He feels his body being ripped into million pieces by numerous black hands of Truth.
“Anything? Even if it’s your whole body?”
He sees dark pits of the eyes watching him from the gap in the Gate.
“I’ll give you anything.” Everything…
He must be dreaming it again.
“So be it.”
He wakes up.
Lumping steps rustling in the sudden quiet of the night - it will end too soon, but he can pretend just for a moment that it never will, that it is almost like it was before hell broke down on their heads, like —
he is covered with blood. Is it his? he is so tired... His head hurts.
— he can squint and pretend he doesn’t see the destruction surrounding him; he can pretend he doesn’t feel madding cold of drachman winter, piercing his skin with freezing needles, clenching the heart in his chest in a tight fist, making him fight for every breath, sharp and hurting in his throat; he can pretend there is no smell of blood, and death, and gunpowder, and alchemy in the air; he can pretend —
— he is home, and this never happened, and the black haired man in front of him is still alive.
The pain is just a mild tingling on the side of his conscious, he is so used to the feeling by now. He rips his sleeve off to make a bandage - this will do, he is almost finished, he won’t have to bother about it for a long now anyway.
...the jigged pain that became his world, that surrounds him like a shell… Like a shell... Like —
—shallow breaths, the rubble is a dead weight on him, there is another dead body… Too much dead these days. Or is this one still alive? He doesn’t know. His body is too heavy to move.
He closes his eyes.
He is always fast to adapt. He is always fast to ignore. To ignore his own hurting heart and aching body, to ignore the world falling to pieces around him. He adapts to it and makes himself a part of it. He buries everything that can still feel deep inside his mind.
After six months from the day that turned his world upside down (how many days like this did he have already in his life?) he starts breathing again and he can finally concentrate to the fullest on the craziest idea he has ever had, and that counting the attempt of bringing back his dead mother which costed him two of his limbs and his brother’s whole body.
After a year that place inside him that has ached the most is scarred over and every day he convinces himself that whatever demons are hiding beneath the scar are not strong enough to burst through.
Every night he is proven wrong.
“It is so quiet here”.
“Yes, it is.”
He is dreaming again. He wakes up with tears in his eyes.
He still remembers him, still sees the narrowed eyes full of rage and bloodlust of an animal, he thinks this was what made him kill this guy so easily - he didn’t see the human before him, he saw the animal, hungry for blood, murder and vengeance.
He doesn’t know what this drachman soldier had been told. The only thing he knew, that it had been months in this cold grey land and more than a year since this war started. He was tired, hungry and worried sick of everyone he’d had to leave when he went here. And when this enemy soldier with wild eyes and feral grin threw himself on him, he didn’t see human, and as he has killed not-humans before, it was easy for him to thrust his automail blade through the thick layers of winter uniform on the soldier’s stomach, ripping through the cloth, skin and muscle.
Perhaps he acted on instinct then. Perhaps he was just tired and was defending himself. Perhaps Roy’s half orders half pleads finally got into him - the man was repeating too often that his life mattered more than life of enemies, that he can’t go through life, through war unharmed without killing others.
Or perhaps he just outgrew his childish policy of not killing people.
He didn’t understand what happened until he was cleaning his automail of dried blood, and then the knowledge of what he’d done laid in his stomach like a stone - cold, unforgiving and heavy.
And he can never forget the face of the first person he killed. There were more after this one, like after crossing that line he set for himself all those years ago, he couldn’t go back and it didn’t matter anymore, not when he realised that his survival depended on it, not when he had seen the atrocities those people were doing to Amestrians they were able to not kill instantly in the rush of the battle.
Not when after a year in this shithole of all places, he finally managed to return to his home country for a little break and some downtime, only to discover, that getting back the ways of communication meant getting back the possibility of receiving news he would prefer to never know.
The bastard is joking about his height again. He has to admit - that one was particularly good, he doesn’t remember him saying it before. Dreaming or not, he starts laughing.
He knew he shouldn’t have gone there, he knew he shouldn’t have left.
He left anyway, fooling himself with a surreal hope that nothing bad was going to happen.
It didn’t work today again. He doesn’t know what else to do. He is tired.
He can endure it, he can, he has endured so much, whatever it takes he can—
— “You can take anything,” he says firmly, knowing for the first time the kind of anguish that could tear such words from a man’s mouth.
Warm body is lying beside his, he moves closer. He is home, he is safe, —
—warm body beside him, smell of blood in the air, his head is buzzing and shattering into million pieces, and he can’t move.
— he closes his eyes. His body is too heavy to move, so he doesn’t. His muscles are pleasantly humming in the aftershock of his recent climax which makes it almost easy to ignore the malaise coiling in the pit of his stomach.
“I don’t want you to go.”
...light kisses on his face trailing from his eyes down to his chin....
“You know I have to. I will be more useful there than sitting here on my ass.”
...deep inhales in the crook of his neck, breathing him in, messy black hair tickling his ear...
“I would very much prefer your ass being in the closest proximity to me.”
Warm body shifts on him, pressing him even closer, as if afraid to let go.
“Nothing will happen to my ass, a few angry drachmans are nothing, you shouldn’t worry.”
They both pretend they believe it.
He must have passed out again. The rubble of the destroyed building is heavy on him, but at least he is still alive. Another guy wasn’t that lucky. The body beside him is not warm anymore. How long has he been lying here? He hit his head hard, he needs to—
“I can’t believe you engraved our fucking names on it, Roy. You are too fucking mushy for your own good.”
“I know you like it, you just don’t want to admit it”
“I hate it almost as much as I hate you!”
“Is that a ‘yes’?”
The news are too enormous for him to process and he simply refuses to believe. Or maybe he doesn’t have it in him, not yet. The shock is too strong and he can’t just step over this threshold between the world where Roy is alive to the world where he is simply not existing. It is yet too much to comprehend, and even if he wanted to believe these cold words, he wouldn’t be able to even imagine the world which has no Roy in it, as if death erases all the traces of his existence.
And he knows it is not true, and he knows that this shock will pass and then the real grief will come, crashing and suffocating, wrapping him in its cold sticky shackles, and he dreads this moment, and he has just few days before this devastating realisation hits him and he thinks he should be grateful for the numbness filling him now.
This is how it was when his mother died, when first couple of days were filled with blind hope that it simply hadn’t happened. But then it came, that horrible realisation that while he still keeps living and breathing, his mother doesn’t exist anymore, and the wave of blinding anger and grief swarmed him, bereaving him of everything that had been defining his own existence, rupturing his world and coloring the remains in gray.
And now, numb and stuck between two realities, not being able to move towards neither of them, not yet, he doesn’t want to think that the day, when he has to make his next step, will come too soon, the day, when he will have to believe . And, captured by gruesome fear towards those feelings, he tucks the telegram between the pile of his clothes and a few books in his suitcase and walks away.
“I love you.”
“You are saying this so often I think one day I might actually believe it.”
He almost lost the papers once. All of them: the ones with his notes for Roy, and those where he is keeping his progress in researching the array. He almost lost his mind when he couldn’t find them for good two hours. He couldn’t remember where he had put them, and it was driving him crazy. He found them on the table where he left them the day before. He could’ve sworn they weren’t there just a minute ago. He got angry at himself that day. His head hurt.
He is looking at him with those dark eyes and it is so different from before. He must be dreaming again…
There are days, when he is painfully lucid, stuck in a trap of his hurting mind, showing him vivid pictures of atrocities he’s done. And no amount of convincing himself, that those are people who killed everyone he has ever loved and held dear in his life, can’t keep his every breath from filling him with self-hatred and desperation.
There are days when he feels as if he is standing at arm’s length from himself, watching his life over his own shoulder, like it’s someone else but him who, with just a clap of his hands, is bringing death and devastation on the heads of people he doesn’t even know, all he knows is that they are enemies, so he doesn’t hesitate. These are merciful days…
—the warmth of their joined hands spreads to his whole body, awakening his every cell, and for the first time in more than two years there is enough air in his lungs and his breaths are coming freely.
...this little contact, through the thin fabric of the gloves he used to worship so much is more than he could’ve dreamed of, and he thinks that it would even be funny, if it wasn’t that heartbreaking, that now at this moment just the joining of their hands feels better than joining of their whole bodies, and he is surprised at that thought, because up until this moment he was sure he’d give everything for not just being with him together in their bed again, to feel him hard and warm inside him, but simply to see this in his dreams instead of dreadful nightmares which make him wake up screaming - just this would be enough.
But he’s never been granted his wish, and the memories of their love making are fading with every month passing, but this one - his hand tight on Roy’s - this is here and now.
And Roy is alive.
It strikes him on a third day, like he predicted. Two and a half days of blessing numbness, but then he reaches to his bag to take a change of clothes from it, and the offensive piece of paper slides to the floor. And then he feels the thick wall of disbelief, which he has so fiercely guarded for the last sixty something hours, shattering into million pieces, and there is not enough air for him to breath, and there is an aching emptiness at the place where his heart should be...
And it hurts, it hurts so much, and every breath comes in and out with broken glass stuck in his throat, cutting and hurting.
He burns the telegram.
The fire is beautiful. He’s always loved fire. It’s warm, and he can pretend—
— the hand is warm, even through a thin fabric of his gloves.
He remembers these gloves and the red array on their surface.
The hand is warm. Is he not dreaming this time?
They almost got him that day. Someone recognised him on the streets, and he barely escaped when several drachman soldiers ambushed the house he was hiding in, and if he wasn’t so exhausted, he would’ve fought, but he couldn’t risk his life now - not now - so he ran.
And while making his way through the grey drachman streets, his steps heavy, his boots splattering filthy mix of melted snow, dirt and blood - grey and red, two colors which seem to be the only ones left in this world - he let a bitter laugh slip from his throat - funny, how he never cared too much about his own safety when he’d been surrounded by people who loved him and worried about him, but now, when he has no one, he is fleeing with his tail between his legs, shackled by the goal he set for himself, the goal that most certainly won’t even let him make it out alive.
He can’t die. Not now. Not when he can trade his life for something bigger.
He doesn’t know when it started. Or maybe he knows, but doesn’t remember. Yeah, that would be it. Did it simply start with the half of that building falling down on his head, when he spent hours under the rubble while merciless cold was slowly making its way to his heart? Drifting on a verge of consciousness and nightmares, falling into one memory after another, not being able to detect anymore if what he was seeing really happened, or if it were just tricks of a broken mind tormenting him…
He has lost everything. He has nothing else left to sacrifice. He has no one else to make sacrifices for.
Or maybe it started when in the breathless moment of horror when he was holding the burning leaf of the small paper in his hand, watching the words, which tinged every next gasp of air with encroaching grief and desperation, slowly turning into ash, and hoping against hope that this simple act would make the very reason behind those horrible words to disappear along with them. And when the last flakes of burned ash touched the floor, he was looking down at it feeling the thick wall of disbelief slowly breaking, letting the first gory tendrils of anguish bleed through this invisible wound, this little crack, that hurts even more than his limbs being taken, and he felt his mind slip—
“...Never would’ve thought I’d live to see Edward Elric in his thirties.”
Or maybe it started even before that, when he killed a human for the first time in his life. When he woke up in the middle of a night, his hair drenched in sweat, his breaths fast and shallow, and this time it was not the vision of a monster agonizing in the middle of the array and a small boy on the side of it, frozen in terror and pain, blood streaming from where his limbs used to be, alone, because his brother is gone, and there is only this thing in front of him… Not his usual nightmare woke him up, but the eyes of the enemy soldier he’d killed piercing his automail blade through his guts.
…and he had thought that nothing could be worse in the face of those memories, but at times when whimpers of the man lying beside him in their bed were dragging him from his own night terrors and he had to shake him awake, pretending, he didn’t see the outstretched hand, pretending he didn’t hear a snap of the fingers, so loud in the quiet of the night, pretending, he couldn’t see wet trails on the older man’s cheeks…
He should’ve been there. He could’ve prevented this. He could’ve saved him. Roy would be alive. If he just…
And at nights like that, he had wondered that there might be something even more terrifying than dreaming about half-fleshed monster, who he had thought had been his mother, and he prayed he’d never have to face the horrors he had seen in Roy’s eyes at these nights.
He doesn’t know how to breathe, he doesn’t know if his heart is still beating in his chest, and it hurts, hard and fierce.
Or maybe it doesn’t matter when this started, because he doesn’t care anymore and as long as these gaps in his memory, these moments, when he can’t tell the reality from the dream, are not keeping him from—
“I don’t want it to disappear with me.” It doesn’t matter now if he has it or not.
I will give anything—
— ”I will give you anything, Ed, everything…” warm breath in his ear, warm body on his ...
Will it take the whole of him? Will he see if his actions change anything? Will he know if his sacrifice wasn’t in vain? Or will he disappear as if he never existed?
Is it the last time now when dazzle blue light is concealing the contours of the room he spent his best years in, only to reveal blinding white emptiness - it is white again, why is it always white - with Truth sitting in the middle of it, ready to take its toll?
Is it actually happening this time, or is he dreaming and he will simply wake up again?..
He doesn’t feel his body being ripped into million pieces by numerous black hands of Truth.
He doesn’t see the dark pits of the eyes watching him from the gap in the Gate.
He is not dreaming.
In the white bleakness someone is laughing.
He doesn’t wake up.