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Ferrocerium

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Roy stops by the kebab place on his way home from headquarters, because it’s been a long damn day, and he’s craving something savory.  He doesn’t imagine that his housemate is likely to turn down food no matter how much dinner has already been consumed in Roy’s admittedly lengthy absence.

But it means he ends up cutting through the alley and coming in through the back door.  And the back door’s so much quieter that he enters almost silently, and that’s why he hears it.

Kaa-tch—chnk.

And then a hiss.

He stands very still, thinking vaguely that it’s surreal—to be stranded just inside of his own home, ears piqued, body frozen, listening with every iota of attention he can muster, with the scent of kebabs wafting everywhere, a wax-paper bag hanging from his hand and bleeding grease onto his fingertips.

Kaa-tch… ck.

And, softly, softly, helplessly—

Fuck.”

His free hand automatically undoes the catches of his uniform as he crosses his living room.  He pauses at the doorway, as though—

As though there was ever any choice.

He looks into the kitchen.

Ed is sitting at the table with his back to the door, holding a silver flip-top lighter in his right hand.

He brings the automail thumb down against the spark wheel, and—

Ka-tch-ktnk

The printless pad of his thumb glances off of the metal and smacks against the side.

“Son of a bitch,” Ed whispers.

“Edward,” Roy says.

Ed just about startles out of his skin, and fire flares in his eyes as he whirls around so fast he nearly upsets the chair.

It’s a curious combination of heat and coldness—of humiliation and defensive rage; of anguish on one side of the bright gold coin, and anger on the other.

A knot cinches down Ed’s throat as he swallows hard, and Roy can see his jaw working as he chews on words—testing their edges, perhaps, to determine which ones he can spit out sharpest.

Roy’s hands are faster sometimes, but his words are faster always:

“You know, don’t you,” he says, “that you’ll never need that as long as I’m around.”

It’s far too soon to comment on how long that might be—far too soon, and far too arrogant.

Ed’s eyes narrow, and his fingers curl in around the lighter until metal scrapes on metal, and Roy’s skin crawls.

“That’s not the fucking point,” Ed says, and the syllables gouge the air around them and rebound off the floor.

Roy’s well-seasoned at picking his battles, but it’s harder when you don’t know that you’ve crossed into a warzone in the first place.

“I know it’s not,” he says, in a voice he hopes is conciliatory despite the fact that he has no idea what the real point is.  It’s not untrue, at least; Ed’s reaction made the revelation excruciatingly clear.

But he forgot a critical detail—the fact that Ed sees straight through him.

“The fucking point,” Ed says, slowly, with his eyes still gleaming, with a hint of his hometown’s near-forgotten drawl, “is that nobody’s gonna fix it.”

Roy does not run his tongue across his lips.  He doesn’t shift his weight.  He doesn’t clear his throat.

“It doesn’t need to be fixed,” he says.

“Easy for fuckin’ you to say,” Ed says, and the chair’s legs squeal on the linoleum as he shoves it back.  “Easy for fuckin’ you to say when you can tie fuckin’ shoelaces and run your fuckin’ hand through your hair and dab shit with your fingertips and fucking write and fucking touch people and fucking feel shit and—” He tries the wheel again; slips off instantly; ka-tch-tak— “Fucking use a fucking lighter like a fucking person!”

Ed doesn’t do mixed emotions—he doesn’t do gradients, or gray areas.  It means that he doesn’t get muddled, or muddied, in the way that Roy does.  Quicksand is a combination.  Ed doesn’t wallow, and Ed doesn’t sink.

Everything is bright, for Ed—bright and sharp and absolutely real; fine-edged and imminent; immediate.  Everything is enormous, and not just in proportion to his stature; his heart is bigger than any Roy has ever dreamt of being near to, and every individual feeling fills it to the brim.

When Ed is happy—God, the clouds part; the sunlight streams down, and the whole world’s kind.

He doesn’t stop at wistfulness; when Ed is sad, he’s miserable.  When he’s angry, it’s that famous, flaring, incandescent rage—

Roy just caught him in a moment of vulnerability that was never meant to be displayed to anyone.

And when Ed is vulnerable, he is laid bare.

It takes a great deal of strength to feel as fully as Edward Elric does.  Roy hasn’t had that—or seen it—in as long as he can remember.  He doesn’t know if he could bear to give that much of himself to each whim of the universe—to every turn of circumstance; every last event demands some kind of a response, and Ed meets all of them head-on, wholehearted.  How is it possible to be so much?

And here he stands, in Roy’s kitchen, steel fingers clenched around a boring implement for men who can’t move mountains, believing that he’s missing something—that he is somehow not enough.

“You can’t change it,” Ed says.  “Okay?  You can fucking—kiss it and touch it and—whatever—all you fucking want, but no amount of fucking pretending is going to change it, all right?  It’s never—that’s what you get.  All right?  That’s all you’re ever gonna fuckin’ get, is fucking machine oil on your sheets, and it’s cold all the time; it’s always fucking cold, and there’s nothing you can do—”

“I don’t want to do anything,” Roy says.  “Except eat these.”  He holds up the bag of kebabs.  “Which I don’t think I can do alone, because I bought too many of them.  Sit down.”

Ed stands there for another moment with his lips parted, breathing harshly and blinking hard.

“The fuck is wrong with you?” he manages as Roy crosses over to the table, puts down the bag of kebabs, and draws out the chair across from Ed’s.

“I’m hungry,” Roy says.

Ed swallows, and Roy can see him stoking the first embers of the outrage.  “Were you even—”

“Ed,” Roy says, “I have never lied to you in this house.  Sit.”

Ed does not sit.  “What the fuck does that have to do with anything I just fucking said?”

Roy opens the bag, selects a kebab, and holds it out to him.  Ed’s instinct overcomes his annoyance, and he takes it in his left hand, still clutching the lighter in the right.

“I don’t want to change it,” Roy says.  “It’s part of you.  And I know sometimes that must be harder to come to terms with than I can begin to imagine, but I have never in my life believed that it or any other part of you needs to be ‘fixed’.  Healed, maybe—soothed, yes.  But nothing about you needs changing.”

Ed stares at him for a long second, and then down at the automail—sweeping lines, artful curves.  It’s far more organic than any metal appendage Roy had ever seen before they met.

“I want it back,” Ed says, in a voice so young Roy’s memory redoubles, and his heart skips twice.  “Sometimes.  I mean—I don’t, I don’t really, because Al, but—sometimes—”

Roy reaches out and cups the cool steel hand in both of his.  One by one he opens up the fingers until he can pull the lighter loose and set it aside.

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” he says.  “And there’s nothing wrong with you.”

“Bullshit,” Ed says.

Roy meets his eyes.  “I have never lied to you in this house.”

Ed looks at him.  Roy looks back, and wills him to remember—much of it slides off; most of the rest simply fails to register.  Most of it’s just words, to Ed.

But with a memory like his, some of them must get transcribed somewhere.  Some of them must stick.  Maybe he doesn’t believe them, but sometimes he must hear God, you’re so beautiful and automatically tuck it into recollection.

Roy squeezes the automail hand in both of his.

“Sit,” Roy says.  “Eat with me.”

Ed sits.

He takes an enormous bite of the kebab still waiting in his left hand.

He chews.

He looks down at it.

“This is from that place I like,” he says.

“Yes,” Roy says.

Ed blinks at him, with the faint edge of a suspicious glare that always makes him look like a cat.  “That’s way the fuck out of your way.”

“A bit,” Roy says.

The suspicion sharpens.  “Thought you weren’t gonna lie to me.”

Roy fishes in the bag for his own victim.  “It’s not lying just because my definition of ‘way the fuck out of my way’ is different from yours.”

“Distance is an objective measurement,” Ed says.

“But time can be extremely variable,” Roy says, “depending on your destination.”

Ed scowls.

Roy smiles.

“Shut up and eat,” Ed says.

“Happy to oblige,” Roy says.

“I said shut up,” Ed says, pointing the kebab stick at him.  “Or is your hearing starting to go in your old age?”

“You, of all people,” Roy says, “should know that hearing and listening are two entirely different things.”

“You learned one thing from me over all these fucking years,” Ed says, “and it’s how to be an even bigger dick.”

Roy nibbles demurely.  “You do tend to have an enlarging effect on my—”

“Oh, fuck you!”

“Happy to oblige with that, too,” Roy says.

Ed manages to glare at him for almost three seconds before the grin cracks through.