s not even the point.  That’s not the point of any of it; that’s just setup shit.”

“Ed,” Roy says, as gently as he dares.  “You don’t have to justify yourself to me.”

Ed’s eyes find his.  Dark gold, like wheat; like honey; like brandy.  A part of Roy has always wanted to drink himself to death.

“Of course I fucking do,” Ed says.

As though it’s just that simple.

Perhaps, for Ed, it is.

“Eventually we went back to Britain,” he says, like Roy has the slightest idea where that is.  “Me and Al, after we went through the portal.  We were doing physics there—big push for it after the big war they’d had, and we were trying to stay away from chemistry, ’cause we knew they were using that to make weapons.  At least this way, it was sort of—I mean, maybe the airplanes would be for something else, right?  Maybe it’d all go towards something good.  And we had to eat and live and stuff, and it was as good an idea as anything else we could come up with.  Or as not-bad an idea.  Whatever.  Anyway, I—there was this one time I was working in the library at this university that’d hired us to do all this math and physics stuff, and I was just buried in calculations, y’know, like, papers up to my elbows—”

He holds up a hand, apparently to indicate the height of the stacks.  Obviously, Roy has no experience whatsoever with piles of paperwork waiting to become useful, and he cannot relate in the least.

“And I sort of vaguely noticed somebody sit down next to me,” Ed says, “but I didn’t… really care.  Or do anything.  Or look up.  And then five minutes later, he put his finger on my diagram and said ‘You didn’t carry the six.’”

Roy is almost fool enough to ask, but the look Ed gives him requires silence.

“Yeah,” Ed says.  “Big fuckin’ surprise.  It was—the you, over there.  The other you.  American, of fucking course.”

“Well,” Roy says.  “There’s an insult I’ve never heard before.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Ed says.  “Any… anyway.  He—stuck around.  I kept trying to get rid of him, but you know how you are.”

“Tragically,” Roy says, “yes.”

Ed’s smile doesn’t brighten his eyes.  That alone is a terrible shame.

“Like a fucking mosquito,” Ed says.  “Won’t give up ’til you get what you want.”

“What did he want?” Roy asks, gingerly, knowing full well that they’re very near the precipice.

Ed looks out into the dimness past their little circle of yellow light.

“Me,” he says.

“Sensible,” Roy says.

The look Ed gives him this time is more than just tired—it’s ragged.

“He was so damn smart,” Ed says.  “You are, too, but—instead of alchemy, it’s all science over there, and he was so damn good.  He played it off like he was just kind of clever, but the government in England doesn’t handpick people who’re just clever and pay to keep ’em working there for months at a time.  He was fucking brilliant, and he knew it, and he had everybody running around in circles trying to keep up.”  He draws in a breath and lets it out slowly—like every exhalation hurts.  “Only he didn’t… lord it over people.  Or not too much.  And he was funny about it.  He thought the whole world was funny.  Used to scare me a little, how dark he’d get, but Jesus Christ could he make me laugh when he put his mind to it.  Guess he could do just about anything when he put his mind to it, with a mind like that.”

“Ah,” Roy says.  He can’t help wondering—

“Don’t even start,” Ed says.  “I’m not saying that to make you feel stupid.  I’d have to be an idiot to think you’re some kind of slouch, Mustang.  I read your file, y’know.  Not gonna tell you how I got it, by the way; that’s classified. You’re really damn smart, too, but you use it differently. That’s sort of how it is, with the… doubles. Over there. They have a lot of things in common with the people here, a lot of traits and sort of… fundamental parts of who they are, I guess, but then the world’s shaped all of the similar components into somebody completely different.”

“Thank you,” Roy says.  “I think you cushioned at least a portion of the enormous blow to my ego.”

Ed snorts.  “Maybe if your ego wasn’t bigger than that stupid, flashy hot air balloon you made that time, it wouldn’t bruise so bad.”

“Maybe,” Roy says.

And maybe if crystal and china weren’t so fragile, they wouldn’t crack.  But would they have any value if they weren’t so easy to break?

A series of emotions moves across Ed’s face, like sped-up sunlight past tattered curtains, and no two shadows are the same.

“It’s different over there,” Ed says.  “Guys who are… with guys.  I mean, you… basically can’t be.  It’s straight-up fucking illegal in a lot of places, and it’s stigmatized to hell and back just about everywhere else. I know it ain’t exactly paradise around here, either, but—it’s really—bad—there. And a lot of people… guys in that situation, and women who are dealing with the same thing—they get… desperate.  They hide.  They lie.  They fake it.  They have to.  You can get killed for it, if not by the cops, then by your neighbors, and they’d fucking swear up and down it was for everybody’s own good.  So it—so people—work around it.  Is all.  It’s not their… I mean, none of it’s their fault.  But… how they act, and who they hurt trying to do fucking backflips to get around it—that’s where it gets to be a gray area.  That’s the thing.”  He chews on his lip.  When he’s settled on the stool squarely, his feet don’t quite reach the ground, and he swings the left one back and forth just once before he lets it rest.  “I guess the point is that you have to be… careful.  You have to be really careful, and you have to take it slow.”

Roy smiles slightly so that he won’t just lie here and cringe.  “Did he?  Take it slow, I mean.”

“I wasn’t criticizing you,” Ed says.  His eyes flick over, assess Roy’s expression, and then dart away.  “It takes two to fuckin’ tango.  I signed up same as you.”  He breathes in slowly and out even slower.  “But—yeah.  He… I mean, for ages, he was just following me around the fucking library, making comments and suggestions and sweet-talking me on the side about how much he liked my derivations, and oh, by the way, your hair’s gorgeous, and do you wanna get a drink?”  He shakes his head, scowling again.  “Dunno what the fuck it is about the hair.”

“Exactly what you just said,” Roy says.  “It’s gorgeous.  You’re gorgeous.  Besides, it’s an evolutionary imperative; long, thick, shiny hair has been correlated t—”

“No,” Ed says.

Roy tries at a winsome grin.  “But i—”

No,” Ed says.  “Shut up.  Where the fuck was I?  Um—drinks.  He wanted to go for drinks.  Which—”

Was exactly what Roy suggested, last night, which was exactly what landed them here.

“He paced it the fuck out,” Ed says.  “The first three times we went out, that’s all it was.  Just—drinks.  Well, drinks and… physics.  Christ, that’s like—the summary of my coping mechanisms in three words.”

That is a terrifying prospect for several reasons, of which the storied history of physics abuse is not one, because to the best of Roy’s knowledge, no such history exists.  Roy opens his mouth to say so, or to say something a little bit too glib, but Ed waves the metal hand to preempt him.

“Later,” Ed says.  That’s a pleasant thought.  “Give me shit about my bad choices tomorrow or something.  I’m trying to get through this thing.”

“All right,” Roy says, mildly.  “I’ll write you a rain check.  Carry on.”

“Thanks,” Ed says, and if his voice wasn’t dripping with such a delightfully acidic wealth of sarcasm, the addition of “You’re a real pal, Roy” would probably make Roy laugh hard enough to exacerbate the wound.

As it is, he just sort of chokes on his own spit for a few moments of unparalleled grace and dignity.

“Right,” Ed says—but not until after he’s touched Roy’s shoulder, startlingly gently, and waited for the adorable hacking to stop.  “Drinks.  With… the other you.  The fourth time, he started touching my hair and dropping hints, and Al’d been saying all along that he was way too into me, so—so I was sort of—prepared, I guess.  ‘Marginally less oblivious than I would have been left to my own devices’, I think is what Al said.”

“That sounds like him,” Roy says.

“Yeah,” Ed says.  “So—yeah.  He asked if I wanted to come back to his flat and have a whiskey or something, and I said, ‘Is that what they’re calling it these days?’, and he just looked at me for five whole seconds before he laughed.  And he said—‘Yes, I suppose it is,’ and… yeah.”

“Ah,” Roy says again.

“Yeah,” Ed says.

They sound like…

Well, Roy’s not sure what they sound like, but it’s not exactly his finest work, as conversations go.

“Anyfuckingway,” Ed says, “we went back to his place, and we didn’t even bother pretending that there needed to be whiskey involved, ’cause as soon as the door shut, and we didn’t have to act like… I mean, it was—”

“I know,” Roy says.  He does.  He knows the want, the need, the blinding urgency, the helplessness; he knows the feeling of possession by some lesser demon, ensconced inside your being, bathed in heat—

Ed gives him a weary sort of smile.  “Yeah.  Well.  He was—good.  He was really good.  I didn’t… I didn’t have any idea it could be like that.  Feel like that.  He knew what he was doing, and he was really fucking careful, and he really—I mean, in retrospect, there was something in it for him, because he wanted me to keep coming back, but at the time, it just…”

Roy casts back through his memory, and tiny weights keep falling into place on a scale he hadn’t even noticed with his fingers twisted in the tangles of Ed’s hair—

At the beginning of it, Ed had only seemed willing to touch him with the left hand; he held his right shoulder back, the automail lying limp and half-buried in the bedclothes, and tried to make one do the work of two.  Roy’s intellect had long since flung itself overboard and drowned among the whitecaps; he couldn’t find the words for an inquiry, so instead he leaned down and started kissing all along the pearl-pink line of scars where the port joined Ed’s flesh.  And Ed had said—just softly, almost swallowed, “But you don’t—normally you—” and then jettisoned the rest.

And somehow Ed had known to kiss hard with a hint of teeth at the juncture of Roy’s shoulder and his neck to make his knees go weak.

And somehow Ed had known that he’d be just a little ticklish right below his ribs.

And somehow—

“I think I was religious for a full thirty seconds somewhere in the middle,” Ed says.  “I think I forgot how to hate the universe, or at least how much it’s always hated me.  That good.”

“Hmm,” Roy says.  “Is the portal across still accessible?  The ethical implications—and the paradoxical implications—aside, I think I might like to tr—”

“Holy shit,” Ed says.  “Not funny.”

“Sorry,” Roy says.

Ed rubs at his face with his left hand, curling the right into his trouser leg.  “Whatever.  I mean—it would be… sorta funny, I guess, except—”

There is a peculiar heaviness to Ed’s voice, and then to his breath as he scrubs at his eyes with his knuckles and sighs.  Roy wishes it was an unfamiliar weight, but he’s heard it before.  He’s heard it far too many times.

“He was great,” Ed says.  “And he was great in bed, and I—ignored stuff I shouldn’t have because of that.  Signs.  I dunno if I’d call them red flags; he was too smart for that.  None of it was… obvious.  But he kept it all really nice, really clean—kept it all above water, and it all seemed like… And even after a couple of months, he would look at me like I was just so damn fascinating—I’d wake up in the morning, and he’d just be watching me, and he’d smile like the fucking sun coming out when my eyes opened, and he’d reach over and smooth my hair back and say ‘You are the most beautiful mistake I’ve ever made, and the best one I ever will.’”

It is truly extraordinary how many times, and how many ways, Roy’s heart has fractured today.  It makes the work he did on his wrist look like a hack job.

“Edward,” he says, “you are many thousands of things, but you are not—”

“I know,” Ed says.  “I mean—sure, hell, I’m a crime against nature and humanity in a bunch of different ways, but most of those he didn’t know about.  And even if he did, that’s not… that’s not something you say to somebody that you’re—with.  It’s just not.  And I should’ve taken that for the big flashing fucking warning sign it was, but…” He swallows; he shifts; he folds his hands, knitting together the metal and the flesh so that his fingers overlap.  “I was just too fucking in love with him to care back then.”

“I’m sorry,” Roy says, softly, instead of My dear, I know the feeling.

Ed holds his left hand over his eyes.  “Yeah.  Thanks.  Me too.”

Roy gives the silence a moment to settle as he calculates how best to cross it.  The pain in his side feels more like consistent stabbing than anything else at this point; he has a bit more experience to back that up than he would like.

Ed pushes his hair back again, and then he itches with one fingernail at the dried blood where it’s started flaking.  He draws his hand away and looks vaguely surprised to see it.

“‘So, then, Edward,’” Ed says, lowering his voice for what might just be a very poor imitation of Roy, “‘if it was so fine and dandy, why aren’t you still there, fucking on every flat surface and doodling physics equations all over each other with chocolate syrup?’”

“Did you do that?” Roy asks.  Interestingly, the pain and the leaching lightheadedness both have wrought some serious damage on his impulse control.

“No,” Ed says.  “Thought about it.  But—shut up.  The point is—” He works his jaw, and he looks off into the furthest corner of the room again. “So we were… we were out at this café near his flat having coffee and breakfast and shit. The breakfast was great, but all of the coffee over there is terrible, especially after years of rations and whatever, but that’s… yeah. We were having breakfast, and the mailman had stopped in to give the owner of this little café her mail, and then he turned to Ray and handed him an envelope and said, ‘Something for you from Alice and the boys!’, and…” He takes a deep breath.  “And the mailman walked out, and I looked at Ray, and he was putting it in his pocket, and I said, ‘Who’s Alice?’, and he wiped all his emotions off the same fucking way that you do, and he said—‘My wife.’”

Roy hears his breath leave him involuntarily in something like a gasp.  “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Ed says, and if it’s not just the shock of the trauma to Roy’s systems, it looks like his shoulders are shaking—just a bit.  “And I said, ‘You have kids?’ and he said ‘It wasn’t precisely my choice, and don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere,’ and I said, ‘I don’t give a fuck where you’re going,’ and I got up and walked out into the pouring fucking rain and just—kept walking until I hit a Tube station.”

Damn Roy’s memory.  Damn the way it makes connections over leaps and bounds when his brain’s muddled like this; damn how cruelly clearly he remembers Ed sitting at one of those tables in the same damn bar three months ago, running his fingertip around the rim of his glass—He tried really hard, I guess.  My dad did.  To make up for it.  And I guess he did all right.  But the thing is—the thing he didn’t know, the thing he couldn’t know, is—it never leaves you. Knowing your whole life that you got thrown away like yesterday’s scraps the second something better came along. Knowing you didn’t matter enough.  Knowing that somebody like that—somebody who’s supposed to give a fuck about you, no matter what—just up and walked away from you and never cared enough to look back… That never leaves you.  You live with that every single day of your stupid fucking life.

“I’m sorry,” Roy says, for the umpteenth time.  There’s not a damn thing else to say.

Ed shrugs with the left shoulder alone.  He kicks his heel off of one of the legs of the stool.  “He didn’t get it.  He came by me and Al’s place and did the whole routine with the begging and the flowers and the ‘I swear to you I’ll fix it,’ but that was the whole problem.  He didn’t understand that he couldn’t.  He never could.  As soon as… anyway.”  He looks down at his knees; the shadows of his eyelashes seem unreasonably long.  “When I—when I woke up this morning, you were… you were asleep on your left side, with your face all—” He mimes it by resting his cheek on his palm.  “And I couldn’t see the eyepatch, and you had your hand tucked under the pillow just—exactly the way he used to, and—and I didn’t—think.”  He swallows.  “So… I’m sorry.  For that.  I should’ve—I should’ve had the fucking guts to stick around long enough to tell you, at least.”  A wry smile twists his mouth up into a terrible shape.  “We wouldn’t’ve ended up here, at any rate.”

“Ed,” Roy says, softer still, “I’m not him.”

“I know,” Ed says.  This smile is, miraculously, even worse.  “It’s like—coins.  Same materials, different imprint.  He was a scholar; you’re a soldier.  He wouldn’t’ve had the instincts to take a bullet for me even if he’d wanted to.”

“They were shooting at me,” Roy says.

“They were shooting at both of us,” Ed says, “and you pushed me out of the way.”

“I nudged you,” Roy says.  “Gently.”

Ed almost, almost, flashes a hint of a grin.  “Like fuckin’ hell.”

“Barely even a tap,” Roy says.

“Well, yeah,” Ed says.  “You already tapped my ass once.”

The saliva very nearly strangles Roy again.  “Ah—I suppose that… is… technically true, according to the strictest definition of the word.”

Ed raises an eyebrow slowly, and the corner of his mouth turns up with it.  “Leavin’ you speechless is its own reward, you know that?”

“I can imagine,” Roy says.

They look at each other for the duration of at least six droplets of blood splashing in the little puddle on the floor.

“I’m not him,” Roy says.  “Ed—I’m not.”

Ed slips down from the stool, tugs it forward, climbs back up, and leans down to lay his left hand on top of Roy’s.  He squeezes just hard enough for Roy to feel it—not quite enough to aggravate the injury.  Apparently all of those extremely expensive hospital stays during Edward Elric’s brief tenure as a major eventually taught him something.

“I know you’re not,” Ed says.  “Which is why I’m going to kill you if you fucking die on me.”

“I’m not sure that’s logically sound,” Roy says.

“I’m not sure I give a shit,” Ed says.

Roy wants to wrangle his hand around enough to grip Ed’s as tightly as he dares, but—

Later, perhaps.  Later, perhaps, a lot of things.

“Last night,” Roy says, “was, in an admittedly rather tawdry way—and that is the part I regret; that is the only part—a long-since foregone conclusion as far as my feelings are concerned.”

“As a kid,” Ed says, gripping Roy’s hand just a little tighter, “I didn’t think you had feelings. Because you were just so—calm all the fucking time. Took me years to realize you’d been fighting back quietly the whole time, but back then it was my personal crusade to try to piss you off just so I could be sure you were still alive.”

“I noticed the tactic,” Roy says.  “I hadn’t realized it was based in such a magnanimous intention.”

“You know me,” Ed says.  “If you look up ‘noble’ in the dictionary, there’s a picture of me kickin’ somebody in the face.”

“Oh,” Roy says.  “Did they take my photo out?”

“Yeah,” Ed says.  “It was distracting people because you look so damn good.  They kept calling up the dictionary company to ask for your phone number.”

“Oh, dear,” Roy says.  “Yet again I’m a menace to society.”

“Old editions are selling real high on the black market,” Ed says.

Roy’s head is very light—and his heart is.  For a long, long few moments, he gazes wordlessly at Ed.

“It weirds me out when you’re quiet,” Ed says.

“You complain when I talk,” Roy says.

“What’s your point?” Ed asks.

“What’s yours?” Roy asks.

“I have no idea,” Ed says.  “What the hell were you thinking about just now, giving me that look?”

“Was I giving you a look?” Roy asks.

“Only you,” Ed says.  “Only you would try to play dumb ten minutes after I told you that you’re fucking brilliant.”

“I am a contrary man,” Roy says.

“Same here,” Ed says.  “And I’ve got you beat on stubbornness ten to one.”

“Five at most,” Roy says.

“At least six,” Ed says.  “What were you thinking about?”

“My thoughts are top-secret,” Roy says.

“Now I’m assuming it was dirty,” Ed says.  “Is that what you want?”

“That depends,” Roy says.  “Does the prospect of my thoughts being dirty intrigue you?”

“You,” Ed says, “are the worst.”

“Thank you,” Roy says.

“You’re a weasel,” Ed says.

“Good,” Roy says.  “Weasels are adorable.”

“What the hell kind of weasels do you guys have around here?” Ed asks.

“Cute ones,” Roy says.  “Like me.”

Ed presses his lips together, and the corners of his mouth twitch, and then he clears his throat.

“You must’ve lost more blood than I thought,” he says.  He raises his right hand, curling it into a fist.  “And you’re gonna lose more of if you don’t cough it up, Mustang.”

Roy looks at him again, well-aware that this may invite further beleaguering.

Even in the harsh light of the naked bulb, with Roy’s blood smudged up the side of his face, lacking the commandeered waistcoat, having gained a brand-new ring to the concentric circles underneath his eyes, Ed is so beautiful he defies explanation, let alone description.

“I was thinking,” Roy says, because the world has offered Ed very few kindnesses over all these years, and Roy has offered him fewer still; “that I loved you before you left.”  At Ed’s expression, it occurs to him how that sounded, and the backpedaling duly commences.  “Not… oh, come on.  It was a pure thing, at that point—an unshakeable sense of kinship and an exasperated sort of affection, more than anything else.  I’d always felt protective, whether I liked it or not, but it was a terrible day when I realized how fond I was of you.”

“Right,” Ed mutters, but he’s ducked his head, which means he wants his hair to dangle in front of his face, which means he’s blushing.  “Okay.”

“When they told me you’d died,” Roy says, and he can feel Ed’s eyes snapping to him even with the curtain of tarnished gold hanging in the way, “it was like they’d torn away a fundament of the universe, and the vacuum that remained was dragging the entire rest of the world in towards it.  After enough time wondering why it was so hard—harder than it should have been based on the variables I was admitting that I could see—it struck me that I loved everything you had been, but also everything that you could have become.”

Ed swallows.

And then he says, so softly it borders on delicate, a solitary word:


“Still,” Roy says.  “There was something very pure about that grief.  And the denial, too, in its way.”

Ed smiles thinly, raising his head just enough for Roy to see it.  “You go through all the stages?”

“No,” Roy says.  “Once I heard that Alphonse didn’t believe it, either, I couldn’t make myself let go.”

“I’m gonna hit him for that later,” Ed says.

“No, you’re not,” Roy says.

The smile broadens.  “Nah.  I’m not.”  Ed clears his throat, slinging one leg up over the other at the knee and folding his arms across his chest—the picture of nonchalance, decorated all over with splashes of Roy’s blood.  “So—that’s—nice, I guess.  Your purity kick.”

“I’m not finished,” Roy says.

“You never are,” Ed says.

“When you came back,” Roy says, “in the heat of a battle, older and sharper, with your hair out behind you like a pennant, in that damned waistcoat—”

Ed drops his face into his left hand.

“Well,” Roy says.  “It was a lot less pure after that.”

Ed shakes his head for—by Roy’s reckoning, at least—approximately twice as long as is really necessary.

“Why the hell are you telling me all this shit?” he asks.  “I mean, it’s—it—”

“I spend an inordinate proportion of my life avoiding the truth at all costs,” Roy says.  “Besides which… I think you should hear it.  I don’t think you know how much you affect people—and how positively.  How much you matter, even when you’re not physically here.”

“Are you trying to get into my pants again?” Ed asks.

“No,” Roy says.  “I’m trying to get into your heart.”

Ed stares at him.

Roy musters a grin.  “My God, you must be the single most uncharmable human being in the entirety of Amestris.”

“‘Uncharmable’ isn’t a word,” Ed says.  “And you haven’t met every human being in the entirety of Amestris.”

“How do you know?” Roy asks.  “Maybe I was very busy while you were g—”

“Math,” Ed says.  “That’s how.”

“As if I would let a little thing like numbers interfere with my social life,” Roy says.

“What social life?” Ed says.  “All you ever do is work all the time, and then go to the bar on Friday nights so you can drink too much and complain about all the work you did.”

“I was under the impression that that’s what a social life is,” Roy says.  “What’s yours?”

Ed… glares.  Rather tellingly.  It’s a good look on him, come to think of it, but so is everything.

“It’s not just numbers, anyway,” Ed says, which is every bit as satisfying as an outright concession of Roy’s banter victory.  “It’s logistical feasibility.”

“I never let a little thing like logistical feasibility get in the way of my social life either,” Roy says.

“Shut up,” Ed says.  “That’s cheap, and you know it.”

“As they say, my dear,” Roy says, “all’s fair.”

Ed goes quiet, looking first at his knees, and then at the place Roy’s cavalry skirt spills over the side of the workbench, before slowly raising his gaze to Roy’s face again.

“You can’t just call me that,” he says.

If nothing else, Ed has helped refine Roy’s habit for internalized wincing into a truly masterclass skill.

“I’m sorry,” he says.  Was it just a few hours ago that he was reflecting that he’d never said those words to Edward Elric’s face?  Now he can’t seem to stop.  “I di—”

“Unless you fucking mean it,” Ed says.

“You have always been dear to me,” Roy says.  “Whether or not I liked it, and whether or not I said it, I knew that you were something completely new and extremely special from day one.”

Ed scowls.  “Don’t fuckin’ flatter me.”

“I wasn’t,” Roy says.  “Although I intend to in the future—quite a lot.  Daily, if I can get away with it.”

The scowl melts into an expression that isn’t much more encouraging—something in between uncertainty and a cagey sort of concern.

“You’re serious about this,” Ed says, slowly.  “I—aren’t you?”

“Ed,” Roy says, “I have been yours for a long time.  Whether you’ll have me or not is completely up to you.”

Ed breathes in and out twice before he answers.

“Well,” he says, “the sex was pretty phenomenal.  What of it I remember, anyway.”

Roy gives no outward indication that his heart nearly just stopped.

“Was it?” he says.  “Not my best work, I’m afraid.”

Ed’s eyes widen—just a little, but Roy is a keen enough observer of his features to notice instantly.

“You’re serious about that, too, aren’t you?” he asks.

Roy offers his most deliberately enigmatic smile.  “I suppose you’ll just have to date me if you want to find out for sure.”

The grin starts before Ed can smother it, at which point he evidently decides that it’s wiser to give in.  “You are a goddamn politician straight through.”

“Thank you,” Roy says.  “I think.  Probably?”

“Probably,” Ed says.  He chews on his lip again, which might well be the most maddeningly inadvertently seductive thing any human being has ever done when Roy was not in a position to take advantage of it.  “All… right.  I—”

Both of them glance towards the nearest boarded-up window at the distant growl of an approaching engine, accompanied by the scraping sound of tires on the street.

Chapter Text

“Hang on,” Ed says.

He’s on his feet and ghosting towards the window, slight and soundless, before Roy has the chance to do much more than blink.  Then again, there isn’t much more he can do than blink, so perhaps it’s not such a bad thing.

He’s lying at a lucky angle—he doesn’t have to lift his head to watch Ed peering through a crack between two planks, both hands hovering centimeters away from the wood like he might have to pry it away at any moment.  His shoulders are so tight Roy thinks of kissing them—kneading with both hands and tracing with his mouth down around the sharp bones outlining his left shoulder blade, and the elegant curve of the metal on the right—until their owner can’t help relaxing.

Tragically, it would be a very ill-fitting time to voice that thought.  Less-tragically, Ed’s shoulders drop regardless, and he releases a breath, half-turns, and says only “About time” before heading for the door.

Unlike the window, Roy’s angle on the door is abysmal verging on nonexistent, so he can’t watch Ed letting himself back out, but Roy, and so many others, have trusted Ed with so much more than this.  Roy would trust Ed to choose the fate of the world at large.

The good news is that Ed returns, Riza in tow, before Roy can wander too far down that particularly melodramatic passageway of thought.  Riza looks like she just rolled out of bed, which is probably because she almost certainly did.  A delicate sound of clicking on the concrete reveals that Hayate isn’t far behind.

Riza does not gasp, or grimace, or lose a shade of color when she sees the wound.  She doesn’t have to: Roy has known her too long not to detect the flicker of it in her eyes before she nods once, sharply, to Ed.

“Can you—”

“Yeah,” Ed says, darting around to the head of the workbench—or what has become the head since Roy lay down on it and appointed it with a direction—and sliding his hands under Roy’s shoulders.

“Excuse me,” Roy says.  “I wasn’t shot in the legs; I can—”

“No,” Ed and Riza say in terrifying unison.

“Dumbass,” Ed adds, so at least that’s something.  He hooks his hands under Roy’s arms, takes and releases a deep breath, and then says, “Ready when you are.”

Roy has only the thinnest, frailest, skin-of-his-teeth sort of claim to dignity, but damn it, he’s not going to cede the scraps without a fight.  “This is really not nec—”

Starting to sit up makes his head lurch—wild and harsh and sickening, a heave like tipping over the edge of the universe, and starspots flit across his vision, blinking and dancing and then disappearing, replaced by others in different shades of gold and gray—

“Don’t you fucking dare, Mustang!” says a distant voice that sounds like Ed.

“Seconded,” a distant voice like Riza’s says.

“Ah,” Roy says, brilliantly.

“One,” Riza says; “two, and—”

She has his ankles; Ed has his torso, which is fitting, isn’t it?  She’s always been his foundation; Ed’s been the owner of his pathetic excuse for a heart for so many years now that the habit barely hurts.

His brain thinks that his whole body’s dropping again—like his consciousness just boarded an elevator, and someone sliced the cable clean through—as Ed and Riza lift him, and the light sways further from him, and he scrambles to reach for the last, trailing tail of his intellect as the darkness compresses—

Damn it,” Ed says.

And the dark wins.

He doesn’t have the slightest bit of an idea how much later it is when his eyes agree to open again.  He’s in a car; either the roar of the average engine has doubled in volume since the last time he lounged artfully in the backseat, or it just sounds louder when you’re lying down like this, head close to the door.

Much more pertinently, however, he’s lying with his head in Ed’s lap.  He wouldn’t have bet the farm on his ability to identify Ed’s thighs solely by the way their contours meet the back of his neck, but a halo of gold is coming slowly into focus, and there is a colder than average and rather unyielding hand pressed to his still-throbbing wound.

The resonations of Ed’s voice in his chest from here sound… lovely, actually.  Very nearly divine.

The content of the sentence being spoken is somewhat less inspiring.

“He always try to die after he makes a promise?” Ed asks Riza, who is presumably the one conducting them at what feels like breakneck speed.

“Yes,” she says.

“I resent that,” Roy says.

“You can resent it all you like,” Riza says calmly, though from here Roy can hear that Ed’s breath catches.  “That doesn’t make it any less true.”

“It should,” he says.  “I haven’t been…” Ed’s face and the roof of the car start to swim, and he tries to take deeper breaths to keep the oxygen flowing.  “I haven’t been a blight on the face of the planet every day of my life.  There should be… some sort of an exchange… whereby my resentment makes a notable impact on the veracit—”

“How about you shut up and save your energy for surviving until we get to the fucking hospital?” Ed says.

Roy makes a valiant attempt at a grin.  “What fun would that be?”

“Stupid me,” Ed says.  “Here I was, thinkin’ we were trying to keep your dumb ass alive, when all along this was supposed to be about fun.  Can’t believe I fucked that up.”

Roy laughs.

Which hurts like hell.

He splits the difference by wincing in an amused sort of way.

“I’m sure there will be… plenty of time to keep my dumb ass alive later,” he says.

Ed just—looks at him.  Ed looks at him, and Ed’s eyes are so tired they should belong to a man four times his age.  It is a distinct, recognizable weariness—the kind that is only ever born behind all of one’s other expressions after watching one too many human beings cease to exist.

Ed reaches around to use his left hand to stroke Roy’s hair back from his forehead—awkwardly and tenderly in equal measure, in little uncertain pushes, as though he’s expecting poison, or to be scalded, or for all of it to disintegrate at a touch.

“Better be,” Ed says.  “Or I’m gonna track you right through the Gate to teach you a lesson.”

“I wouldn’t put it past you,” Roy says.

“Good,” Ed says.  “Then I guess we’re in agreement that you’re not allowed to kick the bucket.”

“Never intended to kick it,” Roy says.  He wants, very, very much, for Ed to stroke his hair again.  “Perhaps just… nudge it… a bit.  One toe.”

“Fuck your one toe,” Ed says.

Roy is… Roy has lost a lot of blood.

“That’s a strange fetish,” he says, “but I’ll try anything once.”

The car does not swerve a centimeter off-course, but he does hear Riza choke on her next breath, which—as far as her vocalizations go—is the rough equivalent of an extremely loud gasp.

Ed, similarly, is struggling with a laugh that’s wreaking chaos on his face as it battles the serious expression that was there before.

“Changed my mind,” he says.  “If you wanna be unconscious again for a while, that’s okay with me.”

“I don’t have to take orders from you,” Roy says, in—if he may flatter himself so much—a near-perfect impression of the specific intonations Ed always used.  To be fair, he’s had quite a bit of practice repeating them to other members of the team, as well as to the bathroom mirror; but to be even more fair, it’s been literally years since he trotted it out aloud.

Judging by the all-new contortions through which Ed’s face progresses, the sound rings a bell whether he likes it or not.

“In another second,” Ed says, “I’m gonna knock you unconscious myself.”

“Careful,” Roy says.  “If you start battles, you’re going to get the heavy artillery, and you’ll have no one else to blame.”

“Is that supposed to be a euphemism?” Ed asks.

Riza chokes a little bit again.  Then she says—quietly, but with such flawless elocution that each word is quite clear—“You two deserve each other.”

“Hey,” Ed says.  “I resent that.”

“Oh, no,” Roy says.  “My feelings.  This gunshot wound is nothing; my feelings are injured beyond rep—”

“At least it’s keeping him awake,” Riza says.

“Sure,” Ed says.  “But at what cost?”

“I’m right here,” Roy says.

“I noticed,” Ed says.  “On account of the blood all over my clothes, and your fat head pinning me to the seat here.”

“Are you hearing this?” Roy asks Riza.

“Sir,” she says, “with every iota of due respect, you did this to yourself.”

“I can’t believe this,” Roy says.  “Traitors everywhere.”

“Your life is just one tragedy after another,” Ed says.  “How much further is it?”

“With any luck,” Riza says, “and a few creative interpretations of traffic laws—about fifty seconds, give or take?”

“You’re the fucking best,” Ed says.

“Thank you,” Riza says.

“I’m still right here,” Roy says.

Ed’s grin gives him away a bit.  “Why do you think I said it?  I mean, other than because it’s true.”

“Traitors,” Roy says, rather weakly.  “A whole world full of them.  I don’t know how I survived this long.”

“Me neither,” Ed says.

But when Riza takes a corner at a slightly inadvisable speed, his arms tighten around Roy, and that…

That says a lot without saying anything out loud.

“You had some help,” Riza says, in a tone so pointedly earnest that it sounds slightly jarring coming from her mouth.  “Quite a lot, actually.  On a regular basis.”

“Yes, thank you,” Roy says.  The blood loss is impeding his ability to hit the perfect mix of dry, solemn, and sarcastic for the quarter-truth.  “I am painfully aware that I couldn’t last twenty minutes in a safehouse on my own.”

“Or in a cabin in perpetual blizzard conditions,” Riza says, cheerfully, because of course she understands.  She always does, which is precisely why it’s better that he stayed away for a while—stayed out of her way for a while.

“I always wonder about that,” Ed says.  He pushes gently at Roy’s shoulder.  “You can tell me the whole story while you’re lying in your hospital bed whining about how much you’re suffering.”

“The whole story would be very dull,” Roy says.  “I’ll tell you the version where I’ve added explosions and avalanches and a fight with a bear.  It’s much more your style.”

“Hell, yeah,” Ed says.  “Can’t wait.”

The insistent use of the future tense is indescribably sweet.  Roy is about to tell him so when Riza says “Hold tight” in a voice Roy is quite positive he doesn’t like.

In the end, she swerves far less than she could have done, and no one’s skull knocks against the inside of the door, and Ed only squeezes Roy a little bit too hard to prevent him from sliding across the backseat, and altogether it’s not nearly as traumatizing as it had the potential to be.

“Stay here,” Riza says, killing the engine before it feels like they’ve even stopped.  She flings the door open and starts to slide out, adding “I’ll have them bring a stretcher” in the last instant before Roy’s animal brain starts to panic that she’s abandoning him once and for all.

The door slams hard enough to rock the car, and then the silence settles all the more thickly in the moments after.

“Y’know,” Ed says.  “I’m not kidding around here.  I’ve got a lot more stuff I still need to give you shit about.”

“I see,” Roy says.  “Nice to know I have that to look forward to.”

“I’m saying ‘don’t die’,” Ed says.

“I know,” Roy says.  “I wasn’t planning to.  I have an assortment of unfinished business, after all.”

Ed half-smiles down at him, raising an eyebrow.  “Never heard that pet name before.”

“It’s a Roy Mustang original,” Roy says.  “I charge royalties if people use it.”

Ed smirks.  “Royalties, huh?”

Roy cannot comprehend the concept that anyone—let alone someone with soul-level similarities to him—could ever consider Ed second-best.

“You,” he says, “are absolutely the fi—”

Commotion outside crescendoes, and someone opens the door, and then Ed’s trying to shift Roy over closer to them without jarring the wound, and he will die before he lets doctors haul him out of this car by his ankles like an unruly cat—

The next few minutes are a dizzy, hazy blur fading in and out of blackness and back into ambient white lights.  At least he hasn’t seen any of them materialize at the end of a tunnel with a holy-sounding voice beckoning to him, followed by derisive laughter and a swift descent.

They hook him up to an intravenous drip of saline almost immediately, which he would appreciate much better if someone hadn’t shoved Ed out of the way in order to reach his right forearm.  Which reminds him—

“It’s broken,” he says.

“Don’t worry, Colonel,” the nurse says in a very soothing voice.  “Just a bit of—”

“I meant my wrist,” he says.

The flurry of activity around him increases yet again—a touch more harriedly, at that.  Ordinarily, Roy loves being the center of attention, but in a situation like this, he would really rather pass.

He sinks down into the dark intermittently a few more times before he surfaces in a hospital bed that seems rather small for a distinguished, accomplished, and highly-celebrated officer in the Amestrian military, but no one asked him.  Or if they did, they did it while he was drifting through the corridors of his unconscious, and Ed probably told them to pick the tiniest bed available as a means of very belated revenge for all of those size jokes.  Which were, for the record, better-meant than Ed may ever know, because Roy only ever pulled out the big guns—so to speak—when the weariness was starting to etch cold, miserable lines on Ed’s face, and only the fires of flailing rage could bring him out of it.

In any case, Roy returns to himself, feeling that he has landed there rather more securely this time around, to find his right arm still strung to the IV, with that wrist thoroughly splinted and bandaged—and, more interestingly, cradled very carefully in both of Ed’s hands.

Roy is so intent on smiling beatifically up at Ed that it takes him several moments to register the fairly significant amount of pain emanating from his left side.  Next he registers that the source of the pain—well, the source of the new, exciting, additional pain; he remembers the primary source—is the doctor prodding at his wound with some sort of sharp implement.

“Ow,” he says; followed by “Good morning,” because he is not a cretin.

“Good morning,” she says.  “I’ve got most of the metal out; we’re going to stitch it up after that.”

“‘We’?” he says, because maybe he’s a bit of a cretin.  “Goodness.  I hope I don’t have to participate past lying here and complaining—I’m not sure I can rely on my hands too much at the moment.”

She smiles thinly, which means he delivered it right.  Even fresh off of passing out from pain, Roy Mustang has still got it.

Whatever it is, precisely.  Charm; charisma; unparalleled bullshitting prowess.

“I think I can handle it,” she says.  “As long as you’re very focused on the lying here and complaining part.”

“Don’t tell him that,” Ed says.  “He could write a book on that shit.”

“How do you know I haven’t?” Roy says.

“’Cause you would’ve been so smug about it that you would’ve waved it in my face by now,” Ed says.

“Fair point,” Roy says.

There’s a terrible twinge that must mean the doctor is extracting an especially stubborn piece of metal from his flesh.  He swallows the noise clawing its way up his throat and attempts to turn the corners of his grimace upward.

“If I stick to my regimen of lying here and whining,” he says to the doctor, “is it likely that I’ll make a full recovery?”

“I don’t believe in guarantees,” the doctor says, and Roy can almost hear Ed radiating approval; “but your odds are promising.  You probably won’t be feeling up to any vigorous exercise for a while.”

“Have you met Mustang?” Ed asks.

Roy’s arm twitches with the impulse to bat Ed’s hands in a playfully reprimanding sort of way, but the damage to his wrist has left his fingers unable to respond to any of the impulses he’s trying to send from his brain.  It’s a puzzling, unsettling thing in several ways—first, that Ed is sitting just beside him, sweetly holding onto his hand, and he can’t even respond to it; second, that he can’t help wondering if this bears some small resemblance to automail habituation.  Would the sensation of reaching for one’s own nerve endings on instinct, finding no capacity for movement, and scrabbling for control sound familiar to Ed—would it come too close for comfort altogether?

“This is the first time I’ve had the unrivaled pleasure,” the doctor says.

“You’re much too kind,” Roy says.

“Stop flirting,” Ed says.

“This isn’t flirting,” Roy says.  “This is how I talk.”

“Sorry,” the doctor says.  “I started it.”

“He started it,” Ed says.  “He always starts it.  He starts it by existing.”

“My apologies,” Roy says.  “I’ll try to exist less flirtatiously next time.”

“You’d better,” Ed says.

“Cross my heart and hope to die, which I shall also attempt to do less flirtatiously,” Roy says.

Ed glares at him.

Another spear of pain alerts him to the doctor’s continued progress.  A milder version follows as she dabs at the renewed well of blood.  Roy has long since crossed the transcendent threshold where seeing his vitals exposed and his lifeblood pouring out all over the place no longer affects him psychologically; his brain has hit its capacity for trauma and forcibly shut down his ability to generate a rational reaction to the stimulus.

“That’s the last one,” she says.  “I’m going to numb the area while I do your stitches, all right?”  She doesn’t wait for him to answer before turning to Ed and adding, “Can you keep him talking?  It’s a big help.”

“Can I stop him?” Ed asks.

“You’re adorable,” Roy says.

“That makes one of us,” Ed says.

Roy laughs, which hurts, and then notices the way Ed’s grip on his wrist is tightening dangerously fast as the doctor selects a hypodermic from her supplies.  Expertly—or deftly enough to convince Roy of experience, at least—she flicks the cylinder to clear the air bubbles, and Ed’s eyes dart down towards the IV needle already embedded in Roy’s skin, and the last of the color in his face begins to make its escape.

“Edward,” Roy says, which draws Ed’s gaze to him instead.  “Have you gotten a hold of your brother yet?”

“Yeah,” Ed says, instantly donning a scowl.  “Had so much damn time to spare while I was sitting here freakin’ out about you trying to die on me and shit.  Just been making all my social calls while I waited, y’know.  Wrote an opinion piece for the Central Times, too, while I was at it, about the traffic congestion around all those new restaurants downtown.  It’s really fucking up the quaint, picturesque aesthetic we used to have around here.”

“Those are,” Roy says, “without a doubt, the words I would have chosen to describe that part of town.  May I read what you wrote?  I’ll co-sign it.”

“Shut up,” Ed says.  “Are you trying to get rid of me?  I mean, I can go call Al if you’re sure you’re not going to up and expire the second that I’m gone.  I’d say he’s probably wondering where I went, but I’m sure he’ll use the Knowing Voice and say he had a hunch I was—” He glances at the doctor and works his jaw.  “With… you.  Somewhere.  Although I don’t figure he predicted kidnapping.  He’s not that good.”

Roy keeps his face very still and very stable—which is a bit challenging despite his many talents for self-restraint, because he would love nothing more than to reach out with his operable hand and give Ed a few reasons to be with him somewhere a lot more often.

Also, he just felt the anesthetic needle stab in deep and sharply, just underneath his rib.

“If he knew about this before we did,” Roy says, “despite the fact that we were the ones being kidnapped, I would greatly appreciate you encouraging him to join my information network on an official basis once and for all.”

“Over my dead fucking body,” Ed says calmly.  “No more military connections in the Elric family, now or ever.  We make big fuckin’ mistakes, but we only make ’em once.”  He squeezes Roy’s hand—which is delightful, and necessarily unrequited—and stands up from the bedside.  “Fine.  I can take a hint.”  That is patently untrue, but there isn’t time to say so.  “I’ll go call Al.”

“Give him my best,” Roy says.  “And my best apologies.”

“Not a chance,” Ed says over his shoulder as he heads for the door.  “Done enough of your work for you over the years.”

“Sometimes you were even aware of it at the time,” Roy calls after him.

He earns a halfhearted glare, and then the ponytail swishes beautifully as Ed turns into the hallway.

“So,” Roy says to his attending physician when the coast is clear.  “Were you being honest with me?”

“Can you feel this?” she asks, prodding at his side with a fingertip.

“The bullet wound still hurts,” he says.  “That didn’t register.”

“Excellent,” she says, bending to the work.  “Was I being honest about your chances?” she asks next, without looking up from the first insertion of that rather broad needle tip.  Blessedly, he can’t feel any of it.  He’s starting to feel less of everything; is the numbness supposed to spread?  “Or about me flirting with you while I’m on the job?”

“You seem to be managing wonderfully despite the immense distraction of my insuppressible charms,” he says.

She looks up long enough to raise an eyebrow at him.

“Good heavens,” he says.  “I do always start it.  Evidently my existing needs some work.”

“You’re going to have to take it easy for a while,” she says.  He resists the obvious play on easy, even though it pains him to leave the low-hanging fruit unpicked.  “And this time, you’ll actually have to stay in the hospital bed until we release you.”

Roy tries at a rakish grin.  He has no idea how much blood and dreck there is on his face.  Perhaps a moderate amount of dreck will help with the rakishness, come to think of it.  “They told you about that?”

“Word travels,” she says.  “You and Edward are both a bit legendary for ignoring hospital recommendations with a thoroughness that impresses all of us.”

It’s so damn simple falling back into it—he wore the tracks so deep that he can’t help letting his feet fit in.  “My personal philosophy is that anything worth doing is worth doing with panache,” he says.

She nods absently, drawing on the needle to tug another suture into place.  “That’s what I’ve heard.  Which is why Lieutenant Hawkeye gave me specific instructions to tell you that it’s our way, or the barrel of her gun.  She then waited out a pointed pause before adding ‘Sir’.”

Roy knows exactly how long it lasted, and exactly how flat her voice was.  “Of course she did.”

“That said,” the doctor says, “she also suggested that we expand visiting hours in your particular case if we didn’t want certain people who interpret the rules somewhat loosely to start climbing through your window.”

Riza knows too much.  At least she mostly uses her powers for good.

“That… might not be a bad idea,” Roy says.

The doctor nods again, calmly, once again without ever looking up.  She does remarkably fast work; if he’s not mistaken, she’s nearly finished.  “Would you like me to fetch Edward for you once all of the needles have been put away?”

“That would be extremely kind and very much appreciated,” he says.

“We do our best,” she says.

“I’ll do my best to keep your windows intact,” he says.

Ed does not return immediately after the doctor departs with promises to find him, but Roy assumes it’s fairly likely that Alphonse has a few choice words for dear Edward about matters such as drinking to excess, sleeping with one’s ex-boss, and then getting kidnapped for someone else’s crimes.  Besides, Roy maligned this bed a bit when he first woke in it; it’s really not so bad, and despite the persistent low-grade pain of the IV in his arm, the medium-grade pain of the broken wrist below it, and the high-grade-but-half-numbed pain of the gouge cut through him by the bullet, he finds himself sinking in against the pillows and drifting off towards sleep again.

It’s probably the best thing for him, isn’t it?  After the night he’s had—the night they’ve had.  The one before that didn’t exactly consist of restful activities, either.  Perhaps Ed’s still young enough to treat his indescribably gorgeous body that way, but Roy’s been too old for this sort of nonsense for a good while now, and…

And he can, now.  He can rest, period; he can rest easier.  Enough has been settled that he can afford a few moments’ peace.

When his body deigns to wake again, the room is dimmer, and Ed has reprised his place beside the bed again—with gauze wrapped around the base of his left hand.

“Are you all right?” Roy asks, and his voice does an awful little creaking, cracking sort of thing that forces him to clear his throat.

“Yeah,” Ed says, holding up his hand for scrutiny and shaking it around a bit.  “I just moved a little when you were burning off the ropes and shit.”  He crosses his arms and shrugs.  “Not your fault; your aim was really good.”

It is sadder than Roy can find words for that Ed feels the need to specify—that Ed feels the need to articulate that he feels he should take the blame for a situation like this.

“It’s not your fault,” Roy says.  “None of this was.”

Ed eyes him.  When he is determined to shoulder a weight like this, no application of logic, no matter how infallible, will sway him.  Roy’s going to have to circle back to the other conversation from a different angle—wage the battle on a field Ed wouldn’t expect, so that he isn’t prepared to fight it, and he can’t put up the barricades in time.

“Al says he hopes they’re making you drink lots of water,” Ed tells him.  “D’they give you some?”

“Yes,” Roy says.  “And several vague threats of varying severity.”

“Speaking of which,” Ed says, “Lieutenant Hawkeye looked in on you a minute ago.  She said if you weren’t actively dying, she had stuff to do, but she’ll be back later.”

Roy wars with the impulse to say Fancy that; I also have stuff to do.  Like you, for instance.  You’re at the top of the list.

“Somehow I dare to dream we may survive without her for an hour or two,” he says instead.

“Ambitious,” Ed says, arching an eyebrow and starting to smile.  “Sure hope we’re up to it.”

The stolen sleep has fortified Roy enough to act on inspiration, and despite the minor protests from his miscellaneous miseries, he shifts enough to reach across with his left hand and grazes his fingertips down Ed’s cheek.

“Edward,” he says, “you are more wonderful than I have words for.  I know you don’t believe it, and you probably won’t believe that I do, or you’ll chalk it up to my longstanding tradition of mild delusion, but that’s the truth.  Could we—” He swallows, takes a breath.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained; lesser hearts have taken greater leaps.  “Could we—try it again, perhaps?  Start over?  I can’t promise perfection, but I’ll swear by any metric that you like that I’d do a better job this time.”

Ed’s mouth quirks.  His folded arms shift inwards slightly—hugging himself just a little tighter.  “Yeah.  I—all right.  Yeah.  You wanna just… forget this whole thing ever happened?”

“I don’t know that we should go that far,” Roy says.  “I’d say it taught both of us an important lesson about impulse control.”

“Speak for yourself,” Ed says.

“All right,” Roy says.  “I’d say it taught me an important lesson about impulse control.”

Ed’s mouth quirks a little further, and then it’s spreading into a full-fledged grin, and he’s ducking to hide it.

One of these days, Roy is going to prove to him that he doesn’t have to.  One of these days, Roy is going to demonstrate, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it is finally safe to smile.  One of these days, Roy is going to show Ed unequivocally that if the world wants to take away his happiness, it’s going to have to get through Roy first.

“Jeez,” Ed says.  “You always been an amateur comedian?”

“Probably not,” Roy says.  “I was more or less nonverbal until I was four, because I wanted to be able to construct complete sentences before I started speaking.  Although arguably that was my pantomime phase.”

“Bet that was cute and never made anybody want to smack you,” Ed says.

“Quite like the rest of my life in that regard,” Roy says.

They look at each other, and Roy’s heart beats in his ears.  It’s a rhythm like the measure of a waltz; it’s a count you can’t march to.  Dancers only.  He wants, so keenly, so intently, so earnestly, to be prepared for this.  Surely his feet still remember how to move.

He reaches out again, to touch Ed’s jaw this time—slowly, lightly, leaving time for him to lean away.

“But you want to,” he says.  “Try this again, from the beginning.  You’re not…”

“Not what?” Ed asks.  He hesitates, and then he lifts his right hand and lays it carefully over Roy’s, holding it there along the curve of his jawline beneath his ear.  “Humoring you?  I’d die first, and you know it.”

Roy finds himself smiling, but somehow he has to contain the worst of it until they’ve finished this conversation.  “I just want to be sure.”

“Nobody can ever be sure of anything,” Ed says.  “Everything is relative to principles that human beings establish as ‘facts’.  That’s just science.”

Roy wrinkles his nose.  “Is that a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’?”

Ed looks at him for a long, long second—searchingly, and some days his eyes are so old and so tired that everything in Roy strains to cradle his face in both hands and kiss the circles underneath them until they start to crinkle at the corners with a smile.

He can, now.  Can’t he?

Or he will be able to, theoretically speaking, once his damned wrist heals.  Perhaps he can beg off of some paperwork, but it’s likely that Riza will just make him a signature stamp and then spirit it away again the instant that his fingers start to function.

“It’s a yes,” Ed says, which blots all of those thoughts out of Roy’s head and floods his entire skull with blinding light.  “Until further notice.  In case you fuck up.”

“Probation?” Roy says.  “Fair enough.”

Ed swallows, and clenches his jaw—Roy can feel the little muscles moving; it’s exquisite to be so close to him; somehow he can’t imagine this will ever lose its luster—and then lowers their tangled hands.  Before Roy can quantify any kind of disappointment, Ed is kicking off his boots and then climbing up onto the tiny bed, the better to try to cram himself in under Roy’s right arm, useless hand be damned.

“Move your ass,” the angel of Roy’s esteem says, wriggling to try to fit himself in against Roy’s uninjured side.

“Yes, dear,” Roy says, and the real tragedy is that, at great risk of tumbling off the other side, he does.

“There’s another condition,” Ed mumbles when he’s settled his head in against Roy’s shoulder and—cautiously, like he expects Roy to pull away, like he thinks Roy’s still capable—draped his right arm across Roy’s chest.  “You gotta back me up with Winry gives me hell for all of the blood that got into the inner parts of her masterpiece.”

Gently, Roy leans his head against Ed’s.  It takes him a few moments of fussing to wrap his right arm around Ed without jarring the IV or requiring any use of his fingers.

“I will always,” he says, “always have your back.  Whether we’re together or not.  I hope you know that.”

“Yeah,” Ed mutters.  He curls his steel fingers into the rather unimpressive hospital blanket, then smoothes it out again and pats it down over Roy’s collarbone.  “You can have the front, too, y’know.”

“Thank you,” Roy says.  “That’s very kind.  Many of my favorite parts of you are primarily on the front side.”

“Except my ass,” Ed says.

“Except your ass,” Roy says.  “And a portion of your hair, depending on how you’re wearing it.”

“Again with the hair thing,” Ed says.  “I thought about cutting it.  It was getting in the way.”

Roy would like to be the sort of man who can truthfully proclaim that it doesn’t matter.  And it is absolutely true that Ed would still be devastatingly appealing with short hair, or ragged hair, or no hair at all—and that Roy would still adore every last damn fiber of his being.

But it’s also true that something in his chest clenches at the mere suggestion of someone taking a crude cutting implement to the sheer, unrivaled glory of all of that gold.

“I am delighted,” he says, shamelessly reaching across to run his fingers through the slightly tangled tail, “that you came to your senses.”

Ed snorts.  “Just didn’t have the chance, is all.  I was thinking about it right before we started stumbling on all the stuff about that world’s version of alchemy and what it meant and everything, which was the keystone that we ended up needing, and… anyway.  I had a lot of reasons to get out of there at that point.  And then once we were back here, everybody recognizes me like this, so… yeah.”

Roy strokes his fingers through it a touch more reverently this time, now that he knows how close he came to losing this opportunity for several months at least.  How long would it take for it to grow back out?

“And you subconsciously wanted to make me an extremely happy man,” he says.

Ed snickers.  Roy can feel his warm breath through the terrible fabric of the insufferable hospital clothes.

“Yeah,” Ed says.  “Something like that.”

“In case you need to hear it in so many words,” Roy says, “you’ve succeeded.”

Ed scrunches up his nose.  “Gross.”  He scrunches his nose up even further when Roy pushes his bangs back, the better to lean in and kiss his forehead.  “Gross.”

“My dear,” Roy says, “to put it in terms I think you’ll understand—you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

“Shit,” Ed says.  The faux outrage would be marginally more convincing if Ed would put an ounce of anger behind it, or if he was moving away from Roy’s hand, rather than closer to it.  “You think those kidnappers’ll take me back again if I ask nicely?”

“Doubt it,” Roy says.  “I’m afraid you’re probably stuck here.”

Ed nestles in a little bit closer.

“Damn,” he says.  “Oh, well.”

“Oh, well,” Roy says.

His list of regrets is still long enough to make several classic novels feel inadequate, but this is not—and this will never—be one of them.

That much he knows.