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Second Chances, Second Thoughts

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“You're good with her,” Gracia says after Elysia has left her perch on his lap and run off again.

I shouldn't have to be, Roy thinks. If only Maes still lived, he wouldn't feel the need to try and fill the hole in this little girl's life, wouldn't try to be the father figure to someone who would never be his kid.

But Maes is dead, Gracia is a widow and Elysia half-orphaned.

Roy doesn't say any of that. Instead he just returns Gracia's warm smile.

“It's not difficult,” he waves off her praise. “She's a sweet kid. Nothing like those little terrors some of the higher-ups decide to drag along to official banquets and what-not.”

“Still,” Gracia replies, her soft eyes crinkling. “She likes you.”

Of course she does. Roy brings her presents and asks about her day and admires the pictures she drew. All the things Maes would have been doing, but in a faint and feeble way.

His best friend and his family had deserved so much more, yet there was only so much Roy could do to make up for that.

“It's getting late,” he observes with a look towards the clock on the mantelpiece. “I should leave.”

“I'll wrap you up some of the pie,” Gracia says and goes to fetch a plate.

When they are standing in the hallway, Roy's left hand is precariously balancing the pie while the right ruffles Elysia's sandy blonde hair, Gracia watching with quiet amusement.

“When will you be back, uncle Roy?” the girl asks, small hands holding on to his coat pocket. She's getting bigger everyday. A little while ago she had barely even reached his knee.

“As soon as possible,” he promises as he does every time. His visits aren't exactly regular, but still something of a routine. He generally doesn't have much spare time beside his job, but he does make time for this. It's the least he can do.

In that moment, a small shadow appears behind the milky glass of the front door, darkening hallway. A heavy, somewhat aborted knock falls against the wood.

Roy startles a little, immediately on alert, but Gracia just calmly goes to open the door. Roy follows her closely, just in case it's someone dangerous. And if it's not, well, he was about to leave anyway.

Yet the sight that greets them is unexpected in every way, and Roy has to blink a little to make sense of it. It doesn't work.

Because Edward Elric is standing on the doorstep, looking windswept and utterly bereft, but holding a tiny baby in his arms.

“It went wrong,” he chokes out, his voice tight with barely suppressed sobs, and his eyes have an unusually bright shine to them. “It went wrong, I messed up, I didn't know where else to go, please, I messed up-”

“Oh, Edward,” Gracia just says and gently pulls him into her home.

 

 

Edward won't let go of the baby, even as he has finally settled down on the couch in the living room. He looks like he wants to clutch it tightly to his chest, but refrains, not daring to hurt it. The infant sleeps on, peaceful and oblivious to the tremors that are raking through Ed's entire body.

Gracia has sent Elysia to play in her room, and set a cup of tea in front of Ed. It's merely a gesture of kindness, of normalcy. The boy is in no condition to even hold the porcelain.

Roy has sat down in one of the armchairs, arms crossed in front of his chest in an attempt to keep his composure. He is trying not to jump to conclusions, but the dread is creeping up his spine like a silent enemy.

For a few moments there is just this near quiet, disturbed only by Edward's irregular breathing. And Roy wants to say something, wants to ask questions, wants to take control of the situation. But Edward specifically came to see not him, but Gracia, and she is patiently waiting for Ed to gather himself and sort out his thoughts.

“I thought the array was perfect,” Ed finally manages to say through clenched teeth, clenched eyes. “But I thought that last time, too, didn't I? I messed up an' something went wrong.”

Of course, Roy thinks and closes his eyes for a brief moment. Par for the course when it comes to human transmutation.

“It returned Al's body,” Ed continues and ducks his head a little closer to the baby. “But it took his years, his memories, his life.”

A hitched breath, almost a sob, then plowing onwards, “Equivalent exchange, my ass!”

So the polite, mild-mannered boy that Roy had only ever known as a hulking yet strangely gentle suit of hollow armor had not been returned in his rightful fifteen-year-old body, not even his former self as he must have been during that first failed attempt at human transmutation, but as an infant so small it looked like a newborn.

When Ed finally opens his eyes again, he doesn't look at Roy or at Gracia or even at the shrunken form of his brother in his arms. He just stares at the wall ahead of him, blank and helpless, and whispers, “What am I gonna do?”

 

 

Roy drags Elysia's old crib from the attic while Gracia ducks out to borrow some baby formula from a neighbor.

When he returns to the living-room, Ed is still numbly sitting in front of the carton box that Gracia has already dug out of some wardrobe. It's full of baby clothes, all too tiny to possibly could have belonged to Elysia at some point. Too tiny to fit a boy who had been two meters tall and made of metal just a few hours ago.

Alphonse is still only wrapped in Ed's black jacket, which he doesn't seem to mind, but he really should be dressed in something proper.

Heavily, Roy sits down next to Ed and doesn't do anything for a while. Then he starts digging through the box, looking for something of the appropriate size.

He understands Ed's reluctance. Looking at all the tiny dresses and the onesies covered in cartoon duckies makes the situation even more bizarre and brutally real at the same time.

“Here,” Roy says and pulls out pale blue onesie with the face of a white cat stitched onto the chest. He vaguely remembers Elysia wearing it, just days after she had been born. He also remembers Al fawning over her, fawning over small cute things in general.

Ed makes no move to take the offered piece of clothing.

“Fullmetal-” Roy begins and then stops himself. He shouldn't be Ed's commanding officer in this situation.

“Edward,” he tries again, rather unsettled by seeing the boy in such a catatonic state. “Come now, we should dress him.”

But Ed just shakes his head slowly.

“Doesn't make sense,” he says. “Not before he's wearing nappies.”

And then he gives a slightly strangled, hysterical laugh, because of course this is not a scenario he ever had envisioned when promising to take care of his brother.

The sound must have roused Al from his sleep because he gives a small huff and then stretches out his limbs a little, wriggling in Ed's arms. The dark fabric of the jacket falls away, exposing more than just the child's face.

Alphonse Elric, healthy and human, with pink skin and soft flesh, just as Ed had always hoped. Just not quite in this way.

Was this permanent, Roy wondered. It had to be. The suit of armor had been. Ed's limbs were still missing, too.

“I asked it to take anything,” Ed whispers and Roy doesn't think he's really being spoken to. He doesn't even know what it is.

Anything,” Ed repeats vehemently. “My alchemy, my body, my soul, my life. I would've- But it didn't listen. Heck, maybe it just wants my suffering, my guilt. And it took Al, why does it always take Al, this is my fault, he doesn't deserve-”

“Shh,” Roy hushes and carefully places a hand on Ed's shoulder; he's never been particularly good at dealing with crying people. Though Ed is not quite crying, never really is, just keeps everything on the inside, until it poisons him, eats away at his innards like a deadly virus.

“It'll be alright,” he adds, fully aware that it must be a complete and utter lie.

 

 

“You could sleep on the couch,” Gracia offers after she has returned from tucking Elysia in, and her voice is soft in the half-dark of the house.

Roy turns his head from where he is standing in the doorway of the guest bedroom. Edward is curled up on the bed that seems much too big around him, fast asleep after a day of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion. Roy cannot even imagine how draining human transmutation must be, but for Ed the outcome must have had an even greater impact.

The crib is standing at the foot of the bed, close enough for Ed to reach. He'd barely let his little brother out of his sight when he'd been a near indestructible suit of armor. Now that Al is a defenseless baby, Ed's protectiveness knows no boundaries.

“I shouldn't impose-” Roy objects to Gracia's question out of token courtesy, but she just cuts him off with a shake of her head.

“Non-sense,” she replies. “It's obvious you don't want to leave them alone. And frankly, I'll feel a little better with you around as well.”

Because of course Gracia still has Elysia to take care of, still has her part-time job to consider. And if Roy went home now his worries would just keep him awake all night anyway. He might as well stay. In the morning, everything will hopefully be a little easier to understand.

“Thank you,” he tells her and she smiles before going to get some blankets and set up the couch for her guest.

Roy stays behind, his gaze dragged back into the room, and wondering how such small creatures can cause such enormous trouble.

 

 

He wakes up to the sound of a near crash, glass rolling over the tiles, followed by a muffled curse.

Roy's eyes fly open, awake at once. For a split second he is confused about his whereabouts, but then everything returns to him in a flash. He sits up on the thankfully comfortable couch and sees a sliver of yellow light streaming from behind the nearly closed kitchen door and into the hallway.

Edward is standing in the kitchen, awkwardly holding Al to his shoulder with his left arm while trying to stir whatever is brewing in the pot on the stove with the right. It looks like a rather complicated endeavor because Ed is barely tall enough to comfortably reach the counter as it is, but juggling a baby and hot liquid really doesn't seem like the best idea.

“Fuck, fuck, dammit,” he is muttering quietly, clearly overwhelmed.

“Fullmetal,” Roy says, keeping his voice low as not to startle him. “Let me help.”

Ed glances at him over his shoulder, over Al's downy head, and his eyes have a slightly crazed edge to them, like a cornered animal.

So Roy fully steps into the kitchen and gently pushes him away from the stove, taking the wooden spoon he's been using to stir the baby formula.

“He woke up,” Ed explains in a quiet rush, once he's got both arms securely around Alphonse. “He woke up an' he was crying, an' I didn't wanna wake Gracia or Elysia, I've already caused too much trouble, I always- but he was crying an' I didn't know what to do, I don't-”

“It's alright, Edward,” Roy interrupts him, making sure not to sound brusque in any way. “Just go back to your room and I'll bring the bottle up once it's done. Alright?”

Edward looks like he is about to protest, he always wants to protest after all, no matter what Roy says. But then he stills, closes his mouth again and gives a mute nod. Half a minute later he is already treading up the stairs, oh so mindful of his automail leg.

Roy prepares the bottle, glad he had paid close attention to Gracia's instructions the night before. When it's done he makes sure he hasn't left too much of a mess in the kitchen and then follows Ed up to his room.

Ed only has the bedside lamp on, sitting on the edge of the bed. His legs barely even reach the floor, but he's cradling his brother to his chest with more care than Roy has seen some parents handle their children.

“We'll have to wait for it to cool down some more,” Roy says as he sits down next to Ed.

The boy just gives him a wide-eyed stare, no comprehension.

“He was crying,” he repeats his litany from before. “He was crying, I didn't know what to do, I don't know anything about kids, it wasn't his nappies, I checked, but he was crying-”

“He's not crying anymore,” Roy points out calmly. In fact, Al seems to be drowsing against Ed's shoulder.

Ed stares as though he is only realizing so now.

“He was crying,” he says again. “He really was, he-”

“Perhaps he just wanted to be held,” Roy ventures. “Perhaps you calmed him down just like that.”

Gracia had confirmed Roy's suspicion that Al was not simply a baby, but that he looked like a newborn, a couple of days old at best.

Maybe there's still more to it, Roy tries to convince himself. Maybe Alphonse will age more quickly like this, and in a few days or weeks he'll be fifteen, as he is meant to be. Or maybe Edward will find a philosopher's stone after all. Maybe-

Roy reins himself in short. This is not the time for flights of fancy. They need to approach this situation rationally, counting in all factors. Edward needs support now, not what-ifs.

The bottle has cooled down enough and Roy squeezes a few drops of milk out of the sucker, just as Gracia had showed them, before silently handing it to Edward who nudges the rubber against Al's red mouth. Al wriggles away at first, but when he tastes the milk he begins sucking, not eagerly, not like he had woken from hunger in the first place, but as though this were an unexpected midnight snack.

Ed seems to have calmed down a little, simply holding the small child in his arms, watching as it drinks, and Roy is aware that his next question will probably throw him into another anxiety attack.

“I don't want you to feel pressured and it's alright if you haven't thought about it yet,” he says slowly. “But what are you planning to do now?”

Edward sucks in a sharp breath, but doesn't hyperventilate, as though he had already expected that question. Still, there is a long moment of silence before he manages to reply.

“He made me promise,” he whispers and little Alphonse stirs a bit as if knowing that they are talking about him. “When we... before we activated the array. He made me promise that if something went wrong again this time, I wouldn't try to fix it.”

Roy swallows. He has been a soldier for many years, has fought many battles. But he's never met anyone, let alone two young boys, who were both so fearless in the face of death. Not accepting, no, never that, especially Ed was defiant enough to have clawed his way from the edge time and time again. But the brothers' willingness to give up themselves for each other was certainly something to marvel at.

It had worried Roy, many times. The fact that two orphan boys would try to bring their mother back was understandable, even in opposition the law. But the lengths they were willing to go to protect one another, even after that horrible experience, was honestly a little terrifying.

They only had each other left, of course, but considering that they were only one year apart, Edward had almost acted too much of a parent toward Alphonse, as far as Roy could judge. So it was a weird twist of fate that they would end up in this situation.

But that just raised even more questions. Roy had only ever known Edward with the aim of returning his brother to normal. If it weren't for the promise he had made Alphonse, that would still be the constant he'd cling on to. But Al as an armor had been one thing. Al as a baby is quite another. Babies have needs, they deserve safety and steadiness. They deserve a home.

“Are you... planning on going back to Riesembol?” Roy asks carefully, closely watching Ed's reaction.

“I... I thought about it,” the boy admits, licking his lips nervously, “But I can't do that, there's nothing- Winry's always working in Rush Valley now and granny Pinako is getting old. Don't tell her I said that, but it's true. She already had to raise the three of us once, all on her own. I can't ask her to raise Al for a second time, I can't.”

The familiar flood wave of guilt surges up in Roy. After all, he had been the reason why Pinako Rockbell had had to single-handedly raise her granddaughter, as well as the one to make the boys join the military, exposing them to many dangerous situations.

And more than that, soon enough Al would probably grow up to look exactly like the boy he had been back then. And then their neighbors would start asking questions.

“What about your mentor?” Roy ventures and regrets it immediately when he sees Ed flinch.

“No,” he says and quickly shakes his head. “She still hasn't forgiven me for trying human transmutation in the first place. That I failed the second time as well... I can't dump that on her. She's really sick and I already got her involved in too much trouble.”

His lips purse before he adds, “And... and she gets weird around kids. Seeing Al like this, after all she... that wouldn't be fair. That... I think it'd destroy her.”

There is a story there, but Roy knows that it's not his place to ask.

The bottle is still half-full but Alphonse seems to have had enough, turning his head away. A bit of milk spills from his mouth and Edward dabs it away with the corner of the blanket the child is wrapped in.

With an aborted gesture, Roy reminds Edward to let the kid burp to avoid hiccups. Edward does, carefully and a little awkwardly.

In the meanwhile, Roy wrecks his head.

If Maes were still alive the solution would be obvious enough. Maes and Gracia would happily offer their home to the two boys, no matter the circumstances. But Maes is no longer there and Gracia has her hands full with Elysia.

Roy thinks of other families who might be willing, but that only brings up memories of the Tuckers. And the only people he trusts are his men who are all bachelors and live in the dorms. Riza might take pity, but Roy already asks too much of her on a daily basis.

The Armstrongs maybe, he muses. They have a big estate and Alex is certainly enamored with the Elrics. The thought almost makes Roy laugh out loud. He's seen Edward react to Alex's questionable gestures of affections.

“I think I'll stay in Central,” Edward murmurs to himself, unconsciously turning to hide his face against Al who's propped up over his shoulder now. “I got a lot of money saved up. We could get our own place and I could... I could start working at a lab, once... once Al's...”

Once Al's old enough, he probably means to say but cannot bring himself to do so.

Suddenly, Roy finds himself confronted with the mental image of Edward moving into a dingy apartment in Central, trying to raise a baby, sixteen years old and all on his own. Most landlords wouldn't even accept a tenant like that, financial security or not. The only place he would be able to find would be in the more unpleasant districts of the city. As for a job, the same problems still existed. Ed was a genius and would have his recommendations as a State Alchemist, but experiments and the like were often either dangerous or time-sensitive, both of which were not exactly welcome when there was an infant at hand.

Not to mention that, in Central, Ed would be isolated from his support group. There were few people he trusted and fewer still he counted among his friends, but even if he never relied on the adults around him, it was still important to be there for him.

“Non-sense,” Roy hears himself say and is amazed at how self-assured his voice sounds. He doesn't quite know whether he made up his mind just now or whether the decision had already been settled on the moment he saw Fullmetal standing on Gracia's doorstep just a few hours ago.

“I have a spare room,” he tells Edward, focusing on the practicalities of the thing. “You'll be staying with me, of course.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Breakfast the next morning is a strange affair.

Edward is still silent and sullen, made all the more obvious by how he sinks in on himself as Elysia needles him with questions, wanting to know why Alphonse didn't come to visit, and where did that baby come from, and can Ed teach her some new arrays?

Gracia distracts her with blueberry pancakes, but there's only so much she can do.

The pancakes are delicious, yet Roy is barely aware of it. The previous twelve hours seems like a very bizarre dream.

But there Fullmetal is, ignoring his own food and feeding Alphonse another bottle instead. The infant is more lively now, sucking hungrily and making content little noises. Roy doesn't know much about children, but if Alphonse's calm demeanor has always been more nature than nurture, he will be a very pleasant baby indeed.

“I'll be taking Elysia to kindergarten soon,” Gracia hints delicately, “And then I have to work until noon...”

“We'll be out of your hair by then,” Roy assures her, “Though, if you'd be so kind as to write down some sort of list of necessities to buy, important things to consider, and the like.”

Gracia gives him a soft look, but there is some sort of calm calculation in her eyes. She and Maes had always fit together well in that regard.

“Of course,” she says easily, sipping her tea, “You can have Elysia's old stuff, if you want to. We only kept it in storage because... well.”

She and Maes had always wanted a bunch of children. Things hadn't quite turned out like that.

“Thank you,” Roy says and means it. He knows he is always able to keep a cool head, at least on the outside. But Gracia is truly the eye of the storm, perfectly composed as everything around her falls apart.

Roy steals another glance at Ed to gauge his reaction. The boy hadn't exactly accepted Roy's offer but he also hadn't rejected it outright. For now, though, it is their best option. Ed can't possibly bring a baby to the dorms and he can't immediately move to Central either. They can always find a better solution at a later time.

 

After breakfast, Gracia scribbles down the promised list while Roy calls his office. Luckily, it's Fury who answers.

“Tell Lieutenant Hawkeye that I won't be able to make it to work today,” he instructs, his tone brokering no argument, “And before anyone can ask, no, I am not hungover. Something has come up that is... both private and work-related. Also, please have Havoc pick up all of the Elrics' belongings from their dorm room and deliver everything to my house at about two in the afternoon. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Fury answers quickly and a little breathlessly, obviously already worked up, “May I-”

“No questions,” Roy cuts him off, “I'll explain later. And don't let Hawkeye scold you. I'll take full responsibility for this.”

“Yes, sir,” Fury relents, “See you tomorrow, sir.”

Roy hangs up and lets out a long sigh.

“You're really serious about this,” Edward says from behind him. Roy hadn't even known he was there, but Fullmetal is leaning against the threshold of the kitchen, Alphonse still in his arms. Breda had always joked about them being attached at the hips, but this is taking things to a new level.

“You're my subordinate,” Roy points out as though that would justify anything, “And you are a minor.

It's only natural that I offer my help.”

“Pff,” Edward snorts, obviously recalling all the times Roy had sent him right into some dangerous situation. Yet this is different and they both know it. The Fullmetal Alchemist is not cowed by Death. Life, with all its complications, however, is an entirely different thing.

“I don't live far from here,” he tells Edward, “Are you okay to walk?”

“Fine by me,” Ed shrugs and it's not only an agreement to a morning walk, but also a final acceptance of Roy's previous offer.

 

It's a pleasant morning, sunny if still a little on the cool side. Roy carries the bag of necessities that Gracia had quickly packed, containing more bottles and baby formula, some nappies and clothes, and a handful of books on childcare. Roy honestly doesn't know what he'd do without her. She's like the Riza Hawkeye of family affairs.

Ed has Alphonse bundled up in a small blanket and he still keeps a secure hold on him, carefully watching where he steps. Roy slows his own pace so they can walk side by side.

They don't talk. They've never spent much time outside of work with each other, and even then there had always been other people around to act as a buffer. Now they will be sharing living quarters and for the first time Roy can feel the trepidation creep up on him, slowly realizing that he might be in over his head.

But what's done it done and he'll treat this like just another mission. He survived Ishval, and he can survive this. For now, he'd just concentrate on every little step, both literally and figuratively.

“Here we are,” Roy announces when they have reached his modest but well-to-do house, and he pushes open the gate to the front yard. Ed looks up, only now properly paying attention to where they have ended up.

“Fancy neighborhood,” he comments wryly, but there is no real judgment in his voice, only vague exhaustion.

“It's very calm here,” Roy says conversationally as they make their way down the garden path and to the entrance, “The people are friendly.”

Perfect for raising children, one of his neighbors had told him when he had first moved in, but Roy refrains from repeating that here.

He unlocks the door and steps in. Edward follows, strangely hesitant.

“I'll give you a quick tour, show you where everything is,” Roy says, hoping to make him feel more at ease. The boy has had his whole life turned on its head more times that he could keep track off, and now he doesn't even have the comfort of his brother. Not properly, anyway.

“There's the living-room,” Roy points to the right, “You can help yourself to my books and music, if you want. Across from it is the kitchen. I'm afraid I'm not much of a cook, so I only have the basics at hand. Here's the broom closet, and a small bathroom. Out back there is a small yard. I don't use it much, it's mostly just a strip of grass and a meager tree.”

Mrs. Reagan had come by to clean yesterday, so everything is tidy. Not that Roy spends enough time here to ever make much of a mess. He makes sure that Ed is still following him and then proceeds upstairs.

“This is my bedroom,” he says, pointing to the door, but not bothering to open it, “And my study next to it. More books for you, if you want, but please don't touch the papers on the desk. I can barely keep track of them such as it is. Here's the main bathroom, shower, tub, whatever you need.”

They've reached the last room then, the guest room, only that so far Roy has never really had a guest over. It's a plain bedroom, white walls, blue curtains and bedding. The bed is situated in the middle to make the room look more furbished, even though the rest of the furniture merely consists of a bedside table, a set of drawers, and a lone chair.

He'll have to get Ed a desk at some point, he thinks idly, and maybe an armchair for reading. The crib will fit nicely into the corner on the other side of the bed, once they get it here.

He realizes that Edward hasn't said anything at all since they entered the house, so now he turns towards him expectantly. The boy is looking around the room, listless, as though not really registering anything.

Roy clears his throat, strangely uncomfortable in his own home.

“We can move the furniture around, if you want to,” he offers, going for casual and setting Gracia's bag on the chair, “Change the décor.”

“No, it's alright,” Ed mutters and sits down on the bed, placing Alphonse in the middle of the duvet and arranging it around him so he can't roll off the mattress.

Of course, the Elrics have been living on the road and in the military barracks for years. Ed probably doesn't give a crap about interior design as long as there is a flat surface to sleep on.

“Is there anything else you need for now?” Roy inquires, “Food? An extra pillow? Anything?”

He could kick himself. They've just eaten, after all, and there are three pillows neatly arranged against the headboard.

When he finally answers, Edward doesn't even look up.

“I just...,” he says, eyes still on Alphonse, “I just want to think for a while.”

“Of course,” Roy nods in understanding and quickly backs out of the room, “I'll leave you alone. Get some more rest.”

He closes the door behind himself, closes his eyes, and doesn't know what to do with himself.

 

A look through the pantry reveals that there is indeed little food left, so Roy decides that he'll clear his head by running a few errands. He contemplates whether to tell Ed where he'll be going, but then just leaves a note on the kitchen table. It shouldn't take more than an hour, after all, and Ed had looked ready to hole himself up in his room for the rest of the day.

He picks up more baby formula and then makes a grocery run, vegetables and fruit, some meat. Come evening, Ed's hunger will have won out on his exhaustion and then he'll be ravenous.

Roy's already halfway on his way back home when he finds himself crossing a road and standing in front of a toy shop that he had never paid attention to before. There are building blocks made of painted wood sitting in the shopping window, dolls in frilly dresses, trains and cars and tin soldiers.

There is also a lone teddy bear propped up against one of the dolls, creme-colored fur and gleaming yellow eyes.

Gracia hadn't sent any toys home with them, had she? Probably because Elysia still played with most of them. Before he's even really thought about it, he has entered the shop.

An elderly woman is stooped over one of the display tables, arranging the picture books there. When she hears the door, chime though, she looks up.

“Good morning,” she greets pleasantly, subtly eyeing his appearance.

Not for the first time today Roy is reminded of what he must look like. Still in his uniform from the day before, unshaven, hair brushed back with his fingers, circles under his eyes because he barely slept the night before, but a bag of shopping in his hand and now deciding to purchase a toy. It's probably a good thing that he's usually never in town this time of day, meaning that no one had really recognized him.

“Would you like to have a look around or do you have something particular in mind?” the woman prods when Roy fails to return her greeting.

“Ah, yes, of course,” he gives himself a slight shake, “There's a stuffed bear in the window and...”

He trails off, not knowing how to finish. But the woman is already bustling over to the display in the window and plucking up the bear.

“This one?” she makes sure although there was no other, and Roy nods his affirmation.

“For your kid?” she asks, a happy twinkle in her eye, as she makes her way behind the counter.

Mutely, Roy shakes his head.

“For a friend,” he manages finally, and it's close enough to the truth.

She rings up the price and Roy fumbles his money out of his wallet with one hand, places it in front of her.

“Would you like me to tie a bow around its neck?” she asks then and indicates towards the variety of ribbons off to the side, all sorts of colors and patterns.

“Yes,” Roy decides spontaneously, “A red one, please.”

He watches as her wrinkled hands select a length of red ribbon and deftly tie it around the teddy.

“There you go,” she smiles.

There is a tiny silver bell attached to the ribbon and it chimes gently as the teddy is passed over the counter. The fur is incredibly soft against Roy's skin.

“Thank you,” Roy tells her and bids her goodbye.

 

When he returns, there's still no sign of Edward so Roy decides to take a quick shower. He still has some time before Havoc is meant to show up, but he doesn't want to be seen like this by one of his men.

So he shaves, combs his hair, and selects some casual clothes before going to put away the food he bought. He's just finished when he hears someone coming down the stairs.

“I think he's hungry,” Ed says by way of explanation, Alphonse once more nestled in his arms, “Where do you keep your pots?”

“It's fine, I can do it,” Roy assures him, motioning for him to sit down. Ed looks ready to protest, but then just shuts his mouth and grabs one of the chairs, watching as Roy begins to prepare a bottle.

“Havoc will be bringing over your things in a while,” he says with a look on the clock, “He'll probably have questions. What do you want me to tell him?”

Edward looks surprised at the question, most likely not having expected that Roy would ask in the first place. But this is not about military matters. Roy doesn't get to decide.

“Can you,” Ed licks his lips nervously, “Can you not tell them for now? I don't... I don't even know what to tell everyone, I don't want anybody to see us like this.”

He's pulling Alphonse closer again, as if to protect him from the outside world.

Roy gives a curt nod, “Of course. But keep in mind that we'll have to tell them eventually. They are curious buggers and, more than that, they care for you and your brother.”

Surprise once more, and Ed ducks his head.

“Yeah,” he says softly, “Yeah, I know that. Just... my head's not on right at the moment.”

That much is obvious enough. For all the short jokes Roy had cracked over the years, Edward had always seemed larger than life. Now, he appears disconcertingly diminished, as though a fire had gone out in him.

He'll overcome this, Roy tells himself. He'll overcome this just as he has overcome everything else. Fullmetal is not daunted quite so easily.

And yet he cannot help but compare Edward as he is now to the ten-year-old boy he had been all those years ago when Roy had first met him. He'd been so small then, half of him missing, but still brimming with defiance and determination.

He needs time, Roy reminds himself as he fills the formula into the bottle. Time and reassurance.

Roy would try to give him both.

 

When the doorbell rings, Ed quickly disappears upstairs, hiding himself and Al away in his room.

Roy, however, steels himself and casually strolls into the hallway, opening the door.

“G'd afternoon, sir,” Havoc greets him around the cigarette that is pinched between his lips.

“Havoc,” Roy replies pleasantly, enduring the critical eyes the other man runs over him, doubtlessly noting the civilian clothing and the lingering tiredness on his face.

“I believe you have something for me?” he says, motioning towards the battered suitcase Havoc is holding.

“Right,” Havoc says and hands it over. It is unexpectedly light.

“I asked you to clear out their room,” Roy reminds, cocking an eyebrow.

Havoc gives a shrug and the cigarette in the corner of his mouth tilts up right along with it.

“'s everything there was, sir,” he replies, “Wasn't much. Coupla books, a few papers, toiletries. Everything else was already in the suitcase.”

Roy should have expected as much. As an armor Alphonse hadn't needed much, and Edward himself had never seemed the kind to care for worldly possessions. He wore the same clothes everyday and, whenever they got dirty or destroyed, he just transmuted them back into their original state.

“Very well,” Roy says with half a mind to dismiss Havoc, but the other man gives him a searching look.

“Everything alright, sir?” he asks and his tone is still casual, but there is a hint of concern creeping into his voice, “Breda and Fury got kind of worried when you called. Did the Elrics get in trouble again?”

Roy takes a steadying breath and closes his eyes. When he opens them again, he can speak the half-truth without faltering, “Something has indeed happened, but both Elrics are unharmed. For the time being, I have offered them a place to stay, so I can keep an eye on them.”

That's all he can say so far. He doesn't want to open more room for questions before he can offer any kind of proper answer.

“I'll explain everything tomorrow,” he repeats what he has already told Fury, “For now I have another errand for you to run.”

Havoc frowns, but quietly awaits instructions.

“Please drive by Gracia Hughes. She knows to expect you,” Roy tells him, “There's some stuff you need to deliver here. Not everything might fit into the car, but try.”

Havoc is obviously still skeptical, but just gives a swift salute and then marches back to the car. Roy doesn't watch him leave.

 

Havoc is back little under an hour later. Roy can hear the car drive up, but doesn't wait for him to ring the bell, simply joining him outside.

“I'll help you carry everything inside,” he says easily, even as Havoc is throwing him very obvious looks of confusion.

“Had to take apart the crib so it could fit,” Havoc explains, his voice slightly strangled as Roy is already pulling the single parts from the backseat, “I can help you set it back up.”

“That won't be necessary,” Roy brushes him off calmly, walking back to the house, “Just bring everything into the living-room.”

“Yes, sir,” Havoc relents, but it's followed by a muttered curse.

It takes them barely ten minutes to empty the car. Havoc keeps throwing around searching glances whenever they step into the house, probably hoping to find signs of Ed and Al, or any clue of what is going on. Roy doesn't comment on it.

“That will be all then,” he says once they are done, “Thank you for your help. You can report back to Lieutenant Hawkeye. And please give her my sincere apologies for today.”

He's laying it on a little thick, he knows, but Roy's charm doesn't only work on women and Havoc already seems a little woozy.

“I really hope you have a good explanation for all this,” Havoc mutters. With a shake of his head, he gets into the car and kicks up the engine.

With the last box in his hand, Roy returns into the house and then surveys all that Gracia has sent them. There is the crib, of course, taken apart into three neat parts, as well as a highchair and a pram. Everything else is put away into helpfully labeled carton boxes. Clothes age 0 – 6 months. 7 – 12 months. One of the boxes contains books on parenting and childcare as well as picture books. Then there is a variety of knickknacks, tiny spoons and bowls, bibs, a very soft brush.

They are all things that babies need. It's just hard to reconcile the fact that now Alphonse Elric will need them, too.

As always, Roy distracts himself with action. He grabs the pieces of the crib and carries them upstairs, lightly kicking against the door of the guestroom in lieu of a knock.

“Is he gone?” Ed asks warily as he opens the door just a crack.

“Yes,” Roy nods and lifts the cargo, “Are you going to help me set this up?”

 

It doesn't take long to screw the crib back together and Roy could easily have done it on his own, but he thinks it's good for Edward to do something with his hands. They push the tiny bed up against the wall and then carry up the rest of the boxes, digging through them until they find the mattress and the rest of the bedding.

Once that is done, Edward places the baby in the crib. Alphonse wriggles around a little and stretches his limbs contentedly. He can't do much yet. His eyes are still mostly unfocused, his tiny hands cannot grip anything. The noises he makes are mostly accidental. Roy hasn't even heard him cry so far and he had been under the impression that that was what babies mostly did.

He busies himself with sorting the baby clothes into the drawer, roughly going by size. Because Al might be tiny now, but children grow quickly.

In the meanwhile, Ed sits on the bed, listlessly going through one of Gracia's books. Most of them carried inane title such as All about your Baby or What to Expect When You're Expecting. It was no surprise that Ed had gone for the slightly more scientific sounding The Biology of Babies.

He's skimming a page halfway through the book, when he makes a surprised noise. Roy glances at him.

“Something the matter?” he asks, though of course everything it the matter at the moment.

Edward takes a while to reply, keeping his eyes on the pages and studiously not looking at Roy.

“It's just...,” he says and trails of for a moment, “It says here that most babies are born with blue eyes.”

“Yes?” Roy confirms; he'd already heard that somewhere else.

“I'd been wondering,” Ed hedges, licks his lips, “Because... Al's eyes are blue now. But they... they used to be grayish green. Like mom's. So...”

With sudden clarity, Roy realizes that he has never even seen a photograph of Alphonse's Elric as he had once been. It seems like an unforgivable oversight. These boys have been his protegees for over five years now. How can he not know what Alphonse used to look like?

Instead of on his own guilt, he focuses once more on how shocked Edward must be. When they had attempted the human transmutation, they had done so in hope of their terrible journey finally coming to an end. Ed must have prayed to the gods he didn't believe in that he would finally be able to look his brother in the eye again. But instead of the familiar green that reminded him of their mother, he got clouded baby blues.

He must have felt cheated in so many different ways.

But Roy doesn't say anything. He wipes a hand over his face and pulls out his pocket watch.

It's still only four in the afternoon. Had it really been less than a day ago that Edward had appeared on Gracia's doorstep? It seemed like an eternity had passed already.

In that moment, Edward's stomach decides to give a loud, demanding growl. Roy allows himself a smile.

“Hungry?” he asks, relieved that his shopping spree has prepared him for this at least.

There's something hesitant on Ed's face then, something defiant, as though he were about to deny himself even this basic need, flagellating himself for his sins.

But then he steels his gaze.

“Starving,” he counters haughtily and Roy thinks that maybe not all is lost yet.

 

 

Chapter Text

When he arrives at his office the next morning, his men are already waiting for him like ducks hoping for some bread. Even Hawkeye seems mildly curious, but it's hidden under her usual deadpan look. No matter what confusing news Havoc had carried in the day before, she probably thinks that Roy was skipping work out of laziness again.

“Gentlemen,” he greets, an ironic lilt to his tone, before offering Hawkeye a more gracious, “Lieutenant.”

“Sir,” they all answer, though no one bothers to salute. Roy had expected them to be dying of curiosity, of course, but now he still isn't quite prepared for the conversation.

“You promised us answers,” Fury speaks up daringly, and then hastily adds another, “Sir.”

“That's true,” Roy admits and runs a hand through his hair, stalling.

“So?” Havoc urges, rolling his cigarette between his lips in a nervous manner, “C'mon, sir, we know there's something going on. Something involving the Elrics and... and, apparently, babies.”

He says it with a light shudder and Roy can't even fault him for that.

“Be honest, sir,” Breda says, a serious frown set on is face, “Did you get the boss pregnant?”

Before Roy can even splutter, Hawkeye has slapped Breda across the back of the head.

“Sir,” she says, leveling Roy with a hard stare, “It's bad enough that you missed out on work. But because of all these rumors, the men didn't get anything done either. I would hate for today to be a repetition of yesterday.”

Roy sighs. She is right, of course. They are all right. Well. Except for Breda. But he does owe them an explanation.

“Fine,” he gives in, “But be aware that there are some details that I am missing as well.”

Over breakfast, he and Edward had had a brief discussion about what to tell the team. That didn't mean that Fullmetal had been able or willing to disclose all of his thoughts. But they had agreed that it was for the best to inform the others about what was going on. After all, their curiosity would only drive them to try and figure it out on their own anyway.

So Roy purses his lips for a moment, thoughtful. Then he dives right in.

“Yesterday afternoon the Elrics attempted human transmutation once more to return Alphonse to his original state.”

Everybody stiffens at that revelation and there is a small gasp from Fury, but Roy just goes on, heedless.

“Things went wrong, however. No one got hurt,” he adds quickly when he sees them blanch, “While Alphonse is back in his rightful body, he... regressed. Physically and mentally. To make it simple, he is now a baby.”

Everyone is staring at him as though waiting for the punchline, hoping this were just another of his insane excuses for skipping out on work. Roy really wishes it were.

“What about Edward?” Hawkeye asks then and Roy considers for a moment.

“He is shaken, but otherwise unharmed,” he says, “I understand that human transmutation is a rather traumatizing experience and that old memories resurfaced. He also blames himself for Alphonse's condition. Again.”

“So they are staying with you now?” Falman wants to know hesitantly, seemingly torn between admiration and horror.

“For the time being, yes,” Roy nods, “Until we come up with a better plan.”

“But,” Havoc says slowly, “This isn't permanent, right? Ed's gonna make Al alright again? Or at least put him back in the armor?”

Admittedly, Roy has wondered about that as well. Wondered which fate would be crueler – having your life re-set to zero and starting again but under different circumstances, or going back to living as an armor, unable to taste, feel, age.

The question is moot, though.

“Fullmetal will not be searching for a cure,” Roy answers and this, finally, is the thing that truly floors everyone.

“The risk is too big,” he says by way of explanation, “No one got hurt this time. In a way, we... might have lost Alphonse. But this could be a second chance for him. For both of them, really.”

“But the boss is a kid,” Breda reminds them all of what they sometimes tend to forget, “Is he gonna raise Alphonse? How's that even gonna work?”

“That,” Roy says and finally allows himself to smirk, “Is what we are here for.”

 

Ed and Al had attempted the transmutation in an empty warehouse by the docks.

Roy sends Havoc to get rid of the evidence. It won't do for anyone to come across the complicated array. If someone were to recognize it for what it is, it might be traced back to Edward and get him in trouble. Or someone might use it for their own gain.

He has Falman make some changes in the military records while Breda and Hawkeye draw up some documents. Then he is forced to catch up on his own paperwork.

He gets through it quickly enough. Although his thoughts are tempted to stray toward the matter of the Elrics, it is far easier to focus on the boring reports and memos in front of him, for once a welcome routine.

Around noon, Fury brings him a sandwich so he can work through his break. Hawkeye looks pleased.

Eventually, Havoc reports back.

“Got rid of the circle, sir,” he says, “The armor was already gone, just like you suspected.”

“Good work,” Roy says and dismisses him. Then he turns back to his papers.

Due to his dedication or maybe because she doesn't want Edward to be without supervision for too long, Hawkeye is lenient with him and doesn't make him stay overtime. For once in his life, Roy is tempted to work long hours because he kind of dreads going home.

His house had always been his safe haven, his quiet place where work couldn't really touch him. Now, he's got the Fullmetal Alchemist waiting for him. It's a strange thought.

When Havoc offers to get the car, Roy waves him off. A leisured walk might just be the thing to clear his head and mentally prepare him for what awaits him once he steps over the threshold.

The early evening is pleasant enough, the air quite brisk in that manner that burns with every inhale, like smokeless tobacco. He tries to keep his strides moderate, makes a point of enjoying the scenery, but the walk still takes less than half an hour. Soon enough he stands before his front door, lets out a sigh, and turns the key in the lock.

He's tempted to call out 'I'm home' because he doesn't know how trigger-happy a surprised Fullmetal Alchemist might be, but there are several things stopping him. Firstly, he has never had to announce his presence in his own house and doing so now feels strange. Secondly, he thinks that Edward might not take kindly to it, likely to detect some imagined sarcasm in Roy's tone. And thirdly, after Breda's comment today, he really doesn't feel like playing into this whole uncomfortable domesticity.

So he just lets the door fall shut a little more loudly than necessary and shrugs out of his coat. He peers into the kitchen and then the living-room, and then makes his way upstairs where he knocks on the door of the guestroom. There's no answer and Roy stills for a moment, contemplating, before just pushing down the handle anyway.

Sure enough, Edward is lying on his stomach on top of the bed, a book open in front of him and not even looking up.

“Good afternoon, Fullmetal,” Roy says, cocking an eyebrow. It's not like he isn't used to Ed ignoring him, but right now it doesn't even feel like the boy is doing it on purpose. And indeed, he still doesn't react.

“Can I interest you in some pasta for dinner?” Roy asks hoping that the mention of food with rouse the boy from his lecture. It does indeed, but not in the expected way.

“Did you know that children under one year are not allowed to eat honey?” Edward asks.

Roy just blinks, “What?”

“Apparently, their immune system can't handle it or something,” Edward explains, staring down at the pages, “I would've never known that. I could've killed Al.”

There's that hint of hysteria in his voice again and Roy can tell that this is about more than just honey.

“But now you do know,” he says in calm conviction, “And that's what the books are for. Or me and Gracia, for that matter.”

That, at least, makes Edward scoff, even as he rolls off the bed and walks over to the crib.

“You don't know shit about children,” he huffs and Roy quirks an eyebrow, sending a meaningful glance at the vaguely disgruntled baby now in his arms, “I know that you shouldn't use swear words in front of them.”

Then again, Alphonse had never picked up his brother's potty mouth before. Maybe they'd be lucky this time around as well.

“Also,” he adds, “Just like you, I am willing to learn.”

“Great,” Edward says and walks over to unceremoniously deposit Alphonse in Roy's arms, “Then you can change his diaper.”

Roy is so stunned that it takes him a moment to realize that this is the first time Edward has let him hold Al. He hadn't even relinquished the baby to Gracia, obviously unwilling to part with it even for a moment.

Luckily, Roy is Elysia's godfather, though, and Maes had given him plenty of opportunities to learn how to properly hold a small child. So he carefully supports the head, looking down at the small round face.

So far, he hadn't been able to get a closer look at the kid, not like this, not with Ed constantly hovering like an overprotective lioness around her cub.

“Why don't you go and boil some water in the meanwhile,” he tells Edward, “And I'll take care of this.”

Ed, however, is still clearly reluctant to leave them alone. He stands by the doorway and watches as Roy spreads out the old blanket they've been using as a drop-cloth over the duvet and carefully places Alphonse on top of it. Finally, though, he seems to have convinced himself that even Roy cannot really mess this up, and disappears downstairs.

Roy takes his time, familiarizing himself with the nappies and the baby powder, wanting to give Al a few moments to get used to him, too.

By now, Al is sniffing slightly, obviously not happy with the mess in his diaper, which luckily turns out to be not much of a mess at all. So instead of cringing, Roy studies the child's face, wondering whether – if he had known Alphonse before – he would be able to recognize traces on him in the sum of his features. Wondering whether Edward does.

As it is, though, he only sees a button nose, a chubby chin, plump cheeks. Al's eyes are dark blue, but his brows and the tuft of hair on his head so fair that it almost seems white. He's making content little sucking noises now and his gaze is vaguely focused on Roy now.

“Hello, Alphonse,” Roy says with a smile as he fastens the onesie again, “Quite the situation you Elrics have gotten yourself into, hm?”

Al just smacks his lips in response.

“So it seems we'll be stuck with each other for a little while longer,” Roy adds as he picks Al up again.

Then he sighs, “Let's make sure your brother doesn't burn down the kitchen.”

 

The kitchen hasn't yet died in a horrible inferno and a pot is sitting on the stove, water not quite boiling yet.

Ed, however, is leaning against the counter, closely inspecting a familiar-looking teddy bear. Yesterday, Roy had forgotten all about it.
“I found this in the living room,” Ed says thoughtfully, “Was it Elysia's?”

“No,” Roy replies, Alphonse nestled into the crook of his arm, “I saw it in a shopping window yesterday. Bought it on a whim.”

“Al likes cute stuff,” Ed says quietly, turning the bear over in his hands, fingers caressing the soft fur, “He was always good with... with animals and kids and people.”

He doesn't say more than that, but he doesn't have to. It should have been me, he's probably thinking. Why didn't it change me?

“He still is,” Roy points out, hoping to carry them to safer grounds, “Not fuzzy at all. Unlike someone else I know.”

Ed just sends him a glare. Then he huffs lightly.

“Mom always said the same thing,” he discloses, choosing to concentrate on the teddy, “I was always crying, always wanted attention. As soon as I could crawl, I followed her everywhere. I wouldn't leave her alone for even a minute.”

Yes, Roy had already noticed that Ed had trouble with the idea of being left on his own.

“But then she had Al,” Ed says and a crooked grin spreads over his face, “She said that as soon as I laid eyes on him, I completely switched into big brother mode. All I wanted was to watch him and play with him, even though he was still too little to really do much of anything.”

“Well, then,” Roy says smoothly and hands him the baby, “You better keep doing what you do best.”

“Like getting on your nerves?” Ed teases, even as he maneuvers Al and the teddy around in his arms so they both comfortably fit.

Roy sighs, “If it makes you happy.”

“Nah,” Ed chuckles, “But I'm pretty sure it was in my job description.”

“It really wasn't,” Roy tells him as he starts going through the cabinets in search of ingredients. He honestly needs to cook more often if he can barely tell where he even keeps everything.

“No no, just ask Lieutenant Hawkeye,” Ed insists, “It was in the small-print. You never read the small-print, do you? That's why you're so crap at paperwork-”

“Says the one who once handed in a report with his name misspelled three times. In three different ways.”

“I was concussed, okay,” Ed huffs, “I got hit by some debris-”

“Because you decided to blow up the courthouse in Emrah,” Roy reminds him, adding salt to the water and then emptying a packet of pasta into it.

“The entire legal system there was totally corrupt!”

“It doesn't get any less corrupt by destroying public property.”

“You're just saying that because you have to sit on your ass all day and don't get to blow up crap anymore.”

“Language,” Roy sighs and shakes his head, “There are minors present.”

“Hey!”

This was going to be a long, rocky road.

 

 

Chapter Text

Roy had told Ed to come in that afternoon. Gracia would have been more than willing to watch over Al, but of course Ed had chosen to just take his little brother along with him.

Maybe it's for the best. The sooner Ed gets used to being seen with the baby, the better.

Roy had instructed his men to not ask Ed any questions, not pressure him in any manner. They obey, but in the same manner that dogs would sit by the dinner table without outright begging for scraps. As usual, Hawkeye keeps them at bay, ushers Edward into Roy's office, and then closes the door.

Roy keeps his face composed as he waits for the déjà vu to pass. Though it's not quite a déjà vu, not really. Edward has been in his office countless of times over the years, in various states of outrage, exhaustion, and dishevelment, usually in this very coat with this very braid.

But usually Alphonse had been with him, tall and seemingly intimidating, a steely shadow at his brother's back, and Roy had never quite known who was protecting who at any given moment. Now, though, Al is wrapped in a cotton blanket, snuggled in deep as protection against the brisk wind today.

Ed's face had been different, too, his stance, his every breath, really. He keeps his shoulders hunched as though their breadth might offer additional protection against whatever danger or unpleasantness lay ahead. His arms, usually swinging loosely at his sides in a vain attempt to take up more space, make himself appear taller, bigger, deadlier, are holding on the the child, with a new kind of certainty, used to the now almost familiar weight, knowing how to handle it.

It was no surprise. Ed had mastered to maneuver automail within only a year whereas others took three. Learning how to handle a baby, his brother, was probably like teaching a fish how to swim.

“We've drawn up a birth certificate,” Roy says and slides the paper across his desk. Edward shuffles closer, takes a cautious look and then jerks back immediately.

“That lists me as his father!” he snaps, looking scandalized and also somewhat scared.

“Yes,” Roy confirms, “We decided to leave a blank for the mother. There are several reasons for that. The story we'll be going with – and I know you won't like it – is that you got some girl pregnant.”

They hadn't discussed it before, not in such detail, but this is the most credible story the team could come up with on such a short notice. Though Breda had made another aborted joke about alchemic freak accidents, Edward's fatherhood and Roy's potential involvement in the matter. Roy hadn't quite heard the punchline over Havoc choking on his unlit cigarette and Hawkeye firing a warning shot at Breda.

Edward makes a sound of protest, but Roy just keeps going, “She can't take care of it, but you decided to take responsibility. The birth also coincides with your brother's unfortunate death-”

Another noise, this one more muffled, but also more anguished.

“So he's become namesake to your newborn son,” he finishes and gives Edward a level look, “Understood?”

“Why do I have to be the parent?” Edward chokes out, “Why can't I just-”

“I want you to be able to take paternity leave,” Roy explains calmly, “You'll still be on the payroll of the military, still have access to the library and medical facilities. But you won't be sent on missions and exposed to any danger. That should buy you a couple of months.”

“What for?” Edward grouches. He doubtlessly thinks that Roy still expects him to once more start searching for a cure, a miracle, a philosopher's stone.

“So that you have time to get used to the situation,” Roy says instead and leans back in his chair, “You're Alphonse's guardian now, his parent. And raising a child is a full-time job, as I've been told.”

Since Alphonse was never officially enlisted with the military, the cause of his supposed death is irrelevant, but should anyone care to ask after all, the sickness that wasted Trisha Elric might as well be hereditary, though the thought leaves a bitter taste in Roy's mouth.

Instead of a funeral, the new records state that Alphonse was cremated. The idea of a tombstone bearing his name, even if the grave would be empty, seems just too macabre.

Falman has officially changed Edward's housing records, moving him out of the dorms, citing personal reasons. At some point, someone might realize that, according to the paperwork, the Fullmetal Alchemist is now cohabiting with the Flame Alchemist, and that might raise some questions, but here the real reason might just be answer enough. After the shock of losing his brother and suddenly having to raise a child on his own, Roy decided to take some responsibility for his subordinate. It's the least he can do.

“Please sign here,” Roy says and offers a pen. Edward hesitates for a very long moment, still staring down at the fake birth certificate.

Then Alphonse gives a soft mewl and the sound seems to rouse Ed from his mental breakdown. He squares his shoulders, grabs the pen and messily sets his signature on the paper.

“Congratulations, Fullmetal,” Roy allows himself to joke dryly, pulling the document back to himself, “It's a boy.”

“Bastard,” Ed glares. There's a spark in his eyes and Roy, for one, feels quite relieved.

 

“Just one look,” Breda insists, curiously leaning closer, “Please.”

“No,” Ed refuses, his back turned and huddled in a corner, “Go away.”

“Come on, boss,” Havoc grins, “It's not like Breda's gonna eat him.”

A meaningful glance towards Breda's belly, “Probably.”

“Gentlemen,” Roy warns calmly. So calmly, in fact, that everyone immediately backs up.

Alphonse had started crying the moment they stepped back into the outer office. Roy was convinced it had something today with seeing Havoc's weird face, but Ed had insisted that the child was hungry. Surprisingly, Fullmetal had come prepared, a bottle and some formula stuffed into his enormous coat pockets.

Fury, luckily familiar with all aspects of child-rearing due to his four very fertile sisters, had volunteered to go prepare the bottle, and now comes bustling back in, as though there were no greater emergency than a baby's hunger.

“Come now, Edward,” Roy nudges him, “Sit down and feed him.”

Edward grumbles unhappily but accepts the chair Roy has pulled out for him. Like this, Ed is forced to at least partially unwrap Al from his blanket, finally revealing him to the rest of the team, so Roy stands at his shoulder, arms crossed, reminding the others not to get too close.

Fury makes a sound of adoration that no grown men should ever be able to produce, Hawkeye has that 'I'm not smiling, you're smiling' look in her eyes, and Falman looks somewhat melty. Breda and Havoc just carry twin expressions of morbid curiosity.

“Hey, Jean,” Breda nudges him, “Maybe it's a good thing you never get laid. Imagine ending up with one of those.”

Havoc chokes slightly and takes a step back as though babies were catching.

Goodness gracious, Roy thinks. He's been in battle with these men, has trusted them with his life. How on earth could they behave like twelve-year-old boys?

Then again, he muses, watching as Ed ignores everyone else and starts feeding Alphonse, a week ago the mere thought would probably have made Roy scream as well.

 

“Are you sure about this, sir?” Hawkeye asks after Ed and Al have left again and she accepts another set of signed reports from him.

The question comes out of the blue, but Roy has a suspicion where this might be going.

“Whatever are you talking about, Lieutenant?” he feigns obliviousness.

“I had a friend once,” she just continues without even blinking, “Emma. We started out as cadets together. She was smart, ambitious. Almost as good a shot as me. Then she got herself pregnant.”

Roy just watches her, doesn't say anything, waiting to see what point she is trying to make.

“It was an accident, really, but she always took responsibility for her mistakes,” Riza says, no judgment in her voice but no great sympathy either, “So she quit her training, moved back in with her parents, and decided to raise the child on her own. But she always wanted to re-enlist one day.”

“Did she ever do that?”

“No,” Riza shakes her head slightly, “She's married now, has two more children. Perfectly happy, as far as I can tell.”

Roy's brow wrinkles slightly, “Is that an appeal to not divide my attention and instead keep my goals in mind?”

“If you wish to take it that way,” she says, “Or maybe I just want you to know how easy it is to get attached to a certain life style.”

Roy's frown deepens.

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” he tells her anyway, turning back to his papers, “Dismissed.”

 

“Perfectly healthy,” Doctor Neuss declares with a satisfied now, “But I'm no pediatrician, so I advise you to get the regular check-ups with my colleague Doctor Truman.”

The old man was Roy's personal physician, competent, trust-worthy and – most of all – perceptive. He had immediately noticed Ed's reluctance to relinquish the child to a complete stranger, so the doctor had taken it in stride and done most of the examination with Alphonse still in Edward's hold.

Now, after all the excitement, the baby is getting a little grumpy again, making unhappy noises and wriggling around.

“You should take him upstairs,” Roy tells Ed, “He's had a long day.”

Ed nods, turns away, remembers his manners in time to thank Doctor Neuss, and then makes his way into the hallway and up the stairs.

“Thank you for coming on such a short notice, Doctor,” Roy tells the man as he accompanies him to the front door, “I truly appreciate it.”

“No worries, no worries,” Doctor Neuss waves him off, pushing his wire-rim glasses up his crooked nose, “That's what I'm here for. But as I said, for future appointments you best seek out Doctor Truman. She has a way with children and, uh, unusual situations.”

He is probably referring to teen pregnancies and children born out of wed-lock, not to body-less alchemists being turned into children and raised by their underage brothers, but Roy just gives a gracious smile.

“While the child is alright, I admit to being worried about the young father,” Doctor Neuss adds, fingers already closed around the door handle, “I can't tell without a closer examination, of course, but he seems to be suffering from severe levels of stress.”

“Well,” Roy muses wryly, “He's had a lot to be stressed about, between being a state alchemist and now a father.”

“You should keep an eye on that,” Doctor Neuss warns him, “See that he eats and sleeps regularly. Make sure that he takes the time to relax, especially now with the child around he might be likely to not do that himself. And let him know that there is always someone he can talk to.”

That, Roy thinks, might actually be the most daunting task. Giving Edward a place to stay is one thing. Changing diapers and faking documents is done easily enough as well. But offering emotional and psychological support to someone as complicated and complex as the Fullmetal Alchemist, that is a task that even Roy Mustang feels wholly unprepared for, especially in the long run.

“I will,” Roy promises, closes the door behind the man, and lets his forehead fall against the cool glass, all the while wondering who the hell was going to support him.

 

 

Chapter Text

On Thursday, Gracia and Elysia come over for dinner. Allegedly, Gracia wants to help make the house baby-proof, but Roy suspects she just wants to ensure that he and Ed haven't gotten close to killing each other yet.

But she's also bringing quiche, so Roy is alright with that.

“How are you?” she asks quietly when he leads her into the kitchen. Elysia has already run off to explore the house, since it's her first time here.

“Better than expected,” Roy admits, “I was worried about Edward at first, but he seems to have adapted to the situation as well as can be expected. We sorted out the legal matters yesterday.”

“It's still such as shock,” Gracia says, looking positively heart-broken. Despite handling the entire mess with remarkable capability, she had still been very fond of the Elrics. To see them uprooted once more and in such a manner was hard on her, too.

“I'm just thankful for your help,” Roy tells her sincerely, “A couple of days ago, I didn't even know how to change a diaper. Now I'm getting quite good at it, if I dare say so myself.”

At that, Gracia seems slightly surprised.

“Edward lets you take care of Alphonse?” she asks.

“Not much, admittedly,” Roy says, “Diaper duty is probably unpleasant enough to just pass it on to me. I've been allowed to feed him a bottle twice so far. And just this morning I got to hold him because Edward couldn't quite reach the top shelf and had to climb the counter. Apparently, that was less embarrassing than just asking me to hand him a plate.”

“Still,” Gracia hums contemplatively, but doesn't say anything more than that.

She puts the quiche she's prepared into the oven and then demands that he lead her around the house so that she may check for potential dangers. Some of them are obvious enough and Roy had already considered them himself. Others, however, seem rather outrageous.

“Once he starts to crawl, you'll have to do something about the stairs, of course,” Gracia says in the hallway, “Best put up some sort of fence at the top and the bottom. And turn up the door handles of the rooms he's not supposed to go into. Elysia sleepwalks sometimes, so I always have to lock the front-door every evening.”

That much Roy had expected, but it turns out that his living-room offers a plethora of dangers and temptations for little children.

“You should put those potted plants somewhere else, they are poisonous,” Gracia informs him because he has no idea what those plants even are, they are only alive because Mrs. Reagan waters them regularly.

“And Roy, you might not want to keep your records on display like that,” Gracia adds, “Same goes for any important books and the like, don't keep them on the lower shelves.”

“Why not?” he asks, confused.

“Kids are curious, Roy,” she reminds him, “And I'm pretty sure that Alphonse Elric will be no exception. Before long he'll be chewing on your records and tearing your books apart, and you probably wouldn't want that.”

She bends down and rubs her fingers against the floorboards. “These need to be properly polished sometime soon. You don't want him to get splinters.”

“Can't we just wrap him in cotton wool?” Roy quips, seeing his nice bachelor pad become a thing of the past. But Gracia just gives him a look.

“These are important things, Roy,” she says in reprimand, “Babies are very vulnerable and they don't know any better.”

“But they grew up in a small house in a rural area,” Roy points out, “I bet the floor wasn't polished there. Knowing Fullmetal, they spent every day falling into rivers and what not, and nothing ever happened.”

Apart from the human transmutation, of course, but Alphonse probably wasn't going to try his hand at that anytime soon.

“Exactly,” Gracia says and her eyes have gentled somewhat, “Nothing ever happened. But what if it did now?”

What if Al, who'd lost his body, been soul-bound to an armor, and then reborn as a baby, managed to fall down the stairs and break his neck? What would happen to Ed then?

Roy heaves a big sigh.

“This is going to be a real hassle, isn't it?” he asks.

“Yes,” Gracia agrees with a smile, “But it's worth it.”

 

After they've inspected the rest of the house, as well as the front-yard and the garden, they go upstairs in search Ed, Al and Elysia.

“Can I hold him?” Elysia is badgering, jumping up and down in front of Ed like an excitable puppy while he is holding Alphonse out of her reach.

“No,” Ed refuses, taking a step back.

“Pretty pretty please!”

“No!”

“Honey, you're a little bit too small to hold him on your own yet,” Gracia interferes, “Maybe if Edward sits down, you can take a closer look?”

Ed purses his lips at that solution, but gives a reluctant nod.

“Yes!” Elysia cheers and scrambles up onto the bed, impatiently waiting for Ed to sit next to her. He still seems unconvinced, but tells her yes when she asks whether she may touch the baby.

For being so over-eager, however, she is surprisingly careful as she carefully closes her small hand around Al's even smaller one.

“He is so tiny,” she marvels, probably unused to dwarfing anyone, “Is he really Alphonse?”

Gracia had luckily already taken it upon herself to explain, in simpler terms, what had happened to the boy that Elysia had only ever known as her huge metal playmate.

“Yes,” Edward admits, but immediately cradles the baby closer again, as though the question had reminded him all over again of what had happened.

“Can I hold him, please?” Elysia asks, much more politely than before, but Ed is adamant once more.

“No.”

“Ed, just put him down for a moment,” Roy tries, reaching out a hand.

“No,” Ed growls and shies away.

“You can't always carry him around with you,” Roy insists.

“Yes, I can.”

“But wouldn't it be better if you had your hands free,” Gracia muses in that tone that lets you think she is indulging you, but means she's actually going to make you do what she wants. Without waiting for an answer, she starts rummaging through the cabinet drawers.

“I'm sure it must have been in one of the boxes,” she mutters to herself, “Ah, there it is!”

Finally she pulls out a patterned cloth, spreading it open. It's not quite a blanket and too big for a shawl, and Roy has absolutely no clue what she intends to do with it.

“Could you come here, Ed,” she says sweetly and beckons him closer, folding the cloth into a triangle that she places over the boy's shoulders. Ed looks wary, but holds still as she begins to wrap the cloth around him and Al in a complicated manner, and then folds the top down.

“There you go,” she announces and steps back, “Baby is safe, no arms needed.”

Edward blinks down at himself, obviously not quite believing her. But this is Gracia and he knows to trust her, especially when it comes to proper childcare. Slowly, very slowly he lifts his hands away.

He looks somewhat ridiculous now, his small figure wrapped up in the shawl that reaches down to his knees, like a misshapen dress. But Al is snuggled up against the left side of his chest, well supported and obviously at ease.

Hearing their mother's heartbeat reminds children of their time in the womb, one of the books had said. And Al was not Ed's son, would never even remember Trisha Elric, but he still looked very much at ease, pressed up to his brother like that.

“A friend of mine showed me that trick,” Gracia explains, her eyes crinkling, “It was great for when Elysia was being fussy, but I had work to do around the house. Just make sure that it's always properly fastened, and you're ready to go.”

Ed still seems unsure, but doesn't voice his doubts. Roy is a little jealous of Gracia in that regard because, not for the first time, he has noticed that Edward easily listens to women where orders and questions by older men are outright ignored.

“Now that that's settled,” Gracia declares, easily smoothing over the waves, “I'll go down and see how the quiche is doing. And Elysia, be nice.”

“Yes, mommy,” the girl agrees, but as soon as her mother is out of the room, she makes a mad dash for the crib and pulls out the stuffed bear, before returning to where Ed has sat back down on the bed.

“Is that Al's?” she asks, practically shoving it into Ed's face.

“Yes,” he responds, muffled by fur.

“What's his name?”

“Um. Teddy,” Edward answers after an embarrassingly long moment of contemplation.

“That's a boring name,” she tells him bluntly and he scowls, “Well, that's what it's called.”

“Where did he come from, then?” she wants to know.

“The ba- Colonel Mustang bought it,” he answers, but the little girl only gives him a scandalized look, “You can't say that!”

“What?” Ed defends himself, “I didn't even call him a bastard.”

Luckily, Elysia doesn't quite seem to register the bad word.

“No,” she says, “You can't just buy a stuffed toy.”

“Wha- of course you can, have you never been to a-”

“No, I mean you can't buy a friend,” Elysia insists, giving him a look as though he were the stupid little kid and not her, “Teddy is the baby's friend now, so he needs a proper story.”

Edward just frowns, “What kind of story.”

“Like where he came from,” Elysia explains, “See, so, I have my little ducky - her name is Princess Quack – and my daddy said she is from a faraway kingdom, but that the evil Lord Goosegit tried to overthrow her, so she had to flee. But because daddy was a knight, he took her in and now she's living undercover with us. See! So Teddy needs a story, too.”

“Uh,” Ed's left eyebrow is twitching, “The teddy is... an orphan and... Mustang found him and... took him home... I guess?”

“No,” primly Elysia shakes her head, “You have to do better than that.”

At that, Edward heaves a big sigh.

“Fine,” he drawls out, before launching into a lengthy explanation, “So the teddy was orphaned and lived on the streets for most of its childhood until it was snatched up by some slave traders, but then he ended up as a test subject in a secret government laboratory where mad scientists experimented on him, and shot like really weird substances into his veins, trying to create a transmutation serum. Eventually they succeeded, and he turned into this huge effing beast that tried to eat people, so Colonel Prissy Face got wind of it. He tried to blow it up into bits, but almost got his head bitten off. Luckily, I was there to save the day, and I quickly developed an anti-serum that turned the teddy back to normal. Mustang's still scared of him, though, so I keep him around to threaten him whenever I need to. The end.”

Elysia who has been nodding along attentively finally seems satisfied.

“That's a good story,” she says, “But you should still come up with a better name.”

“I'll consider it,” Edward says darkly.

“Dinner's ready!” Gracia calls from downstairs, “Will you help me set the table, Elysia?”
“Yes, mommy!” the little girl answers and scrambles off the bed and past Roy out of the guestroom.

Ed, in the meanwhile, finally seems to have noticed the expression on Roy's face.

“Your storytelling is as abysmal as your report writing,” Roy informs him, slightly pained.

“I know,” Ed replies blithely, “It's an art.”

“I'll have you know I'm not afraid of any teddy.”

“Oh, I don't know about that,” Ed muses, “I sort of imagined the monster teddy to look like Major Armstrong, but covered in fur.”

“Correction,” Roy amends, “I am now afraid of all kinds of stuffed toys and will probably have nightmares tonight.”

“Good,” Ed gives a satisfied nod, “That's what I'm here for.”

“Boys!” Gracia calls again, “Dinner's still ready.”

“And that,” Ed adds, “That's also what I'm here for.”

 

Dinner passes pleasantly enough, with Al strapped to Ed's chest and Edward seeming to have regained his appetite, heartily digging in and eating more than Elysia, Gracia and Roy combined, probably to make up for the past days.

After having been fed, however, Alphonse is getting sleepy and a little grumpy, so Edward bids the others goodnight before taking him upstairs.

“We'll be on our way as well,” Gracia says, waving off Roy's offer to call a car.

“Thank you for everything,” Roy tells her, “The food was delicious, as always. And you've been a great help, also as always.”

He helps both her and Elysia into their coats because he is a gentleman and likes to treat ladies well.

“If you have any questions,” Gracia reminds him, “Or need help with anything at all, just call me, alright?”

“Yes,” he promises because he knows he'll probably need it, “I will.”

“Mommy,” Elysia is tugging at Gracia's hand then, trying to get her attention.

Gracia stoops down a little, looking at her, “What is it, dear?”

Elysia hides her mouth behind her hand and whispers loudly, “Are Ed and Uncle Roy married now?”

For once, Gracia seems a little caught off guard by her daughter's curiosity. Roy, in the meanwhile, quietly wants to die. Breda's ill-timed joke had been bad enough, but Elysia's innocence somehow made it worse.

“Why are you asking that, sweetie?” Gracia asks, though a smile is tugging on the corners of her lips.

“Because they live together in a house and they have a baby,” Elysia explains with the conviction of a four-year old, “And you have to get married for that.”

“You don't have to marry,” Gracia corrects gently, “And Roy is just helping with the baby, just like he sometimes helps with you. Like an uncle.”

Elysia seems to consider that for a moment, “Then why didn't he move in with us?”

“Because you're already big enough, don't you think?” Gracia says, “But the baby still wakes up and cries in the middle of the night, and he needs his nappies changed. So Ed needs help with that.”

Elysia frowns, “So when Al is big again, Uncle Roy will move out?”

“Now, now,” Roy grimaces, “This is actually my house, you know.”

But she just tilts her head to the side, “So Ed and Al will have to move out?”

“That's still a little while away,” Gracia hedges and then ushers her daughter towards the door.

“Remember to call me,” she reminds Roy and he gives a solemn nod.

 

Chapter Text

For all that Edward Elric is simultaneously an unstoppable force and an immovable object, he is surprisingly adaptable. While Fate has certainly tried to toss him around like a brittle autumn leaf for most of his young life, he has always managed to come out on top. Instead, he is like a weed, like a sapling breaking its way through the asphalt in order to find its place in the sun.

In fact, Edward was the kind of person who thrived in the face of adversary. Complacency did not suit him, but neither did domesticity.

After all, a boy who willingly burned down his own house to resist the temptation of home, who lived on trains and out of a suitcase would never surrender into a tranquil lifestyle.

Or so Roy had thought.

The thing is that, during the past five years, Ed hadn't had to worry about Al's physical well-being. Alphonse didn't get cold or hungry or sick. He didn't need to wash, use the loo, or even sleep. Understandably, all of that had had a psychological impact, though Al generally hid it well.

But now the situation has been turned into the extreme opposite. Al can't do anything on his own yet, so Ed has to do it for him. Has to feed him, change his nappies, make sure he is properly dressed.

On Saturday, he stands on a stepladder and carefully bathes Alphonse in the sink.

He's wearing a black tanktop, the baby nestled into the crook of his flesh arm. The mild steam of the warm water has frizzled his bangs and given his cheeks a rosy tint. He looks healthy, finally, less like a shadow and more like... well, not like himself, really.

Roy has never seen this side of Edward, had never even expected it to exist. Had it always been there, reserved for private moments, or had it only recently been born out of necessity?

Roy cannot tell.

So he watches, leaning against the threshold, his mind coming up with a plethora of ideas on how to ridicule Ed for his height. But Ed is oh so gently running a wash cloth over Al's naked body, so that the splashing of the water and the soft breathy noises the child makes are the only sounds in the room. For once, Roy doesn't dare disturb the peace.

 

Roy is sitting his armchair, feet propped up on the coffee table and red flames in the fireplace. It's probably one of the last evenings of the early spring that actually warrant the use of the fireplace, but the heat of it, the sound and smell, had always been a source of comfort for Roy.

He's got one of his records on and the music drifts through the room, a lilting melody, familiar enough to soothe him, but exciting in a manner that will not put him to sleep.

Slowly, he turns a page in his book, making a point of not looking up when, from the corner of his eye, he sees Ed stepping into the living-room. He wants Fullmetal to feel like he can move around freely, not like he is constantly being observed. When he had Alphonse with him he seemed to have no problem with it, using the rooms without any reluctance. But the child had just been put to sleep, and Roy didn't want Ed to think that he had to be in bed this early, too.

“What are you reading?” Edward asks, curious and apprehensive at once, probably expecting it to be some trifling fiction, but hoping for something on alchemy. Yet Roy has to disappoint him on both accounts.

What to expect when you're expecting,” he replies smoothly, lifting the book though Ed already knows the cover, of course, “Though admittedly, I didn't know to expect anything.”

There is a chapter dedicated to the whole biology behind procreation, complete with detailed illustrations of sexual organs and the growing child within the womb. It's interesting enough, but has little to do with their situation.

When they had been younger, Maes had often joked about how Roy would eventually manage to knock up some girl. It's deeply ironic that Roy had always been careful to avoid exactly that, but now he has ended up with a child anyway.

Ed just frowns, “Isn't that boring for you?”

“On the contrary,” Roy replies airily, “So far, I've found out more about the female body than I ever wanted to know.”

Ed snorts, inching his way into the room and gingerly sitting down on the edge of the couch, as though not quite sure whether he is welcome.

“I like the scientific part of it,” he admits because of course he does, “The biology is what I get, but... there's so much other stuff.”

Naturally, these books were mostly written for people who wanted children, who actually were expecting to have one. There was advice on how to pick names, at what time to tell friends and colleagues, how to increase the likelihood of pregnancy in the first place. Half of the info in the books couldn't be applied in their situation because the was no pregnancy, no birth involved. There was no breast feeding or post-natal depression. And the whole 'telling your friends' business was a little more complicated as well.

“You don't have to read that, though,” Ed adds in a mumble, hair falling into his face.

“Oh, it's important to be prepared for everything,” Roy muses, idly flicking to the chapter index, “Baby's milestones. Recognizing symptoms of illnesses. Language development. Quite fascinating, really.”

“No, I mean...,” Ed breaks off for a second, starts again, fails, “You don't have to read it.”

Ah. Once more, the Fullmetal Alchemist thinks he ought the bear all of the burden on his own.

“When I offer someone my assistance I don't do it in a half-assed way,” he tells Edward, keeping his tone light but serious enough to convey the truth. He could say 'I do it whole-heartedly', but maybe that it too much for everyone involved right now.

Edward looks surprised, and then like he wants to say something, but in that moment the phone rings.

Roy excuses himself and goes into the hallway, answering the hall.

“Mustang,” he answers curtly, dreading that it might be a military emergency because there's no reason for anyone to contact him on a Saturday night.

“Roy,” a slightly exasperated voice sighs down the line, “You're really still at home?”

“I'm sorry?” Roy frowns, trying to pinpoint the woman, “Who is-”

“It's Viola,” she says, vaguely annoyed, “Date at the Palace last week, planned to see a movie tonight? I'm kind of tall, freckled-”

“Lustrous auburn hair, build like a goddess, swears like a sailor,” Roy finishes and gives a miserable moan, “I swear I did not forget you, I just-”

“Forgot our date,” she cuts him off, “Yes, I noticed that about an hour ago.”

“I am so tremendously sorry,” he tells her, “I have no excuse except for the fact that this week has been an unimaginable hurricane of surprises and confusion. I was just looking forward to a quiet evening in, but if it's not too late for you-”

“No,” she waves him off, “No longer in the mood, to be honest.”

“Which I completely understand,” he agrees, lowering his voice seductively, “But let me make it up to you.”

“How?” she asks, unimpressed.

“Can we re-schedule?” Roy tries, thinking quickly, “How about next Saturday?”

“My mother's birthday,” she objects, “Friday?”

“I'm sorry, I generally refrain from making commitments on workdays,” Roy says wryly, “I never know when I have to work long hours, and I would hate to have to disappoint you again.”

“How about you just call me when you think you have time,” she offers, thankfully sounding not too put-upon, “You really seem a bit frazzled.”

“You can tell?” he cringes, not liking the fact that someone who barely knows him can hear so much in his voice.
“Well, I've been told that Roy Mustang never forgets a date,” she claims, “Though I'm not sure whether that makes me special or just really forgettable.”

“It's all my fault,” he insists, running a hand through his hair, “Our date was wonderful and I'd really like to see you again.

“In that case, you'll find a way,” she says lightly, “Good night, Roy.”

“Good night, Viola,” he says and hangs up.

When he returns to the living-room the fire is still going, but Edward has already gone.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Sunday. Blissful, blissful Sunday.

Sundays are the days that Roy rarely bothers to enter his study, doesn't even think of paperwork, and valiantly ignores the fact that Mondays even exist.

He goes for an early morning jog, runs by the bakery, returns home to take a quick shower, and then dedicates himself to making breakfast. By the time Edward brings Al downstairs, the kitchen is filled with the wonderful scent composition of coffee, eggs, bacon, and still warm bread.

“Take a seat,” Roy gestures with the spatula when Ed lingers in the threshold, looking somewhat uncertain. So far, they've had breakfast and dinner together every day, so he can't quite pinpoint why Edward would be reluctant now.

Al is not yet big enough to sit in the high-chair, but upon Gracia's advice Roy had modified an old wicker basket and stuffed it with cushions and blankets, so that it functioned as a tiny sort of bed that could be carried around. It was certainly better than having Ed keep a hold of the baby at all times.

So now Roy is relieved to see how Ed finally steps into the kitchen and places Al in the basket that is already sitting on top of one of the chairs. Ed sits down as well, but fidgets a bit, apparently not quite knowing what to do with himself. The table is already set, after all, and Roy is manning the stove.

“I've already prepared a bottle for Alphonse,” Roy informs him casually, keeping his eyes on the pan, “I wrapped it in a towel over there, so it should still be warm.”

There is a bit of a shuffle and then the by now familiar sound of Alphonse contentedly sucking down his breakfast. By the time Roy has filled the plates and poured them coffee, the bottle is already almost empty. It seemed that, when he wasn't just a suit of armor, Alphonse Elric's appetite was just as big as his brother's.

When Ed has his hands free to feed himself, he just shovels a forkful of eggs into his mouth and swallows without chewing. He peers into his coffee mug and then across the table.

“Milk?” Roy teases, keeping his voice innocent. The mere mention makes Edward shudder, but he's already leaning over the table to get at the sugar. His arm, however, is a bit too short, no matter how much he strains himself.

“You know you could just ask,” Roy points out, vaguely amused at the display.

Ed scowls, though he should deem himself happy that Roy hadn't made a comment about him being vertically challenged.

“Can you please pass me the sugar, Mustang?” he drawls out, still hanging halfway over the tabletop.

“Can you please just use my given name?” Roy asks, rubbing his temple, even as he hands over the sugar bowl, “With you calling me Colonel and Mustang in my own house, I feel like I never even left the office.”

Edward seems to consider that for a moment, eyes rolled up to the ceiling as he liberally adds sugar to his coffee. Then he sends him a narrow-eyed look.

“Can I still keep calling you bastard?” he demands and at that a small bark of laughter escapes Roy.

“Yes,” he chuckles, “By all means, do that. At this point, it has become something of a fond nickname, hasn't it?”

“Ugh,” Ed pulls a disgusted grimace at that insinuation, “But then you have to stop calling me Fullmetal, too. I'm not really a state alchemist anymore.”

Roy had tried to avoid using Ed's title during the past days, but occasionally it had just slipped out, old habits and all that.

Now he inclines his head in acknowledgment, “Very well, Edward.”

“Good,” Ed says, satisfied, and – just to be obnoxious, as it seems – he adds as rather pointed, “Roy.”

 

The hands of the clock are slowly inching into the afternoon, and Edward is steadily getting more and more antsy.

A week ago at this time of day, Alphonse had still been caught in his armor, still been fifteen years old, still been confident that he'd have his body back in a couple of hours. Now he is cradled in his brother's arms, perfectly unaware of who he used to be.

Edward is rocking him gently, if somewhat jerkily, and humming a little melody, over and over again, seemingly unconscious of doing it at all. It's shaky and uncertain, as though he doesn't quite remember it himself, but it seems to calm him down just as much as it calms Al, and Roy wonders at that.

He is, however, is getting slightly unnerved by watching Ed wander up and down like that, though he admits that his guts are churning uncomfortably all by themselves.

He doesn't know why it seems so significant that a week has already passed, but some of the worry from before has returned once more. Though he has more knowledge than most about that obscure field of alchemy, Roy does not quite understand how human transmutation really works. No one does.

But Edward and Alphonse had survived it. Twice. They had lost, lost so much, but they had survived.

And yet it seemed like so much could still happen. There was no transmutation circle around, no possible way for anything to go wrong now. Alphonse would not spontaneously implode. Edward would not just drop dead.

And yet, as Roy tries to focus on his novel, his gaze keeps getting dragged to the clock on the mantelpiece, to Edward as he wanders from room to room like a poltergeist waiting to be laid to rest.

Eventually, it's past the time that Edward had appeared at Gracia's. Eventually, Ed sinks down onto the sofa, looking positively wrung out, in more ways than just one.

Roy recalls what Doctor Neuss had told him, about signaling that he was always willing to listen, about actively showing his support.

“You're good with him,” he says automatically, only belatedly realizing that he is echoing Gracia's words when she had praised him for how he handled Elysia.

Edward sends him a startled look, then peers down at the child. He grits his teeth, “Are you taking the piss?”

“On the contrary,” Roy objects, resigned to the fact that he really should have expected this reaction, “Considering how suddenly everything happened, you have adapted to the situation remarkably well.”

“Bullshit,” Ed says, though he seems more angry at himself than at Roy, “I've no idea what I'm doing.”

“I have gotten the impression that that is par for the course when it comes to child rearing,” Roy notes lightly, “And you're already doing better than most.”

“I don't even know how to be a father,” Edward grinds out, “Mine fucked off so early, I barely remember him being there in the first place. He never did shit for us.”

“Then what do you think a father should do?” Roys prods, going for unassuming, and at that some of the tension leaves Ed's shoulders as though he finds himself at a loss of how to answer.

“I dunno,” he shrugs, “Just be there, I guess. Play and teach and listen an'- ...tell you cool stories, tuck you in at night. Take care of you.”

“Did no one ever tuck you in or tell you bedtime stories?” Roy asks and the look Ed gives him at that is downright offended.
“Of course mom tucked us in!” he insists, “And later granny Pinako and teacher, and even Sig.”

A hint of nostalgia creeps into his voice.

“Granny Pinako tells the best stories,” he remembers, “And Sig taught us really cool tricks for shadow play. Teacher would always kiss our foreheads. We acted like we were already asleep, but I think she knew we weren't, and she knew that we knew.”

“So, you don't need to be a real father to raise a child,” Roy summarizes, “You don't even need to be a parent. You just... need to be there for them.”

“Yeah,” Ed says and the quiet realization brightens his eyes a little. Or maybe those are just tears.

They don't say anything for the rest of the evening, but Roy thinks that that conversation was more than enough.

 

Chapter Text

Three weeks now and Roy can tell that Ed is not quite feeling at home yet. In fact, there's barely a trace of him in the house.

Roy would have expected him to be an obnoxious guest, one who never cleans up after himself. But whenever he uses a mug, he immediately rinses it out and puts it back on the shelf. His clothes are never to be found in the hamper, and Roy has suspected for a while that he just cleans everything with his alchemy. He doesn't even leave his toiletries in the bathroom.

He also never touches any of Roy's books, though Roy has extended the offer more than once. That raises the question about just what the hell Ed is doing when he is holed up in the guest room all day.

They see each other for breakfast and dinner, but some afternoons Roy wishes that Al would cry more often so that the Elrics' presence would be a little more obvious.

It's a strange thought. Roy has lived alone for most of his life. He should feel more cornered by the fact that his private territory has been infringed on like this, not like he is being left at the sidelines.

As it is, however, you should always be careful what you wish for, as Roy has to find out soon enough.

 

In the middle of the night, there is a terrible shriek, followed by Al's answering wail, high-pitched and panicked.

Roy is out of bed and down the hallway so quickly he doesn't even know when he put on his gloves, but when he throws Ed's door open his fingers are poised for fire, ready to set the whole damn house ablaze if need be.

But when he tries to assess the situation, expecting to find some intruder in the room, he stills.

Because what he can see, only illuminated by the light from the hallway streaming past him, is Edward on the bed, scrambled up to the far-end and staring at Roy with wide, glassy eyes.

Roy's heart is still beating frantically, yet his brain is luckily awake enough by now to realize what has happened.

Not an intruder then, he thinks. At least not a corporeal one. Just a nightmare.

A pretty bad one, by the looks of it, because as Ed finally breaks free from his rigor he nearly falls out of bed, legs tangled in the sheets, and stumbles over to where Al is still crying in confusion.

Once he's got the baby in his arms, Ed starts rocking him, more gently than his shaken appearance should allow. His shoulders are pinched, but as he tries to calm his own breathing he begins to hum.

Once more, Roy recognizes the melody, but only because he has heard it before. While Ed's earlier rendition had already been uncertain, it is now a song amidst an earthquake, breaking off intermittently, picking up at the wrong spot.

Not once has Roy seen Edward Elric look this distraught, not even three weeks ago, directly after the failed transmutation.

He really shouldn't feel so caught off guard, though. Was it really a surprise that the boy who seemed to be able to take everything life threw at him throughout every single messy day, was plagued by nightmares as soon as he went to sleep?

Neither of them has spoken a word yet and Ed has his nose buried in Al's soft hair.

“You-” he tries to say, but his throat closes up and it comes out as more of a choke, “You can go back to bed now.”

“Is there anything I can do?” Roy asks, though he is familiar enough with bad dreams to already know the answer.

Ed mutely shakes his head, then adds, “'orry for wakin' you. I've tried not to- yeah. Sorry.”

Roy wonders how many times Ed has woken from nightmares since he had moved in. Before, he had been surprised that he had never heard Al cry at night. Now he is surprised he never heard Ed.

And Roy has had enough nightmares of his own to know that he never wanted anyone hovering close, but leaving Edward like this when he seems ready to jump at shadows just doesn't seem right.

“Come,” he says and turns to leave, “I'll make you something to drink.”

It's an open invitation, one that can easily be turned down, but he is relieved to hear that, after a moment's hesitation, Edward follows him into the hallway and down the stairs to the living-room.

Roy's gloves come in handy after all as he snaps his fingers and the fireplace comes to life.

“Wait here,” Roy tells Edward, directing him towards the couch, “I'll get some tea.”

When he returns, Ed is huddled up between the cushions. Alphonse seems to have calmed down already, even if a little peeved that he was woken so rudely.

Roy places the two cups on the coffee table and then walks over to his record player, sorting through his collection. Behind him there's a bit of a clinking noise as Ed picks up the porcelain with his shaking automail hand.

“Hawkeye won't like you spending the whole night awake,” the boy mumbles into his tea.

“And I won't like it if you do,” Roy counters and puts the chosen record on track.

After a few moments of scratchy silence, the melody picks up, and Roy glances over at Edward. It seems to take the boy a few moments to recognize the piece, but when he does he startles.

“How do you-?” he says, wide-eyed.

“I heard you humming it before,” Roy says casually, as though it were nothing out of the ordinary, “One of my favorite composers.”

“I didn't know that,” Ed looks down at the rug, “I barely- Mom used to sing it for us, but I never...”

He doesn't quite seem to know how to finish, choosing to listen to the record instead. As intended, the music really does the trick and slowly, quite slowly Edward relaxes into the cushions.

“I take it that wasn't your first nightmare recently,” Roy ventures carefully, hoping that he isn't prying too much.

Mutely, Edward shakes his head, bangs swishing back and forth.

“Do you want to talk about it?”
Ed just shakes his head again, as was to be expected, but then he speaks anyway.

“I just-” he breaks off, before finishing in a hurried mutter, “I keep dreaming that the transmutation went wrong. Like, really wrong. That it took Al and- and left me alone. B-but tonight I tried to bring him back, like mom. Only... he came back like mom, too, all wrong and-”

A hitched breath, “Inside out.”

Roy closes his eyes for a moment, bites the inside of his cheek. He had known, of course, that that first attempt of human transmutation had gone terribly awry. But there was knowing and then there was knowing. To think that Edward, eleven years old and recently robbed of both his brother and his leg, would have to see his the result of his endeavors thrown back at him in such a manner... How did the boy even get any sleep at all?

Roy takes up his own cup of tea, sips it calmly, thinks.

“I won't tell you that time heals all wounds,” he says at length, “You've seen and done enough to know that, in some cases, the memories only get more and more vivid as we turn them over in our heads. But... I like to think of it as a tooth gap. Something is missing and you keep picking at it, but eventually something new will grow in its stead. Life... goes on, somehow.”

“That is... a really weird-ass metaphor,” Edward tells him with a frown.

“I know,” Roy admits, “But I also know that mere words can only do so much to help.”

He pauses for a moment, weighs his options.

“Right now you still feel like you have done something unforgivable to your brother,” he says, ignoring the way Edward stiffens beside him, “Even though this was never within your intentions. But I hope that someday you will be able to accept this as a new beginning for the both of you, unexpected as it may be.”

“Yeah,” Edward murmurs, looking down at the now drowsing child, “I still don't like changing diapers.”

“I'm afraid no one actually likes changing diapers, Edward,” Roy points out wryly and then they just drink their tea in silence.

It's still dark by the time they go back to bed, but Roy oversleeps anyway and ends up being late for work.

Hawkeye scolds him, but when he doesn't offer up any excuses she takes a closer look at the shadows under his eyes and tells him that if he promises to work hard for the rest of the week, she might as well let him leave early today.

 

By the time Roy gets home he is past the point of tiredness, instead feeling strangely energetic and restless. He wanders around the lower level of the house, tidying up here and there. When there's nothing much to be done, however, he makes his way upstairs.

He had skipped breakfast this morning and Edward had apparently slept in late, so they had not seen each other yet since last night's escapade. Roy doesn't want to wait long enough to make things awkward between them, so he knocks on the door. Upon Ed's muffled reply, he enters.

Fullmetal is sitting on the bed, shuffling through some handwritten papers. Alphonse is lying in front of him on the duvet, moving his arms around a little and Edward wriggles his fingers above him in an absent-minded form of entertainment.

“The weather is nice,” Roy says without preamble, “Let's go out.”

Edward lifts his gaze, frowning, “Out?”

“Out,” Roy makes a vague gesture towards the window, “We can take a walk.”

“Why?” Ed sound so bemused and skeptical that Roy has to swallow a grin.

“Well, I for one don't much feel like spending the rest of such a beautiful day inside after I've already had to sit in the office all morning,” he says and, calculating that Fullmetal might need something more incentive than 'It smells like spring', he adds, “Furthermore, children need sensory stimulation.”

“...What?”

“You might not mind being holed up in here with your papers, but I'm sure Alphonse would appreciate seeing something beside these four walls and your lovely visage,” Roy points out and Ed mutters a low, “Screw you.”

The mild guilt trip, however, works beautifully. If Ed thinks Al might need something, then he will give it to him, no matter what.

Ten minutes later finds them strolling down the road at a leisured pace.

The day is truly beautiful, one that finally feels like spring after a rather bleak and demanding winter. The trees are showing their first budding shades of green, the sky shows nary a cloud, and the birds are singing and flitting around in search of proper nesting material.

Roy has his hands loosely folded at the small of his back, following after Ed. It's a rather endearing sight because the handle of the pram sits quite tall, so Ed can't reach it comfortably, really making him look like a kid insisting on pushing his baby sibling around.

In that moment, Roy is seized by the sudden desire to immortalize this sight, even if only to have an opportunity to later tease Fullmetal with it.

At the end of the road, Roy can already see Miss Kinnet tending to her rose bushes, her calico cat Guinevere always underfoot, and she glances up when she hears the wheels of the pram.

“Colonel,” she says warmly, a smile on her weathered face, “I haven't seen you in a while.”

“Rosalie,” he returns the greeting with a small nod, “I hope you are doing well.”

“Ah, my back, my eyes, the usual, I'm afraid,” she waves him off and then glances toward Edward, “And who would that be?”

“Temporary tenants of mine,” Roy replies easily, making it out to be nothing out of the ordinary, “Edward and his son Alphonse, to be precise.”

Edward visibly bristles at the word 'son' but does not object.

“Ooh,” Miss Kinnet croons, “That's nice to hear.”

Fortunately, she does not try to peer into the pram. Guinevere, on the other hand, curiously strolls out of the front-yard and onto the pavement, pressing herself up against Edward legs. He looks down at her, a little confused.

“It's alright, you can pet her, if you want,” Miss Kinnet encourages him and, probably more out of courtesy than anything else, Ed bends down awkwardly to scratch the cat between her ears, evoking a content purr.

“So, where are you off to?” Miss Kinnet asks, wiping the back of her gardening glove over her forehead and leaving a small streak of dirt.

“The park, I think,” Roy tells her pleasantly, “It's such a beautiful day.”
“It really is,” she agrees, “Well, I don't want to keep you any longer.”

“Good luck with your roses,” Roy replies and then beckons Edward to follow him. Guinevere accompanies them for some of the way, but eventually turns around and disappears behind the corner again.

“Do you flirt with every single woman on the planet?” Edward grumbles, once they are definitely out of earshot, sounding vaguely disgusted, because he most likely really is.

“Trust me, Edward, when I'm flirting you would know it,” Roy replies with a small chuckle, “I was merely being nice.”

“Nice,” Edward echoes flatly.

“You should give it a try sometime,” Roy smirks, “When you smile at people they tend to smile back. It's quite pleasant, really.”

“No thanks,” Edward huffs and blows his bangs out of his face, “So where is this park you were talking about?”

 

The park hasn't quite caught up to spring yet. The grass is still soggy and here and there are pathetic patches where nothing is growing at all. But there are some daring rabbits darting about, and other people out for walks as well, the laughter of children.

Roy tears a small twig off a willow and dangles it into the pram, running the soft fluffy tips of the catkin over Al's cheeks, poking him in the nose. The child makes little curring noises, like a pigeon, and pats his hands against the twig, not yet able to grasp it properly.

“What the hell are you doing?” Ed asks with a weirded-out expression on his face.

“Sensory stimulation,” Roy reiterates, thinking that if an answer sounds at least vaguely scientific Edward will grudgingly accept it.

“If you poke him in the eye I will stab you with my bare hand. The left one,” Ed threatens and that's as much of a go-ahead as Roy is gonna get.

“What are we doing here now?” Ed asks eventually, craning his head in search of something entertaining.

“Nothing,” Roy says simply.

“Nothing?” Ed repeats, annoyed, “What the- Why did we even go outside then?”

“Don't you ever just-” Roy makes a vague gesture towards the park at large, “Stop to smell the flowers?”

“Why the hell would I do that?”

Edward, it seems, is always in motion. For someone who grew up in a sleepy place like Riesembol he is astoundingly unaccustomed to doing nothing at all. Is that within his nature or just a result of having lived on the road for so long?

“Let's watch the ducks,” Roy decides and starts pushing the pram off the gravel path and across the muddy grass, over to an empty park bench that oversees the big pond.

“But ducks don't even do anything,” Ed complains, yet he stomps after them anyway.

Roy sends him a sideways look to make sure he's not overstepping his boundaries, and then lifts Alphonse from the pram. He sits down on the slightly damp bench and places the child in his lap, bending close.

“See the duckies, Alphonse?” Roy asks, trying to direct the boy's attention to the animals that are ducking into the calm water, fluttering their wings, and cleaning their feathers with their beaks, “How many duckies are there, hm? There are three and over there are five, so that's eight. And look, there comes another one. Nine little duckies.”

“Holy fuck,” Edward stares at him, his mouth gaping, “Are you retarded?”

Roy sends him a vaguely poisonous look, “I am just talking to him.”

“You sound like an imbecile,” Ed says, “Don't you dare talk to Al like that. What if he picks it up? Do you have any idea how stupid you sound?”

“Edward,” Roy pinches the bridge of his nose, “I'm really doing my best here. It's important to talk to children, explain the world to them. You of all people should know that.”

For a moment, Ed looks like he is going to punch him. Then he blows out a big gush of air and plops down on the bench as well.

“Give him here,” he demands, already lifting Alphonse from Roy's arms. He heaves another sigh, but then starts talking nevertheless.

“Those are mallards, Al,” he corrects pointedly, “The scientific name is Anas platyrhynchos, but you don't have to remember that yet. The ones with the green heads are the males; they are called drakes. And hens are just kind of brown and dappled so that they're not too easy to spot when they are nesting. The blood circulation in their feet prevents them from freezing when they are sitting on top of ice, so that's kinda cool, I guess.”

Roy, in the meanwhile, just smiles and listens.

 

That night, Roy digs through his wardrobe, pulling out the carton box in which he keep various mementos. The real mementos that mean something to him, not the mostly vapid love letters in the last drawer of his desk.

Finally, he finds the present Maes once gave him. It's a camera, similar to the one Maes had always been carrying around. Roy has never had reason to use it before. He had some photos of his squad, but those had mostly been taken by Breda in an effort to encourage team-bonding.

Thoughtfully, Roy weighs the camera in his palm. Maes could never have foreseen anything like this, but it seemed his gift would come in handy after all.

 

 

Chapter Text

They've been living like this for over a month now and, as with all things, a routine develops quickly enough.

His team gets in the habit of asking Roy about how the Elrics are doing and Roy generally relays some amusing tale, like how Edward once had a taste of the baby formula and thought it worse than even milk, so that Roy had to convince him that, yes, Alphonse still had to eat it, he likes it, he can't eat anything else yet.

Even Roy's neighbors have gotten used to the sight of a red-coated teenager sometimes disappearing through his front-door. Though there had been that incident with Roy's housekeeper when she had let herself in without expecting anyone else to be there, while Ed had not known to expect Mrs. Reagan. She had been ready to call the police, he had been ready to transmute the hell out of her, but luckily the matter had been resolved before anyone could be arrested or injured.

Mrs. Reagan, as of now not yet blessed with grandchildren, had taken quite a shining to Alphonse, though she seemed wary of Edward and his frequent use of expletives. However, she had also been giving Roy the stink-eye now and again, as thought he were somehow responsible that the minor living with him had been saddled with the task of raising an infant.

But the outsiders are only a minor factor in the new life. The greatest changes are within what happens behind those walls, changes that Roy never bothers to mention to his team because they seems so vast in their actual detail.

Because Roy knows things now, knows which kind of bread Edward prefers, that his hatred for milk does not necessarily extend to cheese, that he likes to get up early, but can fall asleep pretty much everywhere and whenever the opportunity arises. He enjoys hot showers and lets his hair dry a little over breakfast, before messily braiding it while it's still damp. He knows something about anything even remotely to do with science, but art is generally lost on him.

And the Fullmetal Alchemist is trying his best to learn, too. How to tell apart Alphonse's different kinds of cries, but also how Roy likes his tea. It had taken him a while to get it right because he stubbornly refused to add milk, but whenever they end up spending their evenings in the living-room together Edward usually prepares two cups.

He never says anything, never even asks Roy in the first place, just places the steaming cup on the coffee table as though it were a coincidence for Roy to find and drink it.

He also never reacts to the quiet thank you Roy murmurs every time, and neither of them acknowledges that this is actually Edward's helpless way of expressing his own gratitude.

Eventually, there is another thing Roy learns.

 

“I didn't know you can cook,” he says, looking up from his cross-word puzzle. Edward is standing at the stove, frying some fish he apparently bought at the market.

“I can't,” the boy replies, somewhat petulant, “Not well anyway. Just... basic stuff.”

Roy could leave it at that, of course, not meaning to pry, but he decides to take a risk.

“Did your mother teach you?” he asks calmly, carefully watching how Edward's shoulders tense and then relax again.

“No,” Ed shakes his head a little, nudges the fish with the spatula, “I... after she died... we sometimes had dinner with Winry and Granny Pinako. But... mostly I cooked for us.”

For some reason, Roy had always assumed that the Elrics had mostly moved in with the Rockbells after their mother's death. But of course, Edward did not accept random acts of charity, not even from those he considered family.

“After teacher took us with her, I never really got the chance again,” Ed goes on, his tone lighter now that he is recalling happier times, “Sig never let anyone into the kitchen, he got really scary about it. And after... there wasn't really a point.”

Beforehand he had learned to cook for Alphonse. After the soul binding, however, Al no longer needed to eat. And yet, years down the road, Edward was teaching himself once more, and still his little brother was the primary reason.

“There's a saying,” Roy notes casually, “About how alchemy and cooking are very similar. Would you agree to that?”

“Hm, not really,” Ed muses, “I mean, with alchemy you can really fuck up. When something goes wrong when you cook, it'll only taste like shit.”

Roy purses his lips, “... You've obviously never managed to set your frying pan on fire.”

Ed snorts as though it were some kind of joke. Then he twists his head around to give Roy an incredulous stare, “Wait, what? You – you of all people managed to- seriously?”

Roy feels a hint of embarrassment over having revealed something like that about himself, but doesn't let it show, “I had just joined the army, tried cooking for myself for the first time.”

Edward, however, is still staring, “What the hell happened?
“Well, let's just say no one allowed me in the kitchen of the barracks for quite some time after that,” Roy shrugs and turns back to his cross-word puzzle, “Do you happen to know a rare metallic element, eight letters, starting with T?”

“Tantalum, you turd,” Ed says and turns back to his fish.

 

After lunch, they go for a walk.

That, too, has become a bit of a routine. They don't do it ever afternoon, but whenever the weather is nice and Roy is home on time to still enjoy some of the sun, they wander into the direction of the park.

It's a good way to get Edward out of the house in regular intervals, especially now that his life has taken a drastic change from doing field-work as a state alchemist to being a stay-at-home dad. He still doesn't quite seem to get what's so great about just aimlessly strolling down roads, but at least he doesn't complain about it anymore, focusing on pushing the pram or alternatively carrying Al and pointing out things to him, from explaining how a car engine works to why you can sometimes still see the moon during the day.

Roy finds all of that strangely relaxing. The fresh air is one factor, but even Ed prattling on about one thing or the other has its merits. It can be very informative indeed and Roy probably learns more things like this than he ever did in school, but Edward's voice is also a pleasant background noise, melodious and soft as he patiently talks to Alphonse.

Roy had never quite noticed that Ed's voice could even be like this, considering that usually it had been used to yell at Roy in his office. So this is definitely a nice change.

“I want a hot dog,” Edward says now that they have reached the park and the faint smell of warm buns and sausages comes wafting over from a distance.

Roy cocks an eyebrow, “Do you need money?”

Ed starts digging through his coat pocket and pulls out his silver watch, a lone button, a crumbled piece of paper, the house keys Roy had given him, and some lose change.

“Should be enough,” he muses, before stepping closer and dumping Alphonse into Roy's arms, “You take him, I'll be back in a moment.”

“Poor Alphonse,” Roy tells the child in a pitying voice, “Abandoned at the prospect of low quality sausages.”

Ed just flips him the bird and then takes off towards the cart of the hot dog vendor.

“Did you notice that I mostly get to hold you when he needs his hands free to eat something?” Roy asks, rocking Alphonse in his arms, “Because I did notice. He really is a bit of a glutton, hm? I guess we should count ourselves lucky that he hasn't tried eating you yet. But maybe he is just waiting for you to grow a little bigger.”

Alphonse just gives a yawn and Roy grins in response.

“Roy?” a woman's voice suddenly asks and he looks up, vaguely startled when he comes face-to-face with none other than Viola Ames.

She is still every bit as gorgeous as on their date six weeks ago and, damn, Roy had totally forgotten to call her back.

She's got her hands on her hips now, head tilted to the side as she eyes him with mild curiosity.

“Long time no see,” she says pointedly and he gives an inward wince.

“Apologizing once more probably won't save anything, I assume,” he ventures and feels a bit of regret. She was an impressive woman, an engineer, smart, funny, confident. He would have liked to take things slow with her, courted her properly, made her remember him. But now he hadn't even managed to remember her.

“No, it won't,” she agrees, but a smile is playing around her lips, so at least she doesn't seem to be holding it against him. Then she nods to Alphonse bundled up in his arms, “And who's that?”

“That would be... my... nephew,” Roy claims haltingly, unwilling to disclose anything resembling the truth to someone who doesn't even know Ed.

“Your nephew,” Viola nods, her voice terribly knowing, “As in, the son of one of the siblings you don't have, I take it?”

Right. Inwardly Roy grimaces. On their date he had mentioned that he was an only child.

“Son of a cousin,” he corrects, “More of... a close friend, really.”

“Of course,” Viola hums, still carrying that dangerously serene expression.

“You know, Roy,” she says, “I don't mind being accidentally stood-up or when someone doesn't call me back. That happens. But I do not appreciate being lied to.”

He lowers his head in surrender, “I understand.”

“Hm,” she narrows her eyes, contemplative, “You're not even going to deny it.”

He just gives a vague smile.

“If my situation were anything but what it is at the moment, I would court you so ardently it would give you whiplash,” he says apologetically, “As it is, however, I have more to consider than just myself. Though I am sorry you had to suffer from that.”

“Don't flatter yourself,” she laughs, but it does sound genuinely amused instead of sarcastic, “I'm not suffering from the lack of your presence in my life.”

“But I do think I would have enjoyed yours,” he tells her because this, at least, is true.

“Maybe,” she agrees with a vague shrug, and then turns to leave, “Take care of your pseudo-nephew there.”

“He's not my son,” he calls after her, just to clarify that little detail, “I swear he's not my son.”

“Of course not,” she laughs over her shoulder, “Heavens forbid that the infamous Roy Mustang ever settle down!”

She's gone with a whip of her auburn hair and the click of her heels on the pavement.

Just a few moments later, Edward is back.

“Don't use my little brother to hit on unsuspecting women,” he warns him darkly.

“Don't worry,” Roy sighs, “It seems I wouldn't have much luck with that anyway.”

“Good,” Ed says with a certain finality before re-claiming Alphonse while Roy finds himself with a hot dog in his hand.

“Uh, is this yours?” he asks pointedly, but Ed just shrugs, “I already ate mine.”

Well then. If Roy didn't get the beautiful, intelligent woman he might as well enjoy the cheap, greasy fast food.

 

 

Chapter Text

There's a booming voice outside of the office and with a sinking feeling in his stomach Roy realizes, Oh hell, I haven't told him yet.

A second later, Major Armstrong is already bursting through the door, build like an elephant and agile like a gazelle.

“Colonel Mustang,” he begins, taking a deep breath that puffs up his chest, straining his uniform. His voice is quivering, as though he were about to cry or shout, but there are tears glistening in his eyes, so it's probably closer to crying.

“Major,” Roy replies, carefully keeping his face blank.

“Just now when I was talking to your team, I lamented the fact that I have not had the good fortune to come across the Elric brothers in quite some time,” Armstrong explains, “But when I did so, your men displayed a disconcerting spectrum of emotions, varying from amusement to consternation to downright dejection. When I asked what could possibly bring upon such reactions, Lieutenant Hawkeye directed me to turn towards you for answers.”

Armstrong steps closer to the desk, huge and imposing.

“So now, Colonel,” the man drones, “What happened to the Elrics?”

Roy wonders how he could ever, for even a second, have considered the possibility that Ed and Al might be left in Armstrong's care after the recent developments. Edward would have gone berserk after barely a day.

“Calm down, Alex,” Roy says soothingly, signaling that this is a private conversation now, “The Elrics are alive and well.”

That is the most important fact, the part that will make Alex tone it down on the posturing enough to actually listen.

“Then where are they?” Armstrong wants to know, his tone mellow now, his shoulders sinking, “Usually barely a fortnight can pass without some rumors about their exploits reaching the base. Are they on a secret mission? If so, then I have to apolo-”

“It's quite alright, Alex,” Roy waves a hand, “I know you care about them. And I probably should have told you sooner, but so much has been going on that it honestly slipped my mind.”

He takes a breath, like preparing to rip off a band-aid.

“The thing is,” he says, “The Elrics have attempted human transmutation.”

Alex's eyes widen, his nostrils flaring like those of an incensed ox.

“But!” Roy repeats hurriedly, “They are alive and well.”

That reminder seems to calm Alex somewhat, but only a little bit.

“Has it worked then?” he asks, in that deep rumbling voice that means he's still very close to bursting, “Young Alphonse has been returned to his body?”

“In a way,” Roy hedges, steepling his fingers.

“In what way?” Alex growls dangerously and Roy takes the plunge.

“He is a baby now.”

Alex blinks, “A what?”

“A baby,” Roy repeats, “An infant. Tiny, little human. Six weeks old now. Adorable, really.”

“How-”

Roy spreads his arms, a little helplessly, “The mysteries of alchemy. It's a science, but always a bit of a gamble as well.”

Armstrong's face is hard as marble, but his eyes give away that he is thinking quickly.

“Have they returned to Riesembol then?” he asks, “Pinako never mentioned-”

Roy frowns, “You are on first name basis with Doctor Rockbell?”

“We entertain an amicable correspondence via letters,” Alex replies primly, but that only makes Roy stare.

“You... are pen pals. With Pinako Rockbell?”

“She is a very fascinating woman,” Alex insists and Roy has to shake his head.

“Anyway,” he says, “No, they are not in Riesembol, but still in East City. In fact, they are living with me.”

“Edward Elric and his now six-weeks-old brother are living with you?” Alex clarifies, in the same incredulous tone that Roy had been using before.

“Yes.”

“And they have been since the transmutation?”
“Correct.”

“And neither of you has been court-martialled for murder yet?”

“It has not exactly been easy,” Roy admits, “But it's been going quite well, considering the circumstances.”

“Interesting,” Alex hums thoughtfully, but then brightens, “Would it be possible to invite myself over for a little visit to re-acquaint myself with young Alphonse?”

“Soon,” Roy promises, knowing that his old friend will understand, “Right now, Edward is still a little leery of revealing Alphonse to other people.”

“Naturally,” Alex nods, “To think that he has to take care of his brother like this...”

“That's another thing,” Roy points out, “Our cover story is that the child is actually a result of an unfortunate liaison with a young girl. Meaning that Fullmetal is now a father and officially on leave.”

Alex seems even more touched by that, but gives tight nod.

“So if you were to go to the canteen,” Roy adds innocuously, “And maybe mention the joyous development to one or two of the men...”

“Then soon enough people will stop wondering why the Fullmetal Alchemist has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth,” Alex finishes, “Don't you worry, Colonel. I am the best man for this job.”

 

After the Major leaves, Roy can no longer concentrate on his work.
Armstrong has a habit of filling a room with buzzing energy that just forces you to be productive. Unfortunately, that does not translate into paperwork, but it's not like Roy cannot come up with other distractions. So far, he's found several paper clips, two bottle corks, the lid of an ink pot, and a pencil stump, and strung them up on pieces of yarn.

“What exactly are you doing, chief?” Havoc asks, critically eyeing Roy's crafting project.

“It's a mobile. For Alphonse,” Roy informs him loftily. He plans to attach it to the handle of Al's basket so the kid has something to play with.

Havoc seems unconvinced, “Don't you think he can choke on that or something?”

Roy stills. He hadn't considered that.

“Dismissed, Lieutenant,” he says, his tone more stern than intended, and Havoc flees quickly, but not without sending him another confused look.

That afternoon, after work, Roy drops by the toy shop again. The old woman behind the counter seems to remember him, conspicuous as he was in his uniform.

“I'm looking for some sort of mobile,” he tells her, then adds, “Without any bits a child could choke on.”

“Of course,” she smiles toothily and directs him towards a shelf were several mobiles are dangling.

After some contemplation, Roy selects a smaller one that will fit neatly onto the basket's handle, but that still looks sturdy enough to not be torn apart by grappling hands. Unlike most of the others that have tiny trains and cars and ships, this one is made up of wooden birds, gaily painted and wings spread in flight.

“I'll take this one,” he tells her and she hums as she wraps it up in some paper.

“Please call again,” she says as he turns to leave and Roy has a feeling that he just might.

 

“What is this thing?” Edward asks and Roy glances up from where he is peeling the potatoes, only to see that Edward is inspecting the small birds now fastened to the handle of Al's basket.

“A mobile,” Roy answers, watching as Ed pokes a robin to make it bounce up at down in an imitation of flight. The tit, sparrow and mockingbird are all in motion now and Al squeals happily, reaching up and brushing his hands against the wooden figurines.

“He likes it,” Ed notes, sounding somewhat surprised.

“Those are little birds in pretty colors and he can make them dance,” Roy smirks, “Of course he likes it.”

“Why do you know so much about kids?” Ed wants to know and Roy shrugs, “Elysia mostly. And... various of my lady friends have often enjoyed telling me about their younger siblings or their nieces and nephews.”

“Lady friends,” Ed repeats and nearly chokes on his laughter, but then he grows a little thoughtful, “Have you ever dated a mother? I mean, like, a woman who already had a kid?”

“Once or twice,” Roy recalls, “Admittedly, I was always a little worried about them envisioning me as a potential step-father to really stick around for long.”

“So, essentially, you're an asshole.”

“Essentially, I was never very keen on the idea of getting myself killed in the line of work and leaving a family behind,” Roy corrects. He hadn't even thought about it before, but now that the words are out the memory of Maes' so terribly sudden death clenches his rib cage in a vice-grip.

Maes had always encouraged him to find someone to settle down and have children with. The thought had never much appealed to Roy, but now that he has seen the tear tracks on Gracia's face, has heard Elysia's confused questions, asking why her father was being buried, he is more certain than ever that he is not cut out to be a family man.

But Ed is still tapping his fingertips against the birds, an absent look in his eyes.

“That's really... selfless of you,” he mutters and Roy cocks an eyebrow, “Most people find it rather selfish and cold-hearted. Especially since they seem to think it a waste of my genetics.”

Ed gives a small snort.
“No,” he says, “I mean... you don't just get a family and then abandon them. So that's... selfless, I think.”

“I also quite enjoy dating a different woman every week,” Roy points out, if only to chase away the strange mood, and that at least makes Edward throw a potato at him.

 

Ed disappears upstairs for a little while but returns once Roy calls him down for dinner.

“There's dessert, too,” he promises as he places a laden plate in front of Ed, “Strawberry shortcake.”

For once, however, Edward doesn't get excited over food.

“I've developed an array,” he just says.

“That's nice,” Roy sits down in his chair, but then blinks, “I thought you didn't need arrays.”

“It's not for me,” Ed pushes a sheet of paper across the table, making his intentions clear. Roy takes a careful look at the circle, inspecting its intricate details.

“What does it do?” he asks, wondering what Edward thinks he might need an array for.

“It cleans diapers,” Ed explains simply.

Roy stares. But with sudden clarity he realizes that he has never received a better gift.

After they finish eating, they spend the evening stitching the array onto a number of Alphonse's nappies. Roy pricks his fingers nine times, but its definitely worth the pain if it means he'll never have to change a diaper again.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Sir,” Hawkeye announces, quietly stepping into his office and giving him a meaningful look, “Winry Rockbell here to see you.”

Roy stills, but doesn't let his surprise show, “Please show her in.”

“Yes, sir,” Hawkeye nods and disappears again. A moment later, Winry pokes her head in, gives a little wave and then closes the door behind herself.

“Hi,” she says and smiles timidly.
She is a beautiful girl and each time she looks more and more like her mother whose face Roy will never be able to forget.

“Miss Rockbell,” Roy greets, inclining his head, “Please, sit down. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

She settles on the chair across from his desk, smoothing down the skirt of her summer dress and fidgeting a little. Understandably, she is still rather circumspect in his presence, especially when left alone with him.

“Um, sorry for showing up like this,” she begins, nervously toying with a strand of her hair, “And I realize that this is probably a weird question but... can you tell me what's up with Ed and Al?”

Everything in Roy tenses but he deliberately turns back to signing his documents.

“I'm sorry, but what exactly do you mean?” he asks, keeping his voice neutral, “Hasn't Fullmetal been writing you?”

“He has,” Winry admits, “But he hasn't called. And the letters feel... off.”

She worries at her lower lip before she continues, “He doesn't seem to be going on many missions, and the postal stamps are all from here. And I haven't gotten a letter from Al in ages. Ed just starts off with 'Al says hi' and then starts droning on about some experiment or whatever. And I talked to Shezka who says the two haven't been in Central for some time.”

Quickly, Roy wonders how to best handle this situation. Telling his team and Major Armstrong about what had happened had been one thing, had even been a necessity at that time. But Roy does not have the right to inform the Rockbells.

He also worries why the Rockbells do not already know. When Armstrong had been surprised at the revelation about Alphonse, claiming that Pinako Rockbell had never mentioned anything, Roy had assumed it simply meant that the old woman did not just want to blab out the secret like that.

He would also understand if Ed had not wished to tell Winry in a letter or via phone, because this really was a matter that should better be handled face-to-face. But not only had he not invited her to East City, he had actively deceived her by acting like Alphonse was actually sending his greetings along in the letters.

This really was too big of a personal mess for Roy to sort through. But Winry was like a sister to the Elrics. If anyone deserved to know, it was her. It was also probably the reason why Edward hadn't dared to tell her yet.

With a sigh, Roy stands up from his chair.

“I can't quite give answers to your questions like this, Miss Rockbell,” he tells her apologetically and makes for the door, “But I can help you get them.”

Winry stares at him in confusion, but is already jumping up and following after him.

“Lieutenant Hawkeye,” Roy declares, “I'll be taking my break early. I should be back in about an hour. Lieutenant Havoc, please take Miss Rockbell's luggage and get the car.”

“Yes, sir,” Havoc salutes but the alarmed look in his eyes reflects exactly how Roy feels.

 

“Is this... your place?” Winry asks uncertainly as Roy holds the door open for her, signaling for Havoc to wait in the car.

“It is indeed,” Roy allows, leading her through the well-kept front yard and then letting them into the house.

“What exactly are we doing here?” Winry looks around a little warily.

“You'll understand in a moment,” Roy tells her.

“Fullmetal,” he calls out, using the title as a warning, “You have a visitor.”

Sadly, Edward does not seem to get subtlety.

“We're in the living-room,” he replies, “And why are you skipping work, what kind of visitor-?”

But then Roy and Winry are already standing in the doorway, taking in the sight that greets them.

Edward is sprawled out on the rug, lazily stacking up toy blocks and waiting for Al to knock them down, a game they never seem to tire of.

But of course that is not what Miss Rockbell is seeing. She is seeing her childhood friend, perfectly at ease in the home of her parents' murderer, playing with an unfamiliar baby, with no explanation whatsoever.

“Edward?” she chokes out and finally his head whips around to face them.

“Winry-” he gasps, jerking so violently that he makes the tower topple over himself, eliciting a giggle from Alphonse.

But Ed is already on his feet, sending a heated glare at Roy.

“You bastard,” he bites out, “You fuckin' told her-”

“I haven't told her anything,” Roy lifts a placating hand, “And neither have you, as it seems.”

“What the hell is going on?” Winry wants to know, her voice reaching a pitch that would make most sopranos blush in shame, “Where did- Is that baby yours?!”

“No!” Ed shouts at once, though Roy just says, “In a manner of speaking.”

Winry looks back and forth between the three of them. The situation honestly could not be more confusing.

“Shall we maybe sit down?” Roy proposes, “Simply talking actually solves a lot of problems, you know.”

“Fuck off,” Ed mutters, but for once heeds Roy's advice without further complaints.

 

Miss Rockbell has claimed the armchair, leaving Roy and Edward to uncomfortably face her from the couch. Alphonse is lying on his back between them, thoughtfully chewing on his fist, his little legs occasionally kicking against Roy's thigh.

This has been his life for several months now but right now it feels utterly bizarre once more. He cannot even imagine how Winry must be feeling.

“First thing first,” she says now, her face screwed up in confusion, “Is this kid yours, Ed, or not?”

“No,” Edward insists again but Roy merely corrects him, “You are listed as the father.”

“Bastard,” Edward repeats once more, throwing him an annoyed glare, “You realize you're making this worse?”

“Did you... did you adopt it?” Winry asks skeptically, “But... are you living here? And where on earth is Al?”

Silence. Roy is tempted to just point to the drooling baby and go 'Tadaa', but that would probably be too inappropriate.

“Edward,” he prompts, “You honestly need to tell her now.”

“I know. Fuck, I know,” Edward is gripping his hair, fingers digging into his scalp, “But this isn't exactly easy, okay, why do think I- I don't want her to-”

“Edward,” Winry says, gentle despite the tears already creeping into her eyes, “You know you can tell me everything. Please.”

Edward swallows hard, his hands sinking down into his lap. Then he takes a deep breath.

“Remember when, after that whole incident with Scar, Al was all charged up with the Philosopher's Stone?” he asks and she gives a hesitant nod.

“We... we tried to use it. To turn him back, I mean,” Edward explains, “It- it didn't quite work out, it-”

“No,” Winry whispers in denial, obviously assuming the worst. The tears are brimming over now, and she presses her hands over her mouth to contain a sob.

“No no no,” Edward hurries, frantically shaking his head, “He's not dead, he's not-”

He breaks off and his shoulders slump in defeat.

“Winry,” he says quietly, reaching out and pulling the baby into his lap, “This is Al.”

Al just makes an unintelligible noise and shakes a spit-covered fist.

Miss Rockbell falls off the armchair.

 

“We... we have a photo album at home,” Winry says through her fingers, her gaze far-away even as she looks at Al, “It's... there are some baby pictures of all of us, too. I think... he really looks like he did back then.”

“It is his body,” Edward agrees miserably, “Just... smaller, I guess.”

“How do these things even happen?” she moans, “I don't get alchemy, I don't get how- Losing your limbs or his body in the first place, that was one thing, but how can he possibly be turned into a baby, that doesn't work, that isn't-”

“Yeah, I know,” Ed stops Al from sticking a building block into his mouth, “But human transmutation is unpredictable. I guess that's why it's forbidden in the first place.”

It's forbidden because it makes humans play at being gods, Roy knows, but refrains from saying so.

He has gone to make some sandwiches in the kitchen, primarily because this is his lunch break, but also because food generally makes most situations more bearable.

He places the plate on the coffee table and then claims his armchair. Edward and Winry are on the couch now, with Winry running a tentative finger over Al's rounded cheek.

“He is so cute,” she whimpers, probably overcome by maternal instincts, “He's always been so cute, how could I forget that?”

If it were anyone else the giant suit of armor would have probably been a good reason, but even then Alphonse Elric had generally managed to melt people's hearts.

“I just don't understand why you didn't tell us,” Winry lets out a shuddering breath, “Granny and I, we would have helped you, you could've come back-”

“Exactly,” Ed says, but doesn't dare to look her in the eye, “But you have a real job now, and Granny still has the clinic to run. I couldn't have-”

“But we are your family,” she insists, “Why would you rather stay here than with us? No offense, Colonel.”

“None taken,” Roy says around a mouthful of sandwich.

“I guess I... at first, I didn't want to burden you,” Ed explains, “If you had found out you would've rushed straight out of Rush Valley, don't even deny it. But now, I... it's okay here. We can blend in, that would never be possible back in the village. And everyone's been really helpful, especially Gracia. Well. And the bastard, too, I guess.”

Winry sniffles a little.

“When your letters first started sounding strange, I didn't know what it meant,” she admits, “I just couldn't come up with an explanation why Al wasn't writing, why you never called. I tried asking in my letters, but you always ignored it.”

She purses her lips, “And then I called the barracks and they told me you had moved out months ago, and I asked Shezka, but she hadn't heard anything either. I didn't know what to make of it, I just took the train here, and all the while I kept wondering what could have happened, I couldn't figure out why- I didn't-”

She crying now, trying to hold it in, and her shoulders are shaking with it.

“Winry, don't,” Edward begs, reaching out a hesitant hand to pat her. His helpless gaze seeks out Roy.

But Roy just shakes his head, grabs another sandwich and leaves the living-room. There are some things that Fullmetal needs to learn how to deal with on his own, and Roy has to get back to work anyway.

 

When he comes home, Miss Rockbell is still there, though now the conversation has migrated into the kitchen.

“Just let me help cut the vegetables or something,” Winry is saying, sidling up to Ed who's working on the counter and pushing her away with one elbow.
“No, Win, you can't cook worth shit,” Ed claims, “You barely even know how to boil water.”

“Don't swear in front of Al,” she admonishes, “And also, that's rich coming from the one who keeps blowing up stuff.”

“I usually blow up stuff on purpose,” Edward counters, “And I always repair it afterwards.”

“Not true,” Roy objects as he slips into the room, “Definitely not true. I've read your damage reports, remember?”

“Traitor,” Ed hisses and then gives Winry another push, “Just... go fix the toaster or something.”

“The toaster is not broken, Edward,” Roy points out.

Another glare, “Then... give it some extra functions. Like, make it sing while the bread is toasting. A radio toaster. I bet you could get a patent on that.”

“You're awful,” Winry whines, but drags the toaster closer anyway. Roy wonders whether she'll actually add some improvements or whether he'll just have to buy a new toaster tomorrow.

“And just for the record,” Winry adds in her defense, “I may not be a good cook, but I make great sandwiches. Paninya said so.”

Ed throws her a look, his face all scrunched up, “You talk a lot about Paninya. In your letters, too.”

“Do I?” Winry laughs, toying with the screwdriver she has pulled from... somewhere. Roy isn't sure, he can't see any pockets on her dress.

He turns towards Alphonse who's lying in his basket instead, wondering how the kid could ever have survived a childhood as the companion of Edward Elric and Winry Rockbell. Then maybe it was because of him that they had survived each other.

They have some sort of vegetable stir-fry for dinner and it only tastes a little bland, but Roy sure as hell is not going to criticize Edward's tentative foray into the culinary arts.

Al's basket sits on the table as it always does so they can keep an eye on him and he doesn't feel left out. Edward and Roy are used to it, of course, but Winry keeps stealing uncertain glances at him before quickly looking back down at her plate.

“I assume you'll be staying with Gracia?” Roy asks politely, knowing that the girl will not want to spend the night in his house, no matter the circumstances.

“Ah, yes,” she says, once more playing with her hair, “We already called ahead and she said it's alright.”

“She's quite fond of you,” Roy tells her, “And I hear Elysia especially has taken quite a shine to you.”

This at least makes Winry laugh, “I always wanted a little sister, so I'm usually all over her, too.”

Roy smiles, bland though it may feel. Winry had still been young when she had lost her parents. They might well have had another child at some point. If it hadn't been for Roy, that is.

“Edward, why don't you make sure Miss Rockbell doesn't get lost on her way to Gracia's,” Roy offers when they are done eating, “I'll take care of the dishes.”

“Uh,” Ed shoots a look towards the baby.

“And I think I can get Alphonse ready for bed as well,” Roy adds. It'll be good for Ed to get out of the house on his own. So far, he hasn't left Al's side even once, so it's understandable that he would be reluctant.

“Oh fine,” he sighs eventually, pushing his chair back and dumping his plate in the sink.

Then he stomps over to the basket.

“Night, Al,” he mumbles and bends down to press a kiss to the baby's forehead.

Winry watches, uncomfortable, but then then puts on a brave smile.

“Good night, Al,” she says cheerily, and her voice only quavers a little.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Sir?” Hawkeye asks when she steps into the room, “Do you have a minute to spare?”

Roy glances down at the fire-spitting dragon he had been doodling onto the backside of an hopefully not too important document, and clears his throat when he looks back up.

“Well, if it is important, Lieutenant,” he concedes and she just throws him this slightly sour look that conveys how she knows he's just being a little shit again.

“Very important,” she says and then beckons someone to follow her into the office. It's a young girl, barely in her teens, short brown hair neatly combed back, skinny as a stick but with a rigid posture.

Military kid, Roy recognizes at once, wondering what he might be needed for.

“Colonel Mustang, sir,” Hawkeye introduces, “This is Anais Dornier.”

Roy lifts an eyebrow, “Daughter of Major General Adelaide Dornier, I presume?”

The girl gives a curt nod, hands folded behind her back, “Yes, sir.”

“There seem to be a lot of minors around the base today, Lieutenant,” Roy directs at Hawkeye, “Any specific reason?”

“It's open house day, sir,” she responds, “Several of the men have brought their children to have a look around and talk to people.”

Of course. Amestris is always looking for some new recruits. Better get the new generations involved early on.

“Major General Dornier asked me whether I could introduce Anais to you,” Hawkeye continues, a fond little smile stealing over her features, “Apparently, she has been dying to meet a state alchemist.”

“Very well,” Roy nods and then feigns a stern expression as he eyes the girl; any descendant of Adelaide Dornier should be able to take it.

“Do you have any talent for alchemy, Miss Dornier?” he asks. Many children are interested in it, like Elysia, but few, very few show any real predilection towards it. Absolutely no one thrived on it like the Elrics had done.

“None whatsoever, sir,” Anais replies, her voice unwavering as she stands to attention, “I am more skilled when it comes to close combat.”

There is no false pride in her voice, no grudge. She is interested in state alchemists without wanting to be one. A good mixture. And a good head on such young shoulders.

Roy's expression softens into something more openly pleasant, “Then what would you like to know?”

The girl purses her lips for a moment, seems to think, “My mother mentioned that you have the Fullmetal Alchemist under your command.”

“Ah,” Roy finds himself a little surprised, “That is indeed so.”

Her tongue is poking her cheek from the inside, and an excited little glint steals into her hazel eyes, “Is it true that he became a state alchemist at twelve, sir?”

“That is true, yes,” Roy agrees, watching with amusement as she whispers a near silent, “Wicked.”

In that moment, it occurs to Roy that this girl is probably no older than Edward had been when he had first joined the ranks.

He has never regretted getting the Elrics involved in the military life, they had certainly contributed to making Amestris a bit of a better place. But sometimes he wonders just what the hell he had been thinking back then, what had made him believe that it was a good idea to offer an already traumatized boy the opportunity for even more tears and bloodshed.

But then he remembers Edward, as he had been back then, recalcitrant as a feral animal that would rather chew off its own limb than miserably die in a bear trap. He had never deluded himself that such a being could be tamed, but now that Ed lives in his house, eats at his table, the threat of getting bitten seems to grow smaller and smaller each day.

A sudden idea occurs to Roy and he grins slowly. Hawkeye immediately stiffens at the sight of it.

“If you've got some time to spare, Miss Dornier,” Roy offers, “I could arrange for you to meet Fullmetal.”

The glare Hawkeye sends him is murderous, but Anais' eyes are already glowing.

“Awesome,” she says.

 

“What am I doing here again?” Edward asks skeptically, looking a little twitchy at being back at head quarters after such a long time, “Havoc had to help me carry the pram up the stairs. Do you know how embarrassing that was? Everyone saw us. We looked like we where stealing someone's kid.”

“The proper term is kidnapping, Fullmetal,” Roy replies saucily, slipping back into old habits now that they are in the office, “And I have a special guest here who would like to meet you.”

“I'm on leave,” Ed complains, jerkily parking the pram in the narrow space between Breda's and Fury's desk in the outer office.

“Don't you dare smoke,” he hisses at Havoc who promptly drops the toothpick he had been chewing on, “And don't wake him. He's been gassy all night and barely got any sleep.”

“Uh,” Breda says intelligently, exchanging an uncertain look with Falman.

Roy is surprised that Ed would have even followed his request to come in under these circumstances, but just decides to count himself lucky. It's probably a good thing that Edward is learning to balance the demands of real life with the baby's needs.

“So who's this special guest that's so important?” he asks, frowning up at Roy.

Roy just pushes open the door to his office, making an inviting gesture, “After you, Fullmetal.”

Ed just rolls his eyes.

 

Anais is positively thrumming on her place on the couch, fingers twitching excitedly. Ed looks slightly uncomfortable in the face of his number one fan, but hides his behind a blasé attitude, chin propped up on his metal hand. By this point, Roy barely even pretends to be doing his paperwork, listening in on their conversation instead.

“How old are you now?” Anais asks curiously. She was quite tall for her age and standing she had only been about a head shorter than Ed, but she was a wisp of a girl, thin and willowy where Ed had grown broad-shouldered and muscled.

“Um. Sixteen,” he answers reluctantly, as though it were some big secret.

Her eyes widen, “I'm thirteen now.”

He frowns, “Yeah, so?”

“So, you're only three years older than me but you've already got an entire military career,” she points out, sounding awed.

“Not really a career,” Ed objects, scratching his cheek, “No promotions, nothing.”

“I, uh, I've collected newspaper clippings about you,” she says, the confession coming from her in a breathless rush, “You've done some really cool stuff. Did the people ever talk back to you because you were so young?”

That, finally, seems to put Edward back on surer grounds. He's complained about these matters often enough after all.

“Aaall the time,” he drawls, “Let me tell you, no one wants to be commandeered by a twelve-year-old brat, okay. There are all like 'Where are your parents? Did you steal your father's watch?' Really annoying.”

“Wow,” she says and stares, probably trying to imagine herself doing fieldwork as she is now, “Why are you not wearing the uniform then?”

Thanks to the warmer weather, he has finally forgone the coat and leather pants, wearing simple black slacks and a royal blue shirt. It makes him look more grown-up and even somewhat respectable, which is definitely something Roy is still getting used to.

“Not really my style,” Ed sighs tragically and gives a big shrug, “Also, I'm currently not on active duty.”

“Why's that?” she wants to know.

“Uh,” Edward blinks, frowns, glares down at the table between them, “I'm, uh, on leave because I- I've got-”

He trails off, uncertain.

“Well, Miss Dornier, there are reasons why teenagers shouldn't fool around before they are able to take responsibility for their actions,” Roy cuts in slyly, “State alchemists or otherwise.”

Anais frowns, “What's that supposed to mean, sir?”
“I'm on paternity leave, alright?” Ed grits out, but his venomous glare is directed at Roy who ignores it blithely. Fullmetal really needs to learn how to lie about this matter, otherwise the jig might soon be up.

Anais' eyes widen as she finally understands what that means. To realize that her idol is still so young but already raising a kid must come as a bit of a shock. And considering the girl is an only child, Major General Dornier will certainly not have grandchildren anytime soon.

Roy pushes back his chair and scoops up a stack of paperwork, intending to hand it over to Hawkeye and then take his break.

“Bastard,” Ed hisses after him, even as he opens the door.

“You can't talk to your C.O. like that,” Anais gasps scandalized.

“Actually, when you've made yourself as irreplaceable as I have, you can get away with a lot of shit,” Edward claims and Roy chuckles to himself, closing the door.

The office is surprisingly empty, only Havoc sitting behind his desk and frowning down at some report, so Roy places his own papers at Hawkeye's work station.

He peers into the pram, only to find Alphonse blinking back at him, looking much less disgruntled than last evening when he had cried miserably from his cramps. Edward had looked ready to join right in but despite the discomforts of the night neither of the two seemed worse for wear.

“Good morning to you, too,” Roy hums now, reaching out to rub a knuckle over a plumb cheek, “Are you in a better mood today?”

Alphonse gives a yawn and a little stretch, so Roy counts that as a yes and carefully scoops him up into his arms. When he looks up again it's just in time to catch Havoc quickly turning back to his papers.

“I'll be taking Alphonse,” Roy says in his most authoritative voice and then steps out of the office, making a left-turn and heading down the hallway with a specific destination in mind.

 

“He is soo adorable,” Sue croons, wriggling her fingers at the baby. “No wonder you haven't been dating, Colonel.”

“Oh, no no, that's a misunderstanding,” Roy waves her off with a debonair smile, “He's the son of a colleague. I'm just watching him for a moment.”

The other secretaries in the room look positively delighted, obviously happy that he isn't off the market after all. But if it's Bring-your-kids-to-work-day then Roy is shamelessly going to make use of that. Al might not be his son, but he is a convenient means to skip out on paperwork.

And oh, Alphonse is perfect for this. He smiles for everyone, curiously looks around, and is simply as cute as a button. He is also quite firmly holding onto the braiding of Roy's uniform, giving him an excuse to not just pass the child into strangers' hands. It also has the additional effect of making it look like Alphonse actually enjoys being with Roy.

The mere sight of that will throw the ladies' ovaries into overdrive and their heightened fertility will make them think of him as good father material. Ergo, he'll finally be able to put an end to his dry spell.

“What's his name?” Clover asks curiously. Roy has known her to be a bit of a hardass, but now she looks just as smitten as the other women.

In that moment, there is the sound of a crash from the hallway, followed by a curse and an answering “Sorry, sorry, my bad!”, and Roy knows that voice.

“Al!” Edward's voice echoes down along the tiled floor, “Alphonse! Fuck! Roy! Dammit, Mustang! Where is- has anyone seen Colonel Mustang?!”

“Edward!” Roy calls out in alarm, quickly making his way back into the hallway and ignoring the worried looks of the secretaries, “Edward, I'm right here, what's the matter-”

Edward is already halfway around the corner, but now he comes to a stop, skidding on the linoleum floor, and turning on his heel. His eyes are wide and haunted, much too big for his face, and it makes him look incredibly young.

His gaze finds Roy but then immediately zooms in on the child in his arms. The flurry of tension in his posture seems to grow, like a hot air balloon about to burst, but then he is already barreling towards Roy, slamming into him and practically ripping Alphonse from his grasp.

“You bastard!” he growls dangerously, but the hunch of his shoulders betrays how his anger is merely a cover for how shaken he really is.

“Edward, I only took him for a stroll, I didn't even go far,” Roy tries to soothe him, admittedly caught off guard by this violent display, “You can't just freak out whenever Alphonse isn't within eyesight, surely-”

“I came out of your office and he wasn't in his pram!” Ed hisses, his teeth bared, “He wasn't there, no one was there, I had no idea who had taken him, I didn't-”

So Havoc must have stepped out as well and Edward's vivid imagination had gotten the better of him.

“You can't just take him without telling me!” he tells Roy with a big shuddering breath, “You can't- I thought he was- You damn bastard!”

“Edward. Edward, I'm sorry,” Roy assures, attempting to touch Ed's shoulder but the boy shies away.

“I told you not to use him to hit on women,” Ed clutches the child closer to his chest; he has obviously drawn the connection to the secretaries now curiously standing in the open door, watching with mouths hidden behind their hands.

“This is Al, okay,” Ed insists, his eyes so vibrant and intense that Roy knows to fear retribution later, “He's not some- some toy or some pet. You can't just... show him around like you'd do with your stupid medals or- or some girl hanging off your arm. He's a person, he's my- my- He is Al, Roy, do you get that?”

Of course. Roy inclines his head.

How could he have forgotten for even a moment? The Elrics belong together and they may be his wards, but he is still an outsider. He has no right to them, none at all.

“I'm sorry,” he repeats more gently, “Havoc was still in the office when I left. I thought he would tell you.”

“You never think, you dumbass,” Ed says and his voice is more of a whisper now as he presses his nose against Alphonse's hair, “You have a fancy idea and then you don't consider the consequences.”

Admittedly, that assessment is one that would rather apply to Edward himself, but Roy doesn't argue.

“I'm really, truly sorry,” Roy straightens up, only just now realizing how he had stooped down a little in order to close the distance and also gain a little privacy from the still ogling secretaries, “I'll go get Havoc to drive you home again-”

“Don't bother,” Edward cuts him off gruffly, “Right about now I can really use a long walk.”

Roy gives a small sigh, “Very well. Can I at least help you carry the pram back down?”

“No,” the boy says, “I told Anais to wait in the office in case someone came back. She can help me.”

Edward really knew how to do the cold shoulder treatment. Roy would definitely have to come up with a way to properly apologize.

But Ed just whirls away from him and starts marching back the way he had come, shoulders back and nose in the air as if to make up for his previously undignified panic. Roy can only watch the outline of his back.

“He lost his brother recently, didn't he?” he hears Sue mutter in the doorway, sympathy thick in her voice, “No wonder he got so upset so easily.”

“Poor thing,” Gemma replies, “All alone and with a kid to care for. He really needs all the help he can get.”

They all give Roy this weird stare then, contemplating him for a moment, before simultaneously stepping back and very firmly closing the door behind themselves.

Roy gives a sigh. This was definitely not how he imagined his little plan going. And he still had to do his paperwork, too.

 

When Roy comes home four hours later, Edward and Alphonse are nowhere to be found.

No, he thinks frantically, nearly dropping the paper plate in his hand, They're not- he can't have-

Belatedly, it occurs to him to check the backyard. And really, there is Edward, sitting on a blanket he has spread out on the lawn, cheek propped up on his hand, ripping out blades of grass and placing them on a wriggling Alphonse in an absent-minded manner.

The June sun is warm and bright, making Edward's hair gleam like fluid gold while Al's looks nearly translucent. Ed is only wearing a tank top and the sunlight reflects off his automail, sending off tiny strikes of lightening whenever he moves.

Roy takes a deep breath before stepping out as well.

“Good afternoon,” he greets, aware of how carefully he has to tread now.

Edward glances up, glares, doesn't say anything.

Roy steps closer, closer, dares to lower himself onto the other side of the blanket, Alphonse a tiny barrier between them, or maybe a bridge. Roy sets down the covered plate and shrugs out of the constricting jacket of his uniform before rolling up his sleeves and unbuttoning the top of his shirt.

It had been a really long winter, hadn't it? Not because of the months or the weather, but because of all that had happened. Summer, finally, feels like a sanctuary, a reprieve, a wake-up call.

When Edward doesn't say anything, doesn't even glare anymore, Roy bites the inside of his cheek.

“I brought cake,” he offers, uncovering the plate and pushing it towards Edward.

“I don't want cake,” Edward scoffs, throwing a derisive look at the raspberry tart, “I want rules.”

Roy frowns, “What do you-”

“I don't want a repetition of what happened today,” Ed interrupts, “So we need rules about what you can and can't do. Kidnapping Al, for one.”

“For Heaven's sake, Ed, I didn't kidnap him,” Roy sighs, but Ed just hisses.

“You took him without permission!”

“Yes, I did,” Roy agrees, already feeling annoyance creeping into his voice yet forcing himself to reign it in, “Because it's no problem for me to handle him when we're here, but as soon as there are other people you become so fiercely protective that it's no longer okay for anyone to even look at Alphonse.”

Edward is pursing his lips now, looking contrite and contrary at the same time.

“It's because people are always staring,” he mumbles, avoiding Roy's eyes by going back to covering the baby in grass. Al's nose crinkles as he gives a toothless smile.

“What do you mean by that?” Roy ask, realizing that the source of the problem might run deeper than expected.

“Other people have always given us these... these pitying looks,” Ed admits, clenching his fingers in the grass, “Even back in the village, first when dad left and then then with mom... We were always 'those poor Elric boys' for nearly as long as I can remember. And then they stared because of the automail and the armor and suddenly we were freaks. They stared because we were kids and working for the military. And now... now they stare because they think Al is actually my kid, or because they know my supposed kid is actually Al. And I'm so sick of it, I wanna stab their eyes out sometimes, I wanna-”

Somehow, Roy had always been under the impression that Edward liked standing in the spotlight. What with his red coat and loud voice and the flashy alchemy he had always seemed like someone who reveled in attention.

But maybe it was just some sort of twisted defense mechanism. If you deliberately made people look at you, you wouldn't accidentally catch them staring, wouldn't feel their invasive gazes creep under your skin.

“Nevertheless,” he says, hoping to sound reasonable, “You can't very well shut Alphonse away from other people, can you?”

Edward winces, looks vaguely guilty.

Roy had long since noticed the discrepancy between the Elrics' needs for social interaction. Alphonse had always easily befriended others, regardless of age, gender, beliefs. The fact that he had been caught in a hollow armor and still managed to make complete strangers feel at ease in his presence surely said a lot. Ed's abrasive nature had been the total opposite, his fierce loyalty enhanced by how he only allowed a handful of people to get close.

Edward didn't really have friends. You were either distant enough to only be considered an acquaintance or so close that you effectively became family. There was no in-between.

The question was – where did that leave Roy?

“What am I in this scenario, Edward?” he asks now, lifting his hands a little helplessly, “I'm not your C.O. anymore, and I don't know whether you consider us close now but we certainly weren't before.”

It's unusual of him to admit his own uncertainty like this and it makes him feel vulnerable. Edward must know it, too, because he jerks his head up and gives him this surprised look like suddenly realizing that maybe Roy is just a human being as well, with flaws and fears and everything in between.

Roy sighs, runs his fingers through his hair, “So what am I supposed to be? Friend of the family? Strange uncle? Nanny? Roommate? You have to cut me some slack here, because I have no idea what I'm doing and what you expect of me.”

Ed purses his lips, seems to think for a moment.

“Can't you just... be there?” he asks, strangely tentative.

Roy stills.

Does Edward realize that he is echoing his own words from that very first week when they had discussed the duties of a parent, the promise of always being there for your child?

Probably not.

Maybe there is another category into which Edward sorted the people in his life. He did have a lot of brothers-in-arms, after all, fellow soldiers, fighting alongside him or at least in his vicinity.

Roy had always been that, hadn't he?

Now there is no common fight against terrorism or the corrupt government. But there is a child that needs to be raised and that is a kind of battle all of itself.

“Yes,” Roy says, inclining his head, “I'll be there. But then you have to accept all of it. My baby talk and that I want Alphonse to meet the people in my life and everything else. Otherwise we'll only end up arguing about what's best for him and I'm definitely not going to win that one.”

A moment of silence hangs between them, but Roy doesn't prod, just sits patiently. He is a man of strategy, after all, and knows when to make a move or still his hand.

Eventually, Ed gives a small nod.

“Okay,” he allows, “That sounds okay.”

Roy gives a small smile, still not bothering to speak. Instead he lies back on the blanket, propped up on his elbows, looking up at the blue sky. Next to him, Alphonse is blowing raspberries, so Roy turns towards him and does the same. Alphonse giggles.

“You're doing good, though,” Ed says, surprising him with the words, “I mean you're... you're always so calm about everything and I... I keep thinking that Al's gonna explode if someone looks at him for too long. I'm totally gonna mess him up.”

“You're really not,” Roy assures him, pulling stupid faces at Al, “Now eat the damn cake, Ed.”

Edward scoffs but, to his relief, just reaches out and stuffs the entire piece into his mouth.

“Bastard,” he says, almost unintelligible if it weren't for the familiarity of the word. Roy doesn't mind. His peace offering has been accepted and his role in the boys' life has, too.

 

 

Chapter Text

After that awkward heart-to-heart, Roy notices that Edward is starting to feel more at home

He doesn't outright say it, of course, but there are little signs here and there, the books he leaves cluttered around, forgetting to clean his hair out of the drain, eating cookies on the couch and spewing crumbs everywhere.

Slowly, very losing, he peels back his layers.

Due to the continuously nice weather, that also includes his clothes, and Roy comes to know that underneath the over-sized coat and the skintight black clothes, Edward is surprisingly toned, much more than his size and age would hint at.

He would have to be, Roy muses, stealing a subtle glance at Edward's shoulder as they pass each other in the hallway one morning, Edward's hair still damp from his shower, clad only in his underwear.

Automail is notoriously heavy. It takes the body a long time to get used to it, until it no longer feels off-kilter by the added weight. But it does adept, in one way or the other.

And, before anything else, Edward Elric has always been a survivor.

 

They are having tea at Gracia's.

Just a little while ago Elysia had always harrowed Roy to play with her, climbing onto his lap, demanding stories, asking which of her dolls looked more likely to pass the state alchemist exam.

Now, however, she is bugging Ed instead, wanting to be shown how to properly draw an array, demanding to play dress-up with Al.

Fortunately that means that the grow-ups get a few moments of peace. Yet Roy still can't help but throw an alarmed glance up to the ceiling whenever the is some sort of crash from Elysia's room upstairs.

“I love your daughter, but I pray to all that is sacred that Alphonse doesn't take after her or Edward,” he says now, rubbing his temple in exasperation. Gracia just looks at him for a long moment.

“You've really grown up, you know that?” she says at length and Roy blinks at the out-of-the-blue assessment.

“That's definitely a sentence I've not heard in years,” he replies, at a loss of what else to say.

She gives an amused laugh.

“I thought so,” she admits, “But that's probably because you hadn't changed much.”

She'd never known him before Ishval, of course, but Ishval had been years ago. He'd matured since then, worked his ways up through the ranks. Of course he'd grown up.

“Maes always used to say that you were just a big kid,” Gracia says now and the lingering pain in her eyes is gentled by the smile that plays around her lips, “He wanted to make you Führer, but he knew you'd have a long way to go.”

They rarely talk about Maes. He's always with them anyway, an unseen presence, not heavy, not haunting, but still. Gracia seems comforted by it. Roy mostly feels brittle.

“I like to think that I have the wisdom of an old man while still remaining young at heart,” he simpers and draws another laugh from her.

“I wouldn't call it wisdom,” she chuckles, “But you're getting there.”

“Whatever does that mean?” he asks, cocking an eyebrow.

“Hm,” she hums, enigmatic, “We'll see.”

 

Al naps on the way back home, but once there he is awake again. He's been steadily growing more curious, more aware of his surroundings, taking an interest in people and things. He's more of a person now and that's wonderful and tragic at once.

Roy sits down on the floor in the living-room, leaning against the couch, and Alphonse in his lap. He holds him up with one hand to make sure he doesn't topple over, but the other is busy driving tiny cars across the rug.

“You've really emptied half the toy shop, haven't you?” Ed asks from the doorway.

“Of course not,” Roy huffs. He might have been tempted, but it's not like Edward needs to know that.

“Did you really buy all of that for him, or are you compensating for missing out on your childhood or something?” Ed asks wryly, though if anyone had missed out on their childhood it would be Ed himself.

“There's a child in everyone of us,” Roy replies wisely and then mimes the choo-choo noises of the steam train.

“Al's never been interested in cars apart from how they actually work,” Ed points out, “At least get him more stuffed toys or dolls or something.”

“He likes his rattle,” Roy insists, not feeling petulant at all.

“Roy, he can barely hold the rattle yet.”

“But he likes it.”

Luckily, Al makes a grab for one of the cars in that moment. He misses, his eye-to-hand coordination not all developed yet, but it certainly serves to prove that he does like his toys.

Edward just snorts.

“I'm gonna clean my room,” he says and then leaves them alone, giving Roy the chance to act out a full-blown car chase to his heart's desire.

Barely ten minutes later there is a loud crash from upstairs. Both Roy and Alphonse startle.

Roy thinks Ed must have accidentally knocked something over. But then there is another crash, and another.

“Edward?!” he calls in alarm, jumping up and running to the bottom of stairs, Al still in his hold, “Ed, are you alright?”

There is no answer.

Roy thinks quickly. There could be an intruder in the house. Fullmetal certainly had made enough enemies over the years to have some of them still out for revenge.

So Roy grabs the gloves he always keeps in one of the drawers of the dresser in the hallway. He pulls them on as he makes his way up the stairs, contemplating whether it's more risky to bring Alphonse into the middle of a potential fight or to just leave him unsupervised where he might be an easy target.

As it turns out, however, there is no fight. At least none against an enemy that can be beaten into submission with some well-aimed punches.

Edward is kneeling on the ground in his room, amidst a sea of glass shards from the smashed bedside lamp and the splinters of wood from the broken chair. Next to him lies a sheet of paper, creased and covered in inky words.

“Edward,” Roy says, inching into the room, not understanding what has happened. But the boy doesn't react in any way, just keeps staring at his hands. The left one is bleeding sluggishly, probably from having come into contact with the broken glass.

Roy places Alphonse on the bed and then kneels down in front of Ed, trying to get him to look at him. But Ed's gaze is blank, unfocused.

He's in shock, Roy realizes, having seen similar expressions on a number of both soldiers and civilians. But what could have happened in such a short span of time to make the Fullmetal Alchemist first fly into a fit of rage and then go catatonic?

“Edward,” Roy says firmly, grasping his chin and attempting to make him respond in some way, “I need you to tell me what happened. I can help you. But you have to tell me-”

“'s a letter,” Edward whispers. His mouth barely moves and his voice is so low Roy almost misses it.

“I was cleaning 'n' there're some of Al's things still in the suitcase. I hadn't touched them yet, hadn't- I didn't think- But... there was a letter in one of his novels.”

Roy sucks in a breath, dreading what this might mean.

The letter is right there on the floor and this close Roy recognizes the vaguely familiar handwriting, the neat and loopy letters. He's got no right to read it, not without permission, but he needs to know how to get through to Edward, how to make him better.

Slowly, he reaches for the paper, keeping his gaze on Ed in case he wants to object. He doesn't.

Licking his lips, Roy lowers his eyes and begins to read.

 

East City, 18th March 1916

Brother,

you might never even find this letter. Either because everything went well and I could just throw it away, or because you didn't think to look through my stuff.

But if you are reading this, it means something went wrong and the transmutation failed.

I know you are confident, especially now that we have the Philosopher's Stone. I am confident, too.

But last time we thought it would work as well, and then it didn't.


Right now, you are already finally asleep. You are so excited about our plans you just passed out still talking about them. Tomorrow, we're going to go to the old warehouse and prepare everything. Tomorrow, everything might be alright once more.

But if you're reading this, then I'm no longer in a shape to destroy this letter. Maybe I'm dead now or in a coma. Maybe you had to soul-bind me to something else this time, a pebble or a tin can.

Or maybe we're both dead and there's no point to writing this anyway.

But just in case:

 

This is not your fault. I know you think you're always to blame for everything that happens to us, and some of the stuff that happens to other people, too. But that's not true.

You've always tried to do the right thing, and I think that means that accidents aren't really mistakes.

I know you only ever wanted the best for me. When you hoped to bring mom back, when you gave your arm, when you enlisted to the military. That was always all for me.

But the thing is that I want the best for you, too, brother. I want you to be happy.

You've never really been happy, not in a long time, even though you've tried to hide it from me.

All I want is to hug you. I can't do that right now because you're asleep and hugging an armor is uncomfortable and I can't feel it anyway. But in case in never get the chance to do it again, please feel hugged, always.

 

Remember what I made you promise. Whatever happens, you won't try to get me back. Sometimes it's alright to give up, and I think if it doesn't work this time we might have reached that point. There is no shame in that, neither for you nor for me. But if you ever think that you should try anyway, that you should keep going, no matter the consequences, then please remember that promise.

 

I love you, brother, don't forget that.

I love you and I forgive you.

I love you.

Your little brother

Alphonse Elric

 

Roy's heart clenches. Somehow, this is even worse than when Maes' last will had been read.

Because Maes' cheerful words had been written with the belief that his death was highly unlikely. He had worked in intelligence after all, in a position that didn't see a lot of fieldwork. He had written his will because that was what you did, not because he thought it might soon come to pass.

Alphonse, however, had written this letter in the knowledge that something could very well go wrong, that he might be dead in just a couple of hours. And he had known, too, that it would destroy Edward, that this promise would not be enough, that he needed another reminder.

And all that Alphonse, gentle and thoughtful and forgiving as he was, had wanted was for his brother to keep on living without him.

Instead, the belated discovery of these words of solace had only served to throw Edward out of his newly accepted routine, torn down his fragile pretense that everything was kind of alright.

Now, he is breaking down, mentally, physically.

The boy is rocking back and forth in an off-kilter rhythm, knees digging into the shards, and his hands have come up to claw at his face, leaving angry red marks on his skin. Within seconds, hot heavy tears fall from his eyes, tremendous sobs raking through his body, his entire spine contorting with it.

“Edward,” Roy repeats uselessly. Because what could he say? What could he possibly say to this boy who had lost so much, over and over and over again, whose tenacious belief in equivalent exchange seemed to be hinged on the desperate hope that one day he would be repaid for all that he had been taken from him?

“Edward, please,” Roy says and with mortification he realizes that his own throat is closing up. These are not his tears, however. Edward's grief, so vast, so forceful in its intensity, could no longer be contained within the confines of his body. It just spilled over, grabbed a hold of Roy and made him submit, too.

“I miss Al,” Ed manages to say, the words barely even understandable, barely resembling anything close to human language. His sobs are not sobs so much as howls now, a wounded animal, desolate, dying. “I want my little brother back. I want- I want him to be here- This is my fault, I did this to him- I can't- I want to be dead if he isn't-”

The Elric brothers, Roy realizes, have never been apart, never for more than a couple of days at a time. But this level of co-dependency is dangerous and always has been. Ed's train of thought is dangerous.

“Don't say that, Edward,” he says insistently, “You mustn't even think that. You have- so much to live for, so much that- You have Alphonse, for Heaven's sake, you still have Alphonse-”

And before he's even properly thought about it, he's gone and picked the child up from the bed, has brought him over to the still wailing Edward.

Al is blissfully unaware of the melt-down happening within the room, probably only vaguely confused about why there is so much noise.

But in case I never get the chance to do it again, he had written four months ago, preparing for the worst, Please feel hugged, always.

So Roy pries Ed's hands off his face, forces his arms apart and pushes the small infant into them, maneuvering Al so that his own tiny arms close around the back of Edward's neck. More out of reflex that anything else, Edward holds on.

It's a poor imitation of an embrace, Al lacking intent and Ed lacking sense.

But they are hugging, and Alphonse pats Edward's hair, babbling, “Da. Da da da.”

They are a sorry little lot as they sit in this room that is covered in broken things and goodbye letters, but slowly, very slowly Edward's sobs finally quiet down.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Ba,” Alphonse is sitting in his newly instated high chair, reaching down to grab at his own feet, “Bababa. Ba.”

Roy looks up from his newspaper.

“He's already talking,” he notes, impressed. But Edward who hasn't even once lifted his nose from the book he's been reading since he came down for breakfast only scoffs.

“It hardly qualifies as talking,” he says, throwing Roy a pitying look, “He's babbling, repeating sounds, getting a feel for his tongue and everything.”

“He's four months old,” Roy points out, “The books said to expect that at six months at the earliest.”

“He's also Alphonse,” Ed reminds him as though he could forget, “We were reading at age three. I'm pretty sure we could talk before we were six months old.”

Roy stares.

“You were reading at three?” he repeats, eyes wide, “Why the hell-”

“Well, there wasn't much to do around the house,” Ed muses, “Mom wouldn't let us out on our own yet. But we still had all of dad's books and everything.”

“You learned to read using scientific books on alchemy?” Roy wants to know, incredulous.

“Mom gave me these stupid kiddy books with the letters first,” Ed says, “But those were boring, so she started reading me the basic literature for alchemy. I think she did it to feel closer to dad, but it helped me pick things up pretty quickly. And later I taught Al.”

Roy had never considered himself a stupid man. And he knew that the Elrics had always been geniuses, had seen proof of it time and time again. But looking at this child on the floor and knowing that it would be able to read and understand academic literature in little over a year was downright intimidating.

“I was still picking my nose when I was that age,” he says, numb.

Ed only snickers.

“Don't lie,” he grins with shark teeth, “I bet you still do that now.”

 

Now that Roy knows what to look for, he notices how closely Alphonse has been watching them, wanting to be carried around at all times.

He seems to be very aware of their faces now, squinting at their mimics, seeming to understand their smiles in reaction to him, seeking out their gazes.

He has intelligent eyes, Roy thinks, a sort of murky green like deep water, the counterpart to Edward's flashing fire.

He takes great interest in playing with his own hands before reaching out to clumsily grab at theirs, and Ed's automail seems to leave him fascinated, cool and shiny as it is. Alternatively he sucks on his fingers while staring at their mouths, before suddenly reaching out and patting their faces, inspecting them curiously.

“Who might that be?” Roy asks Alphonse as he carries him to the front door after the bell has rung. They are not expecting anyone and Roy hopes it's no one important, because Edward is making lasagna in the kitchen and experience has shown that neither of them likes to share.

“Guh,” Al replies before unceremoniously stuffing his spit-covered fingers past Roy's lips, just as he is opening the door.

A familiar stately fate greets him, accompanied by a quickly rising eyebrow, plucked and prim.

“Roy,” she greets and there is barely any inflection in her voice, but so much judgment that he is momentarily caught off guard.

“Madame Christmas,” he says past Al's prodding hand and instinctively knows to fear for his life.

 

She is staying for dinner, of course she is, and Ed is eyeing her distrustfully across the table.

“Your aunt,” he asks flatly, throwing a sidelong glance at Roy, obviously skeptical.

“More of a mother, really,” Roy admits, “She adopted me when my parents died.”

Chris doesn't say anything but there is a pleased curve to her painted lips.

“Best decision of my life,” she rumbles, “Safe for inviting that Drachman up for a cup of coffee back in 1866, of course.”

Roy snortles. Ed stares.

“I guess I know where you get it from,” he says, sounding downright disapproving.

“That's a lot of judgment from someone who made up The Swear Word Song in order to entertain a toddler,” Roy points out, taking a delicate sip of his wine.

“Al thinks it's funny,” Ed insists, though he looks a little embarrassed. Then again, Roy's inner twelve-year-old thinks the song is funny, too, so he can't really object.

“Talking about child-rearing,” Chris says, somewhere between sharp and subtle, “I'm a little disappointed that I had to find out about your current living situation like this, Roy.”

“Ah,” Roy gives a little forced laugh, caught on the spot, “I did mean to tell you. Eventually.”

It's not like it matters. Even if Roy rarely calls, Madame has her own ways of finding out things she wants to know. He wasn't sure just how close an eye she kept on him, but she had probably been aware of Ed and Al's permanent presence in his house before his next-door neighbors had.

So this is not so much of a courtesy call as an interrogation.

She sighs, lips pursing, “Well. I guess I should count myself lucky that you didn't get yourself saddled with an illegitimate child.”

If there was one thing that she had taught him it was the importance of safer sex, something he had always been grateful for throughout various stages of his life. She had also taught him how to be a gentlemen while still charming people out of their pants and that, too, had often come in handy.

He offers her a smile and then turns back to his meal which tastes delicious, so it takes him a moment to figure out why something feels decidedly off. Finally, it occurs to him it's because Ed had fallen uncharacteristically silent during their conversation.

It must be odd for him to realize that Roy had family, too, and – even more than that – that he was an orphan who had been raised by a relative.

Does Edward watch him and Chris, trying to see himself and Alphonse thirty years down the road, with a life shared and yet not?

Madame had never been the marrying type, never the mothering type, frankly. She had always lived her own life, but she had still done right by Roy.

Now that he was old enough to take care of himself, or to have other people do it, she is not feeling abandoned or alone. She has her girls and her bar and she never wasted herself on anything she didn't enjoy.

Her aspirations in life are very different from Roy's, but at the same time he is aware of the many similarities between them. The refusal to marry just out of posterity. The dedication to anyone working under them. The ability to say one thing, but mean another.

Madame Christmas had never been what anyone would look at and deem a good parent, but she had been a great teacher and an inspiration nevertheless.

Now she looks at Roy with fondness and with pride, seeing his failures and his fights, his skinned knees and bruised knuckles, his furious scribbles and complicated explanations on how fire alchemy worked although it never made a lick of sense to her. But she listened. She was there, now and as she had always been.

If Edward managed to be anything like her, and Roy had no doubt about that, then Alphonse would grow up very well indeed.

 

“You like the boy,” Chris observes, once Edward has disappeared upstairs to get Al ready for bed.

Roy takes another sip of wine, keeps it in his mouth for a moment, bides his time.

“Both of them, yes,” he agrees easily when he has swallowed.

Every conversation with Madame is always like a game of chess. He had grown to be quite the strategist himself, but it was still difficult to out-maneuver your mentor.

“It seemed quite unlike you,” she says, watching him closely, “When I first found out that you had taken in some strays.”

“They are not strays,” he counters, though in his eyes the Elrics had always been nothing but. Two stray dogs, homeless and half-feral, touch-starved yet always waiting for the next cruelty.

“They are my subordinates,” he corrects her, “Or at least Edward is. Was. I feel responsible for them.”

“The first few days, maybe. Weeks even,” she cocks an eyebrow, “But it's been four months now, Roy. How long are you planning on keeping up this charade?”

“It's not a charade,” he insists, feeling vaguely offended, “I do care about them and I want what's best for them. The best is currently to give them a home where they can feel at ease until Edward is in a shape where he can properly decide for himself, without fearing for the outcome.”

“What if he doesn't?” she asks sharply and Roy blinks, “Pardon?”

“What if he doesn't, Roy?” she repeats, pointedly tapping her finger against the table, her manicured nail making an emphatic clicking noise on the wood, “What if a couple of months turn into a couple of years? What if you start out with one pubescent boy and end up with another one because, look at that, fifteen years have passed?”

At those words something like slow shock creeps into Roy's bones.

Madame probably hasn't found anything incriminating about the Elrics' circumstances. In her reconnaissance she would have run into more secrets than she liked, puzzle pieces that don't quite match up, but she knows better than to really pry into Roy's business.

To her, all that's important is the fact that, despite her tutelage, her foster son has ended up with a bastard child after all, and that it might well infringe on his future life, private as professional.

And Roy, in turn, now finds himself imagining what must have been going through Edward's mind while they were having dinner. Because it's all too easy to suspect what Alphonse might be like as a teenager. But it's an altogether different thing to enter himself into the equation.

He'd be thirty-two soon, and that was nothing, but fifteen years more and he'd be forty-seven. He'd planned to have made Führer by then. And Edward, Edward would be thirty-one – and that seemed even worse.

In Roy's eyes he had always been something like a fairy tale-like creature, the eternal child that never really grew up, a sprite which was ageless and immortal and never subjected to the tides of time.

It was a ridiculous notion. Roy had born witness to Edward growing into adulthood after all. Physically nothing much had changed about him, but he had matured, had ripened like the wine Roy was drinking, from sour tartness to a rich and wholesome flavor. But there was still an underlying sweetness to Ed, this deeply rooted morality that was so easily mistaken for innocence. Yet Ed was not innocent, not naïve or gullible, not even unaffected by what tragedies he had endured. Despite his inclination towards violence and expletives, he was simply and mind-mindbogglingly pure of heart, strong and steadfast like few else.

So yes, Edward has grown up, but he has not exactly changed, not at his core, not in his essence.

If over four years with the military had not changed that, then what would?

Roy tried to imagine Edward at thirty, a little taller maybe, a little mellower with the experiences of childcare and a less vagrant life style, but still indisputably Ed.

And how could Roy do anything but strive for the same, to stay true to himself and his values?

He realizes that he has gone on a bit of a mental tangent and that Madame is still waiting for his answer, though he is painfully aware that he has none to offer.

“We'll bridge those waters when we get there,” he says diplomatically, giving her his most bullet-proof smile so she doesn't even bother to fire back, just shakes her head and downs the last of her wine.

When he accompanies her to the door later and presses a kiss to her expectant cheek, she gives him another long and searching look.

“Just so you know,” she tells him, stepping out into the pleasant night air, “I consider myself a grandmother from now on.”

He splutters, catches her smirk and cannot help but laugh as well.
“I promise I'll keep you updated on all new developments,” he says and she gives a low growl.

“You better,” she agrees, vaguely threatening, but it's been a while since she last put him over her knee so he's not too afraid.

 

He drops by Ed's room after that, just to make sure how the boy is coping.

“Still awake?” he asks in mild surprise, nodding to where Al is lying on Ed's quilt, rolling himself from one side to another. He'll probably start crawling soon and then he'll conquer the house for himself.

“Yeah, he had a really long afternoon nap,” Ed yawns, propped up against his pillows “So I'm just kind of waiting for him to bounce himself to sleep.”

Already an a bit of an extrovert, Al also gets rather energized whenever he meets other people. Roy had always thought that Edward must have been a small terror growing up, but Trisha Elric and Pinako Rockbell surely had had their hands full with Alphonse as well.

“May I?” Roy asks, indicating to the bed. Ed shrugs.

“Sure,” he says and pulls his legs closer to himself as though he'd taken up much space before. Roy sits down on the edge of the mattress, settling a big on Al's small belly.

Al blows up his cheeks, looking excited because he already knows what's coming. With a grin Roy wriggles his eyebrows and then starts tickling him. Immediately Al squeals as though he were getting murdered and enjoying it.

Roy stops after only a few seconds, wanting to give Al a moment to breathe so he doesn't pee himself or maybe explode. When he looks up, he catches Ed looking rather amused.

“What?” he asks, palm still on a thrumming Alphonse.

“I have so much blackmail material on you, I don't even know who to start selling it to,” Edward snorts, shaking his head, “Are you even aware of how silly you look with those faces you pull?”

“Well, what better time to let loose than in the presence of a child?” Roy says and goes back to tickling Al. He probably won't have to keep it up for long. Tickling always fires Al up like nothing else, but afterwards he generally falls asleep like a rock.

Now he waves his small arms at Roy, begging to be picked up. Roy gladly obliges, settling him against his shoulder, cupping his small head.

Ed is still watching him, looking more pensive now, almost serious.

“You don't much look like her,” he says thoughtfully, “Your aunt, I mean.”

“No, I take more after my mother, I believe,” Roy admits though he only knows her from photographs.

“She was originally from Xing. A great beauty, you know,” he adds, ignoring Edward's derisive snort, “Worked one of Madame's girls. That's how she met my father. It was love at first sight, allegedly.”

At least that's what Chris had told him and he had no reason to doubt her. She had never been one to embellish sappy stories, after all.

He imagined it had been much like how Maes had always talked about his first meeting with Gracia. The shy and somewhat awkward hello, the long look, the double-take, the realization. And then you are done for, just like that.

Roy cannot see himself ever falling for someone in such a manner. He knows instant attraction, yes, but not immediate affection. Love, of any kind, must develop slowly and be nurtured over a long time. Whether it be a weed that seems to spring up from one day to the next or water lilies that take years and years to grow out of sight until they finally bloom, there has to be rain and sunshine and fertile ground before anything can take root and grow and carry seeds.

Edward is pursing his lips now, as though not happy with the words that want to come out.

“Do you-” he begins, licking his lips uncertainly, frowning, “Do you, like,... miss your parents or wish things had turned out differently?”

And this is what Roy had been expecting, Ed trying to work out his own problems without outright saying so.

“I don't even remember them, so I wouldn't say I miss them,” he admits calmly and feels neither shame nor pain, “Of course I wish, for their sake, that they could have lived longer. But living longer doesn't necessarily equate living happily. They might have grown to dislike each other, might have turned into horrible parents even, for whatever reason. I cannot grieve for a fickle fantasy.”

He rarely thinks of them nowadays, feels little to no connection to them or to his Xingese heritage.

“I am grateful for Madame,” he knows instead, “That I did not end up in a orphanage or with someone who might have treated me unkindly. I never had a father figure growing up, but I had my aunt and her employees who were like older cousins to me. They taught me respect and proper manners and quite a bit about reading people.”

They had been quite a diverse bunch, too, in all regards. He had learned card tricks as well as dance steps from them, some Drachman and Cretan, how to play the piano and tie a bow tie, how to kiss and flirt and manipulate people into thinking that what you want is actually what they wanted all along.

He does not have the name or the upbringing some of his more respected peers might have, but he is definitely more equipped to play games of power than some snotty little upstart from a prestigious family who went to a boarding school and barely knows how to wipe his own ass.

Edward is still watching him or again watching him, he isn't even sure anymore.

“Something the matter?” Roy asks, keeping his voice light.

“Hm,” Edward scrunches up his nose a little like he does whenever he tries to figure out which sort of spice he still needs to add to a dish, “I just realized that... we have a few things in common, I guess.”

They do, actually, but Roy would have never overstepped his boundaries and pointed it out himself.

“Our dashing good looks, primarily,” he says instead, deliberately exaggerating by giving a winning smile and running a hand through his hair.

“You are the most conceited person I have ever met,” Edward huffs, but doesn't really sound annoyed.

“It's not bragging if it's the truth, Edward,” Roy claims with an off-handed gesture and then peers down at Al, “I think he's ready for bed now.”

“Finally,” Ed sighs and rubs a hand over his face, “You tuck him in then.”

So Roy does, standing up and walking over to the crib, placing a drowsing Al in it and pulling the light blanket over him, his faithful teddy as his side, the bell chiming gently.

“Sleep tight, Alphonse,” he tells the boy who makes a sleepy little noise in response before Roy steps back and to the door, “You, too, Edward.”

“Night, Roy,” Ed mumbles, looking ready to fall asleep right on the spot as well, so Roy disappears down the hallway and into the bathroom to wash up.

When he returns a few minutes later, however, he cannot help but stop outside of Ed's room, hearing voices from inside.

“Dada,” Alphonse is saying, less aimless than his previous babbling had appeared to be, “Dada.”

“Brother,” Edward replies, sounding a little off, and Roy imagines him standing over the crib, trying for a desperate smile, “Can you say that for me? Bro-ther.”

“Da,” Al repeats simply, “Dada.”

Roy closes his eyes for a long moment and then continues on to his room.

 

 

Chapter Text

Roy leaves work with the promise to meet his team at the Baker's Dozen later that evening.

The afternoon is quite sweltering and by the time he makes it home his dress-shirt it sticking to his skin in an uncomfortable manner. He is in desperate need of a shower before he can show himself in public again, but he has a different kind of refreshment in mind first.

Unsurprisingly, Ed and Al are to be found in the back-yard that has seen quite some re-modeling during the past weeks. The tiny patio looks more inviting than it ever did since Roy first moved in, there is a hammock hanging from the old tree that has grown into something quite sturdy, thanks to 'picking up some tricks from old acquaintances', as Ed had put it, as well as making the hedges looking a little less sorry and therefore offering more privacy from curious neighbors.

Roy's favorite addition, however, is the small pool that Ed has planted in the middle of the yard, nothing fancy, not big enough to swim, but a true relief on hot days like these.

As expected, Ed has once more taken to the water, eternally fascinated by the discovery that Alphonse instinctively knows how to swim and dive.

“Hey,” Roy says, stepping closer, already having slipped out of his shoes and socks and relishing in the feel of the grass between his toes.

“Hey,” Ed echoes, glancing up, “There is chocolate cake in the kitchen.”

“Oh,” Roy says, pleasantly surprised, “Did you make it?”

“No,” Ed shakes his head, “Gracia came over earlier.”

“I'll have some later, I think,” he replies because in this heat the thought of food makes him feel slightly queasy, so he begins to strip down to his underwear instead and then joins Ed and Al in the pool.

“Ba!” Al greets him excitedly, splashing around a little.

“Hello, Alphonse,” Roy greets him as is his custom, “How has your day been?”
“Miss Kinnet's cat came by earlier,” Ed grins a little, “He was practically vibrating on the spot. I thought he looked ready to eat her whole, but she even let him pet her.”

So some things never changed and there was quite a comfort in knowing that.

“I have to dry him off now,” Ed explains apologetically when he climbs out of the pool and places Al on a waiting towel because hypothermia is still a big danger to children.

“No worries,” Roy waves him off, just relieved that he gets to be in the water at least.

Edward towels Alphonse dry and then pulls the parasol over to place the baby in its shade.

“Watch him for a moment, yeah?” Ed tells Roy and then disappears inside the house, dripping wet as he is, though at least his hair is still dry from being tied up in a messy bun.

Roy crosses his arms over the rim of the pool and thoughtfully looks at this tiny miracle of a human being. Children in general are always something of a wondrous affair, but Alphonse Elric even more so.

“Can you imagine that I used to be as small as you?” he asks and shakes his head slightly, “Thirty years now, if you can believe it.”

When he had been a boy he'd been vaguely aware of the privileges of youth, but had still wanted to be all grown-up already. Now he sometimes wishes he could go back to the carefree days of his childhood. Or maybe his time before Ishaval when he had not yet been disenchanted and weary with the ways of war.

“Can't I give you some of my years?” he wonders and pokes Alphonse in the belly, “Maybe not enough to age you up again. That would make me fifteen. I'd be younger than your brother then and that would be very strange indeed. But maybe just a couple of years. Five or six, hm? How does that sound?”

The child only grabs his finger and laughs at the ridiculousness of it all.

“Ba,” Al tells him.

“Non-sense, my hair is not going gray yet,” Roy puts on a mock frown, “And even if that were the case, I hear most ladies like mature men.”

Alphonse just laughs again.

A few minutes later Ed is back, carrying a plate in one hand and a carafe in the other, two glasses lodged between his arm and ribs.

“Ready for cake now?” Ed asks as he sits back down by the pool again, dangling his feet into the water, before pouring two glasses. The lemonade tastes more like lemon water but that means it's neither too sour nor too sweet, and the chocolate cake is Roy's favorite as Gracia very well knows.

They eat in silence for a while, watching as Al inspects a ladybug that has landed on his hand.

Finally, though, Ed steals a furtive glance at Roy instead.

“...Why didn't you tell me it was your birthday?” he asks, sounding somehow put out.

Of course. Gracia must have mentioned it when she had come by to drop off the cake.

Thoughtful, Roy licks the frosting off his fork.

“When you get to be my age,” he says at length, “You'd rather forget all about them.”

“How old are you then?” Ed wants to know.

“Three decdades now.”

Ed's frown deepens, “That's not very old, is it?”

“Sometimes it feels like it, sometimes it doesn't,” Roy muses, “And it's less about the quantity of the years, but the quality.”

A grimace, “What's that supposed to mean?”

“Let's put it like this,” Roy tries, “Do you know any other sixteen-year-old boys?”

“Some, I guess?” Ed says with a careless shrug.

“And do any of them have even half the experience and maturity that you have already reached?” Roy asks, only to have Ed scoff, “You think I'm mature? Well, that's a first.”

“I think that age and maturity can be two very different things,” Roy explains, “And while we cannot help getting progressively older, maturity is a bit more fluid. We cannot influence how mature we actually are, but I don't really believe in trying to 'act your age'.

In a way, behaving immaturely was an act of liberation, especially when you had seen a war where there was little time for fun and games. People were more than just coins with two opposing sides, they had facets and moments and could change within the blink of an eye.

“Hm,” Ed hums, “What are your plans for the rest of the day then?”

“Why, bar-hopping with my men, of course,” he laughs and Ed rolls his eyes.

“So you're basically caught at eighteen,” he summarizes with a huff, “Figures.”

 

Roy dresses in something casual but nice, fancier than he would for just staying at home, but putting less effort into it than he would for a date.

“When will you be back?” Ed asks while Roy is checking himself out in the hallway mirror.

He plucks a stray strand of hair back into place, considering, “Well, tomorrow is a workday, so before midnight, I should think.”

Not to mention that Fury was a bit of a lightweight while Havoc became completely useless when he only marginally hungover. Hawkeye would never let them get away with it.

Ed taps his automail fingers against the threshold of the kitchen door, looking a little awkward.

“Well, then,” he says uncertainly, “Have fun, I guess.”

“Thank you,” Roy nods at him through the mirror, “Considering that last year Fury actually vomited on my shoes, it can only get better.”

Ed snorts a laugh, but purses his lips as Roy finally makes his way over to the door.

“Roy,” Ed calls after him, making him glance back over his shoulder.

“Yes?”

Edward avoids his eyes, scratches his cheek as he looks up to the ceiling, “Happy birthday. Or something.”

Roy only smiles in response.

 

They are at their fourth bar already, all of them in good spirits. Riza had begged out after the second stop of the night, mostly because she wasn't one for drinking, and also because she knew her boys never dared to let loose in her presence, not matter how often she explained that she wasn't really judging them outside of work.

But even without her supervision, things are not getting too rowdy. Jean has already been turned down twice so far. Vato is holding his liquor with a stiff upper lip while Kain, who'd started looking rather tipsy after only three drinks and had switched to water for the time being, is now perking up again as the next round arrives.

“Barman said it's on the house,” Heymans announces with a wry grin, placing the shot glasses on the table, “Good thing you're pretty, boss.”

Roy lifts his gaze and catches the bartender's eyes across the room. The man is tall and broad-shouldered, his hair and beard gleaming copper in the dim light reflecting off the bottles and mirrors behind him. Frankly, he looks more like a lumberjack than anything else and Roy finds himself amused by the thought.

Havoc curses under his breath.

“Isn't it enough that all the girls are already after you?” he complains, “Does it have to be the blokes, too?”

“Why, Jean, I never knew you swung that way,” Roy replies smoothly, presenting him with his killer smile, “If I had suspected...”

He trails off suggestively. The others erupt into laughter while Jean blushes and tries to hide behind his glass, mumbling something incoherent.

Throughout the rest of the evening, Roy can feel the barman's eyes on him, but acts oblivious to it.

The temptation is there, but only in a vague and wondering manner. He could go home with the man, but he already knows that it would only result in him being late for work. Not to mention that he had promised Ed to be back before midnight, so he should probably stay true to that.

Bringing the man home with him is completely out of question. It's something that Roy had always avoided anyway, but now the thought of having Ed run into his one-night-stand makes him feel rather nauseous. Edward had always reacted poorly when Roy so much as jokingly flirted with someone. Seeing actual proof of Roy's love life would probably only make him rant about what a bad influence he was on Alphonse.

“By the way, chief, did you already have that sunburn this morning?” Heymans wants to know, distracting him from his meandering thoughts and the barman.

Roy touches a hand to his cheek, the skin feeling a little tender and rather warm under his cooler fingers. He had noticed that his face had looked reddened before he left the house, but he had thought that it would have calmed down by now.

“Ah,” he realizes, “I spent two hours in the pool. The sun must've reflected off the water.”

“You have a pool, sir?” Vato asks, sounding vaguely envious.

Roy grins, “Edward transmuted one into the backyard.”

“I want my own personal Fullmetal Alchemist,” Jean decides on the spot, slamming his glass down to emphasize his vehemence, “I mean, is there anything that boy can't do?”

“Well, he's quite a bit of a cook,” Roy brags in an exaggerated tone, slinging an arm around Jean, “He also organized all of my books in a new order. I can't find anything anymore, but he claims there is a system and it's my own fault for not understanding it.”

“Too bad he was never this diligent about paperwork,” Vato comments wryly.

“Too bad not a single one of us is,” Heymans adds, “Good thing we got Riza.”

Immediately, Roy lifts his glass.

“To Riza!” he toasts and the others join in without a moment's hesitation, though there is a bit of an irony to the fact that, while she would be quietly amused by their antics, she would not really approve of them abusing her name as an excuse to drink.

They end up getting another round of shots, this one notably not on the house as the barman seems to have accepted defeat, but it still tastes just as good.

Heymans is teaching Kain a dirty drinking song while Vato looks on in mute horror. Jean is looking rather smitten by a petite brunette across the room. Roy throws a glance at his pocket watch, noting the late hour.

“I'm afraid I'll have to excuse myself for the night,” he announces, already pushing his chair back, “Though, as always, it has been a pleasure.”

“Aw, did the missus tell you to be home early?” Heymans taunts with a crooked grin.

“Lieutenant Hawkeye said it's alright to stay out longer if we don't overdo it with the alcohol,” Kain pipes up helpfully, but Heymans only snorts.

“Not Riza,” he says and nudges Kain, “The boss.”

Kain's eyes widen, “Edward is the missus?”

“And this is where I'll take my leave,” Roy says decisively, rapping his knuckles on the table, “Good night, gentlemen.”

“Night, chief,” they all chorus, though Heymans is still snickering to himself.

 

Roy walks all the way home, using it as an opportunity to sober up a little. The night's dark is less oppressive than its lingering heat and when he had stepped out of the bar it had been like walking against an invisible wall. But the sky is wonderfully clear, the stars sprinkled across, so he tilts his head back and enjoys his leisured stroll.

By the time he's home it's not yet midnight but all the windows in the street are dark. He unlocks the front door and lets himself in, but instead of immediately making his way to his bedroom as he should, he ends up in the living-room, sunken down into his armchair, balancing a tumbler of brandy in the hollow his palm.

Thirty years. He had met Maes at eighteen. That was almost half of his life spent on being best friends with a wonderful madman. And half of his life just stolen away within the blink of an eye, the pull of a trigger. Almost as easy as snapping your fingers and killing hundreds, killing thousands, killing-

Roy covers his eyes with his hand, but he is already sitting in the dark so it doesn't make much of a difference. He takes a deep breath, though it quivers on the way down.

Why now? He had been enjoying the day. Work hadn't been too bad, his afternoon had been warm and sweet and pleasant with the pool and Gracia's cake and Ed and Al. Aunt Chris had given him a call to send her well-wishes and so had Major Armstrong. Bar-hopping had been fun, too, not a forced affair, but neither going overboard. The men had been jovial, Riza had smiled a lot and bested Jean at a drinking game. A handsome man had shown interest in him.

In short, everything was good.

So why was all the bad stuff coming up now, as if to eradicate every happy feeling within him?

Thirty years, his mind seemed to say. Thirty years and here is mistake number one. Here is number two. Number one-hundred-sixteen. Here is your regret. Here are your short-comings. Here is what you could have done better. Here is what you'll never make up for. Here is what you'll burn in hell for, burn like you burned all those who didn't deserve it-

All of a sudden, Roy is bathed in light. He starts violently, almost dropping the glass in his hand, but catching it with shaking fingers at the last moment.

When he looks up he finds Ed standing in the doorway. He's only clad in boxers and his hair is still tied in a messy bun, the only sensible solution for sleeping in this weather. He's casually leaning against the threshold, arms crossed over his chest, but there is a thoughtful frown on his face.

“Did you just come home from drinking, only to drink more on your own?” he asks, sounding somewhat judgmental. He must have heard Roy enter the house but not walk upstairs, and came to look for him. Roy had been so far gone he hadn't even heard him approach, had only noticed once Ed switched on the light.

“It's my birthday, Edward, let me have my fun,” he complains vaguely, but does sit up a little straighter to make himself look more presentable.

“It's past midnight, so technically...,” Ed trails off meaningfully.

Roy groans, “My brain can't handle technically right now.”

“Do all old people turn out to be all sad and shit like you?” The expression on Ed's face turns into something resembling disgust, so Roy cocks an eyebrow at him, “Didn't you say a couple of hours ago that I'm not really old?”

“Yeah, but then you said something about quantity and quality, and seriously, your quality looks downright depressing at the moment,” Edward points out, waving a dismissive hand.

“Charming as ever, Fullmetal,” Roy observes and tilts his glass at him.

“Come on,” Edward jerks his head a little, nodding over his shoulder and to the direction of the hallway behind him, “Get your butt up and go to sleep. Workday, remember?”

Roy lets out a big, world-weary sigh.

“How could I ever forget?” he asks and puts down his half-empty glass on the coffee table.

He expects Edward to go ahead and return to his room, but then he finds the boy waiting by the foot of the stairs, obviously wanting to make sure that Roy really does go straight to bed.

“Not gonna brush your teeth?” Ed snarks once they've made it upstairs and Roy is turning towards his room.

“I think I'm old enough to decide when it's alright to skip out on that,” he replies.

“Well, soon you'll be reaching the age when your teeth are gonna fall out again,” Ed muses saucily, “So...”

Roy can't believe it. The Fullmetal Alchemist nagging him like a housewife and-

He draws up short, surprising himself with a chuckle.

Edward frowns in suspicion, “What?”

But Roy merely shakes his head.

“Just something Breda said tonight,” he says vaguely and then does make for his door, “Goodnight, Edward.”

“Night, weirdo,” Edward retorts and there are definitely worse ways to end your birthday.

 

 

Chapter Text

In September Miss Rockbell announces herself for another visit and this, unlike the time before, at least gives Roy the opportunity to personally pick her up from the train station after work.

Edward had insisted that he could do it, of course, but between Ed not knowing how to drive and having to cart Al's pram around while Winry carried both her general luggage and her mechanical tools, Roy had deemed it best to beg out of the office early and just request a car. He gets to be lazy while disguising it as an act of gallantry. It's perfect.

Once he's found her in the crowd, offered to carry her seriously heavy baggage and guided her back to the car, he engages Miss Rockbell in pleasant small-talk, asking about her job, her grandmother, the events around Riesembol and Rush Valley.

“It's still so hot there,” she complains, “But in winter it'll become terribly cold. I'm really not looking forward to it.”

“At least there won't be much snow,” Roy knows, “Here, the snow turns into slush as soon as it hits the ground.”

The weather may not be the most imaginative topic for conversation, but at least it feels safe. Roy doesn't want to disclose anything about Ed and Al that Edward himself might want to tell her himself. She can't very well ask him much about his work, apart from inquiring about how Riza is doing. And then there is still that gigantic rift between them that neither dares to step close to.

Luckily, the drive is not a long one and soon enough he is once more leading Miss Rockbell through his front yard and unlocking the entrance door.

“Edward, I'm home!” he calls out and, a little belatedly adds “I've brought Miss Rockbell with me.”

“In the garden!” Ed calls back and Roy beckons Winry to follow him.

Due to summer slowly fading, Ed had eventually gotten rid of the pool and instead set up a sandbox where he had been drawing simple arrays and transmuting small animals for Alphonse. Alphonse, however, generally seemed more interested in trying to eat mud cakes, and no matter how disgusted he looked with every mouthful of sand he hadn't learned his lesson yet.

Now, Ed is sitting on the rim of the sandbox, baby in his lap, Al wielding a tiny shovel like a weapon.

Winry, who had been bright and vibrant like steel on a summer's day up until now, takes one look at them and suddenly seems much softer, the sun peeking past some clouds.

“Hey,” she says, just a small little breath, seeming at ease now that he sis reunited with her foster brothers once more.

“Hey, Win,” Ed replies in much the same manner and then ducks his head to talk to Alphonse.

“This is Winry, Al,” he explains, holding the boy's hand and making him give a tiny wave, “Say hi to Winry. Do you remember her? She is an evil she-demon who-”

At once, all fuzziness of the moment is gone.

“Ed, I swear to all that is sacred, don't make me hit you when you are holding something as breakable as a human child,” she hisses.

Ed only sticks his tongue out at her and then yelps when she really makes a grab for him. He jumps up and quickly dances out of the way, conveniently putting Roy between himself and Winry.

“Ba!” Al demands in that moment, stretching his arms out towards Roy.
“What, you wanna say hello to Roy?” Ed asks, lifting him up a little.

Alphonse's vocabulary has been slowly expanding over the past weeks.

So far, Edward is persistently 'da', but lately his teddy had also been 'da'. Roy gets called 'ba' which puts him on the same level as his ball, his rattle, his favorite picture book, and the radio. 'Ugh!' is generally anything immediately exciting, like a squirrel and Miss Kinnet's cat Guinevere, or Edward transmuting something seemingly out of thin air. It is often accompanied by an energetic kicking of his legs and attempts to draw everyone's attention to the thing that has got him in such a tizzy.

“Good afternoon, Alphonse,” Roy says somberly and smiles.

“Ba!” Al repeats and smiles back, still waving his arms.

“Why does he always get so excited to see you?” Ed complains, sounding vaguely jealous, but nevertheless surrendering the child into Roy's arms.

“Because he sees you all day long, but when I come home I'm special,” Roy declares grandly, showing Edward a benevolent smile.

“Boo,” Ed says and then shrieks when he is suddenly knocked to the side and toppled onto the lawn.

“Who are you calling a she-demon?” Winry roars, happily using the opportunity now that Al is in safer hands.

“Maybe the one who screeches like a banshee and fights like a troll,” Edward retorts but is made to regret it when she gives him a noogie. Roy and Alphonse watch on as he struggles in her hold, though it's a rather futile battle. As a mechanic, Miss Rockbell is quite muscular and even though Edward could easily fight back he probably can't do it without seriously hurting her, so he is helplessly at her mercy now.

She is rubbing her knuckles against his scalp with a gleeful expression while he is letting out stifled curses, wriggling around like a cat being forced to take a bath. Suddenly, though, there is a the chink of metal on metal, and then the necklace Winry had been wearing slides to the floor.

“Oh no,” she moans, immediately letting go of Edward and picking the thing up with careful hands. It's nothing fancy, a simple curb chain that had been fasted around her neck like a narrow collar, probably made of steel instead of silver, but with three tiny charms dangling off it. The chain perfectly matches her the metal studs in her ears and her work-calloused hands, while the delicate pendants seems to pay homage to the blue of her eyes and the blush in her cheeks.

Now, Edwards automail must've snagged on one of the links and torn it right off.

“Ah, sorry,” Ed apologizes, rubbing the back of his neck, “It'll repair it.”

“You better!” Winry demands huffily, thrusting the necklace into his hand, “Paninya bought it for me, so I can't come back without it!”

Edward scoffs, but dutifully places the chain on the ground before clapping his hands, slamming them down and transmuting the necklace into its previous state.

“Why the heck is Paninya buying you jewelry anyway?” he asks as he steps behind Winry to fasten the chain once more.

“Er,” Miss Rockbell says, eyes rolled up towards the sky, “Because we're sort of dating?”

Edward is so caught off guard he manages to destroy the chain a second time.

 

“You and Paninya??” Edward demands once they have settled down for tea and scones.

Winry laughs, clears as a bell, “I guess.”

“But- how?” Ed's eyes are wide in disbelief.

“It just sort of happened,” she replies, toying with a strand of her hair, “We spent a lot of time with each other and eventually... well.”

Edward gapes, “You never mentioned anything in your letters!”

But Winry gives him a look, “You never mentioned the thing about Al.”

She seems to realize that she has overstepped her boundaries because she quickly lowers both eyes and voice.

“Sorry,” she mutters, “I just... I guess I didn't want to jinx it. I only told granny last week and... it's all rather new, so.”

“Wow,” Edward is staring at his plate, up at her and then back down again, “That's so... You remember how she, like, stole from me once and I had to chase her down and all that?”

“Yeah,” Winry nods, “That was actually the moment I started liking her.”

“You're a tit,” Ed tells her blandly and she looks scandalized.
“Not in front of Al,” she insists.

“I've tried to tell him. Multiple times,” Roy informs her in resignation, “Failed. Every single instance.”

“Da!” Alphonse laughs from his high-chair, rocking back and forth and reaching out to tug at Edward's hair, “Da da!”

All of a sudden, the mood changes. Edward busies himself with picking apart his scone while Winry purses her lips, looking uncomfortable. In the spur of the moment, Roy quickly dips his finger into the whipped cream before dabbing some onto Al's lips and nose.

“Ba!” Al squeaks at once, licking the cream off his lips and then crossing his eyes to see the rest that is still left on the tip of his nose.

Edward snorts at the sight. Winry giggles. Al seems to realize that he's got their attention now and lets out a low purr before he starts to make a series of unintelligible noises, randomly pointing at stuff and waving his hands, getting more and more excited.

Soon enough, everyone is laughing and the awkward moment is quickly forgotten.

 

Miss Rockbell decrees that Edward is due for an automail refit and has, of course, come prepared. She also insists that they do it after dinner, though Roy is not sure why.

He makes himself scarce in order to give Ed and Winry some privacy, busying himself in his study. It feels a bit odd to not want to intrude on someone in his own house, but they also promised to cook dinner once more so he can't really complain.

For now, though, they are busy playing in the living-room, with Alphonse and all his wonderful toys. Winry had seemed quite enamored by the amount of cars and trains. In fact, Roy wouldn't be surprised if a few of them gained the ability to actually drive within the next hour.

True to Ed's word, however, Al does prefer his stuffed toys and building blocks. Lately, he has been getting better at erecting small towers himself, but gets peeved whenever Ed tears them down with a mocking little laugh.

Within just a couple of hours Roy gets a surprising amount of work done and only procrastinates a little by standing in front of his book shelf and trying to determine what on earth Ed had been thinking by putting a dictionary in-between a book on classical art and an old leather tome about the principles of alchemy while relegating the journals about newer theories to the back, half-hidden behind a collection of Cretan love poetry. Then again, maybe that's just Ed's way of saying how he thinks half of the books are useless anyway.

After all that boring paperwork, dinner is a relief and a rather pleasant affair. Ed and Winry bicker like childhood friends are wont to do and Roy relays some embarrassing stories about Edward so Miss Rockbell has something to tell her grandmother.

Edward glares at him, of course, especially when Winry pulls out some tales of her own, and then he is falling over himself to remind her of that time she had tried to kiss a frog and nearly swallowed it instead.

Sometimes, there are odd little breaks in the middle of a story and then they quickly move on to a different line of thought. Roy assumes it's because this where Alphonse would figure into their shared memories but that they don't dare to touch that just yet, not in front of each other.

They will have to learn, though. Tiptoeing around the matter will only postpone the problem.

Once the plates are scraped clean and no leftovers are to be fought over anymore, they all gather in the living room. Ed settles Al in the playing pen where he falls asleep within seconds, completely knocked out from playing for hours.

Finally, it's time for the refit and Miss Rockbell gets out her toolbox, revealing two already prepared automail limbs.

“I took his measurements last time and made the according changes,” she explains for Roy's benefit, “He's grown a bit.”

Had he? Roy hadn't noticed. They spent so much time with each other that such subtle differences were quickly lost within the flurry of day-to-day life. And if anything, they are both more focused on Al's development.

“I concentrated on the touch sensors in this update,” she adds, glancing up at Ed, “I thought... you might not really need battle gear anymore.”

“Yeah...” Ed agrees vaguely, staring up at the ceiling.

He's sitting on the couch, only in his underwear now. Winry has already disconnected his automail, and he is waiting there like a piece of art caught between the classic and the abstract. It's a curious sort of bizarre perfection. Surprisingly, Ed looks unperturbed, showing no discomfort at his overall very vulnerable state. He must be feeling very safe in Miss Rockbell's capable hands.

Almost without Roy's permission his gaze is drawn towards the scars crisscrossing over Edward's shoulder, expanding like the tendrils of a cobweb. They are not pale and shiny like most scar tissue, nor red and angry like the remnants of burn wounds. Instead, they are an intricate pattern of brown, like the roots of a gnarly tree. Faintly, Roy wonders what they would feel like to the touch.

What had it been like when the human transmutation failed? It was tempting to think that Al's body and Ed's limbs had just been gone, but the scars indicated that it had been nothing like that. Had Ed's leg been ripped off, cut off? Had it faded away or unraveled? Had it disintegrated into its different components, its molecules and atoms?

Either way, it must have been painful, brutal. Pinako Rockbell had mentioned that Ed had almost bled to death by the time Al brought him to her. But Edward had felt that pain of losing his leg and knew for a fact that it was nothing in comparison to losing his brother. And so he had been willing to give anything else in his stead.

Miss Rockbell carefully adjusts the new prostheses in their sockets, first the arm and having Edward hold it in place, then kneeling back down and doing the same with the leg.
“On three?” she asks and Ed gives a tight nod, “On three.”

“One,” she says and Roy watches as Ed takes a deep breath.

“Two.” His jaw and shoulders tighten, obviously steeling himself.

“Three!”

The automail clicks into place, and Edward throws his head back. He is writhing on the cushions, teeth bared, eyes clenched shut, and he gives a sort of low keening, deep in his throat.

Roy stares. He had heard that the general process of acquiring automail was no walk in the park, but he hadn't been aware that each refit would be so painful as well.

It would have to be, he muses. After all, the limbs are directly connected to the nervous system. Yet whenever Ed had complained about needed new automail he had made it sound like he was more worried about Winry's volcanic reaction.

Now, he slumps back on the sofa, completely exhausted within only a handful of seconds. No wonder Miss Rockbell had not wanted to do this in the afternoon.

“Can you move them?” she asks now, hands resolutely on her hips. Edward gives a tired wriggle but then obediently lift his arm and leg, moves them around experimentally, curling fingers, flexing toes.

“Feels perfect,” he says quietly and gives a vague smile, “Good work, Win.”

There's a pleased little blush on her cheeks but then she is already examining the joints once more, checking the seams where steel meets flesh.

“You should rest now,” she tells him, her tone brokering now argument, “I'll sleep over at Gracia's.”

She helps him lie down on the sofa, throwing a blanket over him and gently tucking him in, mechanic turned nurse in only a blink.

Roy watches from a respectful distance until she finally presses a kiss to Ed's temple and straightens up again.

“I'll see you tomorrow,” she says and he mumbles an unintelligible reply.

 

Since Roy still has the car he gallantly offers to drive Miss Rockbell to Gracia and she accepts readily enough. Still, the ride feels even more awkward that the one before, and he cannot shake the feeling that there is something heavy weighing on her mind.

Surprisingly, she is the one who finally speaks up.

“He's really doing this,” she says with raw disbelief in her voice, “He's really going to raise Al.”

In the near-dark, her hands clench in the fabric of her skirt, “I thought... I was sure he'd keep on looking for ways out of this, to... to actually bring Al back. But... he's not going to do that, is he?”

Roy keeps his eyes on the road.

He doesn't think that Miss Rockbell really blames Edward for what has happened, but it's also likely that she hasn't yet found a way to deal with her grief either. Because how do you mourn someone who's still there and yet not, how do you let go off something that hasn't completely been lost?

She has her grandmother and now apparently her girlfriend who surely support her, but this is only the second time that she had seen Alphonse in his current state. If Edward isn't yet used to the situation, then Winry most likely isn't either.

And unlike Roy she had also not witnessed the development Edward had gone through, had not seen him grown and adjust. To her, his acceptance must truly seem like surrender.

“Don't you think there is a certain bravery in deciding to raise Alphonse?” he asks calmly as he turns the car around a corner, feeling her eyes suddenly upon him.

After all, was this situation really so different from how things had been before? Edward was still dedicating his entire life to ensuring Al's well-being.

There had been times when Roy had wondered what would happen if the Elrics really succeeded in regaining their bodies. Because once they were restored what else was there for them do? He could easily imagine Alphonse doing all the things he had missed out on before, wanting to travel in order to taste all the foreign dishes, smell all the strange scents of faraway lands, meet people and feel their warmth when he shook hands with them. He'd settle down eventually, marry a sweet girl, have a bunch of cats and then a bunch of kids.

Edward, however, had never really seemed to think beyond the day after tomorrow. He lived in the moment out of necessity, but also because anything else must have seemed preposterous. How could he dream of his own future when he hadn't even ensured his brother's? Ed's fate had been so intricately entwined with Al's that it's difficult to imagine otherwise. If they had restored Alphonse, then Edward would have found himself standing at an abyss, at a loss of what to do with himself. He would have been weary of travel but not ready to settle down, left adrift with no real place to go.

In a way, being saddled with the task of raising Al might have been the best possible outcome. Because Edward would have years now during which he would not lose his purpose, but with the added comfort of a home instead of constant threats to his life.

Maybe Miss Rockbell is thinking something similar because she is silently staring out of the window now.

“Today is the day when their mother died,” she says suddenly, “Seven years ago now.”

Ah, Roy thinks mildly. He hadn't suspected. Edward certainly hadn't let it show. So it was quite nice of Winry to time her visit with the anniversary of Trisha Elric's death, to try and take his mind off his grief. In his ignorance, Roy would have treated the day like any other.

“They are quite lucky to have you then,” he tells her, slowing the car as he sidles up to the curb, Gracia's house just in front of them.

Already, Winry is climbing out and opening the backdoor to get at her luggage.

“Let me help you with your bags,” Roy hurries to say, appalled at how she didn't even give him the chance to open the door for her.

“I got it,” she laughs, “Now that I'm not lugging the automail around anymore, it weighs basically nothing.”

She looks ready to throw the door shut again, but then seems to reconsider, stooping down slightly so she can look him in the eye.

“Thank you,” she tells him earnestly, “For the ride. And...for taking care of them.”

Roy allows the surprise to show on his face and then inclines his head a little in acknowledgement.

“Thank you for being there for them,” he says in reply.

“Yes, but that's-,” she looks frustrated for a moment, “I'm family. You're not obligated... to do all that. But you do it anyway. I... greatly appreciate that.”

He had taken her parents from her but now he was taking care of her brothers. That didn't make up for his crimes, but it was certainly a step in the right direction.

“Good night, Miss Rockbell,” he says and she gives a little smile in response, “Good night, Colonel Mustang.”

 

When he returns, Ed is groggily sitting up on the sofa, throwing off his blankets and looking a tad bit feverish, so Roy goes to get him a glass of water.

“Thanks,” Ed mumbles, downing it in one go and letting out a big sigh, “This was such a weird day. I don't know what was more jarring, the refit or the fact that Winry is dating Paninya.”

He sounds so flabbergasted that Roy cannot help but chuckle. Edward Elric might be a genius but romance certainly did not fall within his areas of expertise.

Admittedly, I had always assumed that Miss Rockbell was a little in love with you,“ he comments lightly, curious for the reaction.

Ed just splutters, “What the hell. No. She probably only got all hot and bothered over my automail. And with Paninya she gets three limbs of steel instead if just two, so I'm definitely no longer on her radar.“

Roy doesn't say anything to that but secretly he wonders whether Miss Rockbell had been more hurt than she let on, hurt by how Edward had not confided in her about Al's transformation, by the perceived betrayal. Maybe she would need more time to fully accept that what had happened to Alphonse was not actually Edward's fault. He considers himself to be quite apt at reading people, however, especially when it comes to matter of love and attraction, so he would not take Edward's disregard of Miss Rockbell's feelings at face value.

It would have been quite the story, wouldn't it? Childhood friends growing up together, growing to love one another, growing old together in their quiet little village. It was so easy to imagine how their headstrong personalities would evoke some real passion.

Was there still a chance for that? That they would raise Al together and maybe have children of their own? Or had Miss Rockbell been too badly stung? Did Edward feel like he had forsaken all his right to a normal family life?

“She mentioned that you had another growth spurt,” Roy moves on, distracting from his own more serious thoughts.

“Yup,” Ed grins broadly, “Five centimeters more than during my last refit. You better watch it cause soon I'll be taller than you.”

“I highly doubt it,” Roy mocks easily.

“Don't be so sure about that,” Edward looks more pensive now, glancing down along the length of his body, his mismatched legs.

“We had a theory, you know. That because of the transmutation Al's soul and mine somehow became connected and, by extension, our bodies, too. That's why I ate and slept so much. And...” his voice drops off to an embarrassed whisper, “It might have stunted my growth.”

Edward's food intake and hours spent sleeping were definitely still above the norm, but then again he was also still a teenager and those burned energy like no one else. But now that Al was in a corporeal form once again, it might have kick-started Edward's own physical development.

“But still. He was always bigger than me, y'know,” Ed says and there are memories alive in his eyes, “I mean, when he was three and I was four, since then he had always been taller. And now, now he is so tiny, so incredibly tiny.”

Roy is silent for a moment, unsure of how to react to that. Generally, Ed doesn't acknowledge much of his childhood in Riesembol, especially if it directly concerns Alphonse, the thought apparently too painful for too many reasons.

“Don't worry,” he says at length, “By the time he is ten, he'll probably be bigger than you once more.”

“Yeah,” Edward says and looks over to where Al is still peacefully slumbering in the pen, “Probably.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Roy is coming down with something.

Often enough he tries to use every little sneeze as an excuse to skip work, but stubborn as he is he can never admit when he actually does feel too sick to show up in the office.

Over the course of the day his condition had steadily gotten worse until Hawkeye had taken a look at him after lunch and told him to get home as soon as he was finished signing another stack of papers.

He's been feeling dreadful for hours now, and his headache is starting to imitate an earthquake with every step he takes. All he wants to do is fall into bed, but his sore throat tells him that he should probably make himself a chamomile tea before it gets any worse.

The moment he steps into the kitchen, however, he comes to an abrupt halt. The room looks like the scene of a crime, the breakfast dishes still standing around, a large pot on the stove, vegetable peels all over the counter, some scattered on the floor.

Edward is nowhere to be found, but Roy can hear Alphonse crying from upstairs. It's a grating sound that drills right into his skull.

With heavy steps Roy trudges up the stairs and goes to knock on Edward's door.

“Oh,” Edward says quietly when he opens it, bonelessly leaning against the threshold, “You're here early.”

But Roy just ignores him, his eyes scrunching shut with pain, “Edward, why does the kitchen look like it just got hit by a bomb?”
“Right, that,” Ed mumbles, rubbing at his face, “I was just tryin' to make soup.”

“Last time I checked, making soup did not give me war flashbacks,” Roy grumbles, his teeth hurting from the pain in his head, while Alphonse is still wailing loudly in the back of the room, “And will you do something about the crying, for Heaven's sake.”

“Yeah, yeah, no need to get so prissy about it,” Edward huffs, about to turn away.

Somehow, though, that strikes the wrong chord with Roy.

“Listen, Fullmetal, I had a hellish day at work, and the only thing I want is for my house to be in an acceptable state of cleanliness,” he bites out, fingers clenching around the door frame, “Is that so difficult to get into your head?”
“Oh, right,” Edward retorts, immediately incensed as well, “I should've considered that you'd be in a better mood if you could see your ugly mug reflected off every surface.”

“Don't take that tone with me,” Roy hisses, “You are still only a guest here, in case you have forgotten.”

“And yet, you were very adamant about me staying here, you bastard.”

“That's because someone had to be a responsible adult in this situation after all.”

“Oh, how noble of you,” Ed scoffs, “You want me to lick your boots, too?”

“Admittedly, it wouldn't do you any harm to show some gratitude every now and then,” Roy points out, “It's not like I asked for any of this.”

Edward glares, “What, you think I did?”

“Well, I wasn't the one who attempted human transmutation, was I?”

As soon as the words are out, Roy already regrets them.

Ed's eyes widen, then narrow, and he lets out a hiss like a feral cat. Instead of hurling out any more insults, however, he just whirls around, slamming the door in Roy's face. Al's crying that had gotten steadily louder in accordance with their argument reaches a new octave, and Roy's headache sends black lightening through his brain.

That went well.

He wants to talk things out with Ed, but he also wants to not. So what if he's being prissy, so what if he's supposed to be mature. He's miserable and all he wants to do it sleep. He can always talk to Edward later. For now, he wants to get as far away from Al's vocal cords as possible.

So he makes his way to his bedroom and, once there, falls face-first onto the bed, planning to hibernate for at least six hours, hoping that sleep and rest and warmth will do their own to dispel the sickness.

He's only been lying there for a short while, but eventually he hears Ed's door open, hears Edward walk down the stairs, still accompanied by Al's now more subdued wails. Hopefully, he'll clean the kitchen.

But something does not sit quite right with Roy. After a couple of minutes, when Al's crying seems to have stopped, he rolls off the bed, even though his entire body protests. Slowly, he leaves his room and walks downstairs, intending to make himself some tea after all or possibly to apologize to Edward, he isn't quite sure.

Edward, however, isn't in the kitchen. Nor is he in the living-room or anywhere else on the lower level. He is sure he hadn't heard him go back up to his room, but he calls up the stairs anyway.

There is no response.

Ed could be ignoring him out of spite, of course, but a feeling of dread settles inside of Roy's stomach. Ed's coat is no longer hanging on the rack, and his shoes are missing as well.

“Damn it,” Roy curses, throwing open the door and looking up and down the road. Ed is nowhere to be seen.

Roy is tempted to just run outside and start looking for him, but even in between his headache and his worry he is still able to drudge up some rationality. Quickly he turns back into the hallway and makes for the telephone. While he waits for the operator to connect he prays that Lieutenant Hawkeye is still in the office.

“Riza,” he says before she even has the time to properly accept the call, and the use of her first name betrays his urgency.

“What is it, sir?” she asks, immediately on alert.

“I had a fight with Edward,” he explains curtly, “He took Al and ran off, I don't know where to. He seemed quite angry and I don't want him to do anything rash. Make sure someone's in the office in case he shows up there. And send someone down to the station, keep a lookout for him.”

He doesn't think Edward would be quite so desperate to take a train out of town, but he is not going to take any chances now.

“Yes, sir,” Hawkeye accepts without objections, “Is there anything else?”

“Just notify me if you find him,” Roy tells her and hangs up. Then he grabs his own coat and walks out of the door.

 

The skies are heavy and gray with clouds, as they have been all day, but by now the previously light drizzle has gotten stronger. Roy has been outside long enough for his hair to be plastered to his face in damp strands, and he can feel cold droplets trailing down his cheeks, along his neck and into his collar line.

If anyone were to attack him now, he'd be completely useless, incapacitated by rain and general sluggishness. He can barely keep his eyes open with the pain and his already tender throat is now raw from occasionally calling Edward's name.

He's been checking all the places he knows Ed frequents, even asking passers-by whether they have seen him. But he wasn't at the park, or the at library or the bakery, or the old bridge or anywhere else.

Roy is trudging along the road Ed generally takes to make his shopping, when a black car slowly drives up from behind, rolling the window down.

“Colonel,” Havoc says, leaning over from the driver's side, a sympathetic expression in his eyes. One look confirms that the car is otherwise empty, meaning that Ed probably hadn't been found at the station.

“Get into the car, Colonel,” Havoc tells him with a sigh, “And get that miserable look off your face. Hawkeye found them.”

 

It turns out that Hawkeye did not exactly find them, but that Gracia had called the office, informing them that a bedraggled Fullmetal Alchemist had shown up at her door, baby in tow, and wasn't that quite reminiscent of how this whole story began just six months ago?
Roy should have known that Ed would go there. Roy should also have known that Hawkeye couldn't very well make good of her promise to notify him if he wasn't at home to answer any calls.

So while Roy was looking for Edward, Havoc was looking for Roy, and Edward was peacefully asleep on Gracia's couch.

Well. Not exactly peacefully.

“They are both sick,” Gracia explains, keeping her voice low as she leads him into the living-room, “You all probably caught the same thing.”

Oh, Roy thinks, a little numbly. He had been so out of it – and admittedly, so cross, too – that he hadn't even noticed that Edward was sick as well.

Now, as he sees Edward sunken in on the couch, looking small and rather feverish, it is all too obvious. Al, sprawled across his lap, doesn't look much better, his cheeks and nose red from both crying and sickness.

“Alphonse seems to have cried himself into exhaustion,” Gracia says in sympathy, “As soon as he was asleep, Edward passed out as well.”

So while Roy had been sitting in his quiet office, pitying himself for having to do paperwork in his condition, Ed had been similarly indisposed but trying to take care of Al. And Roy had only complained to him, as though he were the infant.

I was just tryin' to make soup, he recalls Ed saying and groans.

“I'm a right ass, aren't I?” he says and Gracia chuckles, “Only a little. So, you want to take them with you?”

Roy startles, “Of course. That's why I came here, after all.”

“Ah,” she nods, “I thought maybe it would be easier for you to try and get better while I take care of them here. It'd be no trouble, really.”

“Oh. Thank you,” Roy replies, wondering why that offer comes so out of the blue, “Thank you, but no. I think I can manage. You know how Edward gets when he feels like he's imposing on someone.”

Gracia hums a little, “I mean he came here on his own, and I already offered him to stay. He was admittedly a little groggy, but seemed to be alright with it.”

No, dammit. Roy doesn't want Ed to think that he kicked them out, that they have to find another place to live. And he feels like, if he just leaves them here now, it will be some kind of surrender that will open up an insurmountable rift between them. Like making it seem that Ed and Al are only welcome in his house so long as they are perfectly tidy and silent.

“I've got the car here already, so I might as well take them,” he tells Gracia, going for casual instead of insistent. She still sends him a knowing look.

A few quick steps carry her through the room, and then she is already picking up Al. Predictably, the movement wakes Edward and he grumbles something incoherent.

“Ed, love, Roy is here,” she tells him, gently brushing the sweat-damp hair from his forehead, “Can you walk?”

“...dunno...,” Edward mumbles, his eyes narrow slits as he struggles to even sit up properly.

Tired of the pitiful display and just wanting to get home, Roy steps closer as well, nudging Gracia out of the way.

“Come now, Edward,” Roy says and bends down to hoist him up into his arms, “We're going home.”

His back and knees and basically every joint in his body protest against the weight, and he nearly stumbles backwards when he straightens up again, but Gracia's guiding hand luckily keeps him upright.

“... bastard,” Ed murmurs against his chest, but lets himself be manhandled, a final proof of just how sick he must be.

Gritting his teeth, Roy summons a burst of strength and quickly carries Ed into the hallway and out of the house, towards where Havoc is already opening the backdoor of the car.

“Mommy, if Roy really didn't marry Ed why is he carrying him like a bride?” Elysia asks from somewhere behind him and he can see the corners of Havoc's mouth pulling down in that way that means he is suppressing his laughter. By tomorrow, the whole base will probably know about this.

With Havoc's help Roy manages to maneuver Ed into the car. The boy protests vaguely and apparently tries to flip them off, but his hand just flops around uselessly.

Then Gracia is there as well, pressing a sealed container into his hands.

“I made some chicken noodle soup,” she explains, “Riza and I both agreed that you should take tomorrow off. So get well quickly, alright?”

“Thank you,” Roy tells his with as much heart-felt gratitude as he can muster in his current state, “You truly are an angel.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere,” she laughs, waiting for him to get onto the backseat, the soup bowl carefully held between his knees, before she hands him Alphonse.

She closes the door and Roy still hears her say, “Drive safely, Jean.”

But then his eyes are already falling shut in an attempt to drown out the rumbling of the engine.

 

When they arrive back at his place, Roy must have dosed off for a few minutes.

“Should I take Ed, sir?” Havoc asks, seeming uneasy at being left with the task of carrying the baby.

“I'll manage,” Roy answers dryly, already handing him first his keys and then the child, “Try not to wake Al.”

“Yes, sir,” Havoc sighs, going to unlock the front door.

Getting Edward out of the car on his own is a bit of a struggle, but Roy will be damned if he accepts Havoc's offer after all. He still has his pride.

So he staggers along the garden path, stubbornly ignoring Havoc's pointed looks.

The house feels strangely cold and unwelcoming, like they had been gone for days instead of mere hours, as though the aftershocks of their fight still echoed between the walls.

The stairs are looming at the end of the hallway, a dark monstrosity, and Roy is definitely not carrying Edward all the way up to his room, instead swerving to the left into the living-room and depositing him on the couch.

“Should I take him upstairs?” Havoc asks, nodding down to where Al is still passed out in his arms.

“No,” Roy says slowly, “Put him into the pen for now.”

“Yes, sir,” Havoc obeys, “Anything else?”

“I need your help carrying something from upstairs,” Roy decides and beckons him to follow.

Edward's room smells vaguely of sickness and is in the state of messiness that shows the inhabitant was honestly too tired to properly hang up that shirt or make the bed.

Havoc lets out a low whistle, curiously looking around.

Roy cocks an eyebrow, “Something the matter?”
“Ah, no,” Havoc rubs the back of his head, “Just strange to see that they're actually living with you.”

“Six months in and you're only catching up on that now?”

Havoc looks chagrined, “That's not it, just... seeing it makes it realer somehow, you know? Like, that shirt? That's yours, isn't it?”

Roy gives the crumbled piece of clothing a closer look. He certainly owns a similar one. Ed must have transmuted it to fit him. Roy had already been wondering where the new civilian outfits had been coming from. This certainly explained it.

“I mean you've gotten pretty... domestic,” Havoc points out and he doesn't even sound teasing now, just... stating a fact, “You can't really blame Elysia for getting it wrong.”

Roy sighs and starts pushing the the blankets and pillows off the bed, “If you'd help me with this please.”

Together, they carry down the mattress. It is lighter than Ed but also more unwieldy, and Roy really doesn't want to tear the picture frames off his walls. They place the mattress in front of the fire place and Roy instructs Havoc to get the soup from the car, before deftly lighting a fire.

He wants Ed and Al to sweat out the fever and this will hopefully do the trick.

“Put it in the kitchen, sir,” Havoc reports back, “By the, ah, desecrated chicken.”

Never let Edward cook again when he is not in full possession of his wits, Roy reminds himself and thanks Havoc, recommending him for working over hours.

“No worries, chief,” Havoc grins and he's definitely going to milk the bridal-style carry story for all its worth. There will probably be diagrams and caricatures. Roy is not at all prepared.

He goes to take a short, but blissfully hot shower before changing into something more comfortable. Then he fills up a carafe and fetches a glass from the kitchen before making his way back into the living-room.

Edward has already rolled off the couch and onto the mattress, pulling the woolen blanket and some cushions along with him, making himself a messy nest in front of the fire place.

“Ed,” Roy prompts, lowering himself onto the floor, ever bit of his body aching, “Ed, you need to drink something.”

“I'm dying,” Ed moans, arm slung over his face, “I've been stabbed, I've lost two limbs, but this is the worst, my mortal body is failing me, I will abandon these earthy planes and-”

Roy cannot help but snort, “Never took you for the melodramatic kind of patient.”

“That's cause I've never really been sick before,” Ed sounds truly wrecked, “Injured, yes. Near death, yes. But sick? No. Sickness is so pointless. I mean, what does it even do, Roy, what-”

“You really should drink something,” Roy insists, fearing that the boy will actually descend into hallucinations. He helps him sit up and then presses the glass into his unsteady hands, waiting for him to drink it all up.

“Do you want some soup?” he asks but Ed just shakes his head, “Already had some at Gracia's. Al should be fine, too.”

“Good,” Roy nods, “Then try to sleep now. If there is anything else, just call.”

But Ed just mumbles something and buries himself back into the blankets.

So Roy goes back into the kitchen to fill some of the soup into a mug. It's still warm and he sips it slowly. Swallowing hurts, but he can feel the liquid soothing his sore throat, warming him from the inside.

His glance falls onto the clock above the doorway. He'd been searching for Ed for over two hours hours and now it's already getting dark outside.

When he is done he puts the mug into the sink, taking in the general mess. He comes up short when he catches sight of the mauled chicken, still impaled with the largest knife Roy owns.

He shakes his head. The kitchen will have to wait until tomorrow. For now, they all just need a good night's rest.

He goes to settle down Alphonse on the mattress alongside Edward, covering the child in his favorite fuzzy blanket. Lately, Roy had marveled how big he had already gotten, but now he looks incredibly small and vulnerable again. Completely limp and out like a light.

Edward, it seems, has managed to struggle out of his constricting clothes and is already sweating as required. Roy tugs the blanket over his naked shoulder, but Edward just groans in dismay and pushes it down again, the warm light of the flames seeming to lick across this one unmarred patch of skin, but gentle instead of destructive.

Roy sits with them, telling himself he just wants to enjoy the soothing familiarity of the fire, but then he just ends up watching Edward and Alphonse instead.

 

 

Chapter Text

When he wakes up he doesn't know what roused him, but he also doesn't remember falling asleep in the first place. As he sits up he finds that, though his head is still throbbing and his joints hurt, he is feeling better than before.

A look around reveals that he must have fallen asleep in the living-room, together on the mattress with Ed and Al. Ed is sprawled out on his stomach while Al is on his back on the upper half of the mattress. They are still dead to the world, but they no longer look as dreadful as they had the evening before.

Thanks to his alchemy, the fire is still going and the room is warm and toasty, though the smell of sickness lingers among the familiar scent of burning wood.

It's already light outside, if still dreary. A look on the clock reveals that it's almost two in the afternoon. He can't remember having slept that long in ages, especially without the aid of alcohol, and he wonders whether it was the illness or rather the worry of the previous day that had exhausted him so.

The chink of glass alerts him to the presence of someone else in the house, but since he doubts that anyone is planning to rob his pantry, he already knows who to expect.

Gracia, as reliable as always, has let herself into the house and is already cleaning the kitchen.

“Good morning, Roy,” she greets him, but then amends, “Well, afternoon.”

“Have I told you lately that you are an angel?” he asks her, sinking against the counter, and she laughs brightly, “Oh, once or twice maybe.”

She tinkers around a little, puts away dishes, indicating towards a covered plate on the kitchen table.

“I brought some casserole. And I'm sorry, but I had to throw out the chicken,” she tells him and looks strangely haunted.

Roy really feels like he needs to know the chicken's story.

“That's alright,” he replies, “I should probably eat something right now. Once Ed wakes up he'll devour everything within eyesight.”

He rubs a hand over his face, “Hell, do I feel gross.”

“Take a bath, change the bedding and your clothes, and you'll probably feel much better already,” Gracia instructs, “Same goes for Ed and Al. Make sure that they are hydrated. If the fever hasn't gone down yet you might need to make cold compresses, but I think you should be fine for now.”

“What would I do without you?” Roy sighs and she steps closer to gently rub his back.

“You'd still have Riza,” she reminds him.

“Her idea of encouraging people is to point guns at them,” Roy reminds her dryly.

“Less casserole, more rifles then,” she shrugs, “You'd still get the job done.”

“I prefer the casserole, thanks,” he sighs and goes to get himself a plate.

After she is gone he does follow Gracia's advice, takes another shower and makes a point of shaving like he would any other day, and it actually does a great deal to make him feel more alive again.

Once he's downstairs once more, he finds Edward already gobbling down some casserole while simultaneously feeding Alphonse a bottle. Both of them still carry the lingering signs of their ordeal, tired faces and weak limbs, but in comparison to yesterday it's definitely an improvement.

“How are you feeling?” Roy asks nevertheless.

“Like I got run over by a truck and dumped on a garbage tip,” Ed grumbles, rubbing his grimy eyes. His hair is a mess of knots and tangles and he keeps smacking his lips as though a disgusting taste still lingered in his mouth. He sniffs at his shirt.

“Smell like a garbage tip, too,” he observes with a grimace.

Roy smiles vaguely.

“Off to the bathroom then,” he decides, “Both of you.”

 

Unsurprisingly, Ed and Al take a long time to bathe, but eventually Roy goes to make sure that they have not drowned. Because that would be quite embarrassing to explain to Gracia.

He knocks on he door, hoping that it's not locked, “May I come in?”

“Yeah. Sure,” Edward's voice replies, sounding slightly distracted.

As expected, the two are still sitting in the tub, amidst a sea of foam. Ed has Al propped up against his legs and is busy piling bubbles on his small head. His own hair hangs in wet streaks over his shoulder, brushed out of his face, and Roy finds himself marveling at how angular Ed's jaw has become, how he looks less like a boy and more like a man now.

He crosses the room and goes to sit down on the rim of the tub, hands braced on his knees, his back to Ed and Al. The moment feels a little awkward, the silence strained, and Roy is not used to things being uncomfortable between them anymore. Over the past months, they had learned to read each other well, so this situation is a bit of a throwback to those first few weeks when they had been tiptoeing around each other, careful of every word.

And Roy knows it's a little underhanded of him, but he'd consciously chosen this setting, knowing that Ed wouldn't just be able to make a dash for it.

Roy takes a deep breath, angling his head a little so his face is more openly turned towards Ed without directly looking at him.

“Edward,” he begins, “I need to apologize. What I said yesterday-”

“Don't sweat it,” Ed cuts him off with a shrug, “'s not like it wasn't the truth anyway.”

“But that's the point,” Roy insists, “I was angry and... and grumpy, and I said something I knew would hurt you. But it wasn't the truth.”

“But it is,” Edward is very pointedly washing the foam from Al's hair now, just to give his hands something to do, “I did get us into this whole mess. Without me-”

“Things could be better, yes,” Roy admits, hoping to kill that train of thought right there, “But they could also be a lot worse.”

Ed opens his mouth, looking like he wants to protest, but Roy just plows on.

“You've made mistakes, Edward, everyone does. You shouldn't keep beating yourself up over them, not like this,” he adds with some gentleness, “There's guilt and... taking responsibility for your actions. And then there is uselessly mulling over facts that cannot be changed anymore.”

Ed is clenching and relaxing his jaw now, clenching and relaxing, gnashing his teeth as though to grind Roy's words into something smaller, something that he can swallow more easily.

He doesn't accept the truth, but he also doesn't reject it outright, so that is something at least.

“Just for the record,” he says eventually, “I'm sorry for making a mess in the kitchen.”

Roy snorts because he honestly couldn't care less about the kitchen.

“Don't sweat it,” he echoes Ed, “But why on earth did you try to make two liters of soup?”

Edward ducks his head a little.

“You looked sick, too,” he mumbles.

“Hm?”
“Yesterday morning, at breakfast,” Ed explains, “You already looked sick, too. So...”

So I thought you might like some, he doesn't say, doesn't need to, and Roy feels like even more of an ass than before.

Still, this is also somewhat unexpected. It certainly hadn't been the first time that Ed had surprised him with little niceties, taking over most of the chores and preparing Roy's favorite dishes. But now Roy realizes for the first time that Ed might be doing that out of more than common courtesy.

“It's not that I don't appreciate the gesture,” he says carefully, “But you do know that you are in no way obligated to take care of me, right?”

“'course I am,” Edward huffs, “Equivalent exchange.”

Naturally. Roy rolls his eyes a little, “You don't actually need to justify your every action with that statute. How about 'I just wanted to be nice to you, Roy. Here's a token of my eternal gratitude, Roy. Have some unholy chicken, Roy.'”

“You really like the sound of your own name, huh?” Ed cocks a judgmental eyebrow. But then he lowers his head again.

“You were right, though,” he admits, only somewhat grudgingly, “I never did thank you, did I? Not properly, anyway.”
“You don't have to.”

“Yeah, I do actually,” Ed insists with more vehemence, “For everything. For taking us in and... and keeping our secrets. From the very beginning, you've only ever tried to help and... that's a darn lot more than most people would ever even offer. I've... given you a lot of shit over the years, but. I think that was because if I could pile some of the blame on you... there wasn't so much left that could fall to me.”

That certainly explains some of the animosity of the recent years, Roy thinks wryly.

“Then I accept your apology and hope that you do the same with mine,” he says, offering a small smile. Edward only nods his head a little, sinking deeper into the water.

“Good,” Roy claps his hands on his knees and then stands up, “Now let me dry off Alphonse, he's starting to look a little wrinkly.”

“Ba!” Alphonse agrees.

Roy wraps Al up in a fluffy towel, keeping his back turned while Ed finishes up washing and climbs out of the tub as well. Al is happily chewing on a corner of the towel, looking up at Roy with big marble eyes, and Roy is quite relieved that he did not take Gracia up on the offer to let the boys spend the night at her place.

“There's one more thing I'd like to know,” he says thoughtfully, turning around, “What has that poor chicken ever done to you?”

Edward stops in the middle of toweling his hair, glancing off to the side, “It wasn't cooperating, okay.”

Roy frowns, “Ed, it's a dead animal. It cannot cooperate.”

“Do you have any idea how long it takes to scrape all that meat off those tiny ass bones?” Edward's expression would be best described as something like a pout, “I got frustrated.”

“So you decided to repeatedly stab it?” Roy asks incredulously.

“Very frustrated,” Ed reiterates.

“And here I thought you used to get frustrated with me,” Roy whistles, “Your angry outbursts in the office probably only counted as 'vaguely annoyed', it seems.”

“Ass,” Edward says and shoves at him, though he is mindful of Alphonse, “You are. Such a stupid. Ass.”

“Ooh,” Roy quickly moves out of the way, “I better go hide all the knives.”

“I still got my automail, you dumbfuck,” Ed reminds him, but he is laughing, and no one is planning to move out anytime soon, so Roy counts that as a win.

 

 

Chapter Text

It begins rather inconspicuously. At breakfast, Ed spills his coffee and later drops an egg on the floor, cleaning both up with a dark expression before managing to hit his head under the table to which Al responds with laughter.

But even after Roy comes home from work he can tell that Edward seems listless, that his thoughts are not quite where they ought to be. He stubs his flesh toe to against the door, breaks a glass, rips a page out of a book and stares at it as though he's not quite sure how it ended up there. Roy is tempted to comment, but he still has last month's fight fresh in mind. He does not wish to appear like he is criticizing Ed's mistakes.

“You do realize Friday the 13th is only next week?” he asks nevertheless when Ed has burned himself on the stove and Roy is applying some healing salve to the angry red skin. Edward's lips purse, his shoulders tightening as though he were about to say something but then he just swallows it down and starts serving dinner.

The soup, unfortunately, turns out to be oversalted to a degree that makes it completely inedible. One spoonful in Ed seems to realize so himself because he just laughs a little helplessly before burying his face in his hands.

Roy is officially very worried now.

“Edward,” he says slowly, “Unless you were very emotionally invested in this soup, your reaction is definitely out of proportion, so I'm going to assume that something else is the matter.”

Edward snorts, leans back in his chair, shakes his head to himself.

“I quit,” he says.

Roy stares, a little dumb-founded.

“I quit,” Edward repeats more emphatically and then reaches into his pocket before chucking something straight across the table. Roy catches it reflexively before it can whack him in the face and then looks at the small object.

It's Edward's silver pocket watch.

Roy is confused. Edward's paternity leave is not yet up so there is no reason for him to officially resign from the military. So what has brought on this sudden decision?

His silence must clue Edward in on his unspoken questions because he bites his lower lip.

“Open it,” he says with a jerky nod and slowly Roy looks back down onto the watch, thumb pressing gently to undo the latch. Immediately, it snaps open in his palm.

Out of habit, his gaze is drops to the clock-face, but then it is drawn towards the inside of the lid where something has been crudely carved into the metal.

Don't forget 3rd Oct, it reads cryptically.

Roy glances back up.

“What happened today?” he asks calmly because this is probably the first time Edward has been forthcoming about the things that keep his mind occupied.

Edward swallows visibly.

“It was just after I became a state alchemist,” he reveals, his voice rough, “When I burned our house down.”

The day Edward had decided that having a home to return to would be too tempting if there were still so many things he had left to do. It must have been a promise to Al and a punishment for himself.

With painful clarity Roy realizes that this is more than just Ed finally getting out of the military as he had always sworn he'd do. This is Ed making good of his other promise to Al, the promise to not try and change him back. This is Ed accepting his new life.

And it had only taken little over half a year.

“Are you sure about this?” Roy asks because Edward has been known to make spur-of-the-moment decisions that had great impact on his life.

But Ed just takes a deep breath.

“I'm not going back,” he says resolutely, “My reason for becoming a state alchemist was to help Al. Now... there's no point to that anymore.”

Now what Edward has to do is offer Alphonse a steady life style. To stay healthy and out of the way of danger.

The Fullmetal Alchemist is now a full-time parent.

“There's still some paperwork you need to fill out to properly resign,” Roy reminds him, “And I advise you to only do that at the end of the year.

“But,” he adds and closes the pocket watch again, letting it dangle from the chain that is wrapped around his fingers, “I'll hold on to this.”

They pour away the soup from hell and end up eating crackers with ham and cheese instead, picking out the last of the grapes that don't look too wrinkly yet.

But Roy's thoughts are still occupied by the new turn of events.

The thing is that Edward Elric has always had a specific purpose. From the day his mother died when he was ten he studied alchemy in order to bring her back. And then, on that fateful day one year later, it morphed into the promise to return Alphonse to normal.

Those desperate if noble aims had kept him busy, mentally, physically, intellectually, emotionally.

Now, however, he is bereft.

Raising a child is not easy. It takes a lot out of you, and every parent will tell you so. But it is not something that can keep an unparalleled genius like Edward satisfied. It does not compare to fighting for your life on a regular basis and blowing up buildings in an afterthought.

Edward Elric is doing his best to raise Alphonse, yet it would slowly but surely erode that sharpness of him, would snuff his brilliance. He needed something to keep him on his toes.

Thoughtfully, he bites into a cracker.

“You should get a job,” Roy says bluntly and at once Edward flinches back, a hunted look shooting into his eyes before his gaze drops down.

“I still got enough saved up,” he says quickly, under his breath, “I can give you more rent if you want, I-”

“No, Edward, that's not-” Roy begins to say but then blinks, “Wait a second. More rent? You've been paying me rent?”

Edward gives him a shrewd look, “Of course I have, I'm not a fuckin' parasite, okay. Do you mean you didn't notice?”

“Of course not! You never told me.”

“Don't you ever check your accounts?”

“Not regularly, no.”

“Holy shit, and you're supposed to be a fuckin' adult.”

“How much have you been paying then?”

“Three-hundred per month.”

Roy splutters, “For staying in a room I never used before?”

“Well, there's water and electricity, too,” Edward mutters, “And food.”

“You usually go shopping for groceries nowadays.”

“Yeah but,” Edward scuffs his heel against the floor, “'s just... common courtesy, innit?”

“Edward, when I asked you to stay here it was meant as a guest,” Roy explains, “Guests don't have to pay rent.”

“Don't much feel like a guest,” Ed counters, “And anyway, why do you want me to get a job then?”

Carefully, Roy contemplates his words, “Because I'm starting to think you might... ah, lose your edge, your touch?”

But Ed only frowns, “What?”

“How shall I put this?” Roy wriggles his hands a little, as though grasping for a better explanation, “I'm worried about you getting bored. You barely have any reason to use your alchemy anymore.”

Yet Edward only looks like he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

“I've always got stuff to read,” he claims, the lie sounding uncomfortable on his tongue, “And I've got Al.”

“Of course you do,” Roy agrees, “But... if you consider the future then... you might start to think of the possibilities.”

They look at each other across the table, between them the unspoken knowledge of what is still to come. Because soon enough Alphonse would not need 24/7 supervision anymore. Soon enough he'd go to school. Soon enough he would have his own life once more – while Edward might have nothing.

“You could... do some research,” Roy muses as though the idea had just occurred to him instead of running through his mind for the past weeks now.

Edward looks somewhere between intrigued and bewildered, “What kind of research?”

“Whatever catches your interest,” Roy proposed, “You'd do brilliantly at anything you pick.”

“And then?” Ed asks, not sounding convinced at all.

“Then you get it published,” Roy shrugs off-handedly, “I know some people at the university. They could get you in contact with whoever is responsible. I'm sure you could get an honorary doctor or something. You could even teach-

“Teach?!” Edward echoes in a strangled voice, “A doctor? I'm sixteen!”

Roy just cocks an eyebrow, “When has your age every stopped you?”
“I'm busy with Al,” Ed insists, suddenly jumping up and starting to clear away the dishes, probably just so his hands have something to do and he doesn't have to look Roy in the eye.

“You're really not,” Roy sighs, “And I don't mean you have to get a proper job right away. I just feel like you're wasting your potential. It was already wasted as a state alchemist-”

“What?” his indignation at least makes Edward send him a glare, “You're starting to think that now-?”

“I've always thought it,” Roy admits, “State alchemists are all geniuses in the own right. But mostly they are supposed to be useful. They do some flashy tricks, but their real worth is within the practicalities. But you, Edward, you are one of a kind. You could revolutionize whatever kind of alchemy you dedicate yourself to.”

“Whatever,” Ed says forcefully and then lifts Alphonse out of his high-chair, “I'll get him ready for bed now. Maybe I'll even try to think about advanced alchemy while I do that. Multitasking genius and all that, you know.”

He saunters out of the kitchen like a prince from a duel and Roy suppresses a sigh. This could have gone better.

 

He ends up drinking in the living-room. Why does he end up in the living-room, he should just take to his study or even his bedroom instead of sitting where Edward is sure to eventually find him.

“Oh man,” Ed tsk's when he comes in, Roy already deep into his cups and looking somewhere between pleasantly relaxed and on the verge of what would get him politely shown the way out of a bar.

“Are you drunk?” the boy scoffs, stepping farther into the darkened room, “Why the hell did you get drunk?”

“Bad memories,” Roy replies easily. He always drinks because of bad memories. To bring them back, to drown them, he doesn't even know. Self-flagellation has always been one of his favorite pastimes.

Ed doesn't comment, just picks up the bottle from the coffee table, takes a sniff, pulls a face, puts it back down again.

“You reek,” he observes, but doesn't sound quite as judgmental as before. After all, he is quite familiar with unhealthy ways of battling one's demons.

“The smell of defeat,” Roy harrumphs, “You wouldn't know it.”

“Fuck you,” Ed says and then lets himself slump down on the sofa, limbs all akimbo.

They sit like this in silence and darkness as Roy empties another glass and fills it once more.

“I've never judged you, you know,” he says, vaguely aware that his words are turning into more of a drawl, “For trying to bring back your mother. I... can relate.”

“No, you can't,” Edward says and there's no spite in his voice, only bleak accepting terror.

“Well, maybe not in quite the same way,” Roy admits, “But... if Maes hadn't stopped me...”

He trails off, can feel Edward's eyes on him but just keeps staring into his glass of scotch. The way the amber liquid swirls and twists in the tumbler used to remind him of another kind of flame, but now they are a faint substitute for Edward's gaze, staring into him, staring him down.

“I almost brought them back,” he recalls, taking another sip.

“The Rockbells, I mean,” he adds when he has swallowed, closely followed by a deeply shuddering breath, “I was so... so desperate, I couldn't breathe with it, couldn't bear my own face in the mirror.”

He breaks off, tries to collect the broken pieces of himself.

“I told you how I... tried to kill myself, directly after. Gun to to the mouth. Easy.” He lifts his hand, points his middle and index finger at himself, their tips just barely touching his lower lip. On some days he still remembers the weight of that firearm, remembers the taste of steel on his tongue.

Now he does what he couldn't back then, mimes pulling the trigger, imagines blowing his brains out.
“Phew,” he whispers, a breath through his teeth, the sound nothing in comparison to an actual shot, but it still seems to echo through the silence, “But I didn't. Couldn't. And I was afraid to die in Ishval, but never had I felt like a coward before that moment.”

He's never told anyone but Maes. And Maes, who was always so vibrant and full of life, Maes who had never seemed quite as weak-kneed by the war as everyone else had, Maes had understood but barely.

“So afterwards when it was over,” Roy remembers, pulling on the memories like a fisherman trying to drag his nets on board, the forces of a ocean fighting against one tiny little human, “And it was over so shortly after that, that just made it all the more unfair... I thought why not, what have I left to lose, why would I deserve to live while they don't, I should just-”

He catches himself, glances over at Ed whose sprawl has hunkered down into an attempt to hug himself and make it look casual.

“What did you use for the soul, I always wondered,” Roy murmurs, “How do you re-create something as vague and ephemeral as that?”

“Blood,” Edward whispers, “One drop of our blood each.”

“Ah,” Roy nods.

“It was naïve to believe that would be enough,” Ed admits, licking his lips like a nervous dog its muzzle, “I was... too cocksure. What... what were you planning on using?”

“Why, my own soul, of course,” Roy chuckles, spreading his arms in a grand gesture, “One sinner in exchange for two saints. It wouldn't have worked. And Maes never knew shit about alchemy, but he understood that much.”

When you have a little bit more power than other people you think that you'll always have a little more still, and more, until you think you are only a little less than an almighty god.

His arms lower, his shoulders sag. His drink is empty again and he cannot even recall when that happened.

“It's funny, if you think about it,” he muses, inspecting the last droplets on the thick bottom of the glass, “It was probably around the same time you first started thinking about human transmutation. Too bad you didn't have a Maes.”

Ed looks away.

“Al... Al tried to talk me out of it a couple of times,” he says almost inaudibly, half-drowned in shame, “But... I didn't listen. I just said we needed to study harder, work harder. Eventually, he believed me. So... it's always been my fault. But he never said that. He just...”
He bites his tongue, shivers.

“Look at us fools,” Roy huffs, “No Maes, no Alphonse. Between the two of us, we'd probably be able to tear down the whole world.”

“Yeah, well,” Ed says, “I guess we'll have to rely on each other to talk us out of stupid ideas.”

And then he is kicking himself up from the sofa, taking three big steps towards Roy and forcefully pulling him into a standing position.

Before Roy can protest, before he even really registers what is happening, Ed is already dragging him up the stairs and into the bedroom.

His shoulder is unrelenting metal beneath Roy, but he is steady, doesn't crumble under the weight, and his hair smells nice, the scent of shampoo still fresh in them after the braid had been unraveled.

Roy thinks he might fall asleep to that scent, to gold whispering across his vision, but then his eyes already close and he knows no more.

 

 

Chapter Text

One day Roy comes home to find a tiny calico kitten curled up on one of the sofa cushions.

“Uh,” Roy says and looks around in confusion as if the room at large might offer up answers. It doesn't.

So he goes to find Edward instead.

“I know, I know, I didn't ask,” Ed says hastily, “But Miss Kinnet's cat just a litter, so she was looking for new homes for them. And Al's always wanted a cat, you know he's always wanted a cat. But mom would never allow it, I think because she was already sick back then, and then we were on our own, it didn't seem right to get a pet, and the Rockbells already had Den, and then we were training with teacher. And then all that shit happened, and we couldn't, I told Al we couldn't, not right now, but I promised him, I promised him that one day-”

Roy is lifting his hands in a placating manner, hoping to stop Ed's torrent of words, but he just keeps going.

“I'll take care of her, I will, she's been really sweet so far, she'll be no trouble at all. Al already loves her, he really does, please don't make me bring her back, I-”

“Edward,” Roy interrupts him finally, “It's alright.”

Ed stares at him as though he doesn't quite understand the meaning of those words.

“I hear it's good for children to grow up with pets,” Roy says, “It's a means for them to socialize, especially-”

He catches himself, masks it by clearing throat. Especially if they don't have any siblings, he'd been meaning to say.

“It teaches them responsibility and how to mindful of other lives,” he continues blithely, “It also reduces the risk of allergies.”

Yet there is still that look of incomprehension on Ed's face.

“We can keep her,” Roy clarifies, “What's her name?”

Patiently, he waits for Edward to reply, even as it takes a while.

“Dandelion,” Ed says finally, his voice quiet, looking down at the sleeping child in the bed, “Al always wanted a cat named Dandelion.”

 

Lately, Al's development seems to have rapidly progressed.

He's crawling now, robbing across the floor and climbing into closets, pulling books from shelves, just as Gracia had predicted. He's already started teething and is often unhappy, crying more easily and drooling all the time, so much so that Roy had shown up at work one day only to have Hawkeye pointedly staring at his shoulder until she had sent Fury to get him a fresh uniform jacket.

“I'm going to start him on solids,” Ed explains that evening, juggling a wailing Alphonse in his arms while simultaneously mashing some vegetables into something that demands a little bit of chewing.

“That's good,” Roy agrees while the new member of their household climbs all over him. He's always been more of a dog person, but he can easily admit that Dandelion is quite a darling, even as she leaves fur all over his dark trousers.

Edward pulls a grimace as Alphonse gives his hair a painful tug.

“Can you take him?” he asks and then tries to transfer the boy into Roy's lap.

“Al, let go,” he complains.

“No!” Al cries through all his snot and drool and tears, so Roy has to gently untangle his tiny fingers from Ed's bangs.

“Alphonse, you're scaring Dandelion,” Roy claims though the kitten seems pleasantly unfazed by the noise, before pulling out a handkerchief to dry Al's face.
“Woy,” Al says wetly and pouts. He hasn't gotten the r-sound down yet, so Roy has been quite endeared by his new nickname.

Edward goes back to his cooking, thoughtfully staring down into the assorted pots.

“He had a book, you know,” he muses, sounding more like he is talking to himself, “A small notebook where he wrote down stuff he wanted to try once he... once he was back to normal. Just... stupid stuff, I guess, trying Winry's pie, and lying down in a sunny meadow or... smelling the ocean again. Just little things that you don't ever appreciate, but he didn't get to for five years.”

Roy looks down at Alphonse who's currently trying to stuff Dandelion's tail into his mouth.

“Then you better make some really good vegetable mush,” he notes, quickly saving the kitten from Al's clutches, “Or else we'll find ourselves with an unrepentant carnivore.”

 

In the end, dinner ends up being peas, potatoes and carrots for the grown-ups and the same thing for Al mashed into an unrecognizable mess. Al doesn't seem to think that it looks too appetizing because he starts crying again and just pushes the mush out of his mouth with his tongue, no matter how often Ed scoops it up and tries to stuff it back in.

“Come on, Al,” he demands, apparently at the end of his wits, “You have to eat it. You've always liked carrots and peas, remember?”
But of course Al doesn't remember so he just spits it out again.

Luckily, Roy recalls something he read in one of Gracia's books about how children are more inclined to eat something if they see how much others are enjoying it. So he just reaches over with his fork and makes a show of putting some of the puree into his mouth.

“Hmmm,” he says in exaggeration, even as Ed gives him a weird look.

“That's so delicious,” he says loudly, pointedly lifting his eyebrows, “Isn't it, Edward?”

Edward, fortunately, catches on.

“Oh,” he says, eyes widening, “Yeah. It sure it.”

He takes own fork and steals from Al's bowl as well.

“Man,” he drawls around a mouthful as Al watches with big eyes “I'm such an awesome cook.”

The puree is mostly unseasoned, of course, and therefore not exactly the top of the crop, but their little demonstration does the trick because as soon as Roy reaches out once more Al slaps his hand away.

“No no no,” he insists, pulling his tiny spoon from Ed's fingers and digging into the mush, “Mine!”

His spoon-to-mouth coordination still needs some work, however, because he quickly ends up with dinner everywhere except for in his stomach. Ed tries to help him which leads to a fight over the spoon and ends with mashed carrots in Ed's hair while Dandelion climbs up his pant leg, curiously wanting to see what the commotion is all about, only to get a faceful of peas.

Roy just leans back in his chair and gives a full-bellied laugh.

 

When Ed has gone upstairs clean kid, cat, and himself of edibles, the phone in the hallways rings.

Roy had been making sure that the kitchen showed no more signs of the mush wars, but now goes to answer.

“Mustang,” he says, throwing the dish towel over his shoulder.

“Colonel,” a gnarly voice replies, “I hear you are doing well.”

It takes him a moment to pinpoint the caller but when he does he smiles.

“Doctor Rockbell,” he greets politely, “I assume you wish to speak to Edward?”
“Naturally,” she replies and he can hear her take a drag from her pipe, “Thought it might be good to give the brat a ring today.”

Roy stills.

“Sorry?” he asks, “Was there something about today that-”

“It's Al's birthday,” she cuts him off, though she does not sound like she is judging him. It still makes Roy feel like an ass.

As his superior officer, he was aware of Edward's birthday, but somehow Al's had never figured on his radar. Another oversight of him. Another missed opportunity.

“I'm sorry,” he says regretfully, “I did not know.”

She harrumphs but doesn't sound too worried.

“I know how the brat is,” she says, “He's not the type to mention something like that.”

“Then I'm even more grateful that you remembered and took the time to call,” he tells her, “Let me just go get him. We had a bit of an... incident during dinner.”

“Oh?” she asks, amusement in her voice, “Did it involve food on the walls and the ceiling?”

Because of course she would know how mealtimes with little Elrics could escalate.

“I'm not sure,” Roy muses, “I haven't checked the ceiling yet.”

“You better do that,” she advises him, “There are some things you really don't want to grow moldy.”

He laughs and then excuses himself, calling up the stairs to get Edward.

Ed's hair is a little damp, as are Dandelion and Alphonse, but all three look presentable again.

“Hey, granny,” Edward says, easily exchanging the kitten in his hand for the phone, “Still kicking, I see?”

He waits for a response from Doctor Rockbell and seconds later the two of them are already engaged in a verbal fist fight.

Roy tickles Dandelion under the chin and snickers to himself. He knows all too well how entertaining it is to goad Edward on, and Pinako Rockbell obviously knows how to push all his buttons.

He doesn't know why but he finds himself lingering in the hallway, though it's probably quite rude to listen in on the conversation like that. Eventually, Edward calms down a little and answers more general questions, asks about Winry and the clinic and Riesembol at large.

He tells her about what happened during dinner and about their little autumn kitten, about how they're having a bit of a late summer, the weather still pleasantly warm and the leaves all golden and picturesque.

“Hey, Al,” he says eventually, hitching the boy a little higher on his hip, “Wanna talk to granny?”

“-nny,” Alphonse mumbles around the word but readily accepts the phone, awkwardly pressing it to the side of his face as he had seen Edward do.

Pinako must have said something because he immediately gets all excited, wriggling around in Edward's grip.

“'lo!” he squeals and what follows is an unintelligible string of syllables, only interrupted when the old woman laughs so loudly that even Roy can hear it, but Al just laughs right along.

“Dada,” he says and conks the phone back against Ed's temple.

Ed winces, but then just shakes it off.

“Yeah, so, you see we had an exciting day,” he tells Doctor Rockbell, “I'll be lucky if he even falls asleep at all.”

He listens to what she says and then snorts, “Yeah, no, Roy always tickles him and that usually does the trick.”

Whatever she says next, however, makes his face fall.

“Did he? Well, I wouldn't remember, would I?” he clears his throat, glances off to the side, “So, listen, old bat, thanks for calling, but I still got dead vegetables in my hair, so I should probably go take a shower. Yeah. Yeah, I'll call you next time. Sure. Night.”

When he hangs up and turns around, he finds Roy still watching him with a questioning expression.

For a long moment, Ed just looks at him. Then he brushes his pristine hair out of his face and hurries up the stairs, Alphonse held close to his chest.

 

 

Chapter Text

As Roy considers the odds of whether Hawkeye would flagellate him more for sending spit balls up at the ceiling or stealing out of the office to escape work completely, he realizes that he's got something more fun and less incriminating to pass his time with.

He picks up his phone and puts on his best authoritative voice as he tells the operator to connect him.

“Mustang and Elric residence,” Edward's voice replies eventually.

Roy stills, blinks.

“You sound very professional saying that,” he says.

There's a bit of a splutter as Ed realizes who he is talking to.

“Bastard,” he growls, “I just thought... what if someone important calls for you, y'know? I can't just be all casual and shit.”

Roy grins slowly, “That's very considerate of you.”

“Why are you calling then?” Ed asks, “Forgot something at home?”

“Actually, I just wanted to speak to Al,” Roy admits, casually toying with his fountain pen.

“Speak to- what?” There is a bit of a shuffle when Ed seems to switch the phone from one ear to the other, “What do you mean?”

“Nothing, I just wanted to talk to him,” Roy explains, “He seemed to enjoy talking on the phone the other day, so I thought I'd try it out.”

Ed gives a big sigh.

“Al, you've got a call,” he relents.

Al squeals loudly, first from afar and then directly into the phone. Roy laughs.

“Hello, Alphonse,” he says. Upon recognizing his voice, Al gets all excited.

“Have you been a good boy today?” Roy asks, already knowing the answer.

“No,” Al says because that has become his favorite word lately.

“Did you eat your breakfast?”

“No.”

“Has Edward been nice to you?”

“No.”

“Did you play with Dandelion?”

“Dany!” Al chirps as he does whenever he lays eyes on the cat or someone mentions her.

He throws himself into a long narration of something involving her and possibly a ball and... something. Roy has a hard time picking the baby speak apart, but he laughs along anyway.

“That sounds marvelous,” he says and Alphonse squeals again.

“I'm afraid my day hasn't be quite so exciting,” he tells him, pitifully glancing down at his paperwork, “So how about I read you a book today before dinner, hm?”

Alphonse makes an agreeable sound, but doesn't say anything. Instead, Ed pipes up again.

“Al, no,” he says, “Don't try to eat the phone, Al. That's seriously disgusting, Al. Yuck.”

He probably saves the phone from the boy's clutches then, wipes it off on his pants and lifts it back to his ear.

“So, the long and short of it is that Dandelion turns out to be a fucking Labrador and loves playing fetch,” he sums up Alphonse's tale from before.

“That does make more sense, yes,” Roy hums, “What's for dinner tonight?”

“Burgers,” Ed drawls, “The healthy kind with like, salad and shit.”

“Pff,” Roy cocks an eyebrow though Ed obviously can't see it, “What got into you?”

“Gracia mentioned that old men should be mindful of the cholesterol intake,” Ed answers blithely and Roy cannot help but gape at the audacity. Since Ed cannot see that either, though, he quickly catches himself.

“Oh, were you planning on having any old men over?” he teases, “I had no idea what you got up to behind my back, Edward.”

There is a long moment of silence that Roy doesn't quite know how to interpret.

“I-,” Ed stammers finally, “You- that- I wouldn't- Just get back to work, you idiot!”

And he hangs up with such a force that Roy's ears are left ringing and he can only stare at his own phone.

Would you look at that, he thinks to himself, hanging up as well. The Fullmetal Alchemist getting flustered at the idea of having an illicit affair. Roy would be having so much fun with that.

 

Watching Edward handle the burger patty is sort of like seeing a mad scientist sew together dead body parts, so when the doorbell rings Roy is only too glad to flee the kitchen and answer it.

He doesn't know who to expect, but it's certainly not the unfamiliar faces of two teenagers.

“Yes?” he asks blandly, suspecting them to be collecting money for some sort of charity or whatever.

“Good evening,” the shorter of what he assumes must be brothers says politely, “Sorry to intrude, but we are friends-”

The taller one gives a derisive snort that momentarily lifts his blonde hair out of his forehead, before he glances off to the side.

“Of Alphonse and Edward Elric,” shorty finishes, jabbing an elbow into swarmy's side, and then fluently disguising it as a gesture of introducing them, “Russel and Fletcher Tringham, sir.”

Ah. Roy vaguely recalled a report involving two other young alchemists from a couple of years back. Edward had certainly not made them sound like 'friends'.

“And how may I help you?” he inquires evasively, hand still on the door frame, effectively blocking the entry.

“We talked to Lieutenant Ross,” Fletcher explains, “Who talked to Major Armstrong. Who directed us here.”

Roy really needed to have a word with his old friend about the dangers of handing out his home address to random teenagers, but he assumed that Alex just wanted to give Edward the comfort of having someone his own age around every once in a while.

“And what, exactly, did they tell you that would make you come here?” he says with a disarming smile, noting how Russel and Fletcher exchange a meaningful look.

“The Lieutenant said the Major hadn't told her the particulars, but that Ed and Al were no longer with the military but still under your protection,” Fletcher says, carefully weighing every word, “And that we should best seek you out at home.”

For a moment, Roy contemplates the conundrum. Then he gives a small sigh.

“Please come in,” he says, stepping aside, “We were about to have dinner anyway.”

The two boys surreptitiously glance around his hallway as they enter, curiously taking everything in as Roy beckons them to follow him.

“Oh,” Fletcher says when he spots Dandelion strolling towards them, “I bet Al's really happy.”

She's still traipsing around in that baby gait that is very reminiscent of Alphonse crawling. Lots of butt-wagging and unnecessary movement, only in her case there's also her tail that seems to be propelling around without her control or consent, making her look hilariously off-kilter.

But that one statement is enough to let Roy know that the Tringhams most likely do not know about the Elrics' circumstances.

Fletcher appears to be a nice kid, reminds him of how Alphonse had been, generally soft-spoken and well-mannered. He can't quite get a gauge on Russel yet who seems to have a carefully cultivated air of teenage boredom about him, but may be hiding something else underneath.

“Edward,” Roy says when he steps into the kitchen, infusing just enough sharpness into his voice that Edward immediately looks up from his frying pan.
His eyes land on Russel and Fletcher in the doorway.

“Oh fuck no,” he says and groans.

 

Ed seems unable to decide whether he should best glare at Roy or at Russel so he makes a point of turning back to the stove and focusing on not burning the burgers to a crisp.

“Well, would you look at that,” Russel says, crossing his arms in front of his chest. He's handsome and haughty, and Roy can't pinpoint why he already hates him a little, this boy who is half his age.

“The Fullmetal Alchemist is playing house.”

“It's called cooking, Russel, and it's a basic skill of survival,” Ed scoffs, shoulders hunching up, “And what the hell are you doing here anyway?”

“It's just that we were worried about you,” Fletcher replies, “After the whole-”

He darts a quick look at Roy, probably estimating how much he knows.

“The whole thing at Central,” he finishes vaguely, “We hadn't heard from you since and then there weren't even any newspaper articles about you anymore. So we came to look for you.”

“Well, now you've seen me, so you can leave again,” Ed says, angrily turning the burgers, wielding the spatula like a weapon.

The Tringhams, however, seem unfazed by his abrasiveness.

“Yes, but,” Fletcher says slowly, “Is Alphonse around as well? I'd really like to see him again.”

Edward stills. Stares down at the pan with hard eyes.

The words that finally come out of his mouth are cutting and jaded, like fractured glass.

“Al is dead,” he says.

Roy would gasp if he weren't so busy noting the Tringhams' reactions. Russel's eyes widen in shock, but Fletcher's immediately well up with tears.

“W-what?” he stammers out, “B-but the Lieutenant never mentioned anything like that. I thought- What- How-”

“It happened months ago,” Ed replies listlessly, hair falling in his face as he ducks his head, “It was my fault, so... yeah. Blame me or whatever.”

Fletcher is openly crying now but the more violent reaction comes, surprisingly, from Russel.

“You got your little brother killed,” he snarls, stepping in front of Fletcher as though to shield him, “And now you're what? The live-in maid of your C.O.?”

“Shut up,” Ed hisses, “You have no idea, so just shut up, you moronic little-”

“You're calling me little, you-” Russel takes another threatening step forward.

“Edward,” Roy cuts in pleasantly, “Can I talk to you for a second?”

Edward shoots him a glare but then complies by inching past the Tringhams and into the hallway.

“What?” he whisper-sneers and the irrational part of Roy kind of wants to strangle him.

“Seriously? Now is the time you finally decide to go with our cover story?” he asks instead, fighting to keep his voice down.
“What, I thought you'd be happy about that,” Ed scoffs, turning away with crossed arms.

“Ed, there's a boy crying in my kitchen right now because he thinks one of his friends tragically died,” Roy points out tersely, “Do you think Al would have wanted that?”

Ed reels back, catches himself.

“I can't know what Al would have wanted,” he says darkly, “And anyway, so far, everyone else knew the whole story. The Tringhams don't. I'd have to tell them about the first human transmutation as well and- that's just too much of a mess.”

They have a bit of a stare-off in the hallway, but then Fletcher sticks his head out of the kitchen.

“Edward,” he says through a sniff, “Why is there a baby here?”

True enough, Alphonse who had nodded off on the rug while Roy had read him a story must have crawled from the living-room and into the kitchen to personally greet their guests, without either Ed or Roy noticing.

With his head held high, Ed struts back into the kitchen where Al immediately pulls himself up on his pants leg.

“Dada,” he demands with a cherry-red pout and Ed bends to pick him up.

“This is my son,” he tells the Tringhams.

Oh, for Heaven's sake, Ed, Roy swears silently, rubbing his temple.

Fletcher stares, but Russel huffs.

“Like any self-respecting girl would ever let you touch her,” he mocks and Roy stills.

I was like that, he realizes, recalling his teenage years, I had that arrogance, that attitude.

“Just shut the fuck up, Tringham,” Edward scoffs and moves to turn off the stove before transferring the burgers from the pan onto a big plate which he sets on the table with a little too much force.

“Roy, food's getting cold,” he says pointedly and lifts Al into his high-chair before seating himself.

Roy purses his lips.

Then he turns towards the Tringhams and gives them another polite smile, “Would you like to stay for dinner?”

Edward glares.

 

Ed refuses to share any of his burgers with Russel and Fletcher so it falls to Roy to play the good host and offer them some of his.

“This tastes really good,” Fletcher notes and only sounds a little surprised. The tear-tracks have dried on his face but he still looks rather shaken.

Ed gives a non-noncommittal grunt, focusing all his attention on getting Al to eat his dinner, even though the boy is rather more interested in their guests.

“So,” Fletcher tries again, clearing his throat with a wet little sound, “What's his name?”

“Huh?” Ed says intelligently and blinks at him.

“Oh,” he says when realization dawns, “Uh. Alphonse.”

“Da!” Alphonse agrees.

“Oh,” Fletcher echoes, smiles uncertainly and then stares back down at his plate.

Russel, however, is frowning.

“I don't believe it,” he says slowly.

“No one's asking for your opinion, Russel,” Edward drawls.

“No,” Russel insists, “This just doesn't add up. There was some really weird stuff happening at Central. You and Alphonse were always involved in some really weird stuff. You were basically the definition of weird.”

“Gee, flattery will get you nowhere,” Ed says dryly and fans himself some air, but Russel just continues.

“And now you're trying to tell us your brother is dead and you're not even all that broken up about it,” Russel's eyes narrow, “Instead you're raising your supposed son who just so happens to be named Alphonse as well. I'm not buying it.”

“I named him after Al, you shit,” Edward bites out, “And- and excuse me for trying to move on with my life.”

“See, that's what I mean,” Russel points out, “The Fullmetal Alchemist I know would never talk like that.”

“Maybe that's because you don't actually know me. Ever thought of that?” Ed asks, baring his teeth.

“Edward,” Roy says quietly and Ed's fiery gaze shoots towards him.

They look at each other across the table, neither backing down, but this time instead of glaring back Roy tries to keep his face neutral and open. Because Edward is often spoiling for a fight, but when his opponent is disinclined he quickly loses his momentum.

Now, he seems to fight himself for a moment, wrestling with his demons and only winning by a hair.

“Fine,” he says finally, angrily setting down his cutlery and taking a huge breath, “When we were kids Al and I used human transmutation to try and bring out mom back, but Al lost his body. We were looking for the philosopher's stone to get him back to normal, but instead he ended up as a baby. So this is not my son Al, this is Al Al. Happy now?”

If anyone's ever actually experienced verbal whiplash it would be the Tringhams right now. Roy has to admit it is quite nice to see Russel so obviously out of his depth.

“Human transmu-” he gapes, eyes wide, “That's against the law.”

Roy offers a small but dangerous smirk.

“In this case, I am the law,” he says pleasantly, hoping to minimize the chances of the Tringhams running to yell out this new revelation to all and sundry.

Russel gives him a rather wide-eyed if not sufficiently intimidated look. Fletcher, though, only has eyes for the baby.

That is Alphonse?” he asks, sounding somehow afraid and amazed at the same time.

“In the flesh,” Edward replies, glancing away, “Fucking finally, I guess.”

“Bu-ha!” Al cheers and throws his hands up in the air.

“I can't believe you,” Russel is shaking his head, “So you didn't get your brother killed, but you managed to lose his body and then, I don't know, fifteen years of his life? All by spectacularly breaking the law. What the hell, Elric?”

“Now, now,” Roy cuts in, always the voice of reason whenever Hawkeye isn't there to be it in his stead, “I don't think anyone should be pointing fingers in regards to possibly illegal activities, hm?”

Because it wasn't like the Tringhams hadn't had quite a helping hand in producing red water which caused an environmental pollution that had cost several lives. Maybe they remember that, too, because at least they do appear properly chastised.

“Why don't we try this again, but in a more civil manner,” he says, “Hi, I'm Roy. Ed and Al are staying with me because I have the space and I'm such an incredibly nice person. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“Hi, Roy,” Fletcher mutters back and Roy can't help but think that this sounds rather like Alchemists Anonymous meeting, though Russel looks like he had somehow ended up in a loony bin and only now realized it.

“Ed?” Roy prompts and Ed gives another world-shuddering sigh.

“I'm sorry for lying to Fletcher, I guess,” he mutters, “But you don't get to judge me. This is how things are now. Al's a baby, deal with it.”

He's quiet for a moment, purses his lips.

“Al,” he says, still sounding grudging, “Those are Fletcher and Russel.”

“No,” Alphonse says and shakes his head.

“Err,” Ed scrunches up his face, “Yes, actually.”

“Why?” Al wants to know instead.

“Because their parents had a shitty taste in names, I guess?” Ed ventures and this is not exactly what Roy was going for, but the mood suddenly seems considerably lighter.

“So, um, you're no longer looking for the stone?” Fletcher asks delicately which is just another way of asking whether Ed is really a stay-at-home dad now.

“Guess not,” Ed says and smacks his lips, “Anyway, getting your hands on a real one is too fucked up anyway, so whatever.”

And with those words he stabs what little is left of his burger with his fork.

 

Fletcher thanks them profusely for dinner while Russel only makes a vague gesture that seemed to indicate, 'what he said'.

Dandelion marches out of the kitchen, Al crawls after her, Fletcher curiously goes after him, and Roy follows because Ed and Russel are having some sort of stare-off again and he can really only stand one passive-aggressive teenager in his life.

“Do you think I could maybe visit from time to time?” Fletcher asks with a thin voice from where he is sitting on the floor and patting the cat, apparently wondering whether he can do the same with the baby considering it used to be his older friend.

Roy on the other hand finds himself strangely unsettled by having two strangers in on the secret, especially only so many months later, but he knows that it is the right decision. Fletcher does seem to have been a good friend of Alphonse's. He deserves the truth.

“Of course,” he replies kindly, “You're always welcome here, even if Edward might not exactly show it.”

Fletcher is silent for a moment, finally having relented and gently patting Al's head.

“Don't tell Russel I said that,” he bursts out in quick whisper, “But Ed is probably the best brother in the world.”

“He is,” Roy agrees, “Though your brother would probably do the same for you.”

“Yes,” Fletcher nods, “But he'd be bad at it.”

That startles a laugh out of Roy.

“Well, I won't deny that things haven't exactly been easy around here either,” he admits, “But, yes, Edward is doing a remarkable job.”

“Then I'm happy,” Fletcher says, his eyes on Al, and his lower lip only wobbles a little.

“Bedtime now,” Ed announces as he joins them a minute later, lifting Alphonse up into his arms.

“Nooo!” Al complains, sagging in his arms like a sack of potatoes.

Ed snorts, “Don't be so melodramatic.”

“I wonder who he got that from,” Roy comments idly and Ed rolls his eyes, “You, obviously. Come, Al, wanna wave Fletcher and Russel goodbye?”

“Bye bye,” Al says and starts waving his hand.

“We're not even at the door yet, Al,” Ed notes and carries him into the hallway where Russel is already standing and handing Fletcher his coat.

“We got a job at a local lab,” Russel mentions casually, throwing Ed a sideways glance, “So, if you ever wanna talk alchemy or something...”

“Pff, maybe if I get really bored,” Ed shrugs.

“Have you read Bonus' new book?” Russel asks, studiously buttoning up his coat, “It's really good, but quite controversial.”

“Haven't had the time yet,” Ed sniffs, plucking at Al's sock.

“I could lend it to you,” Russel offers magnanimously, “If you ask nicely.”

“Fuck you,” Ed says but doesn't put nearly as much poison into it as he could have.

“Bye bye,” Al waves happily and the Tringhams leave with promises to visit really soon to play with him some more or, alternatively, maybe bring by that book if they happen to find the time in their busy schedule.

The door is barely shut when Al seems to realize that maybe it really is bedtime because he settles against Ed's shoulder and blinks a little sleepily.

“Dada,” he mumbles.

The fond smile on Ed's face freezes up a little.

“No,” he replies, forcing out a choked laugh, “I'm your big brother, okay? Ed. Just call me Ed.”

Roy suppresses a sigh. Maybe this encounter had been a little too much after all.

 

 

Chapter Text

The November sky is startlingly blue and the cold air sharp like broken glass on Roy's cheeks, so he huddles deeper into his scarf and until the reddened tip of his nose barely even peeks out anymore. Alphonse is equally swaddled up in his stroller, wearing a baby-blue knitted cap with adorable cat ears, courtesy of Gracia's busy hands.

Only Edward seems to be relatively unaffected by the freezing weather, the top buttons of his sleek new pea coat casually undone, gleaming golden against the navy blue fabric. It was probably the closest thing Roy would ever get to seeing him in anything resembling Amestris' military uniform.

He looks quite grown up, Roy thinks to himself. Quite fitting, considering the day.

They are on their way to Gracia's, a bag of presents in tow and in a pleasant mood. Still, Roy cannot help but be a little apprehensive.

Because not only is it Elysia's first birthday without her father, but also Edward's first birthday without his brother. Al had been born exactly eleven months after Edward, meaning that Ed really had never known anything but Al by his side. So no matter how many guests attended Elysia's party, it would mostly be marked by the absences in the crowd.

To be honest, Roy is quite happy that Edward's birthday coincides with Elysia's because he has no idea how else he would have managed to convince Ed to partake in some sort of festivity. This way at least the boy can just pretend that all the singing and cake and happy smiles are primarily for Elysia's sake. Therefore, Ed also doesn't yet know what else to expect.

“Uncle Roy, Edward!” Elysia cheers when she opens the door, excitedly looking up at them, “Where are my presents?”

Edward snorts but it's drowned out by Gracia stepping out behind her daughter and tsk'ing pointedly.

“What have I told you about treating your guests?” she reminds her and Elysia takes a deep breath.

“Thank you for coming to my birthday party, I'm very happy to see you, please come in, there is cake and drinks if you want some,” she recites from memory before throwing a furtive glance at her mother.

“If you have presents for me then you can put them on the presents table,” she adds slyly and Roy grins.

“What a coincidence,” he says, “I think we brought some.”

Elysia bites her lips around a big grin and then shuffles back to let them in.

There are already several people present, mostly kids with their parents, so Roy scoops up Alphonse to feel a little less out of place while Edward follows Elysia to the aforementioned table and dutifully deposits their gifts there.

It had turned out that both Roy and Edward were hilariously bad at gift-wrapping, so their misshapen presents are quite conspicuous among all the bright colors and perfectly tied ribbons.

“What a darling,” a charmed voice comments next to Roy as he begins to rid Alphonse of his jacket, making sure that the boy doesn't just pull of his cap and chuck it on the floor like he's in the habit of doing.

He glances up to find a middle-aged woman smiling at the two of them.

“My Ondine is six now and she was little horror when she was younger, but whenever I see a baby I can't help but reminisce, you know,” she says.

Roy doesn't, in fact, know but he still gives a polite smile.

“They grow up so quickly,” he simpers and she nods in oblivious agreement.

“I don't think I've seen you around?” she notes curiously, “Are you on the parents' committee? Or your wife maybe?”

That is, of course, the moment Edward chooses to reappear.

“Dada,” Al says, rocking forward to tangle a hand in Edward's ponytail while still keeping a hold of Roy's collar.

The woman's eyes widen before nervously flickering between the three of them.

“Oh,” she says in sudden realization, looking quite caught off guard, “Oh. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to presume-”

She stumbles over her words, takes a step back, gives a flicker of a smile and then excuses herself, quickly moving away.

“What's up with her?” Edward frowns, but Roy just shakes his head, “You don't want to know.”

 

Edward's first surprise comes in the form of two familiar faces.

“Happy birthday,” Shezka smiles while Winry just reaches out to ruffle Edward's hair.

“Look at you, almost grown up and all that,” she grins condescendingly and he gives her a dark look, “You are barely five months older than me.”

“And still five centimeters taller,” she replies blithely, “Some things will never change.”

“Screw you,” he mutters and then hoist Alphonse up into his arm, “Look, Al, it's Winry.”

“Ninny,” Al says, making a grab for Winry's hair and holding it up next to Ed's as though to compare the shades.

“That she is,” Ed agrees with a snicker. Shezka merely looks endeared while Winry's eyebrow twitches dangerously.

Ed tries to get Al to says Shezka's name, too, but he only manages a muffled shh sound before sneezing which Shezka is definitely more delighted by that Winry by her new nickname.

Finally, when all the guests seem to have arrived, Elysia is allowed to open her presents which she does with an extraordinary amount of reverence.

Due to great shop loyalty, the owner of the toy shop had given Roy a discount on a set of dinosaurs which, as it now turns out, Elysia is truly delighted by. Ed, on the other hand, had drawn a collection of simple arrays, complete with explanations and everything.

“If you ever really want to try your hand at alchemy,” he tells her as she leafes through the pages with dinner-plate eyes.

“If my daughter somehow manages to transmute our house into the ether, you're paying for it,” Gracia mutters from Roy's side and he chokes on a mouthful of birthday cake.

While everyone is busy putting themselves into a cake-induced coma, he hunkers down next to Elysia who is diligently putting the dinosaurs into her new dollhouse.

“So, you like all of your presents?” he asks as he helps her put the stegosaurus into the bathtub.

“Yes,” Elysia nods, making the tyrannosaurus rex stand by the stove while the brontosaurus is apparently sleeping in. She pauses, looks thoughtful for a moment.

“I actually wished for daddy to be alive again, but mommy said that's not something you can give as a present,” she explains and her voice sound a little off-kilter, like children always do when they try to smile instead of cry, “So I think my dinosaur dollhouse is really nice.”

“Can I tell you something?” Roy asks her quietly and she looks at him with her eyes a little too bright.

“On my birthday, I wished for your daddy, too,” he says, gently tugging on one of her pigtails, “But that didn't come true either.”

“Oh,” Elysia says and lowers her head, nibbling on her lower lip.

“If you want to,” she offers timidly, “You could come by sometime and play with my dinosaurs, too?”

“Yes,” Roy nods, his throat closing up, “Yes, that would be wonderful.”

When he looks up, he happens to catch sight of Gracia quietly stepping out of the living-room, so he offers Elysia another smile and then gets up to follow her mother into the kitchen.

True enough, Gracia is busy putting dirty dishes into the sink, but even the clinking porcelain does not cover the sound of sniffing every now and again.

“Gracia,” Roy says gently as he steps up to her and she turns towards him with a wobbly smile.

“I'll be back in a moment,” she tells him in a quivering voice, “Just thought I'd do some cleaning up in between.”
She has barely finished speaking when the tears are already spilling over and Roy doesn't have to ask what this is about. Wordlessly he spreads his arms and pulls her into a warm embrace.

“I'm sorry,” she sobs against his shoulder, “I told myself to be strong, I don't what Elysia to see me like this-”

“It's alright,” Roy tells her quietly, “You're not being weak, not at all.”

“It's just that-” she chokes a little on another sob, “Maes loved her so much and- and sometimes I feel like I can never make up for that, like I'll never be enough.”

“Gracia, dear, no,” Roy says, his chest clenching, “That's not true. You mustn't think like that.”

He hugs her close, cupping the back of her head with his hand, thumb stroking over her hair.

“I... You know my parents died early and that I barely remember them,” he tells her, hoping she'll glean some comfort from his words, “But my aunt took me in and told me about them, she raised me well. So... that is what you have to do for Elysia and for Maes. Love them and never forget him.”

He takes a quick and shallow breath, feeling a little unsteady himself as he recalls those details that made up the enigma that was Maes Hughes, “Tell her... tell her how he always rubbed his stubble against her cheeks and how it made her laugh. Tell her about your first date and how he dropped the ring when he proposed. That's what he would have wanted. For you to remember him and still let him be part of your lives.”

“Yes,” she nods against his shoulder, “Yes.”

And she cries a little harder.

They stand like this for a while until Gracia's sobs gradually quiet down, but even then Roy doesn't let go.

“Oh,” someone say from the doorway and when he glances over he realizes that it's Edward.

“Oh,” he repeats, quickly backing out again, “Er, uh, sorry to interrupt.”

As soon as he is gone again, Gracia gently pushes free of the embrace and Roy lowers his arms.

“Sorry. Sorry,” she dabs at her eyes, smoothing the tears from her skin, “I'm being so silly.”

“Grief is never silly,” Roy reminds her, “It's an important part of... moving on. You need closure.”

“I was trying to get pregnant again, you know,” she reveals with a wet little laugh, “We wanted- But then everything happened so quickly. If I had... the child wouldn't be as old as Alphonse yet, but every time I look at him, I get a little- It's so silly, I have Elysia, I wouldn't know what to do without her. And now I'm crying on her birthday.”

“It's alright,” Roy says once more, though he knows it carries little meaning. On the inside he feels somewhat nauseous.

All this time he had relied on Gracia to help with Alphonse without ever even suspecting what it did to her. And here he was without a clue on how to support her in turn.

Yet once more Gracia only puts on a brave face and then bustles back into the living-room. Roy is about to follow her but then something catches his attention from the corner of his eye and he stops.

Edward is sitting at the top of the stairs, half hidden in the low light, hair falling into his face, probably missing Al as much as Gracia is missing Maes.

Roy doesn't know whether he is in any condition to offer anyone any more solace, but he definitely ought to give it a try.

“Had too much cake?” he tries jokingly as he walks up their stairs and settles down on the step next to Edward. Ed only gives a vague grunt.

“This party is meant for you, too, you know,” Roy reminds him, “You should go spend some more time with Winry and Shezka. They specifically came all the way to see you.”

“Yeah,” Ed says non-noncommittally and then doesn't move to get up.

Roy frowns, unsure why this situation seems different from Edward's usual bouts of regret and self-doubt.

“Is something the matter?” he asks carefully, watching as Edward's lips purse.

For a moment, he thinks that the boy is just going to refuse to reply, but Ed's sends him a sideways glance before quickly looking away again.

“... Why were you hugging Gracia in the kitchen?” he asks, very quietly, and Roy finds himself a little blindsided by the unexpected question.

Slowly, he leans back on his elbows as though that would make the stairs any more comfortable.

“The anniversary of Maes's death is just a little while away,” he reveals, the words ashen in his mouth, “I guess we're both a little... tender.”

There is a long moment of silence.

“Oh,” Edward says finally and his shoulders hunch up, but strangely he appears to be more relaxed than before. Roy blinks, puzzled by such a reaction.

“Did you... hell, Edward, did you think I was making a move on Gracia?” he asks in disbelief and the tension creeping back into Ed's posture is enough of an answer.

“She's- she's still the wife of my best friend,” Roy reminds him, admittedly a bit hurt that Edward would think so little of him, would think that he'd make a move on any vaguely available female.

“Yeah, but...” Edward is staring down at his knees, “You always speak so highly of her.”

“Of course I do, she is a wonderful person,” Roy points out, gradually realizing that Edward is not annoyed by the thought of his seeming womanizing or upset by any abuse of Gracia's emotional vulnerability.

But why else would the boy care?

“What, are you worried I'll move in with her and ditch you?” he laughs a little obnoxiously and claps Edward on the shoulder, “Sorry, but I'm afraid you're still stuck with me, for the time being.”

“Yeah,” Edward says and ducks his head while Roy finds his hand lingering on the warmth seeping through Edward's shirt.

He tries to think of something to dispel the strange mood of the moment, but before he can even open his mouth he is interrupted.

“Oh,” someone says and when he glances down the stairway he finds Shezka staring up at them with wide eyes.

“Sorry,” she says, quickly waving her hands in a placating gesture, “I didn't know you were- Sorry, I'll- I'll just go.”

And she disappears back into the living-room.

Roy shakes his head. People sure are acting weird today.

“Come on,” he tells Edward and stands up, “You still haven't unwrapped your presents.”

 

Edward looks a bit overwhelmed by being surrounded by people and having to accept his presents in front of them, but luckily Elysia makes the beginning and unceremoniously shoves a drawing into his hands.

“This is you,” she explains, pointing at a mostly bright yellow figure which rivals even the misshapen sun in the top left corner, “And this is Uncle Roy. This is Alphonse as a baby and there in his armor. That is me riding a dragon. We're all going on an adventure.”

Edward gives a lopsided little smile, “Thank you, Elysia. I really like it.”

Of course he does, especially since Elysia had drawn him to look taller than Roy. He also has seven fingers on his automail hand, though, so Roy doesn't feel too jealous.

“Just a little something,” Gracia says as she hands him a beautifully wrapped gift, “I thought the color might suit you.”

It turns out to be chocolate brown cable-knit sweater which Edward pulls on immediately. It looks rather comfortable but the wide neckline slips off his shoulder a little.

“I made it a bit bigger,” she tells him with a smile, “You'll grow into it.”

That prediction is probably even better than the gift itself and Edward thanks her with an embarrassed blush.

Shezka's present turns out to be a book on alchemy which had been lost when the first branch of the State Library had burned down but that she had copied from memory. Faintly Roy wonders whether the woman is aware of how much money she could make with her rare talent.

His own present is of a similar nature, though it's the only one that is not handmade.

The brown leather of the tome is cracked and weathered, the pages yellowed with age.

“Holy shit,” Edward whispers as he runs tender fingers over the gilded letters, “Is that an original?”

The Book of the Composition of Alchemy as translated by Chester,” Roy agrees, rocking back on his heels with a pleased smirk, “You better handle it with care.”

“Holy shit,” Edward repeats and ogles up at him, “That must have cost a fortune.”

It had, but it wasn't like Roy couldn't afford it.

“I admit to having had ulterior motives when purchasing it,” he claims instead, “Because I'm sure you'll be agreeable to lending it to me on occasion.”

“Only if you say please and thank you,” Edward teases but his fingers flex around the weight of the book in his lap, and if it weren't for the presence of the others Roy is sure that he would start reading right then and there.

“Now me,” Winry declares when Edward has wrapped the book once more and gingerly put it aside.

Roy already knows what her present is but he still cannot help but peer over Ed's shoulder.

It's a photo album and with a little apprehension Edward flicks through the first few pages.

There are a lot of faces that even Roy is more or less familiar with. A wedding picture of Ed and Al's parents. Pinako Rockbell and what must be Winry as a toddler on her knee. Sara and Urey Rockbell, young and fresh-faced. Winry and Edward, both wearing tiny dresses and barely distinguishable from each other. Trisha Elric heavily pregnant and with a baby Edward in her arm. Alphonse riding on the Rockbell's dog. A family portrait of the Elrics together.

Memories of happy, carefree days that start to fade with each page. Hohenheim gone, then Urey, Sara, and Trisha. But new faces appear in their stead. The Elric's stern teacher and her husband, carrying Ed and Al under his arms, on his broad shoulders. The boys passed out on a sofa, surrounded by books. Then Al's face disappears, too, replaced by steel and hollow eyes.

Edward wobbling around on crutches, Den going gray around the muzzle, Pinako Rockbell stooping even more with age. Winry threatening Ed with a wrench. Edward flexing his new automail, sparring with Alphonse, all of it interspersed with landscape shots of Riesembol, a river, a large oak, a swing-set, a green meadow, the Rockbell's house.

What follows are pictures that Roy helped Winry collect, photographs of Ed and Al in Central and East City. Pictures of the Hughes, of Alphonse, Nina Tucker and her large dog. Roy's team. Edward and Shezka pouring over books. Breda losing to Ed during an all-you-can-eat contest. Alphonse playing with Black Hayate. Armstrong and Al arm wrestling. Izumi Curtis looking fondly exasperated at something.

The rest of the memories are more recent. Winry standing next to her girlfriend Paninya and giving a peace sign. Elysia hugging a tiny Al. Edward sleeping on his stomach, Dandelion curled up on his back. Gracia showing Ed how to properly decorate an apple pie.

Many of them are the ones Roy has been taking over the course of the past few months, all of them candids that Edward wasn't even aware of. Roy hoped that he would appreciate the effort, hoped that while Ed had been too caught up in his own denial he would now be grateful to have keepsakes of seeing Alphonse grow up once more.

So there is Alphonse crawling after Dandelion. Edward and Alphonse in the pool. Al asleep in his crib. Edward pushing the pram. Aunt Chris and Alphonse staring each other down. Al sucking on his thumb. Havoc holding Al at arm's length. Ed and Al both yawning wide. Winry cradling Al in her arms. Ed pressing a kiss to Alphonse's temple.

To his surprise, though, some of the photographs also include him. The three of them sitting on the lawn in Gracia's garden. Him peering down at Al in his arms and Ed standing on his tiptoes next to him, his office in the background. Ed, Al and Roy passed out on a mattress in front of the fireplace.

Roy is stumped. While he had secretly been taking photos of Ed and Al, Gracia and his team had been taking photos of the three of them, their past year together depicted in all those tiny little moments.

Look at that, he thinks wryly. Almost looking like a family.

His thoughts, however, are interrupted by Edward making an odd little choking sound and when Roy glances down Ed is pressing a hand to his mouth. There really should be a limit for how much crying is allowed on birthday parties.

“Thank you,” Ed whispers through his fingers, “Thanks, Win, thank y-”

He breaks off, takes an unsteady breath, lowers his hand and gives a blinding smile, eyes screwed shut.

“Thanks for the presents, everyone,” he says brightly, “They are awesome.”

No one comments on the single tear that trails down his cheek and into the soft wool of the new home-made sweater.

 

They take another picture that evening, all of them gathered around Edward, Alphonse in his arms. Roy tries to stand in the back as he is the tallest, but Gracia pushes and prods him until he ends up at Edward's side, a hand on his shoulder.
Edward isn't looking at the camera, his gaze focused on Al instead, but he is smiling anyway and that's the only thing that is important.

 

Chapter Text

The insides of Roy's cheeks have been bitten raw throughout the morning, but he keeps his face neutral and composed, not letting on how he is really feeling. The others send him knowing looks but tactfully no one says anything, busying themselves with their own work.

Roy glances over his shoulder and out of the window, noting how dreary it looks outside. This was going to be a long gray day.

“Roy,” Edward says in that moment, bursting into the office without so much as a knock and Hawkeye visibly startles at the unexpected intrusion. Roy finds himself vaguely missing those days when Ed's dramatic entry was still an everyday occurrence, kicking the door open and snarling, What do you want this time, you bastard?!

“Roy, Roy, Roy,” Edward chants now, and he sounds excited instead of upset, so at least whatever happened isn't something bad. He's carrying Alphonse in his arms who looks slightly surprised by the small tornado that has swept him up. Ed must have run all the way here, his face flushed and his hair windswept.

“Edward,” Roy greets, putting down his pen.

“Look,” Edward says and crouches down on the floor, “Look what he can do.”

The others are curiously peering into the office as well, but Roy can only watch as Edward carefully sets Alphonse down on the floor, helping him find his balance so he can stand on his own. Then Edward lets go and scoots back a little.

“C'm'ere,” Edward encourages him, arms outstretched toward the wobbling child, “You can do it, Al.”

It's nothing special. Perfectly normal human development, even if it's a little early, according to Gracia's books. But maybe Ed was right after all – Alphonse is special.

So Roy can only stare in awe as Al takes a small teetering step forward, then another, and another, before he finally pitches forward and falls into Ed's welcoming arms.

“Yes!” Ed cheers and cuddles him closer.

“He can walk!” Roy exclaims, jumping up and rounding the table, “He took his first steps!”

They are not his first steps, of course. Alphonse Elric learned to walk fifteen years ago, but Roy is still a little floored.

He hunkers down opposite of Ed and tries to get the child's attention.

“Alphonse,” he calls out and grayish green eyes find his, “Alphonse, come to me. Try to walk to me.”

Obediently, Al turns in Ed's arms and pushes free. He manages five steps this time, but then Roy is already literally sweeping him off his feet.

“That's my boy,” he praises, even as he hears his men whoop and applaud, and Alphonse lets out a delighted squeal, obviously aware that he has done something right.

If it weren't for Hawkeye, the men in the office would happily spend the rest of the day sending Alphonse from one pair of arms to the next, but she reminds them that there is still plenty of work to be done and that the kid will soon be exhausted from all the excitement. Ed and Al are made to leave, and pretty much everyone makes exaggerated cooing noises, waving bye-bye which the small boy happily returns.

Afterwards Roy is barely able to concentrate on his paperwork anymore and Hawkeye reprimands him for it, but she is smiling that small smile of hers, so maybe he isn't really in trouble after all.

 

There is already a sea of flowers draped all over the grave. A wreath of ivy and white lilies as is customary for deceased members of the military. Yellow roses from his many friends. Chrysanthemums “in memory of our only son.” A handful of pitiful looking left-over daisies, personally picked by Elysia, and, of course, pale pink orchids, the flowers Maes had brought to his first date with Gracia, the flowers of their wedding, the flowers that symbolized eternal love.

Roy pulls a silver flask from his breast pocket, unscrews it and toasts towards the headstone.

Then he takes a small mouthful and upends the bottle, the expensive whiskey pouring from it and onto the small patch of frozen earth that is not covered in flowers.

Roy wouldn't get drunk today. Maes had never approved of his habit of feebly trying to drown all kinds of sorrows in alcohol, and Roy would not dishonor him like this on the anniversary of his death.

He stands and stares at the engravings on the white marble. The name has always been so familiar, but over the course of the past year his eyes have also grown terribly used to the sight of it etched into stone.

He licks his lips, the cold immediately burning upon them like a small fire.

He doesn't know what to say. He's never seen the point of talking at someone's grave, has never found it cathartic or calming. And what is there to say anyway?
Sorry for not being by your side, being in your place? Sorry for realizing too late what had been going on? Sorry for getting you involved in something that was too big for either of us? Sorry for not being Führer yet?

Even if he could hear him, Maes wouldn't give a crap about any of that. Because Maes had loved life, had gotten up early every morning, had taken photographs of his family and of little birds on the window sill, had inhaled air as though it were a special honor to be breathing.

Maes had always been strangely wise for his young age.

Roy knew that when Gracia and Elysia came here they told him about their week, about Gracia's sister, and her work, about Elysia having lost another tooth and wanting to start school already.

Nowadays, Roy had a little of that to tell as well, hadn't he? After all, Maes had always had a soft spot for the Elrics, had even regarded them as something like adoptive sons.

“Alphonse already took his first steps today, if you can believe it,” he says, his voice a little rough, though he tells himself it's from the cold winter air.

It's not completely unheard of that babies are able to walk this early, but maybe Al's advanced development is a side effect of his age regression. Because his brain, his body had already gone through the processes of learning to walk and talk and do all these big little things. Maybe that made it easier for him to learn them anew.

However, this theory also raised the question of how much else Al might remember. He was certainly not yet in a state where he would be able to communicate it, but there was a faint possibility that he actually remembered at least parts of his former life, that more of it would return to him as time went on.

What if, in a little while, they would have a toddler on their hands who had the mind of a fifteen year old boy genius? Wasn't that just as cruel a fate as being caged in a suit of armor where he at least was able to move around freely and was being taken seriously by other people?

But those are thoughts for another day, a far-off future.

“I still remember when Elysia learned to walk,” he huffs, his breath a small white cloud, hands buried deep in his pockets, chin tugged against his chest, “You wouldn't shut up about it for days. And I just thought, what's so special about it, every kid does it. But it's different, isn't it, when you see them grow? I mean, yesterday he was still crawling on the floor. And now he walks around my office like it's nothing.”

He smiles faintly, “You should have seen Edward. He looked so damned proud.”

Just like Maes had over every little thing Elysia did. And if he resembled the best father in the world, then it probably meant that Ed was doing a decent job raising this child.

Suddenly, Roy finds himself thinking of all those small instances of how the Elrics have fit themselves into his life, his home, how their existence meshes so seamlessly with his where they had clashed and clamored before.

He thinks of Edward standing in the hallway, his hip cocked out and Al propped up on it, because the boy insists on waving Roy goodbye in the morning. Thinks of Ed intently reading one of Roy's books, brow furrowed and fingers touching his lips, while Alphonse drools all over his chest. Thinks of Ed absent-mindedly brushing his bangs out of his face while he cooks dinner, of Al's teary-eyed pout when he conked his head against a chair. He thinks of their laughter, red-faced and breathless at Roy's antics, as he makes a fool of himself just to see them smile.

“I wish you could see me,” he tells Maes with a thick voice, “I wish you could see how I finally understand what you've been trying to teach me.”

Maes' headstone, predictably, stays cold and still and silent.

 

 

Chapter Text

On Monday morning, Roy is in high spirits because Hawkeye had decided that if they made good progress today they could all go home earlier than usual which is a much better motivation than 'do this or I'll shoot you'.

Another thing is that Edward is finally officially handing in his resignation.

“Fullmetal,” Roy says meaningfully as he watches him step into the office and set down Al on the floor.

“Colonel Mustang,” Edward replies and snaps into a mocking salute, all sloppy and casual with inexperience and carelessness. Roy faintly recalls Ed having properly used his title in the early days of their acquaintance, but that had quickly puttered off and died a miserable death as Ed started to disagree with how things were done in the military.

But more than that, it now feels uncomfortably strange to not have Ed call him by his given name, so he is happy that they are finally putting all the formalities of the difference in rank behind them.

Roy pulls out the according paperwork and fills in the blanks, reading allowed for Ed's benefit, while Al is tumbling all over the room in the background which makes the whole situation even more of a farce.

“Name, Edward Elric,” Roy writes in careful block letters, “Function, State alchemist. Title, Fullmetal. Rank, Major, no promotions. C.O., Col. R. Mustang.”

He pauses for a moment, “Reasons for resignation, ... family matters. No intention of reenlisting.”

At the end of the document he finishes with a little flourish, “East City, December the 25th. My signature. And you signature goes... here.”

And he pushes the paper over to Edward, offering him his fountain pen.

“Dada,” Alphonse tries to get his attention, his fingers just barely reaching the top of the desk from where he is standing.

“Hm?” Edward hums absentmindedly, as he accepts the pen and messily signs his name in that all too familiar chicken scrawl, the tip of his tongue peeking out.

Al makes a grabby motion for the pen and Roy grins. He had no doubt that Al would soon grow into an exceptional alchemist once more because the boy certainly enjoyed scribbling on every available surface. Good thing that Ed knew how to transmute crayon off of wallpaper.

As soon as the ink is dry, Roy accepts the resignation form and then reaches into his pocket.

“One more thing,” he tells Edward and slides the silver pocket watch across the table, “Now that you are no longer a state alchemist, you'll have to give up your pocket watch along with all the privileges it entails.

“Uh,” Ed squints because of course he returned that same watch weeks ago.

“It's a symbolic gesture,” Roy insists and Ed sighs, but picks the thing up and makes a big show of handing it over.

“Congratulations, Mr. Elric,” Roy tells him, “I hope the civilian life agrees with you.”

“Awesome,” Edward smirks, “Does this mean I can no longer get court-martialled if I happen to punch some general in the face?”

“Did you have anyone particular in mind?” Roy asks wryly, “Because you can still get sued for that.”

But Ed waves him off, “Just for future reference. In case the need ever arises.”

“Please don't let it arise,” Roy says because although he can no longer be held responsible for Ed's action, he'd still be the one to get saddled with Al in case Edward ever got arrested.

“We'll see,” Ed says and gives a devilish smile.

 

They go for walk that afternoon, and it's nothing out of the ordinary for them, but still it feels like something has changed, even if it's just the mere fact that Edward is no longer Roy's subordinate or part of the military at all. For the first time in five years he is a civilian once more, without the duty of spilling blood and offering his life for the supposed greater good.

It's freeing, somehow. At least it feels that way to Roy and he can only imagine how euphoric Ed must be, though his face is perfectly blasé.

Roy takes a deep breath, letting the cold air rattle through his lungs.

The snow of the prior days hadn't lingered on the streets, but here in the park the ground is covered in slush that makes wet noises as Edward pushes the pram through it. Overhead, the sky is white and laden with clouds and Roy would not at all be surprised if they got some heavier snowfall sometime soon.

They'd bought roasted almonds from a street vendor and Roy casually offers the bag to Ed who pops one into his mouth. Al who is craning his head in the pram watches the exchange and immediately wants a taste.

“Uh!” he says, pointing, “Want!”

“No, Al,” Ed tells him with a sympathetic grin, reaching out to ruffle his cap-covered hair, “You can't chew those yet.”

“Woy!” Al tries instead, putting on his best puppy dog eyes, “Want!”

“You heard him,” Roy smiles in amusement, “No can do.”

“Uh!” Al huffily throws himself back down in his pram, sporting a big pout.

“You can have some chocolate pudding when we get back home,” Ed promises.

“Want now,” Al complains, sounding very miffed.

“Too bad,” Ed sighs and snags another almond.

“Sir?” a voice asks in that moment and Roy looks over to find Hawkeye, Black Hayate at her side.

“Riza,” Roy greets pleasantly, “I don't think we've run into you here before.”

Riza smiles in response, indicating towards her dog with a small nod.

“I wanted to let him out while it was still light outside,” she explains, “I always feel so bad when he has to stay home all day in winter.”

Alphonse, of course, had already met Riza in the office this morning, but this is the first time he comes face to face with her canine companion, so he immediately starts wriggling around in his pram, trying to get out.

“Okay, okay,” Ed hurries, lifting him out by the armpits and then lowering him to the ground so Al can pat the dog while Black Hayate can sniff the kid.

“Dany,” Alphonse decides on the spot and Edward snorts, “That's not Dandelion, Al. That's a dog.”

“Dany,” Al insists and turns a questioning look towards Roy, “Woy?”

Roy grins, “I'm afraid Edward's right, Alphonse. That is indeed a dog.”

Al makes a disgruntled noise but keeps petting pseudo-Dany anyway. Hayate happily endures the clumsy affections and wags his tail, giving a little yip to which Al replies with a giggle. Ed is crouching behind him so he doesn't suddenly topple over and land in the mud, gently tugging at the hemline of Al's tiny jacket to make sure that the small of his back is covered.

Roy is smiling to himself but when he looks back up again he catches Riza watching him with a curious expression in her eyes that he can't quite pinpoint.

Suddenly, it occurs to Roy that none of the members of his team have ever seen him in such familiar interaction with Ed. Not outside of the office where there were always Roy's rank and Roy's desk and Ed's pride between them. Gracia had seen them plenty of times, as had Winry and Miss Kinnet, and there had been that time when they were sick that Jean had seen Roy carry Ed, but both Ed and Al had been unconscious then so it probably didn't really count.

“We have a cat now,” Edward tells Riza by way of explanation, squinting up at her.

“Yes,” she agrees, “Roy mentioned it. On the back of an important document. In the form of rather poor doodles.”

“Oh, man, I've seen those,” Ed snickers, “Seriously, Al already draws better than that and he can barely hold the crayons and usually tries to eat them.”

Roy clears his throat and blithely takes that as his cue to change the subject in order to lose face in front of Riza. At least not any more than he already has.

“Will you be attending the New Year's Ball?” he asks and she rolls her eyes, “It's not a ball, I will not be wearing a dress, but yes, I'll attend, if only to make sure you don't make too much of a fool of yourself.”

Roy heaves a big heavenward sigh, “Those events would be so much less boring if people only dared to dance once in a while.”

He glances back down just in time to catch Ed and Riza exchange a meaningful look, and he honestly can't have his subordinates, former or otherwise, bond against him. Because that would be mutiny.

“Almonds?” he offers Riza and she cocks a wry eyebrow, “No, thanks.”

“Uh!” Al immediately perks up, waving his hand, “Me!”

“No, Al,” Ed and Roy tell him in unison and then laugh at the horrible look of betrayal on his face.

“Well,” Roy says, shaking his head and then turning back towards Riza who is watching them again with an intense gaze, “I guess we should be on our way. I doubt Al's baby shoes are really all that waterproof.”

“Ba!” Al disagrees, pointedly stomping his tiny feet into the slush.

“Let's not try and find out,” Roy says wryly.

“Come on, Al,” Ed adds, getting up from his crouch, “Back into the pram with you.”

“No,” Al decides and waves his mitten-covered hand at him, “Dada.”

It's somehow strange how he already speaks so well, but seems to have gotten stuck on 'dada'.

But maybe it's no surprise. Other children get encouraged to say 'mommy' and 'daddy'. Alphonse kind-of not-really gets ignored.

But he's learned by now that Ed will pay attention eventually. He only has to wait long enough. And once more, it works like a – slightly belated – charm.

Ed's shoulders draw up and he looks very tense for a moment. But then he deflates again, all apprehension gone.

“What is it, Al?” he sighs and gives a vaguely defeated smile.

“Ba,” Al insists, thrusting his hand into Edward's gloved on.

“I think he wants to hold hands,” Riza offers helpfully and now the glint in her eyes is starting to look downright maternal, which Roy finds very worrisome indeed.
“Ba,” Al nods emphatically and then lifts his other hand, “Woy!”

“Ah,” Roy realizes, taking the offered hand, “You want to walk home on your own?”

Ed's eyes widen, “Not all the way! He'll be dead-tired and fall asleep and then wake up in the middle of the night again and guess who has to entertain him then?”

“Just till we're out of the park,” Roy says soothingly, “I think he can manage that. Isn't that right, Al?”

“Ba,” Al agrees and then starts tugging at their hands.

Roy stuffs the remaining almonds into his coat pocket and they say their goodbyes to Riza and Hayate. Edward manages to maneuver the pram with only one arm and Al makes a point of jumping into ever single puddle available.

“Guess he's gonna need a bath now,” Ed groans but doesn't actually sound too put-upon, and Roy buries his nose deeper into his scarf.

The almonds have already cooled down and he cannot feel Al's body heat through two layers of wool. Still, for some reason he is feeling nice and toasty all the same.

He makes a point of jumping into the next puddle, too, and Ed screeches at him for getting slush all over their pants and, admittedly, Al's face, but by the fourth puddle Ed is joining them as well, stomping and laughing and half-slipping in the mud.

When they get home, they are all soaked to the bone and fight over the right to take the first bath, and Dandelion gets all excited when she smells Black Hayate on Alphonse, and the hallway is single mess of dirty boots and dripping hair. Ed's nose is reddened and he complains about how his automail aches, so Roy relents on the grounds that he started the puddle wars and promises to make tea instead while waiting for Ed and Al to wash up.

They end up in front of the fireplace that evening, eating sandwiches and chocolate pudding, and Roy reads from his favorite adventure novel, doing all the voices while Edward takes care of the sound effects and animal noises, even though he insists that foxes sound really terrifying, especially when you hear them in the middle of the night and have no idea where it's coming from.

Al manages to smear pudding all over his face and could probably do with another bath, but Ed claims he's gotten too fat to move, and Roy's abdominal muscles hurt from laughing so much.

 

 

Chapter Text

On the morning of New Year's Eve they wake up to Amestris covered in snow.

Because of the military function in the evening, Roy has the rest of the day off, so they all bundle up and then brave the backyard where the thick layer of snow still rests untouched. But not for long.

Edward transmutes a snowman and, upon Al's demands, a snowcat. And then they manually build an igloo together which they hunker down in before realizing that it's too cold to actually spend any time in there. Ed mentions how his teacher once did some sort of survival training in the mountains up North, and somehow that leads to a snowball fight that Edward wins because of his deadly precision.

The rest of the day is spent lazing around in the living-room, so Roy feels not at all inclined to get ready and leave the house in the evening.

“I don't think I've ever seen you in your dress uniform,” Ed notes casually, leaning against the threshold of the bathroom as Roy is adding the finishing touches in front of the mirror, “This whole event is a really big deal, huh?”

“It's the Winter Formal of the Military of Amestris, Edward,” Roy tells him, exaggerating it all with a snobbishly nasal voice, “If you were still a state alchemist you would have been invited. As you had been during the past five years, but obviously chose to ignore.”

“I was busy with actually important shit, okay,” Ed says theatrically, “And I remember you mentioning how boring this thing is, so.”

Roy sighs because, in all honesty, Ed is right, “It's mostly stupid old men sucking up to each other.”

“So I reckon you'll fit right in, yeah?” Ed teases and Roy tosses a damp wash cloth in his general direction, before dedicating himself to his reflection once more.

“Should I leave it like this or brush it back?” he asks, plucking at his fringe.

“Brush it back,” Ed says, picking up the wash cloth and throwing it past him and into the hamper, “Makes you look all noble and shit.”

Personally, Roy had always thought it only made him look older and therefore more reputable, but compliments from Ed are rare so he'll take what he can get.

He dips his fingers into the small pot of grease and slicks the hair out of his face, behind his ears, before artfully arranging some single strands to fall into his forehead. From the sidelines he hears Ed snicker.

“Not a word,” Roy growls, “I've seen how you style your hair, remember?”

For once, Ed shuts up immediately.

 

When Roy's car arrives, Al insists on saying goodbye as they always do, though he seems confused why Roy would leave in the evening instead of the morning, and why he is wearing a different uniform.

“You'll be alright here?” Roy asks and a part of him desperately wants Ed to say no, just so that he has an excuse to stay in as well.

“Maybe I'll transmute some fireworks,” Edward muses instead, the tip of his nose brushing over the top of Al's head, “He'll like that, I think.”

Roy smiles, “Don't set anything on fire.”

“I'll try,” Ed hums and then Roy's driver honks again and he has to leave.

They pick up Hawkeye on the way there. She's wearing the dress uniform as well, but her hair is done differently, an intricate up-do that Roy can't even begin to figure out.

“Please do try to act a little more enthusiastic about this whole thing,” she tells him as soon as she has sat down and fastened her seat belt. Nowadays, Roy didn't even bother to get the door for her; she'd only glare at him.

“Sorry?” he asks, blinking in mild confusion.

“Your face, sir,” she says dryly, “You look miserable.”

“That is because I would have rather stayed home.”

“You say that every year,” she reminds him, “But somehow it looks worse today.”

“Edward is going to transmute rockets for Al,” Roy sighs, “I'm sure they'll be more interesting than making nice with some higher-ups.”

“The road to success-” she begins but he waves her off.

“Is always long and boring, yes yes, I know. Just promise to bail me out when someone tries to set me up with their daughter again.”

“Granddaughters, too?” she asks with the hint of a smile.

“Any sort of relative, friend, neighbor, or acquaintance whatsoever,” Roy says, rubbing his temple, “I'm only there for the finger food.”

 

The finger food turns out to be just as delicious as every year but even that Roy doesn't get enjoy in peace. Hawkeye has wandered off to talk to some old friend from her days in the academy, so he is completely blindsides when someone suddenly calls his name just as he is stuffing a prawn into his mouth.

He quickly washes the thing down along with a big gulp of sparkling wine and then puts on Pokerface #3: Amicable smile, before turning around to greet his peers.

“Joseph, Ephraim,” he greets politely, seizing up the two men in front of him.

Colonel Joseph Fisher is a big-bellied, ruddy-cheeked man, efficient at what he does, but not bright enough to really have big chances to rise much further through the ranks. Ephraim Fairchild is a different matter, more calculating and conniving. More like Roy. Not nearly as handsome, though.

“Where's that lovely Lieutenant of yours?” Fisher asks, craning his head around the hall, “Finally put a ring on it?”

“She's making small talk, like the rest of us,” Roy smiles blandly, “Though my relationship with Lieutenant Hawkeye is purely professional. Don't let her hear you imply otherwise – she might make you regret it.”

Fisher gives a full-bellied laugh, “Ah, yes, of course. And in all fairness, I think that mixing work and pleasure so intimately is a dangerous idea. Especially since I don't want to imagine what it must be like to have such a no-nonsense woman for a wife.”

“How's Mary then?” Roy asks, hoping to steer the conversation to topics that are less likely to get him castrated by his most trusted, “I haven't seen her around tonight, I think.”

“Ah, no,” Fisher inclines his head, “Our youngest is sick, and she insisted on staying home. But you know her, she's never much been one for parties like these.”

No, Mary Fisher is indeed a women who is careful to stay out of military affairs, her husband's position be damned. Roy quite admires her self-preservation in that regard.

“Fairchild brought his new missus, though,” Fisher adds brightly, “Isn't that right, Ephraim?”

Fairchild who'd been silently but attentively listening up to this point cracks a small smile, though it's nowhere nears as convincing as Roy's.

“Yes,” he says, “She's been looking forward to this evening.”

“And it shows!” Fisher laughs, “A dream in green. She looks stunning, if I dare say so. Don't tell my Mary, though.”

“Of course not,” Fairchild smirks in a way that shows he does not a crap about whether Mary Fisher thinks her husband to be an adulterous sheep-fucking son of a whore.

“Mustang, you need to settle down,” Fisher decides in that moment, heartily slapping him on the back, “Find yourself a nice girl. My niece Ashley, you see- Fairchild, you know Ashley, don't you?”

“Yes,” Colonel Emphraim Fairchild says, “Evelyn and I were glad to see her at the wedding. Too bad you couldn't make it, Mustang.”

“My apologies,” Roy simpers, “I'm afraid sometimes work does come before pleasure.”

“Ah, yes,” Fairchild nods, “I did hear you were often working long hours. Too bad that results have been slow-going.”

Roy smiles.

Curse them all, he thinks to himself. All of them still stuck at the rank of Colonel but poking their fingers into other people's sides like schoolboys lining up in front of the headmaster, trying to see who messes up first.

And here he is, the only one among them who has not chained himself to a woman, who has not spawned any offspring, and they act like it means he's not getting anywhere in life.

Fuck you, he thinks, I fought in a war while you were pushing papers. There are parts of me that are only now crawling their way out of that desert and I'm not giving myself to someone until I can give them all of me.

“If you want something done right, do it yourself,” he tells Fairchild instead. And Hawkeye would probably strangle him if she heard him say it, but for all his tendency to procrastinate and run away from dull paperwork, if something actually needs to be done he has no qualms about getting his own hands dirty, figuratively or otherwise.

“Well spoken,” Fisher agrees loudly and slaps him on the back once more. Roy suppresses a wince.

“If you'll excuse me, gentlemen,” he says, “The wine is asking its due.”

He offers another polite nod and then flees to the toilets before any more of their shit can give him indigestion.

 

It's not even eleven o'clock yet, but the past three hours have been as emotionally draining as only a tap dance across a minefield could be. However, he doesn't seem to be the only one to think because just as he is about to take a sip of yet another glass of sparkling wine Hawkeye returns to him.

“Give me that drink,” she orders in a low but sharp voice.

“What?” automatically Roy leans away, “Why?”
She sends him a glare, “Because I will physically wrangle it off you, if you don't.”

“You're right,” he sighs, surrendering the glass, “I've probably had too much to drink already.”

“Maybe, but I haven't had nearly enough yet,” she replies, snatches up the drink and downs it in one big gulp.

“Careful,” he warns dryly, “Have my bad habits left such an impression on you?”

She shakes her head, brow pinched, “Five minutes of talking to those people would drive anyone into alcoholism.”

Roy chuckles, “Ishval didn't do you in, but small talk does? Why am I not surprised?”

“Ishval was war,” she says, her eyes harrowed, “No one there pretended otherwise. Here everyone keeps lying through their teeth. But instead of orders, it's compliments.”

“Gotten any indirect proposals yet?” he asks slyly.

“Two,” she scoffs, “Three have commented on our unusually close working relationship. One lamented that someone like me shouldn't hide behind a uniform. And then someone's wife started analyzing me on why I feel the need to carry guns instead of infants.”

Roy glances down along her body, trying to spot any concealed weapons, “You're carrying one now?”

She smirks, “Of course.”

“In that case I am proud you haven't shot anyone yet.”

She huffs, “The night is still young.”

“And the wine plenty,” he agrees and snags her another glass from a passing caterer.

Eventually, however, he does manage to run into a familiar face that he is quite happy to see.

General Lockheed is not very old yet but already the grandfatherly type, his eyes wrinkled from smiling so much, his glasses a little too eccentric to look appropriate on a man of his status. Roy had only worked with him once, but it had been a pleasant experience indeed and one that had taught him a lot.

They hadn't seen each other in a good four years now, the General deployed to the Cretan border on an assignment that didn't leave him much free time to return to East City where his own career had begun.

So now they exchange greetings that, unlike anything else this evening, do not feel forced, Lockheed opens up with some anecdote about his current position and then they veer off into a political discussion, especially regarding Amestris' precarious situation after the disappearance of Führer Bradley.

“Dangerous times indeed,” Lockheed comments and sends him a sidelong look. No doubt he has gotten wind of the rumors that spoke of Roy's potential involvement in Bradley's mysterious fate.

“I've heard great things about you, Mustang,” the man praises instead, or maybe it is an actual compliment for finally getting rid of the warmonger, “You've been pretty busy, it seems.”

“My career is important to me,” Roy admits, “But more than that I want to see our country in a better place. We've still got a way ahead of us.”

“True, true,” Lockheed nods thoughtfully, “We've all seen too many wars. I'm happy the fights have never breached our borders so far, but my daughters still grew up reading headlines about all the skirmishes, the bloodshed. It's not a world you want to raise your kids in.”

A pensive silence descends upon them, each contemplating their own involvement in the various wars and their tenacious belief that there is still always a chance for peace.

Then the General exhales and straightens his shoulders, casting off the gloomy thoughts like an old coat.

“Do you have children?” he asks, steering for steadier waters, and the customary answer of 'Unfortunately no' is already on Roy's tongue, but somehow it gets stuck there.

“Yes,” he finds himself saying instead, “Yes, I do actually.”

“Ah,” Lockheed gives a pleased hum, “Boy or girl?”

“Boy,” Roy responds, “Almost a year old now.”

“That's the best age,” the old man knows, “When they are becoming their own person, with all their quirks and talents. They still believe in magic and monsters and all that, and they ask so many questions.”

“Yes,” Roy laughs a little, thinking of Al's incessant litany of 'Why?', “That's already started.”

“You take good care of your son, Mustang,” Lockheed warns him with a tilt of his glass, “For men like us, it's important to come home to a family by the end of the day.”

Roy stills, the memory of Ed and Al waving him goodbye this evening blossoming in his mind's eye. He thinks of Ed's plan for the rockets and of how this will be the first time Al sees any sort of firework.

Will he be startled and cry, he wonders. No, he muses, Al's marble eyes will grow round with wonder and he'll stare up at all the exploding colors. And Roy won't be there to see it.

Almost of its own accord, his gaze cuts over to the big clock over the hall's entrance. Twenty past eleven. He thinks quickly.

The streets had been clear on the way here and it had not looked like it would snow tonight. If he hurries now, he might be able to make it back before midnight.

He almost runs away right then and there, but composes himself enough to remember his manners.

“My apologies, General,” he says, setting aside his glass of water, “I've just realized that there's... a place I need to be tonight.”

If Lockheed is in any way offended, he doesn't let it show. Instead, there is a knowing little glint in his laughter-lined eyes.

“Then you best get there quickly,” he only says and his fingers make a little shooing motion.

Roy sends him a thankful grin, salutes, turns on his heel and then tracks down Hawkeye.

“I'm feeling terribly sick all of a sudden,” he tells her, fighting to keep the smile off his face, “Diarrhea, I'm afraid.”

She cocks an eyebrow at him.

“Too bad,” she laments flatly, “Shall I make your excuses, sir?”

“That would be lovely,” he says and leans in to press a chaste kiss to her cheek, “Happy new year, Riza.”

“Happy new year, idiot,” she whispers back, but then he is already making his way out of the hall.

Since it's not midnight yet and everyone is still at the party, he has no problem finding a car and a driver to take him home.

“Can't you go any more quickly?” he urges nevertheless when they are creeping along the mostly deserted roads.

“Sorry, sir,” the driver shrugs, “Black ice tonight.”

So Roy keeps biting at his fingernail, repeatedly pulling out his pocket watch to check the time. Despite his worries, however, they do make it, so he tips the driver generously, wishes him a happy new year and a safe ride, and then slams the car door shut behind himself.

The light is on in the living-room, but when Roy quietly makes his way inside the house he finds that Ed seems to have fallen asleep on the couch.

“Edward,” Roy says quietly, shaking his shoulder, “Ed, wake up.”

“That's my steak, get your own,” Ed mumbles to someone in a dream, blearily blinking awake.

A second later he sits up abruptly, “I missed midnight.”

“Not quite,” Roy shakes his head, “I'm just back a little early.”

“Ooh,” Ed lets out a low whistle, “That boring?”

“Dreadful,” Roy agrees, “Come now. You have ten minutes to get Al ready and dressed. And hopefully in a state where he is not cranky.”
“Don't jinx it,” Ed snorts and rolls himself off the couch.

They make it into the garden just in time and Roy pulls out his pocket watch to count down the seconds, Al sleepy in his arm, as Edward transmutes some rockets out of the ingredients he has already prepared.

The sky is beautifully bereft of clouds and if Roy weren't such a pyromaniac he would feel sorry for the perfect half-moon which would soon be hidden behind a thick veil of smoke.

“Five,” he says and Ed lights up the fuse of the first rocket, “Four.”

They step back and then Ed's voice joins in on the countdown, “Three. Two. One!”

All around, the sound of cheers and fireworks going off blasts through the night, the peculiar high-pitched whistle followed by loud explosions and flowers made of sparks blooming across the dark firmament.

But Roy has already seen dozens of fireworks in his life. So instead, he fixes his gaze on Alphonse.

As expected, the boy had startled upon hearing the noise, but as soon as he catches sight of the colorful sparkles seeming to rain down on them his eyes grow wide.

“Uh!”, he says, very much awake now and twisting in Roy's grip to get a better look, “Pretty!”

The spend the next minutes happily shooting off the rockets, all in colors of pink and green and red and white, much to Al's never-ending excitement.

The biggest rocket Ed has saved for last because, as it turns out, this one is a bit of a different caliber. The fuse sizzles down and a few moments later, a fire-spitting dragon soars through the night.

Roy gapes.

“What, how-” he stammers, only to find Edward giving him a smug smile.

“Equivalent exchange,” he shrugs easily and Roy splutters.

“Fuck you,” he says and Ed pretends to be shocked.

“Not in front of the baby,” he gripes in an exaggerated tone and then they stand in silence as they watch the last stragglers of the fireworks slowly putter off, none of them anywhere close to Edward's magnificence, only adding to the thick white and gray fog that is now clouding the night.

“Hey,” Ed suddenly nudges him with his elbow, wriggling his eyebrows, “You got your gloves on you?”

A slow smirk spreads over Roy's face, “But of course.”

He hands Al off to Edward and trades his normal gloves for those made of ignition cloth. Then he looks up at the sky to make sure there are no bats or birds immediately above them, though most have already fled to safety since this whole noisy business began. When all seems clear, he casually snaps his fingers with both hands.

At once, twin towers of fire shoot up towards the hidden stars, twining round and round each other in a deadly dance, so far up that their ending point cannot be seen.

“Wicked,” Edward whispers, his face lit by the flames, and even Alphonse's eyes are still wide and marveling, while all around them the people in the neighborhood erupt into exclamations of shock and fear.

All in all, it's a really nice way to start into the new year and Roy thinks he could get quite used to it.

 

 

Chapter Text

Tonight, Al has turned the tables and decided that it's time for him to read Roy a bedtime story for a change, so he sits on Roy's lap and avidly reads from his picture book, stringing an endless stream of words together, most of which don't actually make sense.

He keeps patting his fingers on the drawings, though, pointing out things to Roy and to Dandelion who is crouched on the armrest.

From time to time, Roy hums in agreement or asks a question which Al is only too happy to answer, but mostly Roy finds his thoughts distracted, drawn back to his conversation with General Lockheed.

It hadn't been the first time someone had mistaken Al for his son, wasn't even the first time Roy had encouraged it, at least in front of strangers, simply because lying by omission was easier than really lying at all.

The thing was, he didn't have a reason to lie to the General. Though the man knew that Roy had had Fullmetal under his command, he had never actually met Edward and most likely did not know about or care for his familiar situation. And that wasn't even what it had been about.

Lockheed had asked whether Roy had children, and Roy had said yes. Roy had said, yes, I have a boy, he's not even a year old yet, but he's precious, he's perfect, he's my pride and my joy.

He had not just claimed that Alphonse was his son. He had believed it.

Logically, Roy knows that their situation is quite unique. That it is no surprise he would grow attached. But he can't help but wonder why his feelings for Elysia are nowhere even close to the affection he feels for Al.

Of course, he doesn't see her every day. Of course, she is undeniably Maes and Gracia's daughter. Of course, he'd never view himself as her father.

But it should be the same with Al. Roy has no right to him, as Edward had pointed it out more than once. And just because Al doesn't have actual parents this time around doesn't give Roy permission to cast himself in the leading role.

Alphonse has Edward. Edward has Alphonse.

Who... does Roy have, really?

Roy has Gracia who will always primarily be his best friend's widow, and that comes with its own complications. He has Riza who is his Lieutenant first and his friend second, and even if there had been a time where it might have all gone differently, that moment had long since passed. He has his men, of course, especially Jean as a year-long companion. He has Alex as a fellow state alchemist to soldier the guilt of the Ishval massacres. He has Aunt Chris who was always a supporter but never a crutch.

He hasn't even dated anyone in close to a year and by now he doesn't dare to call any of the numbers in his little black book, suspecting that most of them would have forgotten about him by now or very decidedly lost interest after he never bothered to contact them again.

With a small sigh he reaches for the coffee table to pick up the hot chocolate Ed had brought him ten minutes ago, complaining for the nth time about how vile milk was, but sprinkling a bit of cinnamon onto the cream crown, just like Roy liked it.

Oh, he thinks, the taste of chocolate warm in his mouth.

Because, as it turns out, Roy has Edward who brings him hot chocolate. Roy has Alphonse who reads him picture books.

“Woy?” Al asks, twisting his head to make sure he still has his attention.

“I'm sorry, Alphonse,” Roy apologizes and smooths a palm over the boy's blonde hair before pressing a thoughtful kiss into it, “Keep reading for me, yes?”

“Yes,” Al agrees and dives back into the story of how the little duckling tries to find a family.

 

After spending almost an hour on peeling potatoes, Edward declares that the gratin is finally ready for blissful consumption, his own stomach growling in demand.

Roy had asked him once why he didn't just transmute the food, either into a finished meal or at least to save time on chopping vegetables, but Ed had explained that his teacher believed in doing some things 'like normal people'.

Roy suspects that Mrs. Curtis had not used that exact phrasing, but he can see the merit in such a lesson.

It also occurs to him that, while he had been enjoying Ed's exploration of the culinary arts, Edward himself has been rather cooped up for the past months, especially since autumn turned to winter. After all, there aren't many places to go when you always have baby in tow.

Roy still remembers the one time he had suggested Ed take a babysitter. His ears were still ringing from that one. Edward, after all, does not trust strangers. That doesn't mean that no one else is allowed to watch Al.

So Roy decides to just go for it.

“You should take the evening off,” Roy says, slowly chewing a slice of potato.

At those word Ed looks up from his plate, no understanding in his eyes.

“What?” he says eventually.

Roy shrugs, “You're seventeen years old and raising a kid. Most teenagers at least had a little bit of fun before they got themselves into a situation like that.”

But Ed just stares some more, “Where would I go?”

“That other boy,” Roy reminds him, “What's his name – Russel? He's your age, right? You could meet up, uh, hang out.”

Unsurprisingly, Ed's expression is one of disgust.

“I hate that guy,” he points out as though Roy had just suggested he serve one of Alphonse's dirty nappies for dinner, “He has the mental age of a five-year-old. If anything, I'd rather have Fletcher around.”

“It's better than spending all of your time around an actual baby. Or adults ten years your senior,” Roy says, though he finds himself strangely relieved at Ed's reluctance.

“How is that so different from before?” Ed wants to know, “Sure, Al's a kid now. But other than that, I'm still around the same people.”

Roy sighs, “I know. That's why I can't help but feel like you're missing out.”

“On what?”

“Everything,” he waves a hand, helpless, “Making friends, getting drunk. Dancing, flirting. Dating.”

“Very funny,” Ed scoffs, “Who would wanna date me, huh?”

At that, Roy blinks. He's not surprised by Ed's dismissal of the idea of acting his age, but the wording is... odd.

“Well, I imagine there would be quite a few young ladies who'd be thrilled by your attention,” he remarks, but Ed just rolls his eyes.

“Half of me is metal, my day-job consists of wiping away baby puke, and I'm living with my former superior officer who fancies himself the next fuhrer,” he says, “Every girl's dream, right?”

“Don't sell yourself short,” Roy cocks an eyebrow, “You're still the youngest state alchemist, still the alchemist of the people. You have more brains than other people have blood cells, and certainly more morality.”

“Great,” Ed gives him a look, “And who my age would be interested in any of that?”

Of course, Roy thinks when he finds himself at a loss. How naïve of him to forget. Edward Elric does not have peers. He used to have Alphonse, but even that companionship was taken from him.

“Well,” he tries to compromise, “You are also handsome, have a good sense of humor and a kind heart, so-”

He cuts himself off when he sees Ed's red face.

“Am I embarrassing you?” he teases mildly while Ed stabs a vicious fork at his gratin.

“Don't say stupid stuff like that,” he mutters darkly and Roy grins.

“It's not stupid if it's the truth,” Roy points out, recalling some of the stories Alphonse had mentioned from time to time when they had still traveled all over Amestris, “The way I remember it, you left quite a few broken hearts in your w-”

Edward stands up so abruptly that his chair nearly clutters to the floor. He grabs his plate but instead of putting it into the fridge he dumps his dinner straight into the trash, before slamming his dishes into the sink.

Roy sits, rather caught off guard by that strong reaction. He had just been teasing, after all. Why would Edward take it so badly?

Before he can ask, though, Edward has already lifted Al out of his high-chair and positively fled the kitchen. Roy remains behind, confused.

He finishes his dinner, though he barely tastes it anymore, instead wrecking his brain for an answer to what just happened, what exactly ticked Ed off. He'd been somewhat uncomfortable with the conversation in general, but the thing that finally made him snap was the reference to the people Ed had met on his journey.

Was there maybe really someone he had loved, someone he had to leave behind? Maybe someone who had died? But no, it had not seemed like grief, not even the solemn regret of being reminded of Alphonse and their search for the stone.

Yet Roy had simply joked about how the Fullmetal Alchemist had acquired a bit of a reputation as a lone hero who saved the day but never stayed in one place for too long, just like the protagonist of many a adventure novel who always broke hearts left and right but never returned and-

Oh. Realization dawns along with the urge to slam his forehead against the tabletop.

Of course Edward would hate to be likened to someone who just left his loved ones behind. After all, that was what his father had done. And Edward's opinion of Hohenheim was no secret.

There were already so many similarities between them, their looks, their genius, the lack of social skills. The military had turned Edward into a rolling stone, much like Hohenheim was. But Hohenheim had found a home and a family, just as Ed had recently, for Alphonse's sake. Yet Hohenheim had left his wife and his sons behind, leaving Trisha broken-hearted and dying alone.

And in a roundabout way, Roy had implied that Edward was the same, which isn't what he had intended at all.

Yet how could he make Ed understand that taking care of Al did not mean that he had to abandon himself?

 

 

Chapter Text

After that failed conversation, Roy makes an effort to get Ed out of the house more often, and their mutual acquaintances gladly help out with that.

They meet Gracia for tea, watching as Elysia plays dress-up with Al. Hawkeye asks Ed to accompany her and Hayate on a walk in the park. Breda, Havoc, Fury and Falman invite him their customary round of cards on Thursday evenings, though they do tone it down on the drinking. Fletcher convinces him to go see a movie with him and Russel.

One day, Armstrong presents Roy with two tickets to the Grand Theater which is performing one of Roy's favorite operas that night. There is an unusual amount of sparkles in Alex's eyes as he says that he hopes Ed and Roy will enjoy their evening. Gracia jumps in as a babysitter, and Ed only complains a little over the fancy clothes he has to wear and how stuck-up everyone looks and that the arias sound kinda weird.

Roy just smiles, watching the performance, though he is intensely aware of Ed's presence at his right, how their hands are almost touching on the arm rest. In his vest and white dress shirt, Edward looks rather grown-up, even as his face retains its expression of teenage boredom.

In the intermission they unfortunately run into Colonel Fairchild whose new wife is hanging off his arm.

“Mustang,” Ephraim Fairchild greets him with a solid handshake and a sly smirk, “I don't believe you had the pleasure of meeting Evelyn yet.”

“I don't believe I did,” Roy replies, gallantly taking her smooth hand and miming a small bow, “Mrs. Fairchild.”

“Colonel Roy Mustang,” she says, managing to turn his name into one languid drawl, “I've heard so much about you and then you left the New Year's party so early.”

“I'm afraid I felt slightly indisposed that evening,” he lies smoothly, “The fingerfood, you know.”

She makes a convincing yet completely fake noise of sympathy.

She is a beautiful woman, almost as tall as her husband, but curvy and womanly where Fairchild himself is trim and narrow like a ruler. Curiously she turns to eye Edward.

“You're not his son, are you?” she asks, ignoring his indignant look, “Maybe something more tantalizing than that?”

“A former subordinate of mine,” Roy cuts in with a debonair smile, “We retain an amicable relationship. And since young Edward here is a little... uneducated when it comes to the finer arts, I thought a night at the opera might be just the thing.”

Edward is glaring him quite viciously, but Roy is too busy making sure that Mrs. Fairchild's calculating gaze finds no chink in his armor to pierce through. Because she may have the eyes of a doe, but her smile is that of a cat about to catch a canary.

So Fairchild has an affinity for looking through political schemes while his wife is very adept at reading people. A dangerous mix. Roy would know. He combines all those talents within himself and thus trumps everyone.

“That's the Fullmetal Alchemist, dear,” Fairchild tells her in a confidential whisper, “I'm sure you've heard of him.”

“Oh my,” she says, her red lips parting in a perfectly shaped O, “I had no idea that he'd be so...”

She drops off suggestively, runs her gaze along the length of Edward's body once more.

“Striking,” she concludes, though there are a multitude of other implications in that word.

So young. So handsome. So innocent. So defenseless to the advances of a superior officer. So easily tempted to make his way up the ranks in the simplest manner.

“Yeah, former Fullmetal Alchemist actually,” Edward takes his chance to butt in, his tone scathing, “That whole military codfish shit, licking boots and traipsing around in a uniform was never really my thing, yanno. So I quit.”

He finishes all off by digging his pinky into his ear, wriggling it around a little and scraping the earwax out from under his fingernail in a casual manner.

Roy has the very special pleasure of getting to watch as Evelyn Fairchild's big doe eyes almost boggle out of her skull and she struggles to appropriately react to such an inappropriate display of poor manners.

In that moment the bell rings to announce that the performance is about to commence and Roy gives another steel smile.

“So wonderful to make your acquaintance,” he tells Evelyn and then gives Ephraim a polite nod, “We should return to our seats now. Have a wonderful evening.”

And he turns around and strolls off, confident that Edward is closely following.

“Goodness gracious,” Roy begins to laugh as soon as they are out of sight and out of earshot, nearly doubling over with the force of it, “That, Edward, was pure gold.”

“I didn't like their attitude,” Edward grumbles, “Why do you people always have to say one thing and mean another? It's honestly so infuriating.”

Honestly, yes. Honesty had always been one of Edward's best features. Oh, he lied, he lied all the time, especially when he had still been working under Roy. But Ed's lies where white lies and half-truths and lying by omission, out of necessity or audacity and sometimes the goodness of his heart. Edward Elric did not tell malicious lies and he could never keep his own stories straight.

He would make a terrible politician and Roy quite liked that about him. It was very refreshing to live with a person in whose presence he never had to handle every word like it could stab him in the back if he didn't examine it closely enough.

By now, his relationship with Edward had almost reached the level of what he shared with Riza, had shared with Maes. Many things went unspoken between them, but only because they just silently understood each other.

No, unlike Evelyn Fairchild Edward would make a poor politician but he was always great entertainment to be around. A great companion.

“Did you see her eyes?” Roy asks as they make their way back their seats and through the narrow rows, bumping against the knees of other people and not even bothering to apologize, “They looked ready to fall out of her head.”

He tries to imitate the expression and gets a strangled laugh in response.

“Well, no,” Ed admits, “I was too busy watching him see how my earwax landed on his shoe.”

Roy positively bellows with laughter.

“I didn't even see that,” he chuckles, trying to keep it down because people are already turning their heads towards them, “I wish I had seen that.”

“He looked like a codfish,” Ed insists, going all rigid, sucking in his cheeks, opening and closing his mouth like a fish would, before relaxing again, “I think if we had stayed any longer he would have had a seizure or something.”

“I'm sure his lovely wife would have given him mouth-to-mouth,” Roy snorts, watching as Ed pulls a grimace.

“Yuck,” he says, “Hussy-on-codfish action.”

The simple joy of hearing Ed say the word 'hussy' immediately sets Roy off again, even as the lights go out and the curtains close, and they giggle to themselves until the elderly couple in the row ahead finally turns to shush them.

 

“I hope the evening wasn't a total waste of your time,” Roy remarks after they have picked up Alphonse and been driven back home. He had pulled rank and asked for a car, and though the driver hadn't said anything he had kept throwing them suspicious glances through the rear-view mirror.

“It was alright,” Ed admits as he unlocks the door, “I don't like sitting still for that long, though.”

That's a lie, of course. Ed has no trouble keeping still when it comes to books, reading for hours on end.

“Keep the lights down,” Roy tells him now as they step over the threshold. Al has fallen asleep against his shoulder and he doesn't want to wake him again. There's a faint glow streaming in through the windows from the lanterns outside, and together they make their way up the stairs through the semi-dark.

Once in his room, Ed switches on his reading lamp, bathing everything in muted gold, and Roy carefully bends down to deposit Al in his bed. The boy snuffles a little, but eventually lets go of where he had been gripping Roy's shirt collar.

When he straightens up again, Roy finds Edward standing next to him.

For a few moments, they just look down at the sleeping child. Eventually, Roy feels the need to break the silence.

“Thank you,” he says, “For joining me tonight.”

Ed gives a shrug, “Wasn't so bad. Apart from the singing trees and all.”

Roy doesn't even bother to suppress his smile, “We can choose something else next time.”

That is, of course, assuming that Ed will be amicable to a future outing.

“Yeah,” Ed drawls, “And maybe something with more actual talking. I could barely understand what they were going on about.”

“Love, usually,” Roy muses, “Doomed love, one-sided love, young love, old love, rejuvenated love. Lost love. Or some antithesis of that. Hatred, betrayal, abandonment. They do covet their tragedies.”

“Riveting,” Ed says dryly and blows a strand of hair out of his face.

They've turned toward each other while they were talking and now Roy finds himself teetering on the verge of some action, like a tip-of-the-tongue moment but within his whole body, like this is where he ought to do something but doesn't quite know what.

Oh, he realizes when he finally places the odd feeling.

This is the 'I had a great time tonight' moment. The 'I'd like to see you again'.

It's the moment when Roy has brought his date home and they are standing in the doorway, ready to part. The moment he leans in to kiss them. The moment they laugh a little breathlessly and then invite him in.

Only that this is not a date. This is Edward. And it's not some half-stranger's home, but his own, his spare room where Edward lives, and the baby that they are sort of raising together is sleeping peacefully right next to them.

Yes, Roy admits, looking back now it feels like a date. But, what's worse, it feels domestic. Not like a random hook-up to kill some time, not a casual fling that won't last for long.

It feels like a married couple coming home together after a well-deserved evening out, easy familiarity that only comes from living together, contently watching their child sleep.

It's dreadful. It's disgusting. It's the kind of thing Maes always kept going on about.

“Well then,” Roy says, squaring his shoulders and giving Ed a bland smile, “Good night.”

Ed blinks up at him, seemingly more awake all of a sudden, and then he takes a step back, fumbling with his tie.
“Yeah,” he says distractedly, fighting to free himself, “G'night.”

For a split second, Roy is tempted to help him. Then he very consciously turns away and walks down the hallway to his dark, dark room.

 

Chapter Text

After that bizarre train of thought has spectacularly derailed and left a massive wreck inside of Roy's brain, he cannot seem to get rid of it.

Suddenly, Ed is simply always there, just as he had before. But now he is somehow more. Now Roy is aware of him. The way he falls asleep on the couch, Al on his chest and a book on his face. How he stretches up on his tiptoes to grab a glass from the cupboard, his body long and lean.

Suddenly, it all makes sense. All those times his men had commented on the growing domesticity. Hawkeye's knowing looks. Gracia's smile. Elysia's insistent questions on why they weren't married yet.

But no, Roy scolds himself. This is really just a spur-of-the-moment thing. He hasn't gotten laid in ages and, objectively speaking, Ed is quite handsome. It's only natural that Roy's thoughts would stray like this. He simply needs to get them back in line.

And, no matter what other people might think, discipline has always been one of his greatest strengths.

 

One morning, Ed takes longer than usual in the bathroom. Roy can still hear the shower running and already sees himself being scolded by Hawkeye for coming in late.

“Edward,” he calls, knocking against the door, “Are you done anytime soon?”

“Yeah,” Ed replies, a little muffled, “Five... five minutes.”

Still half-asleep, Roy leans against the wall next to the door and waits, closing his eyes.

It must've been longer than five minutes but when Ed finally comes out of the bathroom, his hair is still dripping wet, clothes clinging to his damp skin. When he sees Roy still waiting, he looks surprised and then, strangely enough, embarrassed.

“Sorry,” he mutters, brushing past Roy to his room and pointedly not looking at him.

For a moment Roy wonders at that, before giving a mental shrug and closing the bathroom door behind himself.

It's only when he is under the shower himself, hot water running over his body and properly rousing him from sleep, that he realizes why Ed must have been taking so long.

Oh, he thinks, eyes widening.

Of course, he shouldn't be this surprised. Ed is seventeen, after all, and still very much caught in the throes of puberty. It's only that this epiphany unfortunately coincides with Roy's recently developed conflict.

Before he even knows it, an unbidden image has slipped into his mind. Edward, bare and breathing harshly, standing in this very shower not five minutes ago, water beating on his face, wet strands of hair plastered to his forehead, his cheeks, his parted lips, a hand hot and heavy on-

No. Roy snaps his eyes open, glares at the tiles of the steamed-up stall.

He will not demean Edward like this, not cheapen the trust that has developed between them, not for something that he knows, simply knows is just a passing fancy.

So he tightens his grip on the shower dial and very deliberately turns the water to icy cold.

 

When Roy is dressed and composed once more, he walks downstairs, steps into the kitchen to find Edward thoughtfully reading the back of the milk carton, as though trying to figure out whether that stuff could actually be good for Al. His damp hair is lose and swept over his shoulder that is half-exposed under the tanktop he's wearing. The back of his neck is curved and tantalizingly bare, and Roy is stopped dead in his tracks as a sudden need slams into him like a physical wall, almost overwhelmed by the urge to step up and kiss that unfamiliar patch of skin.

He doesn't, though. He bids Edward a good morning, keeping his voice in check, and then pours himself some coffee, drowning all thoughts in a healthy dose of caffeine.

If Edward notices how he is unusually taciturn over breakfast he does not comment on it, maybe just blames it on the fact that Roy is a little late after all and has to hurry to leave the house.

He does make it to work on time, but Hawkeye scolds him anyway because the entire morning he can barely concentrate on anything that is put onto his desk.

Instead his thoughts, his oh so obedient thoughts, keep meandering off his chosen path and get lost in a damning jungle of what-ifs.

Because what if? What if Roy did dare to make a move on Ed? What if he just casually threw in the offer, planted the idea in Ed's head as well? What if Ed were interested and curious and willing?

But as soon as that temptation has crept up on Roy he angrily tries to squish it under the heel of his boot, like a cigarette that must not set the whole damn forest on fire.

After all, Roy is well aware of the perceived imbalance Edward sees between them. An imbalance which has nothing to do with rank and respect, and everything to do with debts and devotion.

Edward hates being treated like a charity case. Hates feeling like the scale is tipped in someone else's favor.

But the thing is, Ed had given up so much for Alphonse's sake. What else would he be willing to do if he thought it necessary to guarantee that Al had a safe home?

If Roy made a move on him, it was quite likely that Edward wouldn't say no, out of fear that his refusal would get them kicked out of the house.

Equivalent exchange, he would say bravely, and bare his body in payment for the roof over his head. Equivalent exchange and here are a hundred kisses for a hundred days. Equivalent exchange because I lost my innocence so many years ago, what difference does it make if you take a little more?

Roy couldn't risk that. He wouldn't.

There's a sharp knock on the door and Roy jerks his head up.

“Sir,” Hawkeye says, her jaw tight, “There's been an emergency.”

 

The emergency turns out to be a spurned alchemist who never made the state exam and wants to prove what they are missing out on. She manages to destroy some stuff, the whole city is in disarray, Roy and his team are called in. Many are injured before they can subdue her, but by some miracle no one dies.

By the time Roy is able to return home it is long since dark outside. There's still light in the kitchen, but Alphonse must already be sleeping, so he unlocks the door as quietly as possible. It's not quiet enough.

Suddenly, Edward is on him, a flurry of blond hair and wild eyes.

“You bastard!” he yells, pushing him back against the entrance door and pummeling him with fists. Luckily, he's not trying too hard, otherwise his automail could do some serious damage. He's also not actually yelling, more of a whispered shout, ever mindful of the child upstairs.

Roy doesn't know what's happening, doesn't bother to raise his hands or his voice to defend himself.

“All day long-” Edward hisses angrily, “All day long, there are- explosions and- and earthquakes or whatever, and people on the radio are making up wild theories- and you absolute bastard, you wander off and get involved and can't even spare one goddamn minute to give me a call and say what's going on?!”

“Edward,” Roy tries to reason with him, “You know the drill. Rogue alchemist, I was called in to help. What was I meant to tell you?”

“I don't know!” Edward growls and sounds angry at himself now, “I don't know, but you could've- you should've- I was stuck here, I had to take care of Al, and all the while I couldn't do anything, I didn't know-”

He cuts himself off then, frustration and something that causes him to blush furiously. It takes Roy a moment to understand.

“Edward,” he says and cannot help but smile, “Were you worried for me?”
“No,” Ed claims at once and abruptly turns away.

“It's okay to admit it, you know,” Roy teases, following after him and endlessly pleased that he has something to hold over Ed, “But you really have no reason for concern. I'm a grown man, I can protect myself.”

He reaches a hand out to nudge Ed's shoulder, but in that moment the boy suddenly whirls around, slaps his arm aside, and surges up to kiss him.

It's so unexpected and so forceful, that for a couple of moments Roy just takes it, endures the assault on his lips.

And an assault it is, for there is no finesse to what Ed is doing, no skill, no experience, just blind intensity, an urge to push, to shove, to feel, and Roy's back hits the wall with a dull thud, the impact reverberating down his spine and ending in a surprised tingle, even as Ed bites his lip and licks his tongue across his mouth.

Sanity returns to Roy in the same moment that his body obeys his orders again.

“Ed,” he says and pushes him away, “Edward, this is only... the adrenaline speaking. The adrenaline and the relief, you're just-”

“Shut up,” Ed growls, sounding angry at himself, at both of them, “Just shut up, you bastard.”

And then he's on his tiptoes again and it would be a reminder of how much of a child he is if it weren't for his strong shoulders that bracket Roy's own, holding him against the wall, holding him in place, Ed's hands still fisted in his collar and pulling him down, kissing him, kissing him.

Roy does not kiss back, just stands still and a little stunned.

Maybe he needs this, Roy thinks. Maybe he just needs it in this moment as he is so upset, so overwhelmed by worry. Maybe he had thought that Roy would not make it home that day, not make it home like Hohenheim and the Rockbells and his mother and Hughes and Al, that he would not return in one piece.

But Roy had stepped through this door and he'd been alive and whole and Ed had not known what to do with this blessing but to grab it and hold on to it with fervor.

So he smooths a hand down Edward's hair and holds him a little closer, waiting for that storm in him to calm down.

And Ed keeps raging against him, but eventually even the sails of a great battle ship must deflate, and when they do Roy finds himself with a breathless boy in his arms who's pressing his forehead against his chest, more meaningful than any of the medals he carries there.

It is alright, though. Roy will keep them afloat throughout the doldrums. Roy will not let them sink. He'll persevere.

 

Chapter Text

Afterwards, they don't talk about it, and it's one of those unwritten rules among men.

It was a one time thing, a mistake, a miscalculation, like that time Maes had been really drunk and started musing about inviting Roy to a threesome with him and Gracia. Or that strange moment during a dangerous mission when Roy and Havoc had thought they were about to die and a first and final make-out session had theoretically seemed like a great idea, until Hawkeye had luckily busted them out on time.

Problem is Maes would never have actually shared Gracia with anyone. Problem is Roy and Jean feel no attraction to each other whatsoever. Problem is the sensation of Edward's lips on his is scorched into his skin like a branding of ownership.

Another, even greater, conundrum is that Edward does not seem to be aware of the extent of those unwritten rules. Maybe he does not know, maybe he does not care. After all, Roy could never quite tell whether he was being willfully ignorant or honestly oblivious.

Fact is that, in the days following their fatalistic encounter in the hallway, Edward's presence seems to change. At first, Roy thinks that it's just him, that he is being hyper-aware of the boy, but eventually he can no longer ignore the simple truth that Edward is doing it on purpose.

He lets his hair down and runs his fingers through it when Roy happens to be looking, twirling gold strands between silver fingers. He cooks Roy's favorite dishes and in the evening he puts on some records, swaying through the living-room with Al, casting shy glances over at Roy who's studiously reading in the armchair. He's wearing nicer clothes, too, button downs and slacks and Gracia's soft sweater. Or, alternatively, barely anything at all, leaving the bathroom with only a towel slung around his slim hips and strutting around the house in nothing but his shorts.

Roy, quite frankly, is going crazy with it.

He thinks that he just needs to blow off some steam and clear his head, but whenever he tries to do so the guilt overpowers everything else.

Edward is seventeen. Seventeen and confused about what he wants, seventeen and driven by instincts, seventeen and without any peers to focus his interests on. Roy is merely a convenient crush, older, handsome, more experienced. And so far Roy has given him anything else he needed, support and solace and reassurance, a home and a certainty of the immediate future.

But this... Roy would not give this. Would not take it. This was one risk, one gamble he had to refuse.

Because if he only so much as entertained the fantasy of what would happen if he just gave in, if he let Edward have what he wanted, if he maybe got some of what he wanted, too... then everything was already lost.

However, he had not considered the simple truth that Edward Elric does not surrender easily. And once he realizes that his hapless seduction has failed he seems to decide on a more hands-on approach.

 

“Hey,” Edward says when he steps into the living-room where Roy had been pretending to read the newspaper but was actually mostly listening to the tune playing in the background.

He glances up, “Hello.”

Before he can say anything else, Ed is already in front of him, bending down and pushing the tabloid out of the way. The paper crumbles with a pitiful crinkle as Ed dives forward, but Roy quickly leans back.

“What are you doing?” he asks with a tight voice, though the answer is obvious enough. Ed's lips pinch, looking frustrated.

“Y'know,” he mumbles, his gaze dropping off to the side, staring at the rug.

“No, I do not know,” Roy claims, shaking out the newspaper as if to put up a fragile barrier between them once more.

“I just thought we could...,” Ed tugs at his braid in a self-conscious manner, “Um... pick up where we left off?”

With you in my arms and my heart on the floor, Roy thinks but just frowns down at the headlines about some factory accident that happened over at the docks, a minor explosion that left several people injured.

“I'm sure I don't know what you are talking about,” Roy replies blithely and his clammy fingertips are turning black with the printing ink.

A beat of silence.

“But...,” Ed says, sounding confused and a little lost, “You kissed me.”

Roy lets out a small sigh and then lowers the newspaper, properly looking up at Ed for the first time.

“That was... you were upset,” he tries to explain, “I wanted to give you some... comfort.”

Betrayal. That is the word that comes to mind when Roy sees the look on Edward's face, but it is quickly masked by a dark scowl.

“What the fuck, Mustang,” he snaps and he hasn't used Roy's last name in almost a year, so it feels like a slap to the face, “I'm not some charity case.”

“It's not that,” Roy says tiredly and rubs his temples, “Do you think I didn't notice what you've been trying to do these past days? But heavens, Edward, you're seventeen.”

Outrage painted on ever inch of Edward's face, fists clenching at his sides.

“You can't,” he says, faintly shaking his head, “You don't get to decide that when I was a kid I was old enough to join the military, but now I'm not old enough for this. Don't be a hypocrite.”

The tip of his tongue is poking the inside of his cheek and he gives a strange little smile, “And, c'mon, it's not like you've been getting laid either, right?”

There. All the confirmation Roy needed. Nothing but a flight of fancy, never more than that. So he takes a deep breath and squares his shoulders.

“You are seventeen years old, Edward,” he repeats, inadvertently slipping into his commander voice, “And you have no idea what you are even talking about.”

This time it's like Ed had been the one to receive a verbal slap and he takes a small step backwards, glaring down at his feet. Then he gives himself a barely noticeable shake.

“I've killed people,” he mutters and Roy stares, “What?”

“I've killed people,” Ed repeats more loudly, “I've fought in a war, I've seen dozens of people die, I've- I've seen things you can't possibly imagine. I'm raising my little brother as if he were my own kid. And this, this is what you think I'm too young for?”

“You cannot compare that at all, Edward,” Roy groans a little, “And I don't think you're too young for sex. You're just too young for sex with me.”

“Where the hell is the difference?”

“The difference is that I am fourteen years your senior,” Roy insists, “And until recently I was still your superior officer. Not to mention our overall situation. Right now you might think it a good idea, but tomorrow morning or the day after that, you'll come to realize that it was a mistake.”

Edward's jaw clenches, the muscles working furiously, “What, you saying that you won't be able to respect me anymore after you've fucked me?”

“Don't,” Roy begs, setting down the newspaper and holding up placating hands instead, “Don't be so crude about it. And that's not why- You should find someone closer to your own age, someone who won't disappoint you-”

“In case you haven't noticed,” Edward snarls and his body is a battle stance now, a fortress, a hand grenade, “I'm used to being disappointed. In fact, my entire life has been one big fucking disappointment after the other. Starting when my old man fucked off without any explanation whatsoever and reaching its peak when instead of saving my little brother I just managed to turn him into a drooling infant who still shits his pants on a daily basis. So don't act like you giving me a pity fuck would be anything out of the ordinary in regards to my achievements.”

“Don't talk about yourself like that,” Roy pleads, trying to keep his voice down now, because he only knows too well that fighting fire with fire never works, “Don't imply that I could ever use you in such a manner. All I'm saying is that your first time should be, well, maybe not something special, but it should be with someone you trust, someone you're comfortable with. If you want inadvisable hook-ups you still got the rest of your life for those, trust me on that, but for now you should just enjoy this with someone who means something to you.”

“So what, your problem is that you don't wanna fuck a virgin?” Edward hisses and it's like talking to a wall.

“For Heaven's sake, Edward, stop turning my every word on its head!” Roy barks, forcefully standing up from the armchair so he at least has some centimeters on Edward.

Ed ducks away a little, but does not actually cower, and his eyes are flint stones. One snap, one spark and everything around them could go up in flames.

Suddenly, it's as though someone had doused Roy with cold water.

“I'm not doing this,” he say with a shake of his head and takes a step to the side, out of Ed's reach, out of the living-room. Behind him, there is no movement.

He wants to leave the house, walk it off, this heat and this fear, just feel the night air cutting into his skin, but he knows that right now such an action would have a detrimental affect on Ed. And Roy does not wish to return to an empty house.

So he goes up to his study instead, shutting the door very firmly but resisting the urge to lock it as well. If Edward wishes to come and properly talk to him he can do so, just one knock, one half-spoken apology needed. Roy will be waiting here, with tax accounts and other things to dull his thoughts.

There is no knock, though, no apology, no reconciliation. A little while later Ed's steps are on the stairs and then the door to his room closes. Roy doesn't know why he expected anything else.

There's only one wall separating them, but right now it feels like an ocean. And neither of them knows how to swim.

 

Chapter Text

Things are tense between them, and in a way they never have before.

It's not even that they don't talk to each other or that they avoid eye contact or being in the same room. But there is an unsettling kind of professionalism, one that Roy would have never thought Ed capable of.

They still take care of Al together, still talk over breakfast, still discuss what to have for dinner. But there is no laughter anymore. No banter. No casual touches.

Roy had never quite noticed how close they had become, but now the absence of all those little comforts is jarring. It's only been four days, but he misses it already. Misses Ed.

But, he tells himself with forced confidence, it's only been four days. Four days is nothing. They'll both cool their heads and their hearts and then everything will go back to normal.

Al, who's always been curiously perceptive of such things, catches on to the strange mood that has settled over the household. He's been crying more often, pouting a lot, sleeping uneasily.

It is a cruel strike of fate, really, that their growing closeness is finally what has led to them tearing apart.

 

“Shall I read you a story?” Roy asks Al in the late afternoon when Edward has disappeared to his room.

Is he doing that on purpose now, Roy wonders. Does he try to make himself seem smaller, take up less space, just like he had suddenly taken to covering himself up once more, wearing baggy clothes and seeming self-conscious, an obvious contrast to his attempts at seduction from the week before.

Mutely, Al shakes his head in response to the question.

“No?” Roy asks, bouncing the boy in his arm a little, before selecting one of the story books from the shelf, “We haven't read The Little Mermaid in a while.”

“No,” Al says, unhappily pressing his face against Roy's shoulder.

Roy considers for a moment. A princess of the sea trading her tongue for a pair of legs and the chance to make a human prince fall in love with her, eventually sacrificing herself so he may be with another.

No, he admits in contrition, maybe not the best fairy tale for either of the Elrics.

In that moment, the bell rings.

“Oh,” Roy says with a smile, putting the book back and hoping to cheer Al up a little, “Are we expecting any guests? Did you invite anyone?”

That, at least, gets a small reluctant smile for Al.

“No,” he repeats, “Kissmas?”

“I don't think it's Aunt Chris,” Roy muses as he steps into the living-room, “But isn't Fletcher due for another visit?”

It turns out that there is indeed a Tringham waiting outside, but it's actually the older one.

“Is Edward home?” Russel drawls without any sort of greeting, “I lent him a book ages ago and I kinda need it back.”

Roy does his best to keep up a civil facade, though it irks him.

“He's upstairs,” he informs the boy, “You know the way?”

“Sure,” Russel shrugs and brushes past him.

Rude, Roy thinks but doesn't comment.

He carries Al back into the living-room and tries to entertain him with other means, though Al is slow to respond and sort of distracted.

“Dada,” he sighs tragically and Roy resists the urge to join in.

“I know you'd rather play with him,” he tells Al, “But it's important that he sees people besides you and me from time to time. He needs friends and- and freedom. And right now, he just needs space. But he still loves you, Alphonse. Do you understand that?”

“No,” Al says and shakes his head.

Roy's smile slips, a little off-kilter.

“No,” he says, “Me either.”

They sit like that for a few minutes, both rather unhappy but unsure what to do about it.

Suddenly, though, there is a noise and when Roy perks up and listens more closely, he realizes that there is a scuffle coming from upstair.

Roy tenses but contemplates how to react. After all, he wouldn't be too surprised if it came to blows between the two teenagers. He's also not actually worried because Edward would definitely win any sort of fight.

There is the crash of the door flying open and into the wall, followed by Russel stomping down the stairs.

“You're a fucking psycho, Elric!” he yells back over his shoulder, “I'm not doing this shit to make anyone jealous!”

“What-,” Roy manages to say when he catches a glimpse of the boy as he storms down the hallway, but Russel just brushes him off.

“I'm out of here,” he snarls angrily and then he is, slamming the front door shut behind himself.

Roy blinks, cradles Al closer and then slowly walks up to Edward's room.

The door is wide open, but Roy knocks anyway, out of common courtesy and because he has no idea what he will find. He doesn't get an answer, but when he peaks inside he sees Ed lying face-down on the bed. So Roy inches his way inside anyway.

He clears his throat, going for a neutral tone, “Care to tell me what happened here?”

He doesn't really expect Ed to reply, but when he does his voice his muffled by the duvet. Still, the words are not unintelligible enough to misinterpret.

“Why won't anyone just fuck me?” Ed complains miserably, shoulders lifting with a shuddering sigh.

Roy stares, “Excuse me?”

Still, Ed doesn't even roll over.

“He was game at first,” he tells his pillow, “But then he figured out...”

He trails off and Roy is left to imagine what might have happened. It's obvious enough.

Ed had followed Roy's instruction and tried to initiate a relationship with the first person who was close enough to his age and might be interested. But at some point they had miscommunicated to a degree that Russel left in such a fury.

Admittedly, Roy finds himself quite relieved at that outcome of the events. He will not dictate Ed how to choose his bed partners, but he cannot help the feeling that Edward had not been doing it out of honest attraction, but rather in a reckless attempt to throw away his virginity out of spite, out of pettiness, out of confusion, without care for himself or the other person.

Heavily he sits down on the edge of the mattress, Alphonse between them.

“Dada,” Al says immediately and climbs onto Ed's back, comfortably lying down there, head pillowed between the protruding shoulder blades. Ed tenses but then relaxes at the familiar weight, the comforting contact.

Too bad Roy is about to ruin all of that.

He takes a deep breath, hoping to not come across as too condescending because he knows that will only make Ed close up more.

“First of all, Edward, don't ever force or coerce someone into sex,” he says seriously, “Never, you hear me? Don't threaten them, don't challenge them, nothing. Sex is mutual, alright? You don't use it as some sort of bargaining chip.”

There is a beat of silence, but then Ed nods into the pillow. At least he accepts this simple fact.

But he had also not run after Russel, had not called after him, had never before shown any inclination towards the younger boy, and Roy finds himself a little stumped by that. He had pegged Ed's attitude as honest dislike instead of warped sexual attraction.

“I thought you said you didn't even like Russel,” he says and some of the helplessness in his voice must finally get through to Ed because he turns his head, just a little.

“I don't,” he admits quietly and Roy frowns, “Then why would you ask him?”

Ed is silent once more, seeming to think for a moment.

“You said...,” he says, trails off and licks his lips, starts anew, “You said I should do it with someone whom I trust.”

Roy stills, caught off guard by that answer, “And the Tringham boy falls into that category?”

“No,” Ed says simply.

“Then why-”

“Because you said no,” Edward cuts him off and then he is turning onto his side, slowly, carefully, so that Al rolls with him instead of falling off.

“I don't-,” Roy begins again, but this time it's the look on Ed's face that stops him.

“You said I should do it with someone I trust,” Ed says, his lower lip caught between his teeth, “But then you said no.”

Roy stares. Because suddenly, it all makes sense and he doesn't understand how he didn't see it before.

Ed trusts him. In fact, Roy is the only one who Ed thinks he can trust, at least with this. So of course Ed would have come to him.

“Edward,” he says gently, trying to cushion the refusal, “I may not have explained things properly to you. There's more to it than just trust. There's... attraction and... arousal. And many small things like the right moment and-”

“Oh,” Edward has sat up, kneeling on the bed, but now he is blinking down at his mismatched hands clenching in the duvet, “I forgot... you're only into women, right?”

“No, that's not quite it,” Roy says, not wanting to lie. But Edward only seems to shrink in on himself.

“It's... it's really just me then, huh?” he asks and gives a humorless little breath of laughter, starting to feebly tug at the shoulder of his tank top, “I mean I- I know that people always get weird about the automail. And- and the scarring's really bad, so... But I thought that... if you just turn off the light, maybe...”

Roy's stomach that had be churning uncomfortably throughout this entire conversation finally takes a pitfall.

“Oh no, Edward, no no no, don't think that,” he interrupts quickly, carefully grasping Ed by the shoulders, “You mustn't think that I would ever not want to see you, exactly the way you are.”

Very slowly, Ed lifts his head and his golden eyes are strangely guileless.

“Then why... why won't you?” he asks hesitantly, and Roy's breath stops.

Why wouldn't he? Because I couldn't bear to see you hate me, he wants to say but cannot.

Because, he realizes, what's even worse it to see Edward hate himself.

In quick succession, Roy's brain zaps through the various ways in which he could try to talk himself out of this situation. How he could stall and strategize and leave this battle for another day.

But this is not a battle. This is a boy who's known little but disaster and dejection. A boy who – with every second that Roy remains silent – comes up with another reason why no one wants him.

So Roy does the only thing he is capable of. He leans forward, lifts his hands, cups his palms around Edward's face and tugs him forward. Edward's eyes are wide now, but they quickly flutter closed as Roy presses his lips to his and kisses him real gently.

It's a proper kiss this time, an evenly paced one, not like the stormy and ungainly attack from before. Roy angles his head and when he parts his lips he opens Edward's mouth with it, swipes his tongue into the warmth and simply inhales.

In his hands, Edward is still like a small animal, shallow breaths and quick heart.

Slowly he pulls back, touches his forehead against Ed's.

“Come to my room tonight,” he breathes before he even knows that there are words leaving his mouth, “We'll... we can talk then.”

 

He had said 'talk' but when they had looked at each other they had both known that it meant something entirely different.

So Roy showers and shaves, brushes his hair back and then ruffles it over his forehead once more to cover the faint frown lines that have developed there over the past few years. He dabs perfume onto the insides of his wrists and then washes it off again, picks an outfit that he hopes won't look like he's trying too hard, goes to make himself a sandwich and then notices that he isn't really hungry after all, that his stomach is churning because of a very different kind of craving.

Then he goes back up to his room and waits.

He hasn't been this nervous about the prospect of sex since he was eighteen years old, but he has very effectively backed himself into a corner and can't very well chicken out anymore.

He tries to read a bit but can't concentrate on any of the words, gets up, changes the sheets on the bed, opens the window to let in some fresh air, closes it when it gets too cold, sits down once more, reaches for his book, shakes his head to himself, pulls his hand back, watches the clock instead.

It's past seven, around the time they usually eat dinner, but that wasn't going to happen today. Maybe he should've eaten that sandwich after all.

He taps his fingers against the armrests of his chair in tune with the seconds on the clock, small clicking noises as his nails hit the wood, and he tries to focus on his breathing, on staying calm. But at the time seeps away it only gets worse, and his anxious thoughts take a different turn.

Edward probably wasn't going to come. Surely he had changed his mind. Roy had misinterpreted everything, hadn't been clear enough. Or this was all a strange dream.

Then again, he amends, he hadn't specified an exact time, though he had meant that Edward should come over once he had put Al to bed.

Maybe he should go to the toilet once more. Yes, that seems like a good idea.

He gets up, straightens his clothes, goes and opens the door. Only to come face to face with Edward.

Ed doesn't have his hand raised to knock, doesn't look surprised that Roy opened so abruptly. Instead, he is just standing there, chin tilted up, fierce and fearless.

“Well?” he prompts and Roy takes a breath through his nose before stepping aside, beckoning him in.

“I've never really been in here,” Ed notes, curiously looking around, lightly kicking against the bedside table, picking up the novel that sits there, flipping through it, putting it back again. Throwing himself onto the bed.

“So,” he says, propped up on his elbows, “How are we gonna do this?”

Ah. Roy's eyebrow ticks up. The infamous Elric bravado.

Just a little while ago he had been insecure and intimidated, but now he tried to make up for that by acting all cocksure and lackadaisical.

Gone was the boy who was afraid of exposing too much of himself, replaced by this stubborn creature.

Not replaced, Roy reminds himself. Underneath all that Edward still very much expected to be rejected, no matter what Roy had said to reassure him. Edward himself was not a man of words but of actions, and he only believed in people who were the same.

So Roy would have to show instead of tell.

He clears his throat, trying to catch his bearings.

“Well, there are several ways in which we could... do this,” he offers, “For now, we could just kiss.”

“Let me stop you right there,” Ed says holding up his automail hand, “I want the whole deal, alright? Not just kissing and- and jerking off or whatever.”

Don't say that like you're ordering something in a diner, Roy thinks with pinched lips, but doesn't object. He puts his hands on his hips.

“So do you want to do me or should I do you?” he asks and that forwardness at least makes Ed duck his head a little.

“You're... more experienced, right?” he mutters as if it physically pained him to admit that, “So I guess it's best if... you... do me. Or something.”

“Very well,” Roy nods but on the inside he is barely holding on to his control because he has not imagined this, he has tried to not imagine it, but now it's there, in his head, and Edward is there, too, about to be in his hands.

Before, Roy had always kept his distance. He had been Ed's C.O. after all, had been someone to drive him onwards instead of keeping him shielded. And even now as they lived together, Al was usually with them to function as a mediator, that bridge that helped initiate physical contact.

Now Roy has to take the leap himself.

One big stride and he is front of Edward, sinking down next to him on the bed. He lifts a hand and hesitates for just a moment before placing it against Ed's cheek.

“Let's take this slow,” he says, less of a decision and more of a vague plea, and Ed nods against his palm.

Neither of them initiates the kiss that follows. Instead it just happens as they gravitate towards each other, inevitably meeting in the middle, both comet and planet at the same time, or maybe atoms, maybe avalanches.

There is no harsh impact, though, no explosion or destruction. Instead, the touch is soft and the heat a subtle one, tingling between their lips, sinking into the skin. For a moment, neither of them moves.

Then Ed opens his mouth and his tongue is there, begging for entrance. Only that Edward Elric doesn't beg and Roy is already too far gone to deny him anything.

Now that they are here he realizes how much he's wanted this, no matter how much he tried to talk himself out of it. But he will not disrespect Edward by treating this like a chore, a duty that ought to be fulfilled. He will relish it. And he will make Edward do the same.

So there are lips and tongues, and then there are hands, fingers creeping up sleeves, thumbs rubbing over wrist bones.

At some point they fall down against the bed, pulled there by gravity but held by desire, Roy on top, Ed letting him take the lead, though his body is still tense, more like bracing himself for a fight than moments of passion. So Roy goes slower still, trying to ease him into it.

And yet handling Edward is... strange, to say the least. He seems to be under the impression that sex is a very straight-forward thing, in out and be down with it, like in his biology books, like the farm animals he surely must have seen in Riesembol.

He doesn't understand why he can't just tear his clothes off, why Roy takes such a long time undressing him.

And he is skittish, too, in a manner that doesn't agree with the determination in his eyes. He flinches when Roy grazes his automail, flinches when Roy pulls him closer, presses little kisses to unassuming places.

Edward, Roy realizes with brutal clarity, is not used to being touched. Or rather, he is not used to being touched without having it hurt. Instead he only knows automail refits and getting punched in the face, Alex's rib-cracking hugs and Breda heartily slapping him on the back, even Alphonse grabbing handfuls of his hair and tugging insistently.

Between Miss Rockbell and his mentor's rather violent expressions of affection, Edward probably hasn't known much gentleness since his mother died and his brother was turned into cold hard steel.

He's seen so many unfathomable horrors, Roy thinks, feeling sick to his stomach. But the thing that scares him is a kiss to the temple, the fingers trailing along his collarbone.

“Will you just get on with it, you bastard,” Edward growls when Roy lingers on just nuzzling his face against the side of Ed's neck, rubbing his nose over the warm skin.

“No,” Roy replies quietly, “I'm quite enjoying this, thank you very much.”

“What the hell is there to enjoy? You're not even doing anything.”

“Well. Your hair, for one, smells nice,” Roy says, gently tugging at a blonde strand.

“And your skin,” he adds, with a little lick, “Tastes nice.”

He presses his mouth against the shell of Ed's ear then, feeling the outline of it against his lips.

“I like how I can feel you shiver beneath me with every touch,” he whispers and gets one of those shivers in response, “How your breath is steadily getting quicker, and you don't quite know what to do with your hands.”

Roy is quite aware of the effect his voice can have on people when he puts his mind to it, and Edward does not seem to be an exception.

“Foreplay is important,” he explains patiently, “Especially during one's first time. Especially between men. I don't want to hurt you.”

Ed gives a little scoff, rolling his eyes, “I've lost two limbs, remember? It can't possibly be worse.”

“It's not about whether it's worse or not,” Roy rebukes him kindly, “It's not supposed to feel bad in the first place.”

“I thought the first time is supposed to hurt,” Ed points out, though now he looks a little unsure.

“Not necessarily,” Roy tells him, “Not if done right. Slowly. And carefully.”

Edward is silent for a moment, glances away and then back again.

“Have you ever... bottomed... with another man?” he asks, biting his lower lip with sharp teeth.

Roy inclines his head, “Yes.”

“Did it hurt the first time?” Ed wants to know.

“Kind of,” Roy admits.

“See,” Ed says, making an emphatic gesture with his hand before awkwardly settling it back on Roy's shoulder.

“I'm not saying it happened under ideal circumstances,” Roy confesses, somewhat chagrined, “We were both a little drunk and rather overeager.”

Another beat, another attempt of averting eye contact, blonde lashes fluttering against red cheeks.

“Did you...,” Ed hesitates but then plows onwards, “Know him well?”

Did you love him, he means but doesn't have to say.

“Not really,” Roy shakes his head, “Fellow recruit in the academy. I heard he died in Ishval.”

He adds the last bit to stop Ed's train of thought because this is not about any of Roy's previous partners. Talking about exes when in bed with someone else is terribly bad manners, after all.

To distract from the course their conversation has taken he runs his thumb along the waistline of Edward's trousers, the sharp dip of his hipbone, the coarse trail of blonde hair that runs from Ed's navel down to his groin, disappearing under the dark fabric which Edward's erection has been straining against for quite some time.

This is it then. The point of no return, probably. If they do this, nothing will ever be as it was before.

One press of his thumb, a couple of nimble fingers, and Roy has unbuttoned Edward's pants, revealing a sliver of his underwear. It's a captivating sight, but Roy makes sure to instead glance up where Edward is waiting with bated breath, obvious anticipation. No apprehension.

Roy swallows his own doubts and dibs his hand inside.

Immediately, Ed's mouth falls open and his hips jump into the touch. Roy allows himself a tiny smile. Really having someone else's fingers around you for the first time, after all, is a quite stunning sensation.

“Alright?” he asks quietly but instead of answering outright Ed just glares at him and grabs his wrist, forcing him to move.

The clothes are quite constricting, however, so even as Roy works his hand up and down along the shaft, he peels away the remaining layers, inch by inch, until Edward is completely naked, sprawled over the sheets, his eyes fallen shut in concentration, most likely to keep himself from coming too soon.

He wouldn't take kindly to Roy trying to finish things like this.

“You can touch me, too,” Roy reminds him, hoping that giving Ed the chance to be more proactive would make him feel more like he is in control, that they could match each other's pace.

“I know,” Ed hisses and, as if to prove the point, simply reaches down and presses his palm against the bulge in Roy's own trousers.

Roy's breath hitches a little, but he is not quite as easily fazed.

“You, too,” Ed demands, kicking a heel against his ankle, “Get naked.”

“Don't you know how to charm your way into someone's pants,” Roy huffs, but duly rolls off Edward and the bed and strips himself of his remaining clothes, before digging through the bedside table drawer for the tin of slick he keeps there.

When he turns back he finds Edward staring at him with pupils blown wide and breath coming short. Roy gazes back evenly for the sight of a naked and aroused man hovering over you must be quite intimidating. But it's not like Edward hasn't faced down worse demons.

“This is the weird bit, huh?” Ed wonders aloud, his tone a little wry, as Roy kneels back between his legs.

“Not much weirder than anything else when it comes to sex,” Roy replies, unscrewing the lid from the tin and coating his fingers, “Try to relax for me.”

“Geez,” Edward sighs loudly, throwing an arm over his eyes but letting his legs splay open, as if he didn't dare to reveal all of himself at once.

“Tell me if it's uncomfortable,” Roy says and presses a fleeting kiss to the inside of Ed's knee.

“Yeah, yeah,” Ed just waves his automail hand at him, but when Roy's fingers find him his thighs quiver a little.

Roy takes his time, though by now his own self-control is reaching its limits.

He imagines that sex with Edward could be mind-blowing, all hard hands and broken furniture, ending up bruised and satisfied beyond belief, that this boy could be teeth and claws and muscles, that he would be able to take being thrown around and held down, that he'd fight and fight and moan battle cries into the night like curses spilling from his kiss-bitten lips.

If things had gone differently, if Alphonse had been returned in his rightful body and the Elrics would have left East City and been on their merry way, if Roy and Ed had run into each other some years later, no obligations, no complications, he thinks that they might have fucked like that, one night or many nights, with backs scratched raw and voices hoarse and no need to worry about whether they were truly tearing themselves apart on each other.

But that is not where the past year has taken them.

They have gotten to know each other in ways they never fathomed before and Roy cannot unknow these sides of Edward, cannot unsee the various scars.

Ed's entire life has been a war and Roy feels no need to drag him into another massacre, just works his fingers into him, pushes and prods, but doesn't punish.

They are close now, their naked bodies pressed up against each other, rib cages expanding and meeting with each breath, their erections brushing in a maddening fashion, and Roy finds himself laughing a little against Ed's shoulder.

“What??” Ed demands angrily.

“Nothing, just...,” Roy shakes his head, gives a breathless smile, “I'm more nervous than I thought.”

“Why the heck would you be nervous,” Ed frowns skeptically, “You've done this before, right?”

“Yes,” Roy acknowledges, “But it's still my first time with you.”

That simple fact is enough to make Edward blush all over again and he wriggles his hips a little, bucks up again Roy, growling, “Come on.”

So Roy does. Takes his cock in hand and slicks it up with quick efficiency, and then dares to guide himself in, noting how though Ed clenches his teeth and digs his fingers into the sheets he does make an effort to keep the rest of his body relaxed.

And Roy wants to whisper sweet nothings into his ear, words of encouragement, wants to tell him, You're doing great, you're wonderful, you're perfect, but his voice has forsaken him and he barely manages more than a drawn out grunt.

“A-ah,” Ed stutters out a tiny moan once Roy is fully sheathed, and he sounds like he's uncomfortable but not actually pained, so Roy refrains from asking for permission once more and just begins to move, very slowly.

He's got his forearms braced on either side of Ed, but it feels oddly distanced and too perfunctory, so he changes positions slightly, reaches down to hitch Ed's flesh leg over the crook of his elbow while his other hand cradles the nape of Edward's neck, feeling the vertebrae and the curve of his skull.

Like this Ed's body automatically molds itself against Roy's and, when he chances a more insistent thrust, Ed lets out a low keening sound before throwing his arms around Roy and pulling him in.

They move and melt against each other, and it's nothing spectacular, nothing Roy hasn't done before, but it's his first time in a long while and Ed's first time in general, so it doesn't take long for them to become a little incoherent, for Roy to think that this might be the only opportunity he might ever get, his only chance to kiss Edward and mean a little more than he dares to acknowledge, so when he can feel himself inch closer to the edge with all the subtlety of a landslide he digs his fingers into Ed's hair, drags him up by it and tilts him back, clashes his mouth against Edward's open one, and it's more of an inhale than a kiss, like trying to breathe Edward in while he is spilling himself inside of him at the same time.

Around him Edward tenses and then he, too, comes with an almost surprised groan, the sound of it muffled by Roy's tongue and lips, and then he just goes lax, falling back against the mattress.

We still need to talk, Roy thinks, faint and befuddled, even as he settles his head onto the pillow, We need to agree on how to handle this from now on.

But the bed is warm and his thoughts hazy and he's barely allowed his eyes to close for a moment when he is already asleep.

 

 

The next morning, Ed has disappeared to his room.

 

Chapter Text

Once the floodgates have been opened, there is no holding the deluge.

They settle into something that is not quite a routine, but no surprise either. Roy's desperate hope that maybe their night together would remain a singular incident soon dies a tragic death.

Instead their illicit affair drags itself through the following weeks, accentuating their brisk spring days with fleeting moments of heat.

Roy will not deny that he enjoys it, the sex, the orgasms, the momentary closeness. But there is still that bittersweet knowledge that this is all they are capable of.

So he does not want to initiate anything, lets Ed come to him instead, else the boy thinks that Roy has any expectations whatsoever regarding this new turn in their relationship. Ed's curiosity, after all, will eventually be satisfied.

For now Roy just has to give in, has to wait it out.

Ed throws himself at him like a flood wave at a rocky cliff, reckless abandon and knowing not what else to do. Thus Roy stands strong and catches him every time, eases him back with the tides, until his passions ebb away.

And yet Roy must be the moon to him for whenever they get too close Ed seemingly cannot keep himself at bay, eager but always somewhat angry as well.

He does not understand his desire, Roy knows, and Edward Elric hates things he does not understand. So maybe this is just an experiment to him. A statistic. Once he has dissected the entire situation, he will come to realize that this thing he had thought a powerful drug had actually been a placebo all along. A trick of the mind. A deception.

Yet Roy can only pray that he will not end up as the deceiver.

 

Tea at Gracia's and it's just another thing that has been tainted by memories of what else is going on in their private lives. Ed has disappeared upstairs to play with Al and Elysia like he hadn't demanded last night that Roy fuck him from behind, like he hadn't moaned muffled curses into the pillow that had still smelled of him this morning, despite the fact that he never stayed for long.

Instead he seems to have devised a game plan on when to best take time out of their busy schedules for these hit-and-run encounters.

So he corners Roy when he has just stepped out of the bathroom in the morning, and they fuck, quick and dirty. So dirty that Roy is in need of another shower, but not quick enough that he makes it to work on time. Or when they have just put down Al for a nap and have half an hour for themselves and their secrets.

It never happens anywhere but inside of Roy's bedroom, like it has become a hazard zone and its poisonous contents might leak out and pollute the rest of the house. And even then things are only ever limited to sex. There is no cuddling, no affectionate touches. Edward only kisses as a means to initiate intercourse, like he cannot fathom anything else.

Absent-mindedly, Roy takes a sip of his tea and only the fact that it's cold reminds him of how he is still sitting in Gracia's dining room and that his thoughts have drifted off without his permission.

He gives himself a little shake, sets his cup back down. When he looks up he finds that Gracia is already watching him with a soft gaze.

“Everything alright?” she asks, with no accusation in her voice but he straightens his shoulders anyway.

“Of course,” he replies, “Why do you ask?”

“You seem unhappy,” she notes, “Like you have a lot on your mind.”

“Do I?” he smiles faintly, “Just exhausted from work, I guess.”

“Hmm,” she says thoughtfully and there is a small pause before she asks, “Is this about Ed?”

Roy tenses, but only marginally, not enough to really be noticeable, and he keeps his voice light, “Pardon?”

“Well, it's been a year,” Gracia points out, stirring her spoon through her tea and then clinking it against the rim of the porcelain cup, “He's looking into a more permanent arrangement for him and Al, right?”

“Is he?” Roy tries to feign a bland smile, “I didn't know. Did he tell you anything?”

“Oh, no no,” she waves him off, “I just figured... well, the other day we got to talking about Al's future education and his own prospects. I hear there is a renowned school in Central that takes on gifted children, no matter their age. And Ed would have no trouble finding a job there either, I should think.”

Roy clears his throat, his tone mellow, “And is he considering moving there?”

“Oh, we didn't talk about anything so specific,” Gracia laughs, “It's just that the past year has gone by so quickly. Before you know it, Al will be ready to enroll in school and I just think that Ed should be prepared for everything.”

She is staring out of the window now, looking a little wistful.

“I would really miss them, you know,” she sighs, “Elysia would, too. I'm sure they'd visit but, oh, you know how things are, especially when you got a child in tow. Edward couldn't just flit all over the place like he used to do. A boy needs a steady home, after all. Both of them do, really.”

By now, Roy's smile feels like a razor blade on his face, cutting him open, leaving him bleeding.

“Well, it's certainly Ed's prerogative to decide about all that,” he says, subtly clearing his throat, “I'm just their host, after all.”

“Oh, non-sense, Roy,” Gracia's shakes her head at him, “I mean, I know how Edward gets about his father, but I'm sure he and Al view you as something like an uncle.”

Roy is quite grateful that he hasn't touched his cold tea again, otherwise he probably would have choked on it.

“Uncle,” he repeats, his throat raspy, “Right.”

In that moment, Elysia comes scrambling down the stairs with heavy thuds.

“Mommy!” she calls out, nearly barreling into Gracia's chair, “Cake!”

“I really don't think you need any more sugar,” Gracia sighs but dutifully places a piece on a clean plate.

“Yes!” Elysia cheers and tucks in, her face filled with childish delight.

Roy's eyes, however, are drawn to where Edward is walking down the stairway, Al on his hip and the other hand on the banister, and suddenly Roy regrets not having left visible fingerprints all over him.

Uncle, Gracia had said, like Roy didn't intimately know what Edward sounded like when he came.

“Do you want some cake, too, Al?” Ed asks as he seats himself, arranging the boy on his lap so he is facing the table as well.

“Yes,” Al says, curiously overlooking everything, “Cake.”

“There you go,” Gracia offers, placing another plate in front of the two of them, “Lemon cake.”

“Cake,” Al repeats and opens his mouth like a little bird, so Ed scoops a tiny bit up on his fork and feeds him.

“Hmm,” Al hums and then pushes the fork at Ed, “Dada, too.”

“Alright, alright,” Ed chuckles and when he closes his mouth over the shining silver Roy cannot help but stare, finding his mind unexpectedly but irrevocably in the gutter.

Would Ed blow him if he asked? Would Roy be allowed to tangle his fingers in blonde hair and push and pull as he desired? Would Edward moan and swallow around him, look up to him with his pupils blown wide, his lips red?

Before he knows it, Roy slams back into reality, his gaze captured by Ed's. Ed who is giving him something like a mild frown, trying to solve a complex puzzle.

Quickly, Roy closes his face off again, concentrates on Elysia who is asking Gracia a question. The next time he glances over, Ed's eyes are focused on the fragile porcelain in front of him.

 

“One more thing,” Roy quietly says to Gracia as they stand in the hallway while Elysia insists on helping Edward dress Alphonse but only making things more difficult.

“Do you have time next month on the 19th?” he asks and she blinks a little, “What day is that?”

“A Monday.”

“Roy,” she says in exasperation, but he only gives her a meaningful look until she gets it.

“Living up to your role as uncle, huh?” she comments and he gnashes his teeth a little.

“I just thought it might be a nice gesture.”

“Of course,” she says and nods, “We'll be there. Is there anything else I can do?”

“Cake?” he asks hopefully, “And maybe arrange everything with Miss Rockbell?”

“You could call her, too, you know?” Gracia says with sympathy in her eyes, “She's forgiven you.”

“I murdered her parents, Gracia,” he reminds her, unable to keep the iciness of the truth out of his voice, “That's not something that can be forgiven.”

Gracia sighs but nods in agreement, “I'll call her then. Ed doesn't know?”

“It's meant to be a surprise,” Roy explains gruffly, “So don't you dare tell Elysia.”

“I won't,” she laughs but then sobers, reaching for the coat rack.

“I meant it, you know,” she says as she waits for him to turn around and then helps him into his coat, “About you being unhappy. You've never been the most carefree of people, but usually you hide it well.”

He bites his tongue and smirks at his reflection in the mirror on the wall across from him, “Years and years of practice.”

“All the more reason to worry then,” she says, smoothing her hands over his shoulders, like she used to do whenever Maes left for work, like she probably did on that day he never returned home.

Both Maes and Roy had shared the habit of never truly showing anyone their innermost thoughts, preferring to keep their darker sides hidden behind bad jokes and an easy-going attitude. The difference, however, was that Maes had always been an optimist at heart who believed that, no matter what, everything would still be worth it in the end. Roy had never been quite so sanguine.

“You know what Maes would have told you?” Gracia says as though she had read his thoughts and known what he needed to hear. His name still hurts on her lips, but she seems to have forsaken grief in favor of fond nostalgia.

“He would have told you that you should live life to the fullest,” she reveals as he turns around again, “That you should enjoy every tiny moment of happiness because you never know when it might be over. And it can be over so quickly.”

He doesn't say anything in reply, just looks at her and tries to figure out how much she knows, but the moment is interrupted by Edward stepping up to them.

“Ready?” he asks with a cocked eyebrow at the seriousness between the two of them, and Roy drags his gaze away from Gracia's imploring one.

“Ready,” he agrees reluctantly, though he is not yet sure for what.

 

The walk home is quiet. With their frequent visits to Gracia they have gotten used to taking this route, but Roy still recalls the very first time they went home together like this.

Last year, the weather had been more pleasant, though, and Ed had been the one to carry Alphonse. Today it is Roy.

The boy is babbling into Roy's ear, pointing out things to him, like that sparrow on the fence or the woman walking her dog, so Roy allows himself to laugh and rub his cheek against Al's. Al purrs happily and sags in his arms like a ragdoll, his limbs all floppy.

“Getting tired, young man?” Roy asks with a cocked eyebrow and Alphonse gives an answering yawn.

Next to him, Ed snorts, sending him a sideways grin. Roy cannot help but smile back.

A second later, though, his face shutters off again and he clears his throat.

“So, I talked to Gracia,” he notes idly, glancing over to see that Ed is once more staring up straight ahead.

“Gee, who woulda thought, considering we just had tea at her place and all,” Ed scoffs, blowing a stray strand of hair out of his face, hands buried deep in his pockets.

If this were about anything else, Roy would have rolled his eyes in exasperation. Instead, he just continues with paying attention to Edward's comment.

“We were talking about your future,” Roy begins to explain and immediately Ed's back turns rigid.

“Yeah,” he drawls out apprehensively, “What of it?”

“She mentioned some opportunities,” Roy points out, “In Central. For you and Al.”

Ed turns his head away.

“He's eleven months,” he grits out, “I'm not sending him to some posh school where they'll forcefeed him ideas about how great the government is. Back in Riesembol we went to the school one village over and there was only one class for everyone, but we still did just fine.”

“Oh,” Roy says, surprised. Gracia had made it sound like Ed was seriously considering to move to Central sometime soon, and he couldn't help but wonder at that.

“So you'll be staying in East City?” he asks, just to make sure and calm his fluttering nerves.

Ed sends him a shrewd look.

“Sure,” he says but then bites his lip, “Unless... you want us to move out?”

“No!” Roy hurries to say, maybe a little more loudly than necessary. He gives an awkward chuckle.

“I told you, you'll be welcome in my home for however long you wish to stay,” he explains.

“And frankly,” he adds after a moment's thought, cradling Al closer to his chest, “It wouldn't be the same without you.”

Has he ever admitted that quite so openly? That he enjoys Ed and Al's presence in his life and wouldn't want to miss them for the world? He will not deny that they have turned his life upside down ever since they first appeared in it, one year ago and even before that when he had hoped to find Hohenheim in Riesembol and instead only found his wayward sons. Yet now he cannot imagine anything else, cannot imagine waking up in a house that does not have Al's excited chatter in it or Dandelion's fur all over the sofa.

Ed would probably send postcards if he left, letters with photographs of Alphonse, documenting how he grew older. And Roy would keep them in his drawer, together with his favorite picture of Maes and that one wedding photo he has of his parents, and he'd look at them to remind himself of all the things he had lost.

He takes a deep breath and shudders, blaming it on the cold, but chances another glance at Edward who's intently staring down at the path in front of him.

“Then I'm staying,” Ed says, quietly but decisively, and something in Roy's chest unclenches.

 

By the time they make it home, it has begun to drizzle lightly, so Roy cards his hair back with his fingers before shrugging out of his coat.

“I'm gonna put Al down in the pen,” Ed says, already hoisting the boy up, “He'll want a nap before dinner.”

“Yes,” Roy agrees, hanging up his coat, “Grilled fish tonight?”

“That was the plan,” Ed says, disappearing into the living-room.

Roy busies himself with stepping out of his shoes and setting them aside, getting distracted by Dandelion who comes to greet him and presses up close to his ankles until he takes the time to scratch her between the ears.

When he straightens up again, Edward is there, back straight and eyes determined, and Roy already knows that look on him.

Ed stalks towards him like a predator, but then stops, just a breath away, his chin tilted up. An inch or two and Roy could kiss him.

He doesn't, though, just waits and wills his greed away. It refuses to back down, but that makes no difference either way.

Ed's gaze drops to Roy's lips and then, when they do not come closer, farther down to his chest. For a moment, they fall shut, eyelids fluttering in some strange sort of hesitation.

When he looks up again, all of that seems to be forgotten.

He lifts himself up onto his tiptoes, up into Roy's space and against his mouth.

His lower lip is plush against Roy's as it moves, already so much more adept at this than when they first kissed, here in this very hallway. His tongue dips forward, damp but not exactly demanding. Offering, maybe. Questioning.

A jolt runs through Roy and he snaps forward, grabbing Ed by the shoulder and spinning them around, slamming him up against the front-door, his hand already up in Ed's hair to cushion his skull from the impact, but Ed lets out a gasp anyway, obviously caught off guard.

Roy uses the opportunity to press forward, swipe his tongue into Ed's mouth, against his palate and the back of his teeth. Ed moans, somewhere between surprise and pleasure, tilting his head back to allow better access.

So Roy bites his lip, tugs at it, pushes, grinds his hips against Ed's, finds him already half-hard.

For a few minutes there is nothing but this, his fingers in Ed's hair and Ed's hand on his collar, dragging him close, the two of them just undulating against each other until they are short of breath.

Roy's hand sneaks down to drag the hem of Edward's shirt free, to undo the button of his trousers and grip his cock through the underwear, his palm hard and unrelenting, already knowing exactly how Ed likes to be handled.

It doesn't take long then for Ed to grow more frantic, for him to become unable to concentrate on their kiss, so Roy nudges his collar to the side and gently bites the juncture of his neck and shoulder, while his own hardness presses into Ed's side.

Ed falls his way into orgasm, jerking once, twice, and then sagging back, barely supporting himself between the door and Roy's chest, looking quite exhausted from the sudden intensity their kiss had taken.

Roy would be satisfied to leave it at that, to straighten his clothes and take a couple of deep breaths until he has calmed himself, but when he tries to step back, Edward won't let him.

“Stay,” he orders, hooking his fingers into the waistline of Roy's pants and keeping him in place like that.

Roy opens his mouth to say something, but the words diminish into nothing but a soft exhale when Ed sinks down onto his knees in front of him.

“Ed,” Roy hedges, though his throat is suddenly parched, “You don't have to-”

“I want to,” Ed insists, focused on fumbling him out of his clothes, impatiently pushing the fabric aside.

The tone of his voice is enough to make Roy forget any sort of protest. Instead, all strength seems to leave and he slumps forward, bracing himself against the smooth wood of the door, hair falling into his face as he looks down to watch Edward.

He pulls out Roy's cock and holds it in his hand, just looks at it for a long moment because he's never been up and close to it in quite such a manner, and once more Roy is reminded of how everything is a first for Edward, how most of the time he has barely any idea what he doing.

But Edward Elric is not easily daunted. He simply leans forward and takes Roy into his mouth, closing his lips around the head and hollowing his cheeks.

Roy sucks in a breath and forces his hips to remain still.

Despite his eagerness, Edward is sensible enough to not try to take him in too deep right from the beginning, just carefully pushes forward and then pulls back, time and time again, the small furrow between his brows betraying his concentration. He has no technique yet, no finesse, just a vague notion of what might feel good without any real skill of applying that knowledge.

He pulls back, breathes harshly through his nose, the tip of his tongue flicking out, and then he is opening his mouth once more, thumbs digging into Roy's hipbones as he pulls him closer, starting to work up a steady rhythm.

And Roy has had better, has given better, but the mere sight of Edward being so brazenly into it rocks his pleasure up another notch, and another, until his fingers tangle into Ed's bangs, not quite pulling at them, just feeling the back and forth of Ed's every movement, the mixture of rain and sweat on his skin.

Ed gives a small moan around him and Roy curses mentally.

“Edward,” he warns, quivering with the effort to keep himself still, “Edward, stop, I'm gonna-”

But then he already is because Edward gives a particularly vicious suck, and Roy slams his fist against the door to avoid jerking forward instead.

Ed tries to swallow, but it must hit the back of his throat and then there is still more, so he chokes, pulls back, coughs quickly, parts his lips once more, but then some of Roy's come has already landed on his cheek, in his hair.

For a moment, he looks surprised by that, like he expected this scenario to go over differently, smoother maybe, but when he looks up his face is flushed and his lips wet, and Roy has never wanted anyone more that he wants Ed in this moment.

“Was that-,” Ed begins, his voice rough, “Was that okay?”

It takes Roy a moment to catch his breath.

“Yes,” he says, his fingers under Ed's chin to guide him back up into a standing position, “Yes, it was. Better, even.”

He nudges his nose against the side of Edward's, just slowly moving from left to right, his lips faintly brushing over Ed's mouth, and he smells like Roy, tastes like him, fueling an unknown sort of possessiveness within Roy, a you're mine, you're mine, and no one else's.

He stops himself, stills, eyes closed.

“You should go clean yourself up,” he tells Edward and takes a stilted step sidewards, opening up some room for him to get out of the cage of Roy's body.

“Uh,” Ed says, blinking as though he had just woken up. He lifts a hand to his face, wipes the heel of his thumb over the sticky wetness there.

“Yeah,” he says in vague agreement, looking down at his fingers, “Guess so.”

He pushes himself away from the door, his footsteps strangely loud in the hallway and then on the stairs. Once he is gone, Roy lets his head slump against the door, absent-mindedly getting his clothes back in order though the rest of him is an entire mess.

He had not meant for things to escalate like that, had not meant to degrade Edward in such a manner.

I should be on my knees, he thinks to himself, To worship you or beg for your forgiveness.

And yet he already knows that with each time Edward touches him, his own resolve will grow a little weaker. And soon enough he would no longer remember the reasons for his reluctance at all.

 

Chapter Text

Early evening and Ed is pulling on his pea coat in the hallway, shuffling into his boots.

“Where are you going?” Roy asks.

“Quick grocery run,” Ed replies curtly, “We ran out of bread and stuff. I'll just go down while the bakery is still open.”

“Alright,” Roy says and watches quietly as Ed turns around and closes the door behind himself, before he returns to watch over Al who's playing in the living-room.

Barely three minutes later the doorbell rings but when Roy goes to answer it he finds Edward standing there.

He cocks an eyebrow, “Forgot your keys?”

“And my wallet,” Ed replies with a shrug and brushes past him. Instead of going up to his room or rummaging through the drawer in the hallway, however, he saunters into the living-room.

“I don't think I saw it lying there,” Roy tells him as he follows, but it seems like Ed is not even looking for his stuff, instead crouching down to lift Al up from the floor, burying his nose in the soft hair.

Immediately, Al begins to cry.

“Hey, now,” Ed says and starts bouncing him with a dismayed expression on his face, “Shut up, you little asscracker.”

Yet Al only cries harder and Roy cannot help but frown.

“Strange,” he comments, stepping closer, “Just a moment ago he was fine. Does he need a diaper change?”

“Ugh,” Ed looks disgusted, “Like hell I'm gonna do that.”

Roy stills.

“Give him to me then,” he says lightly, reaching out to lift Al into his own arms, “I'll be back in a few.”

“Whatever,” Ed waves him off and throws himself down onto the armchair.

Calmly, Roy leaves the living-room and walks up the stairs. Al has stopped crying, but is still sniffling quietly.

“Dada,” he whispers, his wet face against Roy's chest.

“I know,” Roy soothes gently, but his eyes are hard, “I know.”

 

Once he has hidden Al in his wardrobe and pulled on his ignition cloth gloves, his makes his way back downstairs.

“Where'd you leave the brat?” Ed's voice asks curiously, his blond head sticking out of the living-room.

“Put him down for a nap,” Roy lies, “I think he was just tired.”

He walks up to the phone in the hallway and picks it up, studiously dialing Hawkeye's number, praying that she is at home.
Golden eyes narrow at him, “Who are you calling?”

“Just Hawkeye,” Roy says with an off-hand shrug, “There are some documents I would like her to prepare for tomorrow.”

“Is that so...,” suddenly Ed's voice is right behind him, breathing against his ear, “Then why are you wearing your stupid gloves, hm?”

Roy whirls around but before he can even snap his fingers the intruder has caught him by the wrists, the grip so tight that he can feel and hear his bones crunching.

“Who are you?” he grits out, teeth clenched, fighting against the pain.

“Why, my dear Colonel,” Ed's face laughs at him, “I'm your sweet little fucktoy.”

And physically, it is Ed, down to the automail and the faint little birthmark on the underside of his jaw, but Al had cried when he saw this person, this person who did not know that they used alchemy for diaper changes, who called Al names and did not care for him.

“Envy,” Roy bites out and suddenly he is overcome by a wave of rage for this is the one who killed his best friend, this is the one who outsmarted Maes by putting on Gracia's face. And now he had come wearing Ed like a costume as well.

But this is not a moment for Roy to lose his bearings. This is not revenge. It's prevention.

In a blink, he summons all he knows about the homunculi about whom he had not really thought in ages.

Pride had been killed by Roy himself while Sloth, Lust and Greed had been disposed of by the Elrics. Gluttony and Wrath were unaccounted for, but had been deemed to not pose a direct threat to anyone.

But Ed had never specified what had happened to Envy, had just said that the most volatile homunculus wouldn't be a problem anymore. Roy had just assumed that it meant that Ed had not wanted to talk about having killed yet another humanoid being, so he had let it slide. Now, he curses himself for being so lenient about such an important matter.

Because here Envy is, fucking strong and furious, and Roy has Al locked away in a closet and no idea when Ed will return, whether his call went through to Hawkeye.

And he still remembers what his fight with King Bradley had almost cost him. Taking on Envy without any sort of back-up was downright suicidal.

Yet Roy knows that he has no choice. He has to keep Envy away from Alphonse, but he also does not want to risk dragging the fight out onto the street and potentially involving his neighbors. Though in that case someone would at least be smart enough to call the military to the scene.

So Roy does the only thing he can think of. He tries to stall.

“So what exactly is this?” he asks, though by now Envy has forced him to his knees, “Late pay-back for sending your little friends to the blazes?”

“Talk all you want, Mustang,” Envy sneers and it's still Ed's face, but all wrong, all violent and twisted where Roy has grown so used to seeing it smile, seeing it pout, seeing it bereft in pleasure, “That's all you can do – talk. But I'm not here for you, you're just a small fry. You're leverage.”

Because of course Envy only wants to get his hands on the Elrics, on Edward specifically, Edward who thwarted all the homunculi's plans for the philosopher's stone, who was meant to be a pawn but made himself into a knight instead and destroyed their deadly little game by upsetting the whole board.

“So what are you going do to me?” Roy asks, more cocksure than he is actually feeling, but if Envy just wanted to kill him he'd be dead already, “Are you going to torture me?”

Yet the farce of Ed's bleak grin just morphs slowly, slowly until Roy is staring up into his own face, ugly smirk and all, and Envy leans down to whisper into his ear.

“I'll fuck him,” he promises brutally, “I'll take your face and fuck him till he bleeds and begs. And then I'll rip the brats throat out and feed you his entrails.”

And Roy does not much care for his own well-being, but in that moment an intense hot pulse of fear shoots up inside of him like a geyser. Fear of losing Edward, fear of losing Alphonse, fear of seeing them torn to bits in one way or the other.

He struggles to stand up, struggles against the grip that is ten times more powerful than his own body's, but when he finally gets one hand free it is only because Envy has let go of him to punch him square in the temple.

The fight against the sudden darkness is not one even Roy can win.

 

When he comes to he finds himself bound and gagged, lying behind the sofa, out of sight of anyone who enters the living-room and doesn't look too closely.

Luckily, he can't have been out for long because what roused him must have been the entrance door and then he can hear Ed's real voice coming from the kitchen.

“Where'd you put Al?” he asks and it sounds like he is re-stocking the cabinets.

“Put him down for a nap,” Envy uses both Roy's previous lie and his smooth baritone.

“Ugh,” Ed says, “Was he that tired?”
“Too be honest, I'd rather be in bed as well,” Envy says and Roy feels somewhat violated that his vocal chords are being appropriated for such a sleazy pick-up line.

“What?” Ed says and then there is a moment of silence.

“I thought it'd be nice to get some time for ourselves,” Envy tells him and it's barely a whisper now, all suggestive and seductive.

“Oh,” Ed says and Roy closes his eyes and prays, Notice it's not me, you have to know it's not me, Al knew at once, why don't you, you have to-

But then there are already footsteps, all soft on the rug, Envy leading Ed into the living-room, because the sick bastard wants Roy to witness this, wants him to hear it in every excruciating little detail.

The couch rocks a little, creaks over the floor, and Roy doesn't know whether Ed sat down with too much momentum or whether Envy pushed him onto it. But there is a little huff from Ed, like the breath being knocked out from him, so it's probably the latter.
“Oh,” Ed says again and sounds a little surprised.

“Problem?” Envy asks.

“Um, no,” Ed hedges, “You've just never been this...”

He trails off, uncertain.

“This what?” Envy prompts, though Roy of course knows the answer. This direct. This straight-forward. This blunt about my desire for you, oh Heavens, I-

He strains against his ropes, tries to let out a noise through his suffocating gag, but it's no use.

His wrists are so tightly bound that any sort of movement is restricted, and his head is still ringing, unable to grasp a clear thought. It's difficult, then, to properly calculate the amount of oxygen he will need, to snap his fingers and set it aflame.

Because Envy has made one grievous mistake. He has not stripped Roy of his gloves.

“You never make the first move,” Ed replies in that moment, his voice quite small, but Roy has to stay calm, calm, because just one spark is enough.

“Well,” Envy leers with Roy's face, Roy's voice, “Maybe I've just realized that you're good for something after all.”

His gloved fingers snap silently and almost immediately he can smell the singed fiber, a hot sizzle along his skin as the rope burns down.

Hell, by this point, Roy would be willing to dowse himself in gasoline if only that would save Ed, but as it is he only has to tear off the remaining ropes and start tugging at his gag as he sits up, blood rushing to his head and the world tilting a little.

But Edward has already thrown Envy off.

“You!” he snarls and his entire being is shaking with fury.

“Ah, fuck,” Envy drawls and with a small shrug he transforms back into his natural form, all lank green hair and ridiculous fashion sense, “What gave me away?”

“He'd never say something like that!” Ed growls and he backs up a little, never taking his eyes off Envy, instead lining up with Roy who has finally emerged from his unwanted hiding place, only a little worse for the wear.

“Did you buy milk, honey?” Roy asks suavely, tugging on the hem of his gloves, flexing his fingers.

“Fuck if I know,” Ed says and slides into a battle stance, worrying at his lower lip.

“How did you get out?” he asks Envy and there is curiosity in his voice, but also fear, “The Gate closed behind you, so how'd you get out?”

Roy has no clue what gate he is talking about, but the question apparently strikes a wrong chord with the homunculus. Within a flash he is across the room, barreling straight into Ed, the force of it slamming the two of them against the wall, leaving a deep indent.

“Do you have any idea!” Envy howls, and his hands are tight on Ed's throat, “How long it took me to claw my way out of that place?!”

And then he is slipping through a series of personas, Al, Winry, Trisha, Maes, Gracia, Hawkeye, Roy, Izumi Curtis, Hohenheim, and with each new hateful visage he delivers a punch to Ed's face who's feebly trying to hide behind his arms.

Like this, Roy cannot interfere with fire, knowing that he's more likely to harm Ed instead of doing any real damage to Envy. So he does the only thing that comes to his mind. He lurches forward, hooks his arm around Envy's throat and tries to drag him away.

He does manage to stop Envy, but only for a moment, as the homunculus takes the time to twirl around, physically lift him off the ground and then fling him through the room where he crashes into the coffee table.

Roy manages to save his head and spine, his left shoulder taking the worst off the fall, so a moment later he is already rolling back on his feet, throwing himself into the fray once more.

He has to separate them, has to get some space between Ed and Envy before he can use his alchemy. Luckily, Edward is not similarly hindered, and the mere second Envy had let go of him are enough for him to clap his palms and slap them against the wall behind him.

Immediately, spikes of stone thrust out of the brick, one skewering Envy's side, but he just chuckles, less amusement and more annoyance.

“Your little circus tricks won't help you here,” he threatens and his fingers are around Ed's wrist, violently twisting his arm up, the automail creaking a warning. Then he glances back over his shoulder.

“Think carefully now, Mustang,” Envy warns, “Do you really want to die for this boy?”

“I'm not going to die here,” Roy says darkly, “But I am more than willing to kill.”

The homunculus snorts, “What for? I mean, he's a parasite, don't you agree? He's been mooching off you all this time, turned your life upside down! As soon as you've fulfilled your purpose, he'll walk out on you and never look back! Why would you risk your own life, why waste your time?”

“Someone like you wouldn't understand,” Roy says, buries his hand in Envy's green hair and jerks his head back, exposing the sinewy neck. A split second later, Ed has clapped his hands above his head, transmuted his arm into a blade, and then twists free, bringing the weapon down to Envy's jugular.

Before he can even draw blood, however, Envy has burst free and leaped through the room, putting a safe distance between them. Or so he thinks.

His bare feet have not even touched the ground and then Roy is already snapping his fingers. Two harpoons of blue flames shoot out of seeming nothingness, but then Envy somersaults forward, his back only a little scorched. He scowls but just shakes himself, skin and hair already regrowing.

A second later Roy finds violet eyes fixed on him, dangerously narrowing.

“Oh,” Envy smirks, “You've done it now. Things won't end pretty for you, I can promise that.”

“You make a lot of empty threats,” Roy points out, “For someone who took a year to finally come and get his revenge.”

That gets Envy's hackles rising again.

“Like I had a choice!” he screams, “You've no idea what it's like to be caught in that thing, no idea to have it messing with your head for so long! And you-”

His glare turns towards Edward, “You sent me there!”

“Like hell I did,” Ed says, baring his teeth, “You've got Dante and her crazy scheme to thank for that.”

“Screw her!” Envy is clenching his fists now, shaking in his rage, “She wouldn't even let me get my hands on that bastard Hohenheim! Where is he now, hm? Did he make it out as well? Does he know that one of his sons is a little diaper pooper once more? Did he just fuck off like he does every fucking time?!”

Edward doesn't say anything in response to that. Instead, Roy finds himself opening his mouth.

“Alphonse doesn't need Hohenheim,” he says in calm conviction, “Edward is raising him. And I am, too.”

And that, finally, does it. Envy's eyes widen and he is hurling across the room once more, his movements luckily restricted by the low ceiling. One punch to the gut later and Roy is flung on his back.

“I'll kill you,” Envy jeers, “I'll fucking kill you, you bastard!”

“Roy!” Ed yelps and swings his blade at Envy who just ducks out of the way. Roy snaps his fingers and a ball of fire hits the homunculus straight in the face, melting away his flesh and eyeballs, leaving only naked bone and grotesquely grinning teeth behind. But one sizzle of blue electric currents later and even that damage is healed again, Envy's hands around Roy's throat, digging in, squeezing the life out of him.

Edward rams his blade straight through Envy's back till the tip emerges on the other side and almost pokes Roy in the stomach as well, but even then the homunculus does not let go and Roy can see dark spots dancing across his vision, his face growing painfully hot from lack of breath, tears gathering in his eyes.

“Let go!” Ed shouts and just starts hacking away at Envy, at his shoulders, his neck. Normally, it would probably slow the creature down but right now it does not need speed. It just wants to kill Roy. And that will only take a few precious seconds more.

“He killed your little friend's parents,” Envy reminds Ed gleefully, keeping up the verbal torture as well as the physical one, “And now, now he's using you as a convenient hole! You're nothing but a whore to him! Who else is he shagging, do you think? His lovely little lieutenant? One of the neighbors?”

He cackles, even as Ed stabs him again, “Why would he be satisfied with what you have to offer, you have nothing, you are nothing, just a lump of skin and scars, do you think he'll love you? Is that what you want? Do you think anyone could ever love you after what you have done to all these people, to your darling angel brother?”

“D-on't,” Roy manages to gasp out though his tongue feels thick and unwieldy in his mouth, “-believe... him.”

Ed's features are steel.

“I won't,” he says and cleanly hacks off both of Envy's arms, right off the shoulders.

This at least sends the homunculus screeching, more out of ire over losing his grip on Roy than any real pain.

Roy in the meanwhile is gasping for breath, the air hot in his abused throat as though he had set it on fire himself, and he kicks out from under Envy, trying to get away, get to his feet.

“What are you trying to achieve,” Ed asks Envy now and he does not sound angry anymore, not even upset, but almost gentle, “You come and say you want to kill us, but then... then you just talk. You spew insults and lies like that will make any of it more true.”

“No!” Envy sneers, crouching on the floor, even as his arms grow back, painstakingly slow, “You pathetic humans! You're just too stubborn to see the truth! You surround yourself with fancy visions of make-belief and you lie to yourselves, day after day. You're worthless! You're nothing but scum.”

Ed frowns mildly, “For someone who thinks humans are stupid you sure get really riled up over your own human emotions.”

Envy stills.

“I am not human,” he says, low and dangerous, but Ed only shrugs.

“Human enough. You were born one. You get angry like a human, want revenge like a human,” he points out, “Why else would you even bother with Hohenheim or me?”

“Because I can't stand you!” Envy hisses, and his bloody shoulders hunch up around his ears, “I can't stand how people can tear your fucking heart out and you still keep smiling and smiling. Someone kicks you in the face and that just makes you stronger! You fucking masochists.”

“You're jealous,” Roy realizes in that moment, his voice all hoarse and scratchy, “You're jealous that no matter what, we always keep fighting.”

The fact that Envy only growls like beaten dog instead of hurling more insults is really enough of a confirmation.
“You're jealous,” Roy repeats, another truth, another sucker punch, “Because you think that Ed ought to hate me for... for so many things. You think I should resent him, look down on him. Those are the only emotions you are capable of. You just... cannot fathom that we could have set aside our differences. You don't understand what it means to forgive.”

What it means to care, to love, to nurture, to worry, to cheer, to wake up in the morning and feel happy, simply because you know there is someone to share the coffee with, someone who uses up all the hot water, someone who laughs when you stumble over a toy on the floor and land on your ass.

Envy, it turns out, knows nothing but his namesake. And that is quite a destructive truth in itself.

Maybe he realizes this, too, because he just lets out a wordless howl and then, instead of attacking anew, simply throws himself out of the window and into the dark evening, the shattered glass coming down in a rain of crystals.

For a moment, there is nothing but silence. Then, like continental plates crashing inside of him, Ed lurches into motion.

“Al,” he says simply, a desperate prayer, “Roy, where is Al, where-”

“My room,” Roy says, cutting himself off with a painful cough, “Wardrobe.”

By the time he has struggled to his feet, Ed is already thundering up the stairs, though Roy hurries to follow.

They find Dandelion guarding the door like Cerberus himself, hissing like a spitfire, but Ed doesn't pay any attention to her, just barrels past and into the room.

“Al,” he calls out, half-choked and instead of turning the key in the lock he transmutes the wardrobe open, a huge gaping hole in the wood, before diving down and sweeping the child into his arms.

“Dada,” Alphonse cries, the scare leaving him no other words while his chubby hands feebly wipe at his eyes, and Roy regrets having left him in the dark closet for half an hour, probably fueling his nightmares for quite a while to come.

“Hey, it's alright,” Edward soothes, bouncing him a little, even as he kisses away the stray tears, “It's alright. You're alright. I'm here.”

They all are. By some miracle, they are all here, none of them dead, none of them severely injured, just very, very shaken.

Upon that realization all strength seems to leave Roy. His knees give out and he sinks down on the edge of the mattress. A moment later, Ed is sitting next to him, all loose-limbed and pale-faced.

They are no strangers to battle, not at all, but it's quite different to suddenly have war and bad memories dragged into your home like this and when you least expect it.

Roy swallows and regrets it immediately as his throat protests once more, but he has questions and he wants answers.

“That place,” he wheezes, “He mentioned being caught somewhere. What-”

But Ed is already ducking his head, hiding his face against Al who is unsteadily standing on his thighs and putting his arms around Ed's neck.

“When you... attempt human transmutation,” he says very quietly and Roy is startled to hear not just regret in his voice, but actual fear, terror, mortification, “There is a gate. A big gate looking like it's made of stone with engravings and shit. And behind it is... everything.”

Roy frowns, slightly leaning towards him, “Everything?”

“The truth. Every secret, every mystery. It's all there,” Ed reveals and he should sound awed instead of petrified. Then again, Envy had seemed just as afraid of that gate.

“It... did things to me,” Edward adds and that strangely worded admission finally has Roy's hackles up, the bile rising in his throat.

“There are like... hands. And shadows. And... they opened up my head, my brain, and they crammed everything in there, everything, until I was going crazy with it. It chewed me up and spat me out, and it took my leg and that wasn't so bad, but I had to go back and do it all over again. And then even with the philosopher's stone I had to do it once more and it was in me, it's still inside of me, it-”

And Roy had thought that with Envy's exit the danger was over, but Ed is hyperventilating now, his eyes wide and panicky, breathing so harshly that strands of his hair are being sucked into his open mouth, in out in.

“Dada,” Al says helplessly, “No cry, dada, no cry.”

And he is hugging Ed's head in his arms, awkwardly rocking him, and he's humming, not any actual melody, but still in obvious imitation of how Edward often tries to calm him down. After all, Alphonse Elric has always combined genius with people skills, even while Roy can only watch in amazement.

Finally, Ed manages to regain some of his composure.

“I guess... I guess it had its bright sides, too,” he laughs shakily, “I mean that's why I don't need transmutation circles, so. Cool beans.”

But Roy just hugs the two of them close, pressing a kiss to the crown of Al's head and then, a more lingering one to Ed's.

“What are we going to do about Envy?” he wonders, lips against the blonde hair, the scent familiar and soothing. For a long moment Ed is silent.

“He was... my father's son. Before, I mean,” he says eventually and the confession is a surprise but nowhere near as jarring as the previous one, “I think he was, well, envious. Because we never really had Hohenheim, but we still had each other. And now...”

Now Alphonse still got to have a father, even if it was in the form of his brother, while Envy was left abandoned, cast aside like all the other attempts at human transmutation that had created the homunculi.

“Where do you think he went?” Roy asks because he has already tried to conduct a manhunt for the shapeshifter once and that had not worked out at all.
“I don't know,” Ed says, somewhere between thoughtful and listless, “But... I don't think he'll come back.”

 

They end up in Ed's room where Roy insists on patching up their wounds.

“It's okay,” Edward tries to ward him off as Roy applies cooling salve to his black eyes, his split lip, his busted nose and swollen cheeks, “I've had worse.”

Seventeen years old and so used to getting beaten, getting threatened, getting choked and insulted and very nearly raped, but instead of screaming at himself and the world Roy just keeps his fingers and his voice as gentle as possible.

“All the more reason,” he says and presses a chaste kiss to Ed's mostly unblemished brow.

“What about you?” Ed worries, eyeing the deep bruises on his throat, “And you got tossed around pretty badly, too.”

“I'll put some ice on it,” Roy promises and then goes to make that phone call to Hawkeye that never made it through.

“Riza,” he tells her when she picks up, barely more than a whisper, “I won't be coming into work tomorrow.”

There's a beat as she seems to place him.

“Are you sick, sir?” she asks because that's what he must sound like, sick like a dog instead of beaten and choked to within an inch of his life.

“Yes,” he lies simply, really not feeling up for a lengthy explanation, “I'll call you again tomorrow.”

She knows him too well, of course, must know that something is off, but she does not push.

“Very well, sir,” she says, matter-of-fact, but with that suspicious edge in her tone, “Get well soon.”

“I will,” he promises, and then hangs up to get himself some ice and finally make his way back up the stairs. Instead of going to his own room, however, he returns to Edward's where Ed and Al are already half-asleep on the bed, dead exhausted.

“Budge over,” Roy says huskily, sitting down on the mattress and pulling his legs up as Edward offers a few more inches of space.

“I'm not sure I can sleep tonight,” Edward admits shakily, even as Roy settles his arm around him and pulls him closer.

“Then we can stay awake together,” he says and keeps the bedside lamp switched on to chase away any lingering shadows.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Throughout the day, Edward watches him.

Roy never catches him doing it, no matter how quickly he looks up, how unexpectedly he turns around, but he can feel those eyes burning on his skin, along his spine, between his shoulder blades.

Ed's alchemy had fortunately repaired the damages in the living-room, the scorch marks and shattered glass, but the evidence of their fight with Envy still lingers on their bodies in the form of tender bruises and aching bones.

The encounter had driven home the fact that merely a year ago they had still been caught up in this big mess with the homunculi and Scar and the philosopher's stone.

It's a reminder of how they had flirted with death and danger, but really, isn't it much more pleasant to be flirting with each other instead?

But is that truly what Edward is doing? His looks are considering instead of coy, and he does not push Roy into corners, neither with words nor with actions.

It's a day like any other, calm and domestic, with nothing out of the ordinary happening, coped up inside of the house, heavy sheets of rain sliding along the window panes in uniform colors of gray.

Still, there's some sort of static in the air, some invisible force that Roy cannot seem to get a hold of.

That evening, when it's already more night than day, and it's pitch-black outside safe for the street lamps, Roy sits in his study and tries to make sense of some documents.

He's already migrated from his desk to the more comfortable armchair, and he can feel the tiredness creeping up on him. He rubs his dry eyes and scrunches up his face in a series of grimaces in hope of waking himself a little, but it's probably more likely to give him wrinkles.

Unexpectedly, there is a knock on the door. Roy looks up.

It must be Edward, he reasons, in search of some late night lecture. Though it is a bit of an oddity, he admits to himself. Usually, Edward does not enter his study or his bedroom when Roy is already there.

“Come in,” he beckons, not letting his mild surprise show in his voice, instead watching as the handle is pressed down and the door slowly swings open, revealing Edward.

Strangely, he is wearing his old red coat that hasn't made an appearance for several months now, while his face is guarded, his hands holding on to the door.

“Is there something you need?” Roy asks calmly, watching a look of calculation zap through the boy's eyes. Yet Edward doesn't say anything, just pushes the door shut behind himself and steps farther into the room.

Roy sits up a little, setting his papers aside. Taking a closer look now he can see that, while Ed is wearing his coat, his feet and legs seems to be bare.

Roy frowns, “Is something the matter?”

But still Ed doesn't respond, neither with words nor with a shake of his head. Instead, he comes to stand in front of Roy in his armchair, and the intensity of his gaze is emphasized by his persistent silence.

“I'm getting slightly worried now,” Roy admits, frowning. After the incident with Envy, the thought of being faced with another impersonator unsettles him greatly.

But Edward just begins to unbutton his coat, slowly, systematically, keeping his eyes fixed on Roy.

He's wearing nothing underneath, Roy realizes when a bare chest is exposed bit by bit, and finally Edward just shrugs the heavy fabric off his shoulders. It pools around his feet, but Roy doesn't pay it any attention.

Instead he can only stare at Edward, naked and glowing golden in the warm light of the reading lamp.

Roy swallows, his mouth going dry, and his gaze cannot help but tangle itself in the allure of Edward's body. His skin looks soft and tan, even after weeks of winter, and the past year of raising a child instead of being a soldier has done nothing to diminish the muscle in his flesh arm and leg, the hard plane of his stomach. His shoulders are broad and his chest moves steadily under his calm breaths.

And - Roy's eyes drop down, drop shut in silent prayer – Edward's cock is already hard and beautiful, and Roy can feel himself stiffen at the mere thought that this arousal must be for him.

He clears his throat, a gentle cough behind the knuckles of his fist, trying to conceal how he is blushing in vague embarrassment while Edward is so astonishingly, utterly at ease.

Yet this is not one of Edward's clumsy attempts at seduction, his tactic of overwhelming Roy with his own desire. This is Edward who wants to be seen, completely laid bare, scars and skin and automail, his bewildering attraction towards Roy, his new-found confidence.

But it is more than that, Roy realizes as he takes in the man in front of him.

For Edward is not a boy anymore, he sees that now. Maybe he never really was, at least not when Roy had already laid eyes on him, all of seven years ago, when he had seen an unbridled fire instead of a child.

This is not Fullmetal who, coattails swishing and fists shaking, kicked down Roy's office door and shot off swear words like a machine gun. Not the alchemist of the people who risked his life, over and over again, and brought scars home like defiant trophies. This is not even Ed who playfully wrestled with his brother, losing every time, but declaring himself the victor anyway, much to the amusement of their spectators.

This is Edward who sings a little boy to sleep each night, who knows with one glance when Roy needs tea instead of coffee, who lounges on the couch like a young lion and reads out complex algorithms as though they were poetry.

This is Edward who has, unexpectedly, inexplicably, become Roy's lover. This is Edward who is always so, so much more than words will ever be able to describe.

So Roy doesn't speak then, doesn't break the silence, just holds out his hands towards Edward. And Edward, just a silently, takes them.

He climbs onto Roy's lap, his knees fitting snugly between his legs and the armrests of the armchair, and his fingers close over his shoulders.

They are close now, close enough to kiss, but Edward doesn't lean in, hesitating just shy of Roy's lips.

But it's not truly hesitation, not even an invitation. It's a challenge. So far, it had always been up to Edward to initiate their encounters. Now it is up to Roy.

So Roy tilts up his chin and catches Edward's mouth with his own, drags his tongue over the patient lips and parts them, pushes in-between them.

Edward lets out a sigh through his nose, and he quivers a little as though some unseen tension were leaving him. He must have been nervous after all, a truly ridiculous notion. As if Roy could ever turn him away, could ever not want him.

His left hand cups the back of Edward's head, thumb caressing the curve of his skull, while the right finds his braid, tugs it over his shoulder, pulls the hair tie from it. His hips gently thrust upwards, even as his fingers untangle the braid, smooth out the golden waves.

There is something unspeakably enticing about this, this entire situation. How Edward is completely naked, while Roy is still dressed. That they are here in the study, somehow reminiscent of the office, but still within his home. Their home, really.

He's never had sex in this room, he realizes, and that revelation is quickly followed by the idea of

fucking Edward on every available surface in the house, in the shower, on the kitchen table, over the back of the sofa, in front of the fire place.

The thought drives a moan from his mouth, accompanied by another, more insistent thrust of his hips. Edward accepts them both, moaning back and grinding down.

For a moment they still like this, caught in the kiss and in the knowledge of the inevitable.

Then Edward lifts himself up a little while his hand reaches down, undoes the buttons on Roy's trousers, pushes the fabric of the underwear out of the way. His fingers close around the erection and Roy's head tips back, eyes falling shut.

A moment later they fly open again when he feels Edward carefully guiding himself down on the hard cock. Roy wants to protest, wants to get some slick or take them to his bedroom after all, but then the words die in this throat.

Because Edward is just sinking down on him, wet and warm, face tilted toward the ceiling with a blissful expression. He must have prepared himself before he came to the study, and Roy has to suppress a loud moan at that mental image.

Once Edward is fully seated, he opens his eyes again. There's heat in them, and promises.

He doesn't say anything, but all Roy hears it 'fuck me'.

So he does.

His hands settle on narrow hips, fingers digging into the jutting bone, and he braces his feet against the floor before he gives one sharp thrust upwards.

The force of it makes Edward nearly topple into him, but he pushes himself off the backrest of the armchair to gain some leverage.

It's not the most comfortable position for either of them, not the easiest way to reach orgasm.

But there is something about the entire situation, a sensuality in it, a sexuality they hadn't had before.

This is not Edward demanding and Roy giving in, nor Roy showing and Edward watching. This is mutual. For the first time since they have started living together, since they began this ill-advised affair, they are truly equal.

Soon, Roy finds himself sweating with the effort of it, his calves and thighs on the verge of cramping, but instead of gritting his teeth he licks along Edward's collarbone, finds the small dip in the middle.

Edward has his hands buried in Roy's dark hair, hugging him close, and every breath, every moan from his mouth is a song in Roy's ear, spurring him on.

The bruises of Envy's fingertips on Roy's neck had not faded yet, and Ed lowers his mouth to them, sucks on them, twice the sting a hickey would evoke under normal circumstances, but Roy revels in the knowledge that Ed is trying to erase any trace of anyone else's hands on him, replacing signs of pain with those of pleasure.

Ed had never left marks on him before, maybe he had not wanted to, maybe he had not dared, but on Monday Roy will walk into the office and his team will stare at the collar of colors around his neck.

And they'll know, won't they? They'll know that it was Edward because who else is there, whose teeth and lips could Roy ever want on his skin like this?

There's nothing he can do about what Envy's fists did to Ed's face, nothing to make the split lip heal more quickly, to make the green and yellow shadows around his eyes disappear. Nothing but to soothe them, to acknowledge them, to share in the suffering.

So Roy runs his tongue over the small cut, the rip in Ed's otherwise smooth lips, and the pads of his thumbs brush tenderly over Ed's closed lids, like wiping away invisible tears and the engravings of nightmares.

They do not talk. Roy tries to find words, but language fails him as his mouth is occupied with more important pastimes. His thrusts turn more erratic and he slings one arm over the small of Edward's back, keeping a hold of him, while his other hand reaches between them to close around his cock.

Their rhythm falters and Ed's breath hitches, stutters, small voiceless puffs of air escaping him, and Roy fucks up and into him to push him over the edge, feeling him spasm around his own shaft.

And Ed comes and moans and throws his head back, his automail grip on Roy's shoulders downright painful, but that sharp contrast only heightens the sensation of utter bliss that courses through Roy's body, the heatwave that rises and rises and then bursts, devours him whole, has him suffocating on his own lust.

They take a moment to come down, to breathe, to evaluate. Understand what just happened.

Then Roy unbuttons his soiled shirt, shrugs out of it and uses it to wipe away the rest of the mess on Ed's stomach, before carelessly tossing it to the side. He slides out of Edward, the two of them wincing a little, and Roy tries to gauge the look on his face.

Ed seems exhausted, but in the good way. Satiated. The kind that promises a good night's sleep.

The fact that this is the first time they did not have sex in Roy's room, however, offers an unforeseen conundrum. So far, Edward had always waited for him to fall asleep before disappearing to his own bed.

But no, Roy decides. That will not happen tonight.

Squaring his jaw in determination, he hooks his hands under Ed's thighs and hoists him up before pushing out of the armchair himself. It's no easy feat as Edward is not exactly a lightweight, but Roy is nothing if not stubborn and his bedroom is only at the other end of the hall.

Surprisingly, Edward does not protest against the treatment, just lets out a little gasp and then clings on, even helping by reaching out to press down the handle and open the door for them.

They stumble along the hallway, past Ed's room where Alphonse is sleeping, and it should be ridiculous, it should make them laugh and roll their eyes, but instead it feels curiously solemn.

Roy can feel the wetness trailing out of Ed, leaving his thighs and Roy's fingers damp, and somehow that makes the air thicker again, makes it harder to breathe.

By the time they reach the room and Roy sets Ed down on the bed he is half-hard again, quickly slips off his socks and trousers and then descends, Edward already waiting for him with outstretched arms.

They fall into each other once more, just embracing, stroking, a kiss, a caress, Ed's hair fanned out on the pillows, Roy's pale hands on his hips, with nothing but the lanterns from outside to illuminate them.

It's easier, then, to fall asleep like this, wrapped up in each other and with the confidence that something has changed.

And indeed, the next morning, Edward is still there.

 

Chapter Text

Despite the profound change of the nature of their relationship, their daily routine basically stays the same, and Roy begins to realize just why everyone has been teasing them about exactly this happening.

Because while they sit together and read, now they do it by sitting intertwined on the couch, when they go for walks, they walk closer together, even held hands once though Ed had blushed something terrible. They cook together and Roy steals kisses in-between, feeds Ed bits and pieces.

More often than not, Ed spends the night in Roy's room.

After all the misunderstandings and moments of near-disaster this transition is strangely smooth, strangely anticlimactic. There's no point where Roy realizes that he is too close to the edge, close to slipping, close to breaking himself.

Instead, it takes Hawkeye's interference for him to see that he had been in too deep all along.

“Sir,” she says, shortly after lunch, and places a document in front of him. Fearing punishment, Roy ducks his head. He quickly skims over the heading and then his gaze drops down to the bottom right corner where his name sinks in royal blue ink.

“But I just signed that,” he frowns.

Hawkeye just clears her throat, taps an impatient finger against the clipboard she holds close to her chest. So Roy takes a closer look.

Oh. Apparently, while he had been day-dreaming he had sort of vandalized the margins of the paper. With a series of little hearts. Blazes. He might as well have adorned each of them with a starstruck R + E to make things a little more obvious.

“Sir,” Hawkeye says again and when he looks up she is regaling him with an exasperated look, but there is a certain softness to it that is wholly unexpected, “Is there something you would like to talk about?”

Roy leans back in his chair, closes his eyes

“Riza, I just can't,” he tells her in resignation when he opens them again, and that one sentence has so many meanings, but she hears every single one.

“It seems that part of you can,” she replies with a pointed glance down to his hopeless little hearts.

Part of him, yes. That's the problem, isn't it?

A part of him is so entirely dedicated to Edward, to Alphonse, so doubtlessly drawn to this new turn in his life that has been offered to him.

And yet. And yet he still dreams of fire sometimes, sometimes he still feels the ashes of dead children on his tongue. Sometimes he drinks a little too much whiskey and then sits and looks at his gun, just sits and looks and looks, never touches it, but never puts it away either. Sometimes the bullets are mental ones, shooting through his brain and tearing him apart from the inside.

Sometimes he knows that he does not deserve peace and that he is only still here because of his promise to Maes, his promise to lead Amestris into a better era, no matter how much of himself he might have to sacrifice.

Sometimes-

Sometimes Roy is just about to get himself the first drink of the evening when Alphonse demands to be read a bedtime story. Sometimes he can't find his ammunition because Edward started rearranging the living-room and then doesn't remember where he put certain things. Sometimes Roy wants to spend his Sundays sitting inside, staring at white walls and white ceilings, but is dragged to the park instead and has to pick flowers and sample sand cakes.

The other night he woke up in cold sweat and Edward was there, running soft fingers through his hair, and unlike Roy's past lovers he didn't whisper 'It was just a dream', because none of it was ever just a dream, and Edward understood that all too well.

Instead he just said very calmly, 'It will be morning soon', and then they stayed awake together and waited for sunrise, and when the first light of dawn had breached the room it had not reminded Roy of the desert.

In that moment, something within Roy clicks into place and the seams around it seem to fuse.

“Oh,” he says in sudden realization and Riza gives one of her muted smiles.

“You've always been a little slow,” she points out as though she had known all along. Maybe she has.

Roy sighs, “You wouldn't be inclined to let me off a little earlier?”

“No,” she says, turning away towards the door again, “And if you desecrate anymore legal documents, I'll shoot you dead.”

And here he'd thought she was on his side.

 

The revelation that Hawkeye very much knows what is going on solves some of Roy's problems but also presents him with a whole new set of conundrums.

It's easy to just live in the moment, to float a little aimlessly, to stop and smell the roses. But there's the bigger picture to consider. There's the future.

When he had gone in to work on Monday after the evening in the study, the hickeys had already faded some and his collar had mostly hidden what was left. He's still sure that Breda at least had noticed which threw Roy for a bit of a loop because Breda was the devious type who was likely to either tell the others all about his discovery or who kept it to himself as future blackmail material.

Heck, he wouldn't even put it past his men to have a betting pool going. In that case, Breda was probably keeping mum because he had bet on Ed and Roy getting together at a later point.

Getting together. Unbelievable. Roy feels like a schoolboy with his first crush.

He remembers being fourteen and Madame Christmas giving one of her deep smoky laughs, her girls pinching his blushing cheeks and showering him in a rain of adoration and advice.

But this is worse. This is so much worse and better, because this time it's not just some girl with nice hair and a smile, this is Edward.

How does Edward feel about people knowing? He probably wouldn't mind telling Gracia, but what about Winry? How would she react to the fact that her foster brother was involved with the murderer of her parents?

She had come to accept Roy's new role in Ed and Al's lives, but she had most likely never expected this. Would she approve? Would her reaction change Edward's mind?

So far, they had been cocooned in the safety of their home, but now Roy begins to wonder how they will fare outside of it, exposed to other people's reactions. And yet he knows with a peculiar certainty that, whatever the outcome, he will not mind. He wants people to know about this.

There will be a backlash, that much is sure. Not necessarily from their friends, but from within the ranks. Ephraim and Evelyn Fairchild had definitely been more than ready to pounce upon the opportunity for some gossip, most likely to get some dirt on Roy. Even a minor scandal could be enough to completely destroy Roy's political plans if he didn't play his cards right.

But Edward had already been legal when he had moved in with Roy, and their sexual relationship at least had not started until after Ed had already handed in his resignation. It would be difficult to prove, of course, but Roy was confident that he would be able to thwart all accusations of statutory rape, fraternization and favoritism that might be flung his way.

Though he knew what they would look like from the outside, especially since he had been the one to recruit Edward at such a young age, he couldn't help but feel disgusted that this was what people would frown upon. Not his years and years of casually flirting and sleeping around, but his first time of honestly committing to a person, after such a long time of getting to know each other.

Roy had not so much as fallen in love, nothing so abrupt and jarring, but rather realized that something had crept up on him. He had taken a moment to rest, to catch his breath, feeling at ease for the first time in a long while, and when he had opened his eyes again there had been vines holding him in place. They were small still, tender tendrils that would tear the moment he jerked away, but... if he decided to stay he had no doubt that in due time they would grow strong and stronger still, that their roots would be deep and their blossoms plenty.

So Roy decides to stay.

 

He walks home with a spring in his step, jiggling his keys as he unlocks the door, and when he opens it Dandelion is already running to greet him, Alphonse hot on her heels, but crawling because the last time he tried to run he smashed his face into Ed's automail knee.

“Meow,” Dandelion says and Al's eyes are wide and excited, reaching his arms up towards Roy, going, “Nyaa!”

“Two little kitties,” Roy marvels, scratching Dandelion and lifting Alphonse up, “I could have sworn there was a little boy living here when I left this morning.”

Alphonse shakes his head vigorously, “Nyaa!”

Roy laughs and carries him into the living-room where he puts on one of his more modern records courtesy of Aunt Chris who always had the newest hits playing at her bar, especially those that generally weren't played on the radio because they were considered indecent.

As soon as the sounds of the piano clink through the room, Roy begins to sway on the spot. Alphonse, predictably starts rocking along, throwing himself back and forth, left to right, not in grace, but certainly enthusiasm.

Before long, Roy is caught up in the music, mindlessly moving along, Alphonse giggling. When he performs a particularly energetic spin, however, Roy finds himself facing the doorway where Edward is already standing with his arms crossed and quite obviously suppressing his laughter.

“Someone seems to be in a good mood,” he notes in amusement, one eyebrow cocking up, and Roy is seized by a wild idea.

“Do you know how to dance the foxtrot?” he asks with a glint in his eyes.

“What?” Edward says, automatically taking a step back, “No.”

“Hm, I thought so,” Roy muses, “They wouldn't teach such an improper dance in a sleepy little village like yours. Maybe the waltz then?”

Ed lifts his hands, shakes his head, ponytail flying, “I don't know how to dance at all.”

“A travesty!” Roy exclaims, quickly depositing Al in the playing pen, “I shall teach you at once.”

And then one of his hands is already covering Ed's, the other on the small of his back, pulling him close.

“Roy!” Ed protests as he tries to push away, but there is a laugh in there, so Roy doesn't heed his complaints.

“Keep your body poised, elbows locked, hand up on my shoulder,” he instructs, “Just follow my cues.”

“No,” Ed moans miserably, “My automail, Roy, I'm gonna step on your toes.”

“You won't if you pay attention to how I'm moving,” Roy chides blithely, “This is not so different from combat, is it? There you go.”

So they dance the foxtrot through the small living-room, Ed looking somewhat frustrated, Al watching them happily and clapping his hands, squealing in tandem with the sultry voice of the singer.

“Don't look at your feet,” Roy warns when Ed nearly stumbles, “Look in the opposite direction of where I'm facing, that makes it easier.”

“But what's the point of dancing if you can't even look at the other person,” Ed huffs and Roy brings them to a stop.

“Oh?” he asks, intrigued, “Is that what you want?”

“No,” Ed groans, but then Roy has already pulled away to change the record to something slower, something a little more intimate.

“Let me hold you,” he just says and Ed allows it, hiding his face against Roy's chest, much like Al is in the habit of doing, as they sway together from side to side, the music a mere afterthought.

“I thought you wanted to look at me,” Roy whispers into Ed's ear and he shudders, shakes his head.

“Well, in that case...,” Roy decides and suddenly spins him around, pulls his back flush against his own chest and Ed gasps a little in surprise.

He's wearing the chocolate brown sweater that keeps slipping off his good shoulder, and Roy runs his hands under it, up along Ed's abs, his chest, teasingly brushing over the nipples, warm and wanting, his hardening cock pressing against Edward's ass.

“Not in front of Al,” Ed objects but doesn't sound overly vehement about it, just tilts his head to the side as Roy starts nibbling at the shell of his ear.

“Then in front of who?” Roy asks and Ed stiffens in his arms.

“...what?” he asks, his voice jumping a little.

“I mean who else are we going to tell?” Roy clarifies quickly, relaxing his grip, “I... do not wish to keep you a secret, but I will if that's what you prefer.”

“Um,” Ed wriggles around in uncertainty, doing absolutely nothing to curb Roy's lingering desire, “Can't we just... let them figure it out for themselves? Everyone's been... making weird comments from the beginning, so... it's not like anyone can claim to be surprised.”

To be honest, Roy is quite relieved the hear that Ed's stance on the that subject is much as his own because he has no idea how to announce this kind of relationship to any of his friends. Havoc was always someone who immediately told everyone who didn't want to hear about this amazing woman he had just met, but even with Maes it had been similar, because he had talked to Gracia twice and he had already known that he wanted to spend his life with her. Roy, on the other hand, is not quite sure whether he can put something like that into words yet.

“Well,” he says lightly, “That's at least half a dozen of awkward conversations we don't have to have then.”

Edward only snorts, but his own relief is visible nevertheless.

 

That evening they take a bath together, chest to back, submerged in soapy bubbles.

Roy revels in how small Ed seems like this, how he can close his arms around him and encase him fully.

He jerks him off, making it more about the journey there than the destination, slow and steady, mouthing along Edward's arched neck, while Ed lets out low keening noises, his breath hitching towards the end, his fingers clenched around Roy's wrist, almost painful, and his ass grinds back against Roy in teasing rhythm.

Afterwards, he is all soft and pliant in Roy's embrace, bonelessly slumped against him. His elbow is up on the rim of the tub so that his fingertips dangle into the water, drawing lazy circles, as though another transmutation were just about to take place.

“So...,” he begins not quite hesitant, but thoughtful, “What is this?”

“It is whatever you want it to be,” Roy offers diplomatically, but Ed just splashes some water at him.

“Fucker,” he says, “Don't act like this is just my decision. Because it's not.”

For a moment, they sit in silence until Roy finds his voice.

“Frankly, I... I don't know what this is,” he admits and suddenly feels very young again. Which he is, if he thinks about it, it's just that in comparison to Edward he's always tried his best to be older, wiser, more worldly.

“I'm as new to this as you are,” he says because it's easier now that Ed is facing away from him yet still offering physical contact, “I know you probably think I have plenty of experience but... the truth is I've never lived with anyone I was involved with. I've never planned ahead in my personal life for more than six months at a time. I've never gone from friends to lovers with someone, and even if I had, our relationship before was much more complex that just friends.”

Edward huffs in agreement.

“So...,” Roy says and remembers his own words from when they had first slept with each other those few precious weeks ago, “Let's take this slow.”

“Yeah,” Ed says but then hesitates, “Will I... will this be a problem for your fuhrer thing?”

“No,” Roy replies and breathes a kiss to his temple, “No, it won't. It won't ever be a problem.”

“Good,” Ed nods, settling more comfortably against him, “That's good then.”

And it really is.

 

Chapter Text

Roy taps his fingers against the desktop, chews on the end of his pencil as he counts down the hours, mentally going over every part of the plan, hoping that everything will go smoothly.

“You're coming today, right?” he asks Riza when he is finally getting ready to leave the office.

“Of course,” she replies primly but then hesitates before asking, “Do you really think it's a good idea, sir? It might bring up memories.”

“Everything always brings up memories,” he waves her off, shrugging on his coat, “And no matter how much of Alphonse we remember – he only really has this life. He deserves parties and presents, just like any other kid.”

“Then I'll be there at six,” she promises and lets him go with a smile.

He drives himself home, relieved to find that everything looks almost ready and that some of the guests are already there.

“What's the situation, soldier?” he asks mock-seriously and Havoc snaps into a lazy salute, cigarette dangling from his lips.

“Everything in order, sir,” he reports with a vague grin, “Picked up the targets from Central and Riesembol at the station as requested. The persons of interest from Dublith will arrive with a later train.”

“Good work, soldier,” Roy nods, “Now get rid of that cigarette, there's a child living here, dammit.”

“Yes, sir,” Havoc agrees and looks only mildly unhappy about it.

In the gaily decorated living-room, Roy finds some of their guests already waiting, first and foremost Winry and Pinako Rockbell, of course, accompanied by Shezka and who must be Winry's girlfriend Paninya. There is also a young woman with long hair and a baby boy in her arms whom Roy cannot pinpoint, but she introduces herself as Rosé and turns out to be a old friend that Ed and Al met on their travels.

But Roy is especially grateful to see Winry as she was the one who helped him organize most of the surprise and accordingly handed out the invitations.

“Miss Rockbell, it's good to see you again,” Roy greets her politely, before inclining his head towards her grandmother, “Doctor Rockbell.”

“Not so formal, Colonel,” the old woman says plainly, “As far as I am concerned, you're part of the family by now. So call me Pinako.”

Roy cannot help but let his gaze flicker over to Winry, expecting her to take offense at Pinako's claim, but the girl just keeps smiling and it doesn't even seem strained.

Roy wonders how much she knows, whether Edward has told her yet, whether today she will catch Roy touching him a bit too intimately and draw her own conclusions from there. But when they had arranged the details of the party together she had been amicable, had cried on the phone but with laughter in her voice. So maybe it would be alright.

“Very well,” he relents, “But please, in that case, you should call me Roy.”

“Not while you are dressed like that,” Pinako says and snaps her fingers at him, “I like a man in a uniform, but I think you'd look just as good out of it.”

Roy, who has become rather accustomed to Ed'd rather unusual brand of flirting, has to take a long moment to consider whether Pinako Rockbell is possibly coming on to him, and if she is how he should react to that.

“Grandma!” Winry shushes her in that moment and sends Roy an apologetic look, “She means you should change into civilian clothes.”

“Yes,” Roy say slowly, turning away with the intend of going up to his room to change, “I best do that.”

Once he has slipped into something a little more comfortable and less intimidating he returns downstairs where Paninya is helping Havoc set up the cake which is admittedly quite the monstrous thing, courtesy of Gracia who is currently on a field mission to keep Edward from returning home too early.

“Uh,” Havoc says scratching the back of his head, “How many guests are we expecting again?”

Roy does a quick count in his head, “We should be just about twenty people.”

He takes a calming breath, only to note with chagrin that Pinako has not missed his growing anxiety, cocking her eyebrow at him.

“I'm not making a mistake here, right?” he asks her, “He won't have a heart attack or get angry at me?”

“Ed has never been good at making friends. That was always Al's job,” she harrumphs, “But that isn't to say that there aren't many who are dear to him. And he is dear to us, too.”

She looks around the room, at everyone's anticipatory faces.

“Apart from Shezka and my granddaughter he hasn't seen any of us in over a year,” she says, “It's important for him to know that we have not forgotten him and Al.”

Soon enough, the rest of Roy's team has arrived, as well as Major Armstrong, Lieutenant Ross, Aunt Chris and the Tringhams. Russel looks a little circumspect of being back here, but keeps sending curious glances over to the pretty girls in attendance, obviously not yet knowing that all of them are way out of his league.

“I can see them coming!” Fury calls from his look-out post by the window, “Everyone into position!”

His voice is an amusing mixture between commanding and giddy, but everyone obeys without question, quickly going into hiding while Roy slowly makes his way into the hallway, just as Edward is unlocking the front door, balancing Al in his other arm.

Roy resists the urge to give Ed a welcoming kiss and instead just smiles as Gracia and Elysia.

“Oh, I didn't expect to see you today,” he smoothly feigns a pleasantly surprised tone, “Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?”

“Hot chocolate!” Elysia demands and Roy pretends to contemplate that for a moment before giving a solemn nod, “I think we can manage that.”

He helps first her and then Gracia out of their coats, while Edward is divesting Alphonse of his jacket.

“Why don't you go up ahead and sit down in the living-room,” Roy offers the girls, “Ed and I will prepare the tea.”

“And the hot chocolate!” Elysia interjects.

“And the hot chocolate, naturally,” Roy amends, but then he is already leading Ed into the kitchen.

As soon as they are through the threshold which cannot be seen from the living-room, Roy pulls him up against him.

“What-” Ed begins to say but Roy just holds a finger up to his own lips, before bending down and kissing him.

Edward makes a muffled little noise, his hand feebly shielding Al's eyes who is still caught between them. But Roy would have to share the two of them for the rest of the evening, so he might as well be getting his fill now. So they kiss and kiss, even if they have to make sure to stay as quiet as possible, so none of their guests may hear.

Eventually, though, Ed pushes him away.

“Tea,” he reminds Roy and makes a shooing gesture at him.

“And hot chocolate,” Roy sighs but does as he is told.

When everything is ready, Roy loads the tray and picks it up, giving Ed a little nod.

“After you,” he says and then they enter the living-room.

“Surprise,” everyone yells when they jump out of hiding and their voices are so loud and so exuberant that even Roy is somewhat caught off guard though he had been expecting it. Edward, however, startles so much it's a wonder he doesn't accidentally drop Al, just angling his body away in reflex to shield him from a possible attack.

“What the-” he gapes when instead of some sort of enemy he finds a sea of familiar faces smiling back at him.

“Close your mouth, Elric, you look demented,” Russel drawls out and everyone laughs a little when Edward quickly snaps his mouth shut with a click of his teeth.

“But how-” he tries again, shakes his head in confusion.

“Roy invited us,” Winry explains with her hands on her hips and a determined tilt to her nose, “For Al's birthday.”

Ed turns around to stare at Roy instead and Roy does his best to keep his calm because this is the moment that decides whether this is too early after all, whether he has overstepped his boundaries, whether-

But instead a huge grin spreads over Edward's face.

“Fuck yeah,” he says and bounces Alphonse once, “Let's celebrate.”

“Guh!” Al agrees and drools in excitement.

 

Edward takes the time to greet everyone, especially those he hasn't seen since Al's transformation. He and Paninya flex their automail arms at each other, Lieutenant Ross pulls him into a rather maternal hug, and when Pinako gets to hold Alphonse for the first time Roy swears he sees the old woman shed a tear though she quickly distracts from it by commenting on Edward's height which, of course, leads to a minor screaming match. Roy, on the other hand, cannot help but wonder whether this is where Edward learned to deal with his emotions.

Finally, it's time to cut Gracia's cake and everyone decides that Ed should take the honor.

“But why is it pink?” Ed whispers in mild mortification and Roy puts an arm around him.

“Just to spite you,” he claims and Ed sends him a dark look, before setting Al in his high chair and helping him blow out the candles which then has him blowing raspberries on Al's cheek.

“Daddy, no,” Al squeals through his laughter, trying to shove him away, but Ed only plants big smacking kisses on him instead.

Roy sees Ross and Hawkeye exchange a look at that, but Armstrong has tears glistening in the corners of his eyes. Even Winry seems pleased.

“This is the first time I've really seen Ed laugh since... since they came back from training with Izumi,” she notes quietly, but in that moment Ed claps his hands and transmutes his automail into his signature blade, before dutifully cutting the cake.

“That's not what it was made for!” Winry gripes immediately, and once Edward is done she grabs a napkin to clean the icing off the steel.

“Was the hot chocolate acceptable?” Roy asks Elysia who still has a bit of a milk mustache.

She seems to think for a moment before giving a decisive nod, “Yes. Thank you.”

“Such a good uncle,” Gracia sighs and takes a sip of her tea, but her gaze flickers from Roy over to where Ed is feeding Alphonse tiny forkfuls of cake.

This was seriously getting awkward. Maybe Roy really ought to correct her on the current state of his relationship with Ed, if only to make himself feel less like a gross old man. In that moment, however, he catches the amused twinkle in her green eyes.

Roy stares.

“You minx,” he says, unable to keep the disbelief from bleeding into his voice, “You knew.”

“Oh, please, Roy,” she waves him off easily, “The two of you have been starstruck with each other for months. It doesn't exactly come as a surprise.”

“Goodness,” he touches faint fingers to his forehead, “If it was really that obvious why didn't you ever say anything?”

“Hm,” she smiles, “Good things take time in the making. And I wanted you to figure it out for yourself.”

He thinks for a moment, “Did Ed... ever speak to you about this?”

“No,” she shakes her head, but her smile takes a slightly sadder note, “I think he was trying very hard to convince himself that this was not something he deserved to ask for.”

There is a short pause and then her gaze cuts up to Roy's face, “Just like you, hm?”

Roy forces a small chuckles, “I guess everything worked out alright in the end.”

“I'm happy for you,” Gracia says earnestly, “And... Maes, Maes would have been, too.”

And that, for once, Roy doesn't doubt in the least.

 

After Havoc has quietly slipped away to collect the next batch of visitors, Ed is in for another surprise, jumping when he finds himself faced with Izumi Curtis, tall and glowering with her fists on her hips.

“Teacher,” he yelps at once and ducks slightly, no doubt expecting at least a cuff to the head. What he gets instead is a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“I'm proud of you,” Mrs. Curtis says without preamble, and it's just a simple fact because no mentor and no book could ever have taught Edward what he had learned for himself in this past year.

“I hope you're not neglecting your studies, though,” she growls a moment later and Edward gives a harried little chuckle.

“I'm not,” he hurries to assure her, tugging at his bangs, “I'm, uh, writing a treatise. On theoretical alchemy. I'm looking into getting it published. So. That's something.”

Mrs. Curtis narrows her eyes at him.

“Good,” she decides after a long moment, “But send it to me first. You always had a habit of skimming over important details.”

“Yes, teacher,” he acquiesces with a defeated sigh and she bares her teeth in a grin.

“Now where is that other rascal?” she asks, her eyes scanning the room, zooming in on where Al is currently cuddled up with Black Hayate, fingers in the thick fur, babbling something incoherent.

“Hello, there,” she says, crouching down in front of the two of them, offering her hand for the dog to sniff and then letting Alphonse shake it, “It's good to see you in your original body once more.”

“Ya,” Alphonse agrees seriously as though he understands, but it occurs to Roy that this might actually be the first time that someone has unequivocally acknowledged Al's final transmutation as something positive. Not a loss, not a failure, a tragedy, but a turn for the better. And that, Roy thinks, makes everything a little easier to bear.

“We've always thought of the boys as our own,” a deep voice says from behind Roy and he startles but then realizes that it is just Sig Curtis who has spoken.

“When she found out what happened that first time around, she blamed herself for months,” Sig continues, a deep-rooted pain in his dark eyes, “Thought that if she hadn't taken them on a students, they never would have tried.”

“They were stubborn and determined,” Roy comments, “They would have found a way.”

Sig only grunts in agreement.

Roy allows himself a private little smile. The Elrics may have lost their mother at a young age, but they had never in fact been without a family.

Time passes with easy conversation, everyone catching up with each other, Alphonse being the center of attention and loving it, easily making everyone fawn over him. He alternatively rides on Sig's or Alex's shoulder, has a very serious conversation with Rosé's son which none of the adults present understand, burps into Breda's face but is otherwise at his best behavior.

Just when Roy thinks that most of the excitement has mellowed down into a quiet evening, he finds Pinako standing in front of him once more.

“Roy,” she says around her unlit pipe, nodding towards the hallway, “A word?”

He is surprised by her serious expression that seems to be at odds with her light mood from before, so he follows her with vague trepidation.

“I extended an invitation towards another guest,” she admits when she comes to a stop in front of the entrance door, “But I wanted to clear it with you first.”

Roy blinks, confused.

“Any friend of Edward is a friend of mine,” he assures her.

“It's not a friend,” she says, reaching for the door handle and pushing it down, “It's his father.”

And there, outside by the hedge, stands Hohenheim, caught in the windy evening. He is tall, and his whipping hair and coat should make him look imposing, but instead he appears rather bedraggled, like a dog that had been kicked out of the house and wasn't expecting to be allowed back in.

“That- how,” Roy stammers, shakes himself, remembers how the man had allegedly been swallowed up by the mysterious Gate as well. But if Envy had made it back, then why shouldn't Hohenheim have managed the same?

“He only returned a few weeks ago,” Pinako tells him, for once sounding her age, “I've been trying to get him to at least contact Ed, but he is sure he wouldn't be welcome.”

“That- I- I cannot decide this,” Roy stumbles out, very vividly remembering how often Edward had spat upon his father, “You have to understand that Ed gets rather protective of Al, and-”

A thought strikes him, sudden and searing.

“He cannot have Alphonse,” he thunders and surprises himself with his vehemence, but legally, legally Hohenheim cannot claim Alphonse as his son. Roy has very well forged documents proving that Ed is indeed Al's real father, therefore-

Pinako barks out a laugh.

“Non-sense,” she snorts, “As if anyone would be stupid enough to separate Ed and Al.”

In that moment, there are footsteps behind them.

“Who is stupid?” Ed asks, stepping closer to join them by the door, “Roy is stupid, if anyone's asking. Why are you standing here, are you smoking again, old h-”

The words get stuck in his throat.

 

“I forgot how much he looked like Trisha,” Hohenheim says while his own face is the spitting image of Edward's. Only that Hohenheim looks cautiously polite whereas Ed seems ready to bolt from the kitchen.

He's got Alphonse cradled to his chest, taut like a bowstring, and Alphonse fidgets, obviously somewhat uncomfortable in the restrictive grip.

“Daddy,” he complains, wrinkling his nose.

“Sorry, Al,” Ed apologizes and automatically loosens his hold. Then he freezes again, jerks his gaze up, and the atmosphere is tense once more.

Roy is quite aware of how, though Edward has always refused to acknowledge Hohenheim as anything but half of his gene pool, Alphonse had very much wanted their father back in their life.

But now Al had forgotten all about Hohenheim and was calling Edward daddy instead.

“I-it's alright,” Hohenheim hurries to say, though his deep voice quavers like a hollow tree in a storm, “I'm not here to take him away from you, I'm-”

He takes a breath, calms himself.
“Pinako told me everything about what happened after I was gone,” he begins again, “And... I cannot help but think that if I only had never left you behind, none of this would ever have happened.”

Edward doesn't say anything, neither disputing that statement nor agreeing to it, but his eyes are dark.

“The easiest thing to accept, however, was that you are raising Alphonse now,” Hohenheim admits, the slope of his shoulders marking him as defeated, but not as a sore loser, “I could never be there for you the way I wanted to. But you... you've always watched over Al, even before. So. I just... wanted to see the two of you once more.”

His words have a terrible finality about them, one that is etched upon his features in sickly pallor and burst blood vessels, but his tone is lighter now, almost sanguine.

A man who doesn't fear death, Roy knows, only his regrets in life.

Edward purses his lips, looks down at his feet, the tiles, at Alphonse, at his shirt cuffs, anything but Hohenheim's face. Then he abruptly turns on his heel.

“There's still some cake left over,” he announces flippantly and marches back into the living-room.

Hohenheim remains behind, completely at a loss.

“He means,” Roy tells him with a muted smile, “That you are more than welcome to stay.”

 

When everyone is quite sick of the sight of cake and sugar in general, they all devour the second course of sandwiches and celery soup, and everything gets a little quieter, a little easier.

Roy stands off to the side and contently overlooks everything, smirking over to where Russel is feebly trying to impress Winry and Paninya while Fletcher and Shezka are excitedly talking about something. Izumi seems to be discussing alchemy with Hohenheim. Pinako is apparently drinking Havoc and Breda under the table, cheered on by Fury and Falman. Sig and Armstrong are once more comparing muscles, Ross and Hawkeye sit squished on the armchair, talking quietly, and over in the corner Hayate allows Dandelion to literally walk all over him.

The sofa, however, is occupied by Edward, Gracia and Rosé, sitting side by side with their sleepy children in their laps.

“I'd like to take Al to Riesembol in the summer,” Ed explains, somewhat hesitantly, “It... it'll never be his home again, but... it's still the place where we grew up.”

He does not say, It is my home, and Roy realizes that this is because Ed has finally accepted this little house in East City as the place where he wants to spend his life.

“You're happy here,” Rosé asserts what must be obvious to her, but Edward blinks as though he had never quite thought about it like that before.

“Yeah,” he says, sounding faintly surprised, “Huh.”

“Sometimes, our greatest tragedies bring about our greatest blessings,” Rosé says softly and runs a hand over the dark hair of her yawning toddler.

“Children make everything a little softer,” Gracia adds, “The past and... the future, too.”

Roy looks at these people, at his subordinates, his friends and his family, at three little children who deserve so much more than just one war after another, and he swears that he will be Führer.

“Your world domination plans coming along nicely then?” a wry voice asks and he looks up to find Aunt Chris handing him a glass of what turns out to not be clear alcohol but plain water.

“Don't even try to deny it,” she admonishes, “I know that look on your face.”

“Not the whole world,” he comments lightly, “Just Amestris.”

“Pah!” she huffs, tossing her head back so her chin and bosom jiggle in response, “As though you wouldn't conquer more than that for him.”

Roy stills, safe for twirling the glass in his hand, watching the water dance, “Pardon?”

“Oh, please,” she grunts, “Ignorance doesn't suit you.”

Together they look over to where Al has woken up from his nap, looking a little cranky, but already been shushed and rocked in tender arms by Ed.

“I guess there are worse sons-in-law to be had,” Chris muses and Roy doesn't even bother to ask how she would know as well.

“Chris, we're not married,” he points out instead, only to get a mocking laugh in response.

“Living together, raising a kid, having some knock-out sex, as far as I can tell,” she cocks an eyebrow, “What the hell is some measly piece of paper gonna change about that?”

Absolutely nothing, Roy knows, and when he next glances over he finds Edward already watching him as well.

 

 

Chapter Text

It's already after midnight when their guests finally leave, though all make promises to return for another visit as soon as possible.

“We're staying with Gracia,” Winry says with a bright grin, “And tomorrow we're gonna have an all-girls spa day.”

As Havoc is more drunk than just tipsy, Hawkeye offers to drive her, Paninya, Shezka, Gracia, Elysia, Rosé and her son back to the Hughes residence, but Pinako turns out to have different plans.

“My dear Alex promised to give me a tour of the estate,” she reveals when he has called up a sedan for them, politely offering Lieutenant Ross as well as Mr. and Mrs. Curtis a ride downtown.

“No offense, kid,” Izumi says as she ruffles Ed's hair, “But I'm not spending the night in the house of some dog of the military. We got a hotel room booked downtown.”

“Looking forward to see you fresh and early in the office tomorrow, gentlemen,” Roy smugly tells his men who all groan collectively, but at least Falman and Fury have volunteered to make sure that Breda and Havoc do indeed make it home in one piece.

Russel, after accepting that none of the females present had even the fainted interest in him, had sighed a lot but finally managed to uphold a polite conversation with Lieutenant Ross, until Fletcher reminded him that they, too, had to work in the morning and should probably make their way home as well.

In the end, only one guest remains, and Roy does not quite know what to do with him.

“Would you like to spend the night?” he offers, but Hohenheim gently shakes his head.

“I've already overstayed my welcome,” he says, “And I am also able to read body language.”

Roy frowns, “I beg your pardon? What-”

“My son might not exactly be looking at you the way his mother looked at me,” Hohenheim says wisely, “But I can tell that you are looking at him as I always looked at my Trisha. They've got that in common, I think. That way of bringing men to their knees.”

Roy is silent for a moment.

“How about you say goodbye to them?” he asks and Hohenheim ducks a little, rubs the back of his head. It's curious how, for such a tall man, he seems like a small boy while it is the opposite with Edward.

“I'm not sure it would be appreciated,” he hedges, but Roy beckons him back into the living-room where Ed is cleaning up the worst of the mess, stacking plates and... apparently emptying glasses into the already sickly looking potted plant over by the window.

“Where's Al?” Roy asks softly and Ed's gaze flickers up, lands on Hohenheim, zaps away again.

“In the pen,” he replies blithely, “He was dead-tired.”

Tentatively, Hohenheim steps closer to the pen, peering into it.

“Does he still love being tickled?” he wonders with a fond but slightly pained smile, “He used to love it when I tickled him.”

How strange. To think that Roy had been doing what Alphonse's real father had used to do. Was Edward aware of that? Did it hurt him?

“Yeah, he-,” Edward begins, breaks off but then gives himself a push, “Granny Pinako mentioned something like that.”

He wipes his hands off on his trousers before stepping up next to Hohenheim and lifting Alphonse out of the pen, so careful and used to the routine that he barely even jostles the boy, settling him in the crook of his arm.

They stand in silence, in the muted light of the living-room, and for once Roy is a stranger, outside looking in.

“He always looked like you, too, you know,” Hohenheim says and gives a helpless little laugh, “Not like a twin, not that, but... somehow. And he used to imitate you all the time, like a little parrot, and you acted like you were annoyed but then you always slipped him your candy.”

He stops, swallows.

“I know you think I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, and I have,” he admits carefully, “But... being with your mother never was. And having you boys wasn't either. I may have missed my chance for anything else, but... I hope you can accept that I have always loved you.”

For a couple of heartbeats, Edward doesn't react at all. Then he gives an almost imperceptible nod.

Hohenheim's shoulders hunch up, shiver, relax. The corner of his mouth twitches upward.

“Goodbye, Alphonse,” he says, reaching out to run a knuckle over Al's cheek.

Al wakes up a little, blinks sleepily.

“Bye bye,” he says, almost out of reflex, and his fist opens and closes in lieu of a wave.

Hohenheim's laugh is more of a breathy hiccup now but when he straightens up again his smile is real.

“Goodbye, Edward,” he says, for the first time and for the last time, and Edward bites his lip.

“Bye,” he replies softly, “... Dad.”

When Roy accompanies Hohenheim back to the door, he does not comment on the tears that are silently running down the man's face.

The night looks more pleasant than before and the winds have quieted down. Hohenheim puts on his coat and steps outside. He inhales, tilts his head towards the sky. Then he turns back to Roy.

“Take care of my sons,” he says, “Both of them, always.”

“I will,” Roy promises.

So Hohenheim nods and walks off into the dark.

 

Roy climbs the stairway slowly, with one hand on the banister, his sock-clad feet barely making a

sound on the carpet.

The door to Ed and Al's room stands ajar, light falling into the hallway, and when Roy enters he finds Edward standing over the baby bed.

Exactly one year ago they had been sitting in Gracia's guestroom, feeding Al a bottle while trying to figure out the future. Really strange how just twelve months had led them here.

Edward no longer a state alchemist, no longer a rolling stone, but all grown up and gifted and gorgeous. Alphonse tiny, but still bigger with every day, brighter, so wonderfully curious and human. Roy, blessed and blessed, finally understanding that sometimes you don't have to earn something to deserve it.

He steps closer, closer until he is standing directly behind Edward, putting his hands on his shoulders, and together they look down into the bed.

Dandelion in curled up on one end, her limbs lanky, nose twitching in accordance to her dreams. Alphonse is wriggling as well, one arm around his teddy bear, fingers tangled in his own hair, lips smacking before he gives a little snuffle and a sigh, and he is so undeniably theirs that Roy can barely breathe with it.

He glances away, blinks his eyes clear, absent-mindedly noting how cramped his former guestroom has become, cluttered with books and toys and clothes.

“He's going to need his own room sometime soon,” he points out mildly, his voice a tad rough.

He expects Ed to protest, to go and say, We've always been sharing, what's wrong with sharing? But he doesn't.

“Yeah...,” he muses quietly, tilting his head to the side. His braid slips over his shoulder and exposes his neck.

Finally, Roy gives in to his desire, brushing the stray strands away with a gentle hand and bending down to press a lingering kiss to the warm skin.

Edward doesn't flinch. Instead, he just gives a light smile and leans into the touch.

“Come to bed?” Roy asks and then leads him by the hand.

 

They make love.

It's a fanciful expression that Roy knows from flowery works of fiction and simpering love letters he had written when he was younger. But this, this finally drives home the difference between loving and mere fucking. It's not about levels of gentleness versus force. It's Roy trying to translate his affection into action. He feels like he could never be close enough to Edward, but he might as well give it a try.

He's on his knees, strong hands on Edward's hips to hitch him up and fuck forward, and from this point of view Ed is like a landscape, hills and valleys, his straining cock and erect nipples, elbows digging into the mattress, his head canted back so far that his chin becomes the highest point of him as his body arches up and off.

“Roy,” he pants, ankles hooking behind Roy's back in order to go with his thrusts, pull himself back onto his cock, each time harder and harder, “Fuck, Roy.”

“Yes,” Roy grinds out, hair sticking to his forehead, “Yes, that's it.”

It's the filthy good kind of sex, the sort that makes him want to put his tongue on every inch of Edward, wants to taste him inside out, only that there is something sacred about it, something singular. And Roy has never been a devout man, has never truly believed in anything, but he'd be damned if he didn't pray at this altar until his knees were rubbed raw.

When Edward finally comes, he surges up against Roy, throws his arms around his neck, scratches at his shoulder blades, hot hand and cool steel, letting out a long drawn-out moan from deep within his throat, his twitching cock caught between their bellies as he rides it out.

Roy hides his faces against Ed's neck, lowers them down onto the bed, keeps moving blindly, erratically, only half-aware of how Edward whispers words of encouragement, spurs him on, begs him to come, Roy, please, come, inside me, I want to feel it, I want-

So Roy does. His own pleasure feels less like a rise followed by a release, and more like a flood wave carrying him towards the shore, pushing, urging, the sole survivor after a shipwreck. He barely remembers his orgasm, just comes to and finds himself breathing aimless kisses against the expanse of Ed's sweat-salted chest.

Edward is still shivering with it, his legs splayed wide, no power left, just his fingers carding through Roy's damp hair, brushing it out of his face.

Roy's guilty lips compose themselves into a smirk.

“Should I comb it back more often?” he teases with his voice still husky from their ardent fucking, having long since realized that Edward quite likes the look on him.

“Hmm, no,” Ed hums languidly, “You're already too attractive as it is. Can't have even more people noticing.”

“Wouldn't you fight them all off to protect my virtue?”

“You have no virtue,” Edward snorts and Roy laughs out loud, shoulders jumping.

“True,” he admits, “But you still don't need to worry. I have absolutely no intention of ever accepting anyone's advances.”

In his arms, Ed stiffens and then forcibly relaxes again.

“We're... we're really doing this, huh?” he wonders aloud, both vague disbelief and lingering apprehension, as though he were still waiting for the ground to open up underneath his feet, to swallow him whole and keep him devoured.

“Yes,” Roy says, his fingertips resting against the palpitations of Edward's heart, “For as long as you want to, yes.”

Edward shudders out a breath, his rib cage expanding.

“I could never understand why my mom would hold on to Hohenheim like that,” he confesses, “Why she loved him, even though he just ran out on us. But now I think... I think she loved him because he was there in the first place, even if only for a little while. I get that now. So even if... if you leave tomorrow or- or just decide to kick us out, I'd still-”

“I'll never leave you,” Roy cuts him off, leaving no room for doubt on either side, “And I certainly won't make you leave either.”

When Madame Christmas had been talking about them being as good as married this had been it, hadn't it? You didn't need to sign a paper or wear a ring. But this, this promise of eternity and more, made all the difference.

“When I told you that maybe this was a new beginning for you and Alphonse, I didn't yet know that it was a chance for me as well,” he says, pushing himself up on his elbows so he can look Edward in the eye, “This past year... has been the best thing that could have ever happened to me. You are the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Edward angles his head away, swipes a hand over his face, his cheeks dusted red.

“Our past selves are probably laughing and vomiting at that notion,” he jokes awkwardly, still getting used to these declarations that seem to come so natural to Roy.

“Probably,” Roy agrees, “But I've learned to not dedicate too much thought to the past.”

He rolls over, comes to lie on his side, and Ed turns to mirror him. They lie in silence for a while, just looking at each other from across the pillow, the sheets tangled between their legs, their bare bodies, the air cooling around them but slowly, slowly.

It's easy then to find the right words.

“I love you,” Roy tells him because it's the truth.

“Yeah,” Edward replies, jerking out a small nod and sounding only a little choked, “Yeah.”

It's not quite a confession of his own, but it's probably the closest thing Roy will get for a while.

That's alright, though. They have time.

 

 

Chapter Text

Time passes quickly when your mornings consist of good coffee, buttered toast and newspapers that are curiously void of war crimes and hate speeches. Hawkeye scolds Roy for frequently being late for work after he spends half of his nights awake talking to Edward, fucking him, just looking at him sometimes, and then finds himself unable to leave the bed the next day because it is so warm and welcoming with Edward still asleep as well.

He does his paperwork, though, snaps his bare fingers at his men when they lag behind, and they groan and grumble, but in the afternoon they are all able to leave on time.

“Good work from you lately, Mustang,” his superiors tell him thoughtfully, “Very good work indeed.”

And Roy smiles and thanks them and ignores those who would begrudge him, even as they gnash their teeth at him from across the room. His face is often in the tabloids nowadays, so Ed cuts out every single picture, adorns them with penciled mustaches and monobrows, and pins them onto the fridge, right next to their shopping lists and Al's colorful drawings.

“Send your wife my regards, won't you, Fairchild,” Roy smirks and Fairchild wrinkles his nose.

“Same to your boy,” he shoots back but Roy just laughs.

“His name is Alphonse,” he points out blithely, “But if you meant Edward I'm sure you'll find that he is all grown up.”

Because Edward walks around in tailored suits and gives the scientific world the figurative finger whenever he publishes a new paper, though he still pouts for days when Izumi sends them back with the margins all marked in red. At home, he rolls around in the grass and transmutes labyrinths into the garden, stopping the time to see how long Alphonse and Dandelion take to make it through, treating it like an experiment but cackling gleefully whenever they get lost, so Roy has to go and save them or, alternatively, just throws Ed over his shoulder until they collapse into a heap of limbs and laughter.

They take trips to Central and to Riesembol, and Ed stays behind a little longer, takes Al to see Dublith and Rush Valley as well. Alphonse learns that red eyes are just red eyes, that one is all and all is one, that for some things there is no equivalent exchange because they cannot be measured.

It's a lesson that both Roy and Edward have learned a long time ago, but now they finally understand what it truly means.

And yet there are questions Roy asks himself sometimes, questions he never dares to voice in front of others.

How and when can they possibly tell Alphonse that he used to have another life, that he was actually born fifteen years before what his birth certificate says? Will he remember bits and pieces of his past? Will it all return to him when he is older or when he happens to touch that damned Gate at some point?

How much of Alphonse now reminds them of Alphonse then because it's there or simply because they want to see it there? Does he love cats because Alphonse Elric will always love cats, or because he's growing up with Dandelion as his playmate?

When will he ask why he doesn't have a mother or how Edward lost his limbs? Will he be able to do alchemy without a transmutation circle? Will he one day somehow find out what has happened to him and will he blame Edward for it?

Alphonse is a bright child and Roy does not delude himself into hoping that those questions will never come. Because he asks so many already, wants to understand the world and all its secrets.

But it is so much easier to explain why the sky is blue than why his aunt Winry occasionally looks at him with mournful eyes, why Edward sometimes makes a scathing remark as though Al could possibly understand its meaning, before falling dreadfully silent for a very long while.

But for now, life is peaceful. Life is good. Life is Roy being allowed to playfully mouth along the side of Edward's neck while they are cuddled up on the couch, without even getting any complaints about how he is 'trying to read, you bastard'.

The sound of the record player scratching through the idyllic afternoon has Roy getting up to change the track, though his body already yearns to drink in Edward's warmth once more.

“Daddy,” Alphonse chirps in that moment, hurrying out of the garden where he had been playing and into the living-room. In his arms he is carrying a small red cat that is very much not Dandelion.

“Daddy,” he repeats, excitedly rocking on his heels in front of Ed who doesn't even look up from what he is reading, “Daddy, I found a cat, her name is Maple, she's my friend now, can we keep her, please please please.”

Edward heaves a sigh. His gaze lifts and cuts through the room, coming to settle on Roy who stares back blankly. The look in Ed's eyes is unreadable, but strangely calculating.

Then he turns back to his book.

“Go ask your father,” he says simply, and Roy's heart swells.