The worst part is that he gets a long string of good days first—days where he feels full, feels energetic and alive. Days where making Ed laugh—watching the corners of his eyes crinkle up and his shoulders lift as he takes that first breath in, just before his whole body starts to shake with it—suffuses Roy’s entire fucking being with warm gold light. He goes out and just—does things. Easy. Living, existing, functioning is easy, and it’s such a damn relief that he tries not to look in the mirror in case he’s turned into somebody else, because he doesn’t want to jinx it and have to come back. Maybe he can ride this high forever. Maybe the worst is over. Maybe the sputtering chemical stores in his brain have been jarred and jumbled just enough that they’ve realigned themselves into a regular configuration, and he’s okay now. Maybe it’s all going to be okay.
It lasts four days.
And then the bottom drops out.
There’s another day or two after that where he’s—negotiable. The rest of him is suggestible enough that he can bully himself into going through the motions; he can wake up in the morning and roll over and look at the dazzling tangle-fall of Ed’s hair all over the pillow next to him and think You have to loud enough that his body responds. He can make himself get things done. It’s fine. This is fine; this is familiar; this he can handle.
It’s just the feeling like he’s right at the edge of a precipice, and his grip is slipping, that makes him hesitate.
At least it wouldn’t be the first time, right? And Ed’s pulled him up before. Ed is so much more than he ever even dreamed of wanting; Ed is so much more than he would have dared to ask for. Surely he can honor that. Surely he can justify the sheer fucking fortune of it by kicking his pathetic ass into a higher gear. It’s all about—returns. About payment. About what’s even, what’s fair, what’s right.
Ed deserves someone who can be good to him.
Ed deserves someone who won’t open his eyes the third morning and just—
That it’s all fucked now.
He has to get up.
He has to get up and make it all right. He owes Ed that much; he owes Ed so much; Ed didn’t sign up for this shit. He thinks he did; he’d say he did, but how could he have had any idea what he was really buying into? Fine print. Roy’s a thousand pages of dense, tiny type; he’s asterisks in the footnotes and so many shitty lies about what he’s like, what it means, what he does to people—
He has to get up. Maybe if he gets some momentum—maybe if he just starts moving—maybe—
He’s just going to get out of bed and go make coffee.
He’ll start with that.
Fucking anybody can do that; it’s not fucking rocket science. It’s not even biochemistry, and obviously he can do that shit in his sleep. Or at least in a fog. Or whatever.
Ed’s passed out with his face crushed into the corner of his pillow—he always ends up with little seam lines imprinted on his cheek.
Roy is going to get out of bed and go make coffee, because that is what Ed needs from him. That is who Ed needs, and he wants—it’s the only thing he knows how to want now, lately—to be the person Ed needs. He wants to stay. The rest of it is just—a wash; a gray-white crushing swirl of nonsense; just ambient, amorphous weight. The rest of it is a long string of fucking hassles blurring all together.
But he wants Ed. He wants Ed to keep wanting him.
He wedges his arm underneath himself and levers his torso up from the mattress. He breathes, twice. He shifts his hips and turns his legs and puts one foot down on the floor, then the other. It’s cold.
He flattens both hands on the edge of the bed and hangs his head for a second, chin to his chest. He breathes again—once, twice, three times.
This was the hard part. He’s doing fine. He’s doing great. Getting up from here is easy; this is easy shit.
He swallows. He looks down at his feet. They seem so fucking far away; what the hell?
Behind him, Ed makes a little snuffling noise, then mumbles, then heaves a contented-sounding sigh.
Roy can tell his heart’s still beating, kind of. Mostly it feels like his whole chest is a fucking vortex—like a black hole opened up underneath his diaphragm, and everything’s getting dragged down and shredded by the gravity, and of course a single human being isn’t strong enough to pull it back. This is constellatory shit. This is universes collapsing. He can’t. He just—can’t, even though other people do; even though other people grit their teeth and carry on every single fucking day; even though Ed’s put his head down and barreled through shit that’s so much harder, and so much worse, and he never even fucking whispers a complaint—
Roy stands up.
That wasn’t so fucking hard.
He breathes a couple more times. Good, he’s still capable of that shit, too. He deserves a round of fucking applause here; he’s existing all on his own. What a miracle. What an incredible human being.
One foot in front of the other carries him out of the bedroom, down the hall, to the kitchenette.
He puts water in the machine, and then grounds, and then hits the button.
And then he goes out into the living room, drops onto the couch, and does his finest impression of death.
The coffee machine growls and hisses and percolates, fills the carafe, and then settles into silence.
Roy doesn’t get up.
Ed’s alarm blares from the bedroom. Ed’s answering groan of agony overlaps with the abrupt end of the blaring, and then there’s some shuffling, a crash, and a “Fuck!”
Roy wants to call out and make sure that he’s okay. Roy wants to jump up and run to him. Roy wants to wrap him up in both arms and stroke his hair and tell him not to go into lab today; tell him to take it easy; tell him he’s brilliant; tell him he deserves a break.
Roy wants to get up.
But he doesn’t.
Because he’s a piece of shit.
He does manage to lift his right arm and lay it over his eyes.
Ed bangs his way into the bathroom, and there’s no constant stream of cursing, so he must be all right.
Maybe if Roy lies still enough, he’ll simply cease to be.
The toilet flushes. Ed comes groggy-staggering in, and Roy’s whole body tightens just at the prospect of the tension of it—at the mere fucking knowledge of the abstraction that’s about to unfold.
There’s nothing he can do but try to brace himself, and he’s just so… tired.
He’s just so tired of pretending to be whole.
But it’s fucking selfish not to.
Ed’s ever-so-slightly mismatched steps halt just this side of the doorway, and then—slowly—he tap-smacks just a few paces closer. Roy’s on the verge of fucking shaking with the strain of it; it’ll be better if they just get it the fuck over with, one and done and—
“Hey,” Ed says—softly, so softly. “What’s wrong?”
Me. Everything. Everything about me. Where have you been?
He swallows. “Nothing.”
He hears Ed draw the breath for it—for Bullshit, for Talk to me, for Come the fuck on, you goddamn liar; I don’t have time for this.
“Thanks for putting the coffee on,” Ed says. It sounds like he’s sorting through the words—picking out the safest ones. “You want me to get you a cup?”
Anything but to hurt him, but it’s too fucking late.
“Roy?” Ed asks slowly, rolling the sounds off the edges of his tongue.
Roy clears his throat. “I should—”
Leave. Die. Disintegrate and release my body’s atoms to the fabric of the universe so that they can be upcycled into a productive object for a change. Universal Etsy gone mad.
“I should go,” he says.
Tap-smack, tap-smack, creak. Ed adores the unholily noisy-springed armchair he’s had since the dawn of time. Roy has adored it, too, ever since he discovered that it’s an extremely versatile platform for sex.
“Go where?” Ed asks.
“Away,” Roy says.
Ed’s quiet for a second.
“Well,” he says, “I don’t think you should.”
Roy shifts his arm down his face until gravity helps tug it over his chin and drop it onto his chest. The ceiling is easier to look at than Ed, but he’s making progress. Sort of. For all the fucking good it does.
“I’m only ever going to get in your way,” he says.
“That’s not true,” Ed says—immediately, and so earnestly it sounds like he believes it.
“I am right now,” Roy says. “You’ve got a thousand other things you could be doing—should be doing. Things you’re meant to do.”
“Like what?” Ed asks.
“Ed,” Roy says, looking very intently at the ceiling now, not that it’s giving him any hints, “you’re brilliant. You’re the single most wonderful person I’ve ever met. And I am going to spend as much of your life as you’re kind enough to give me clinging to your ankles, dragging you backwards and destroying your life. That’s all there is to it, okay? I’ve been here before. It’s not—that’s just… how it is. And I don’t want to do that to you. You’re too important.”
“So’re you,” Ed says.
“No,” Roy says, and he’s almost surprised at how violently the word jolts out of him—like it’s urgent; like it must be said. “I mean—not like you. Not the way you are. I just—” He tilts his head back against the couch arm and closes his eyes. “I’m never going to be more than this.”
“Depression is something you have,” Ed says, and his voice shakes slightly, and the chair creaks louder this time. “Not who you are.”
“How can you tell?” Roy asks. “Where do you draw the line? This is all I get. This is all I am, all I’ve been—all I know how to be—for years now; this is the baseline of my personality at this point; this—what else am I, then? Just—” He presses both hands over his face; his nails aren’t sharp enough to tear it off, and his fingertips aren’t strong enough to crush it even when all the air in the room is weighing on him now. “—some fucking meatbag with all this—shit in my brain, all this noise that doesn’t add up to…” He shoves his hands into his hair instead, and his scalp tingles faintly. “And what the fuck difference does it make, anyway? What difference does trying make when it doesn’t change…? There’s no fucking point slogging through these stupid fucking days when I don’t even get anything out of succeeding—out of living, out of… when the reward circuit’s fucking broken, and it’s all just such a fucking pain, and it doesn’t even register if I somehow stumble into doing something right, and—”
“Hey,” Ed says quietly.
“And who fucking cares?” Roy asks. “I mean, sure, let’s cure cancer. Let’s get famous. Let’s write a book or win a medal or whatever the hell you want—we die anyway, and we don’t even get to enjoy it, and what’s the fucking point of postponing it until it fucking garrotes you from behind instead of you getting to pick the terms o—”
“You can’t have it both ways,” Ed says. “You just told me I’m important.”
“You are,” Roy says, and his blood beats with it—every fucking drop in every fucking capillary. “You’re—an exception. You’re exceptional; we all knew that. You matter.”
“No, I don’t,” Ed says.
Roy twists enough to look at him.
Like he was ready for this.
The thought’s like a tiny worm squidging slowly through Roy’s brain, and he can’t quite guess at its measurements yet.
“I don’t mean anything,” Ed says. He gets up from the chair (it squeals) and takes three steps towards the kitchen, then turns and takes three steps back towards the couch. “There is no meaning. Of course there’s no fucking meaning. We’re a couple of bonded molecules in a giant fucking atom-energy stew, just kinda—percolating indefinitely. There’s no structure to that; there are no rules; you can’t win anything. You can’t even draw up some kind of metric that actually matters, you know? You can’t check boxes, and you can’t change people’s minds, and… it’s all just—shit. It’s all just shit all over the place, and you have to decide what it means. That’s the point.” He swallows, and he is so, so beautiful that it’s like a brand-new spear of crystal-edged sadness through the core of the dull, broad, all-through-everything ache. “And I’ve decided some shit, and you can’t change that either—all right? I’ve decided that you mean something to me. I decide that every fucking minute of every fucking day. And—”
He steps back, paces three steps, spins, shoves his hand up into his hair and clenches his fingers in his bangs—little gold-sparking flyaways spiking out everywhere; and what the hell has Roy ever done to deserve even looking at him?
“Well, fuck,” Ed says. “I mean, I’m not—gonna talk about ‘forever’ and shit, because you and I both know we can’t even conceptualize eternity, and that’s fine, and—I mean, I dunno who we’re both gonna be in five years, let alone… whatever.” He looks up, and drops his hand, and his eyes are so bright and stark and serious that any gibberish Roy might’ve tried to start spouting dies before it coagulates into comprehensible words. “But I’m not going to take it away, Roy,” Ed says. “I’m not gonna pull the fucking rug out. I’m not gonna drop it like it’s hot, least of all ’cause that’s a fucking old-ass song, and it wasn’t even any good when it was new and shit.”
Roy loves Edward Elric so much that it feels like it’s strangling his soul, and it’s only a matter of time before he cracks under the strain.
“And it’s not—” Ed throws himself down on the ratty-ass armchair, which creaks again. “It’s not conditional, okay? It’s not—I don’t just want you when you’re happy. I don’t just want you when it’s good. I have assigned importance to you, okay? You as a—” He waves his hands. “—being. As an… entity. As all of it, all the good shit and the bad shit and the fucked-up brain hormone chemistry—whatever. It’s not dependent on whether you’re having an upswing, and I’m not gonna fucking leave if you get too heavy, all right?”
He wouldn’t, either. He’s too fucking decent. Which is why Roy has to do it—to cut Ed loose of himself before he starts to smother that beautiful fucking light—
“I’m not giving up on you,” Ed says. He sits down on the very edge of the couch, where Roy’s body left just a little space, and spreads his hand over the center of Roy’s chest, glowering. “Okay? You can give up on yourself all you fucking want, but you can’t talk me into it.”
He curls his fingers into the fabric of Roy’s shirt and stares at them for a second.
“Look,” he says, more quietly. “I’ve thought about a lot of that shit—when I was a kid, in the hospital, and… over the years, y’know.”
He releases his grip and smoothes the wrinkles out slowly, and the warmth of his fingers should feel—sweet. Like a blessing; like a gift.
Not like something to live up to. Not like one more reason to recoil, because no part of Roy is good enough for that touch.
“And I think about you a lot,” Ed says, eyeing him. “I think about how much you are and how little you fucking think of yourself, and—and shit, Roy, you know what? Maybe this is all we ever get. Whoop-de-fuckin’-do. Life’s a bitch, and then you die; whatever shit.”
He swallows, hard. Beautiful throat; beautiful eyes; beautiful hands, and scars like little white rivers tracking up his right arm.
“I don’t care,” he says. “That’s what I always ended up deciding. I don’t care if this is it. I want it anyway. Even when it fucking hurts. Even when it fucking sucks. Even when it’s not worth it. Even when it’s too hard. I want it. Because there’s good shit there, too. And I know, Roy, God, I fucking—I know sometimes, for you, it’s like… there just isn’t anymore. Like the good shit’s not there; it just doesn’t even… telegraph. Doesn’t sink in. Doesn’t exist, doesn’t fix anything, doesn’t really count. But you’ve got to hang on to the logical fucking awareness that shit’s cyclical, and there are equal and opposite forces, and—you know? Karma’s probably bullshit, but it can’t always be bad.” His gaze sharpens into a glower. “Know why? ’Cause I’m not gonna let it. You get me?”
Roy wants to reach for him, but it’s all just lead. Lead and anvils; endless weights.
“I don’t deserve you,” he says.
“Shut up,” Ed says. “You do so. And I don’t give a shit if you think so or not.”
“Christ,” Roy says. “You…”
“Stubborn as hell,” Ed says. “It’s the best.”
He shifts, slides, wriggles—fits himself in against Roy’s body, half draped over him, arm across his chest, fingers flirting with the hair at the nape of his neck, eyes still on him.
“I’m not gonna quit on you,” he says. “Not fucking ever. Okay?”
Roy swallows and attempts—partially successfully—to smile.
“Do I get a choice?” he asks.
“Nope,” Ed says.
He drags one incomprehensibly heavy arm up enough to wrap it around Ed’s shoulders, and that—
That’s something to hold onto, and something to hold on for.
“Didn’t think so,” he says.
Ed nestles in closer, with a faint hint of a grin. “Now you’re gettin’ it.”