Chapter 1: here
this first part is arguably the worst and then it gets better. 3 parts total, will be up within the month.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Pauses rattle on about the way
that you cut the snow-fence, braved the blood,
the metal of those hearts
that you always end up pressing your tongue to.
How your body still remembers things you told it to forget,
how those furious affections followed you.
—watermark, the weakerthans
If nothing bad ever happened to a person, they might operate under the implicit assumption that bad things happened to other people—they’d read about war, death and famine, ten-car pile-ups and tsunamis, and think, that’s not my life. But Roy Mustang was an orphan who had been at the front lines of war and on bad days swore he could still smell singed flesh, so he operated under the assumption that bad things happened to him, always, specifically. He knew he could live his life with constant vigilance, but it wouldn’t always be enough.
He heard that the Cumulonimbus Alchemist had been seen in the city. The Cumulonimbus Alchemist was a rogue state alchemist turned madman, as far as anyone was concerned—a man who’d become disillusioned with Amestris’ military state and vanished after a bloody firefight with Central soldiers, one of whom was Roy, and now appeared only occasionally in the countryside to make hail the size of baseballs rain from the sky. So when Roy heard that he was spotted in Central, and was told not to worry too much about it, he thought: I’m sure I’ll see him eventually.
Ed had never heard of the Cumulonimbus Alchemist. His reign of terror was brief and happened when Ed was two years old, and no one talked about him much after that because it was easier to write the man off as a nutcase than admit he might return someday and they’d have a terrorist on their hands. And even if he had heard of him, he would have been just as surprised when Roy Mustang ran smack into him on the sidewalk on his way to headquarters at the crack of dawn, soaking wet on a sunny day.
Ed staggered back, grabbing Roy’s coat. “Jesus, watch your—Colonel?”
“Fullmetal,” Roy breathed. He was sopping from his head to his feet, hair plastered across his forehead and dripping with rain. “Run, go, you can’t—”
There was a ear-splitting crack and the air around them turned unbearably dry and cold, and Ed straightened up in time to catch an icicle like a railroad spike off his automail arm. The Cumulonimbus Alchemist was standing on a cloud like a campy cartoon character, an old, haggard man with shoddy clothes and bright red, weather-beaten cheeks.
“What did you do?” Ed yelled at Roy over his shoulder; Roy shoved him.
“Nothing, go! Run, get to headquarters, we can—”
Cumulonimbus twisted icicles out of the air with a flick of his wrist and a crackle of energy, freezing the moisture in the air around him, and shot them at Ed and Roy. Ed clapped his hands and pulled a rock wall from the sidewalk. He could feet Roy’s wet fist in the back of his jacket.
“Oh my God, you’re soaked! You’re useless!”
“I’m aware, Fullmetal,” Roy snarled in his ear. “If you can hold him off—”
“We’ve gotta draw him out of the city!” Ed took off running and Roy stumbled after him in his squelching shoes.
“We’re downtown, there’s no way we can get him that far out!”
“He’s gonna kill someone!”
“He’s gonna kill me if we don’t—” An icicle whizzed past Ed’s head and, he assumed, past Roy’s behind him. He grabbed onto a traffic signpost, pulled, and transmuted it into a spear. He screeched to a stop and turned around and Roy all but barrelled into him as he chucked the spear at the other alchemist, who swerved easily out of its way.
Roy looked over his shoulder and Ed saw that he was bleeding from a gash under his ear.
“Shit, let’s—” There was another thunderous crack and the sky above them brewed with black and blue clouds like towers of smoke and it began to rain in an otherworldly downpour, as if a dam had been broken; in seconds, water was gushing down the street knee-high. “—Get to higher ground before we drown.”
Ed spun on his heel and sprinted down the street, his lungs burning with every breath as if it were forty below. He heard Roy behind him but didn’t turn around, heard the telltale crack and whip of icicles but didn’t stop to fight. He lost his footing in his waterlogged boots and rain chased them down the street like a mobile river, clouds building in towers above them. His hair slapped across his face and he impatiently shoved it back.
“It’s too flat,” Roy panted from behind him. “We have to fight back, he could drown us where we stand!”
Ed vaulted over a low wall and charged into a lot where a new complex was being put up and the soil was loose with rubble and mud. He spun around; Roy looked half dead, blood running down the side of his face, the other side blooming in a dark bruise that wasn’t there a moment ago. The old man stood defiantly on his cloud ten paces behind them and conjured a wall of icicles that hurtled towards them; Ed pulled a wall from the ground under them and sprang back. He grabbed the back of Roy’s coat, dragged him closer, then pressed his palms to the ground. They rose on a pillar twenty feet above street level, leaving the river behind.
Cumulonimbus rose on his cloud to meet them and snarled, “You fucking military dogs, think you can just get out of everything! Think the government’s always got your fucking back!”
“Go away!” Ed screamed. “You crazy old fuck!”
Clouds grew taller and darker over their heads. “Mustang fuckin’—fuckin’ drove me out of this city, I’m not gonna—think you're so much better than me!”
Ed knew the telltale signs of brewing lightning in clouds, the glint and flashes of internal light. As the first bolts struck their platform, he used the iron in the stones under them to pull two metal poles out of the rock to act as lightning rods. Lightning struck them and Ed felt his pulse leap at the proximity to such immense energy and Roy, next to him, sucked in a loud breath. Ed steadied himself on his knees, too nervous to stand so high above ground. He started lowering their pillar closer to the earth and the cloud Cumulonimbus stood on grew tall and black, blistering with energy. Ed put up a curved wall at their feet to divert some of the water and stop them from getting whisked away.
“It's okay,” Ed said, more to himself than anything, “If the lightning rods stay, we’re okay.”
“Put us back down!” Roy yelled through the needling rain, “We’re too vulnerable up here!”
“Fucking pompous kid!” the old man shouted, and the clouds all around them grew thick and black.
“I was just going for breakfast!” Ed howled, “This is all your fault! Where’s Lieutenant Hawkeye?”
Roy shouted back, “I don’t know! She’s not my bodyguard!”
Roy’s hand closed around his forearm. The pillar under their feet reached the ground again just as the air around them started to twist and churn into a cyclone, whipping wind and rain hard enough to burn.
“Run!” Roy yelled, “He's not after you, get help, I can handle this!”
“He's gonna kill you!” Ed screeched. “You're fucking useless in the rain and you know it, just let me—”
The downpour started again. It drenched them from a foot above their heads, rain like a waterfall gushing in their eyes and noses and mouths, like being waterboarded, and Ed choked for air. He heard loud, maniac laughter through the pounding of blood in his ears. Roy’s hand was like a vice around his wrist and the old man kept screaming and cackling and the rain got worse and worse, clouds surrounding them like a swirling fog until they could hardly see.
“Let me think!” Ed shouted to Roy, garbled through the never-ending downpour. “I—there’s gotta be something—he’s taking moisture from the air—clouds—”
He gasped and ducked his head to suck a breath in. He shook Roy’s hand off, clapped and pressed his gloved palms to the earth. Nothing happened.
“Shit!” he gasped, coughing and sputtering on rain. “Uh—fuck, fuck —”
He did it again, but this time there was a blue flash in a neat arc around the Cumulonimbus Alchemist and just like that, the rain stopped and the cloud under his feet disappeared; Roy fell to his knees, hacking up water. Cumulonimbus choked and looked at his hands, shook his wrists, confused, and it was enough time for Ed to charge at him, wind his arm back and knock him out with a single metal fist to the jaw. He collapsed in the mud, out cold, and looked more like a sad, old man than the imposing figure he had a moment ago.
Ed staggered back to where Roy was coughing up water and sat hard in the mud next to him to try to catch his breath.
“Jesus Christ, I thought I was going to die,” Roy panted. “What did you do?”
Ed closed his eyes. “Got rid of the oxygen in the air around him so he couldn’t make clouds. It was only for a second, but I tried to pull iodargyrite from the ground—it’s like silver iodide, they use it for cloud seeding. I thought if I could get that I could oversaturate the air and make him run out, but there wasn’t anything like that around here. I don’t know.”
“Fullmetal, that’s genius.”
"I should’ve thought of it earlier.”
“No, I’m serious, you—you saved me, I thought—”
“It’s nothing. It’s not your fault you’re impotent in the rain.”
When he opened his eyes, Roy had sat up and was very, very close, panic and awe written all over his face.
He said, “You brilliant, brilliant, beautiful—”
He grabbed Ed’s face and kissed him.
It was hard and quick, physical and unthinking. Ed fisted his hands in the front of Roy’s jacket and he was there and then it was over and Roy was inches away from him, out of breath and wild-eyed like Ed had never seen.
“—boy,” Roy finished, tellingly. Ed stared at his mouth, slack-jawed.
They met halfway and kissed again. Their noses hit and Roy turned his head. Ed’s first instincts were simple and primal: Fight. Punch. Bite. Run. Bite. Kick. Yell. Shout. Scream. Run. Run. Run.
They quickly gave way to more complicated thoughts: This is some mind control alchemy, he’s insane. He’d never. I'm a boy. He's a man. He's a Colonel. He's the Colonel. My Colonel. He’s always been here. He’s always …
They trailed off. They faded again into an uncomplicated, body-based pattern: Melt. Melt. Melt.
The kiss was long enough for Ed to pass through all these stages, a different kiss than the first one, which was just a smack of mouths. In the end, he couldn't do anything but hold still. Roy's lips slid against his and his eyes fell shut. He could hear him breathe, smell him, feel the pads of his thumbs against his cheeks, and it was like drowning. Slowly, Roy’s lips left his and Ed sat there, soaked through and struck dumb, speechless for maybe the first time in his life. Rain dripped through his eyelashes and he didn't blink. Roy had never been so close. He looked both older and younger than Ed had always figured, still baby-faced at thirty-something, or so Ed ballparked, but with these fine lines at the edges of his eyes and mouth that Ed found upsettingly, nonsensically charming. He couldn't tell if this affection was something he felt automatically in the wake of being kissed, or if it was something he'd always felt and had beaten down with the same bullheadedness that he beat down anything that wasn't necessary. Suddenly, Roy Mustang meant something separate from Colonel, and Ed wasn't sure if he liked it. This wasn't where he thought he'd be when he woke up this morning.
Fight. Punch. Bite. Yell. Run. Melt. Run. Melt. Melt.
“Jesus,” Roy whispered.
Ed barely stopped himself from saying Jesus isn’t gonna help you now.
He felt powerful in a way he never had before, and not just because Roy couldn't torch him in the rain. Roy was looking at his mouth. Heat licked up towards his belly from the soles of his feet. He felt sick and excited and panicky, endlessly and guiltily proud. Roy was still holding onto him. He smelled like blood and aftershave and snuffed-out birthday candles.
Ed wasn’t in the business of taking things for himself; doing things for the greater good was less messy than acting in self-interest, and he’d learned his lesson the first time. But sitting there in the rubble and rain next to a beautiful older man whom he could—at least a little, he thought—trust, he wanted to want. He wanted to be stupid.
He tugged on Roy’s jacket and pressed his lips to his, clumsy and earnest. Roy made a quiet noise in the back of his throat and kissed him back, dug his hands into his hair and ruined his braid. Ed’s heart thundered so fast he felt dizzy, syrupy and slow, letting his fingers run up Roy’s lapels. When he touched Roy’s neck and he shivered, he pulled off his wet gloves and touched him with his bare hands, one clammy and hot, one freezing cold. Nothing felt real. The crumbling wall of rock he’d pulled from the earth shielded them on most sides from rain and prying eyes and there was no one around to see him on his back, Roy braced over him and buzzing uncontrollably with the thrill of being alive.
Ed had thought about sex only abstractly up until that moment. He knew a lot about sex in the same way that he knew a lot about astrophysics: for the sheer pleasure of knowing, and the thought that it might come in handy. At the end of the day, he knew as much about human bodies as he did about heavenly bodies, which is to say that he could draw you some neat diagrams, but if asked to provide any practical information, he would have to admit that he'd never been to the Moon.
He took Roy’s hand in his, slid it down his stomach and pushed it between his legs.
Roy bit his lip hard enough to sting. He ground the heel of his palm against him and Ed choked on his breath, let his wrist go to fumble with his pants, and the clink of his belt buckle was the loudest thing either of them had ever heard. Roy dragged his mouth up Ed’s jaw. Ed’s toes curled inside his boots. He prayed that Roy didn’t say anything—didn’t check in and ask him if this was okay, because it was, but he wouldn’t know how to say that—and pushed his hips up into his hand and hoped that was enough of a yes. Roy kissed him again, a searing and needy kiss, pushy, and Ed drew his legs up. He lifted his butt and Roy pushed his pants and boxers down around his thighs.
Ed clapped his hands together and pressed them against the dirt and rock structure that curved above his head as Roy moved down his body and between his legs. In a flash of blue, the curved wall grew until it touched the ground behind Roy, creating a private, sealed cave that smelled earthy like peat and dirt.
Roy spoke and Ed could feel his breath on his dick. Embarrassingly hard.
“Your skin buzzes when you do that,” he whispered. “Like standing next to a generator.”
Before Ed could say anything, Roy took him in his mouth. Ed’s boots scrabbled in the dirt and his brain fizzed out white, pure, unthinking, and he held his breath to keep from spewing prayers to a God he didn’t believe in. He rested a shaking hand in Roy’s hair and fisted the other in the shoulder of his jacket and nothing in his life had ever felt as good as the wet heat of Roy’s mouth on him. He couldn’t string thoughts together and didn’t have the vocabulary to describe any of it anyways, his words limited to fuck fuck shit oh my God. He whined, lifted his hips off the ground and came, just like that. In his head, it felt like the glorious crooning of angels, violins and a well-stocked brass section, but in reality, he’s sure it was embarrassing; the whole thing had taken less than a minute if he was being generous, his automail fingers snagged in Roy’s hair and they were lying in a man-made dirt cave in the middle of the city, but it felt overwhelming and endless and unbearable in the best kind of way.
Roy sat up on his elbows. Ed could hear him breathing hard in the dark, the swishy rustle of his uniform fabric. He thought: this isn’t real because I died trying to save him and this is the stupidest, most specific post-death dream imaginable. His nerves were still thrumming with pleasure when Roy let him go. There was no space to sit up.
“We’ll run out of air in here,” Roy said. His voice was low and steady and not mad, but different. Understandably. “Can you let me out.”
“Yeah. Yes. I. Sure.”
Ed tugged his pants up, clapped his hands and made the wall recede until it disappeared into the ground. His body was burning hot and the rain running from his hair felt like ice. Roy hadn’t stood up; Ed stared at the muddy knees of his uniform trousers and his scuffed boots. He tried to work up the courage to look him in the eye but his mind was a churning word-salad of uncertainty and confusion and lust and a thousand things he didn’t know how to describe, and he didn’t want to see how Roy was looking at him. Think, think, think! He screamed to himself. There has to be a right way to handle this!
He looked up anyways.
Roy’s hair was pushed back and sticking up on the one side. His mouth was red from kissing and sucking and he was staring at Ed with a look he couldn't place. The blood from his cut ear mixed with rainwater and ran rose-pink down the side of his neck.
“Colonel!” A man’s voice echoed off the walls of the nearby hollowed-out building. Ed scrambled back and fell in a puddle, and then there were footfalls all around them and a group of soldiers thundered down the street.
Roy had his minor wounds treated. He didn’t speak much and it kept raining all day after that, like something in the atmosphere had changed. He kept touching his mouth. He answered questions posed to him in his debrief with one or two word answers and didn’t mention Ed more than he had to. If his lips were red, no one thought to mention it.
He didn’t know what to do with himself when he was released. He went back to his apartment and changed into clean slacks and a shirt. He brushed his teeth. That evening, he made a hot toddy with an extra slug of whiskey, sat in his study and tried to read a book that had been recommended to him by a superior officer whom he was trying to impress, a weepy doorstop of a novel about a dysfunctional Victorian family. He made it through half a chapter before he stood, went to his desk and called Riza.
“Lieutenant,” he said when she picked up. “I’m sorry to call so late.”
She nearly interrupted him. “Are you in any danger?”
“No, no. I’m—I don’t suppose you’re free for a few minutes tonight. It’s for personal reasons, I’m afraid.”
She hesitated. She came over the line metallic and far away when she spoke, but her voice was warm. “Of course, sir. I have to take Hayate for a walk in a moment, but I should be free by the time you get here, if you’re at home.”
Roy had always found comfort in Riza’s small apartment. It was sparse, but somehow so imbued with the feeling of her that it was one of his favourite places to be, there with her heavy, practical dinnerware, well-chosen books and the faint smell of perfume and dog kibble. Riza answered the door in a big oxford and slacks, Hayate curled around her legs.
“Colonel.” She stepped out of the way to let him in. He shook the rain from his jacket and hung it on the rack by the door. “I’m going to admit up front, I have no idea what this is about.”
“It’s … I don’t know.”
Riza looked at him for a long, silent moment. Roy was so mentally exhausted that he felt like his face might drip off if he let it. Sympathy was blatant in Riza’s expression, but it didn’t bother him.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” she asked.
He sat at the table and watched her putter around the kitchen, boiling water and getting two mugs. She kept her tea bags in a sealed glass jar on the counter. He regretted coming. He couldn't tell if he was overreacting or underreacting, and both were bad.
“This … might sound overly sentimental, but are we friends?” he asked.
With the water set to boil, she took a seat across from him and again, she waited a long time before speaking.
“Of course we are. I will always be your friend, regardless of our relationship in a professional capacity.”
“I want you to understand, like always, that the moment you stop believing in me, I want you to leave my side. I can't think of anything worse in the entire world than you feeling any sort of obligation to stay here as my … my compatriot, and friend.”
She nodded seriously; he could tell that much without looking directly at her, which he couldn't do. “Always, sir.”
“Please don't call me sir here. I know it's a reflex, but—”
“Roy,” she said softly, heartbreakingly sincere. “What's going on?”
She’d seen him manic and broken but he didn't want her to see him like this, so unsure of himself that he couldn't exist in his own skin, with guilt stabbing him like a knife in between his ribs when he breathed. He couldn’t stand losing her, but the thought of keeping her under false pretenses—knowing that he’d done something over which she’d revoke friendship if she knew—was unbearable.
“I kissed Edward,” he said, more quietly than he'd ever spoken to her before.
Riza’s raised eyebrows asked a question all on their own.
“Edward … Hertzmann? In signal corps, on the third—”
“Elric,” he said. The surname hung heavy between them like it had hung between so many others before them. “But thank you for trying.”
He stared at his hands like they were the only interesting thing he'd ever seen. He squeezed his eyes shut and opened them and colourful spots danced across Riza’s folded fingers, across the tabletop from his own. He heard the slow, deep breath she took.
Roy nodded. “Or he kissed me, I don't know.”
He couldn’t tell her the whole truth. There was a mistake, a kiss, and then there were multiple kisses, a series of increasingly bigger mistakes leading to a quick, messy blowjob, a trembling hand combing through his hair, boots digging into his back.
Riza said, “You understand that you can't blame him. If he did … instigate … that he's—”
“I know what he is,” Roy snapped, and then folded. “I’m sorry.”
The heating kettle pinged as its metal expanded. Hayate’s nails clicked on the floor.
“Why?” Riza asked.
“I don't know. It was just—you heard about today? The Cumulonimbus Alchemist? I thought I was going to drown, and Edward was there—I honestly thought I was going to die, and he … saved me, I suppose.”
“It was in gratitude?”
Roy didn't say anything.
“Are you attracted to him?” she asked.
Roy picked at his thumb nail. Riza waited and waited and he didn't look up.
“Roy—May I call you Roy?”
“You already did.”
“May I keep calling you Roy?”
“Of course you can.”
“Roy. I’ve been your friend for many, many years, and we’ve—we’ve been through everything together, and I think … I'm not sure what to say.”
Roy scrubbed a hand over his face. “Understandable. Neither am I.”
“If you don't mind me asking, is this … is this something you've known?”
Roy didn't have to think for long. “I think so, yes. I mean, about …” He wanted to say that he was talking about Edward being Edward, a man, and not about how old he was, which neither of them could bear to bring up after Riza’s first aborted attempt. It was painful and humiliating and nothing Roy was ready to discuss; he wasn't quite old enough to be Ed’s father, but he was twice his age. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I came, I know there’s nothing—”
“Roy,” Riza said again, “it’s fine. Please. If nothing else, I’m glad that you trust me, although I don’t know how much help I can be.”
“I don’t know that there’s anything you can do.”
They sat in mutually agreed upon silence. Roy tried to slow his heart from its wild staccato of a beat. Riza stood up, went to the kettle, then turned back around.
“I trust that, if nothing else, you learn from your mistakes. And you look … safe, in any case,” she said.
“I mean I’m glad you aren’t more badly injured. I can only assume that Edward … did what he does. Hit you and screamed and possibly transmuted your shoes into something unpleasant.”
Roy didn’t mean to laugh. It was hoarse and tired and the furthest thing from amused. He ran his hands through his hair and left them there, holding his head.
“That would have been nice.”
“He wasn’t angry?”
“I don’t think so, no.”
“You don’t mean …”
The kettle started howling. Riza snapped the stove off and lifted the kettle to a different element, then turned her bright eyes back on Roy. He rubbed a hand over his jaw and fixed his gaze on the tarnished brass kettle, gushing steam into the room.
“He kissed me back.”
For Ed, all things in life could be divided neatly into two categories: things that were right, and things that were wrong. Things that were always right included himself, and things that were always wrong included murder, and every other possible occurrence could be placed exclusively into one of those two categories.
What happened with Roy necessitated the creation of a third category which, after some deliberation, Ed called Confusing Mistakes.
Assigning blame made him feel better about things, but he didn’t know whose fault this was. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. It was messy and weird and when he thought about it his stomach knotted up in a way that he really, really wasn’t used to, but it wasn’t bad, and he didn’t regret it. Even as he walked home in the rain afterwards and Roy was escorted to the military hospital, he thought, that was not a bad experience. At the same time, it was a mistake. It wasn’t the time or the place and he could have sworn that Roy didn’t look happy about it afterwards, not even a little. Ed knew a lot of things, but he didn’t know anything about making out or blowjobs or men in general. He couldn’t think his way out of it, so he hated it. He hated feeling like there was anything in life that he didn't understand, and he didn't understand Roy.
Roy. He rolled the name around in his head. Roy Mustang. “Roy,” he said out loud, testing out the word like a secret. “Mustang.” He was alone in the long, tiled bathroom in the barracks of Central, looking into a steamy mirror smudged by his palm. He shook his head hard. “Colonel,” he said. He couldn't remember a time that Roy had ever called him by his given name.
He headed back to his dorm with his towel slung over his shoulder. Al wasn’t in yet, but he said earlier that he was working on something and Ed was happy with that. He climbed into bed, top bunk, and tried to read, but he couldn’t concentrate. It felt like there were still hands around his hip bones and grabbing the backs of his thighs. He tongued the sore spot on his lower lip where Roy bit him in surprise and wished that there was anyone in the world he could tell about this without risking their respect or feeling like an uncomfortable burden. No one would believe him, anyways. He dropped his book over his face and resigned himself to his new life under the weight of this secret—he’d travel the countryside and take up smoking, play the harmonica and speak only in monosyllabic grunts, and when he was an old man holed up in a wine-soaked bar, he’d let slip to a stranger buying him beer that he’d spent his whole life chasing the high of his first blowjob when he was sixteen.
After a few weeks, he’d be able to look at Roy again, he was sure. They’d get back to normal. It would be awkward and he’d have to practice not blushing, but in the grand scheme of life, he figured, this was a speed bump. A hiccup. A passionate, awkward blowjob in the heat of the moment. One that Roy must have been eager to forget about, Ed told himself.
Al burst in the door and it slammed so loudly against the adjacent wall that Ed screamed, shot up and banged his head against the ceiling.
“Enter normally!” he howled, holding his head. His book had tumbled to the floor and he gestured at it, “Fix it, pick that up, the spine’ll crack.”
“There’s no time, Brother, I—oh, fine, it’s a library book.” Al snatched the book up and handed it back up to the top bunk. He brandished a stack of papers in Ed’s face. “I spent all day down in the labs and there was this nice old man who told me all these things, I took so many notes my hand would hurt if it could and oh my God, Brother, you will not believe where we get to go!”
Ed blinked. “Go?”
“Well, obviously I want your input, but I really don’t think I’m wrong about this one and with things getting so tense here, politically, I feel like maybe it’s a good time to get out of here for a little while and we’re at a bit of a dead end here anyways, not to be rude, so—”
“I haven’t bought train tickets yet because I wanted to talk to you, and it would be a train and then a boat and then another series of trains, but you’re nothing if not up for everything, so I spoke to the lady down at the station and she has a couple tickets on hold for us if we want them, first thing tomorrow, and—oh, God, we have so much packing to do, I’m so excited! We’ll send a letter to the Colonel and his men, they’ve been so nice to us and I feel bad just leaving like—”
Ed swung his bare feet over the side of the bed, bapped Al in the shoulder and laughed. “God, now you’re getting me excited, would you calm down for a minute? What are you talking about, where are we going?”
Al whirled around and shoved his stack of papers into Ed’s hands. “Canitova.”
Two weeks passed after the Cumulonimbus Alchemist was apprehended and neither of the Elric brothers had been to Central. This wasn’t out of the ordinary—they showed up loudly and suddenly, like party noisemakers—and Roy did his best not to think about it. He’d feel worse about being the reason for Ed’s absence if there were any leads for him in Central, which there weren’t, and if Ed didn’t tote chaos around with him on every visit, which he did.
Ed’s absence was easy, but everything else was hard. Roy didn’t speak to Riza about him again. He slept poorly and avoided socializing, tried and failed not to be crushed under the enormity of what he’d done. He replayed every second of it in his head; Ed’s face in his hands, his coarse, glossy hair, his grabby hands and choked-back swears. The damp, claustrophobic darkness and the smell of earth and peat. Guilt sounded like the clink of metal fingers in his hair. It tasted bitter and bleachy in the back of his throat.
Roy went a month without saying Ed’s name or title out loud to anyone, not bringing him up once even in casual conversation. It wasn’t difficult to do because despite what it felt like sometimes, the world didn’t revolve around Edward Elric—or, not often. And then it was early autumn, and the Elric brothers still hadn’t returned. The days were getting shorter and Roy peeled himself out of bed before the sun rose and made it into his office with ten minutes to compose himself before a meeting over coffee with Brigadier General Harrogate. He slicked his hair back and took his coffee black as a power move. He had a reuben for lunch from a new truck down the street from headquarters, and it wasn’t the best but it wasn’t awful, either. It was Havoc’s comment that he had inhaled the sandwich that made him think of Ed.
Riza was out of the room. Roy drew a long line in the margin of a report he was studying as he said, carefully, “It’s been quiet around here, hasn’t it? The Elric brothers must be due for a visit soon. I think they can sense when things are running too smoothly without them.”
Falman said, “I don’t imagine they’d be back this soon, Colonel. The trip to the coast alone could have taken this long if they went through Creta, and—well, now that I think about it, I’m not sure how long the crossing itself would take.”
“I’ll look it up,” Fuery chimed in.
Roy sat up. “The crossing?”
“Yes, sir. Of the ocean.”
Roy dropped his pen.
“Please tell me you know there’s an ocean on the other side of Creta,” Havoc drawled. “You’re gonna be a terrible Fuhrer if you don’t know geography outside Amestris. They’ll call you out on that real quick.”
“Of course I know there’s an ocean there,” Roy snapped, “I didn’t—”
“Oh, you didn’t hear about the kids,” Breda said; Roy hoped everyone missed his wince. “Yeah, Lieutenant Samson heard from Major Kaufman, who was chatting up one of the chicks from the library, that Ed and Al are in Canitova. Or on their way there, anyways.”
Roy’s first thought was: Oh my God, I scared him off the continent.
“For research purposes?” he asked.
“What else? I don’t know the specifics. Some kinda lead, an old scientist out there who’s got … something. I have no idea, to be honest. I imagine we’ll get at least one poorly-penned postcard from Elric the Elder in the next couple of years.”
Havoc scoffed. “You know he won’t write. It’ll be from Alphonse.”
Years. Roy sucked his teeth.
“They’ll be lucky if they don’t get eaten by a bear,” Breda said. “From what I’ve heard, the colonies are still pretty backwater.”
“Under development,” Fuery chided. “They’re homesteaders, they’re carving a new frontier in the name of—”
“Yeah, yeah. Well, if anyone can survive the wilderness, though, it’s those two, eh? Drop ‘em in the middle of anywhere and they’ve got it covered.”
“Yes,” Roy said slowly. He flipped through the remaining pages of his report; fourteen and a half. He was more exhausted than he’d been a moment ago. “I’m sure they do.”
Chapter 2: there
there are bits of struck-out text in this chapter. it's stated in the text what they're supposed to be, but i'll also say: in the original document, i had them as black-highlight text, so it looked like a black block til you highlighted it and then you could read what was underneath. in the story, they can't read that text at all.
and: if it's not clear, letter text in square brackets are decoded ciphers. for your reading pleasure. i wouldn't make you use a decoder.
those sound complicated but they'll make sense once you start reading. and thank you to everyone for your kind words on the last chapter
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The grimy port cities of Canitova’s east coast reeked of fish and diesel. The streets were chaos compared to the white-picket fences and immaculate thoroughfares of Central City and people shouted in a nasal foreign tongue that the language books the brothers pored over on their trip did little to illuminate. A month after they left, they’d reached the new continent and trekked through Halvor, the city their steamship docked in, and came out the other side. Thick forest stretched endlessly past city limits and they hacked their way through it, Al with a massive rucksack strapped to his back, Ed wearing a smaller one.
“So we’re going how far?” Ed asked, not for the first time. He ducked under a springy branch, pulled it back and let it smack against Al’s breastplate. Al didn’t notice.
“Almost to the other side, Brother.”
“And how far’s that?”
“There aren’t any good maps yet, I told you. Think of it like … three Amestrises across, maybe.”
“Jesus. That’s excessive.”
“You love the wilderness!”
“I love the countryside! That’s different.”
“I think you just love to complain.”
Ed had a cedar bough strapped to the top of his rucksack because he liked the smell and it swished against branches as he moved and ducked, forging ahead of Al, his boots disappearing into the underbrush of brambles and pine needles and rich, black soil. All they’d seen for days was untamed forest, not even a path to walk, cut here and there by cliffs or rivers or streams. Ed did like to complain. The truth was: he was having a good time. He’d never been so far from home in his life and it was exhilarating, being so far removed from everything he knew. And everything he could use a break from.
“You’re right,” he said, almost rolling his ankle on a boulder. “This is great.”
They hacked clearings to set up camp at dusk every night, cramming together under a shoddy pup tent even though Al insisted he didn’t need cover (“We’ll be doing this for a while,” Ed said, “You’ll rust” ). Two months in, following vague directions and an impeccable compass, marking their path with paint on trees, they had yet to run into any other humans since leaving the coast. It was the first clear night after a string of stormy days and Ed lied on his bedroll next to their campfire, staring up at a patch of starry sky winking through the canopy of trees.
“We know where we’re going, right?” he asked, his voice soft. Al was sitting against a tree behind him, trying, like he did most nights, to whittle. Ed could hear the scraping of his pocket knife and crackle-splinter of dry wood.
“Mostly,” Al said. “We know we’re heading for that settlement on the lake. So when we hit the lake, we just follow the shoreline. It’s supposed to be a very big lake.”
“And we’ll get there before we run out of food.”
“If you stop going nuts on that meat-and-berry stuff we bought in Halvor, yes.” His knife went shhkk, shhkk. “Perks of not eating—we pack for one.”
“Don’t talk about perks.”
“I’m allowed! They make me feel better. I feel helpful.”
“Not eating isn’t helpful.”
“It’s okay that it is. Don’t feel bad.”
Ed didn’t say anything. A wispy cloud blocked his view of the stars and he turned on his side. Al’s armour glowed warm in the firelight, his helmet bent studiously towards the scrap of wood in his massive leather hands.
“You think we can send letters when we get there?”
Al hummed in assent. “They’ll have a trading post, as far as I know. Some kind of communication, anyways.” Shhkk, shhkk. “We’d better write. If Winry didn’t get the note I sent before she left, she’ll be going ballistic by this point.” He looked up. “You left a message for the Colonel’s unit, right?”
Ed rolled back over. His ears went red at the mention of Roy, but trusted that Al couldn’t see him in the dark. “Sure.”
“I absolutely did.”
“What business is it of theirs, anyways? I’m not really part of the military anyways, that’s just a formality, and this isn’t on their dime, so what does it matter?”
“They’re our friends!”
Ed scoffed. “It’s a relationship of mutual convenience, that’s all. I know it, they know it. I want their government money, resources and a free pass into wherever-the-fuck-I-want, and they want to keep the world’s best alchemist on a short leash. Tit for tat.”
Al was quiet for a moment. His whittling stopped. “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because they light up whenever we visit. You can see that, right? If it were all business, they wouldn’t bother talking to you. Everyone gets out of their chairs and ruffles your hair and asks for stories, and didn’t Havoc take you for beer that one time?”
“I mean, I wish he hadn’t, but they do like us, I swear it. Even the Colonel, as much as he bothers you.”
“I don’t think he likes anything that doesn’t benefit him in some way.”
“That’s a lie and you know it.” Al went back to whittling. “The only reason you don’t like him is ‘cause he’s so much like you. ”
Ed sputtered incoherently and tried to kick his blanket off.
Al said, “Oh my God, don’t get up, you’ll hurt yourself in the dark.”
“Him and I are nothing alike!”
“You are, too! I’m not taking it back.”
“I’ve got nothing in common with that old fuckin’ man.”
“Would you grow up? I don’t think he’s even thirty. Just you watch—when you’re older, it’ll feel like you’re the same age, and you’ll be like old friends. You’ll be old men going for coffee together. Yelling at each other like children, the way you do. Just watch.”
Ed flopped back down on his bedroll. The cloud passed and the stars came back out.
Al sighed. He set his work down and poked at their dwindling campfire with a long stick. “Well, I wouldn’t mind him here, that’s for sure. He’d boss us around, but I bet we’d have a great fire.”
Ed buried his hands in his hair, greasy and tangled from their weeks of travel. He said, “Me neither, I guess,” too quiet to be sure that Al had heard.
The days got even shorter and the nights were colder, but it hadn’t snowed yet. Ed ate less pemmican and the sole of his left boot wore through to the heel. Two hours after starting out at dawn on their seventy-third day—Al was keeping track—they hit water.
“We’re already on the other side,” Ed said, awestruck. “This is an ocean.”
Al insisted, “We’re not. It’s just a lake.”
The lake extended gold and silver and shimmering into the horizon, hedged in by thick, black forest and craggy rocks, glowing in the early morning sun.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Al mumbled, taking his notebook out. “Incredible.”
Ed perched on a boulder while Al sketched the lake view. He pulled their compass out of his pocket and watched the needle flicker and move as he turned it.
“We head left, along here, if we’re going North.”
“Mmhm,” Al hummed, still hunched over his book. “Shouldn’t be long, now.”
“Do you think they’ll have running water?”
“I somehow doubt it.”
“Well, I’m setting up a heating-array bathtub-thing. I forget what a hot bath feels like, I smell like roadkill.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” Al straightened up and tucked his notebook and pencil back into his rucksack, then slung it over his shoulder. “If we’re lucky, we’ll get there by midday.”
Ed picked up a sharp stone and scratched letters into the boulder he crouched on. E.E. OCTOBER 1915.
Snow fell in Central two days before Christmas. It squeaked under Roy’s boots as he walked with his hands jammed in the pockets of his greatcoat, its collar turned up against the wind. It was seven in the morning and still dark, bitterly cold, everything silent and pristine under the fresh snow. His mind churned with a thousand things at once—gifts he hadn't bought yet, planning to be done going into the new year, things he was late on handing in and things he hadn’t even started—and it was suffocating. His office was empty and he hung up his coat, sat heavily and closed his eyes for a long, long time. It had been a grueling autumn and would be an even worse winter. There was a stack of mail on the corner of his desk two feet high and he started to sort them for something to do with his hands. He filed them into official correspondence, both important and not, personal correspondence, reports and invoices. The envelopes were all crisp and white and bore the insignia of the Amestris military. Letter, bill, contract, forms, bill, contract.
He nearly dropped a letter that seemed to dissolve in his hands.
The envelope was shoddy and brown and torn on two corners. Written in the centre in scratchy calligraphy was COLONEL MUSTANG and his office mailing address. The postage stamp wasn’t one he recognized, and there was no return address.
He edged the back open with his nail. The paper inside was also somehow dirty. Words were crammed onto the page from top to bottom, scattered with drawings and diagrams, and Roy didn’t recognize the writing, but it immediately became apparent who had sent it.
Al says you’re supposed to start letters with the date so people know when you wrote it. It’s November 2nd but Al says it’s the 3rd. He might be right. No idea how long it takes letters to get so far or if they ever take em over the ocean but I guess I can try. A fur trader comes once a month and takes people’s letters and stuff but it’s mostly only Al and I who’re sending anything, everyone else is trading beads and pots for fur and blocks of fat and shit, so who knows, maybe I’ll be back by the time you get this.
It’s nuts here. We hiked for 2 months and hit the shore of this MASSIVE lake, it looks like an ocean, and we’re staying at this settlement that’s just like four houses big. We had to build our own cabin but that was easy (drawing of cabin here —> not very good) I made a wood stove and then everyone wanted one so now everyone’s got a wood stove. The cabin’s sweet though it’s one of those pointy ones. I’d say you’d love it but I don’t really know what you love, or anything about you. Write me back and tell me a story you wouldn’t tell me to my face (writing the mailing route on the back)
I know back home botanical alchemy is hippy garbage but it’s fucking wild here. That’s how it works here, not flowers but like trees? They pull energy from the rings of trees and they’re so big here, the oldest biggest trees I’ve ever seen, I’ve been out taking measurements and some of em are 10 metres around, not even joking. Everything’s just forest and when you’re out there you can feel the air humming with energy like bedrock does back home. I don’t know much else than that, that it’s a tree thing, cause we’ve been working our dicks off trying to help out with mundane shit. Doesn’t do us any good if the locals don’t like us. We’re doing jobs in exchange for food and that’s pretty sweet, everyone likes Al cause he’s so big and carries a lot of shit. I had to learn how to skin a deer. Upsetting
Did I tell you why we went? (sorry) Al found all this stuff about botanical alchemy and a professor who lives way in the west, got exiled from Amestris years ago (I never heard of him) and joined the colonies here, supposed to be a big city on the west coast someplace, and Al found his research about tapping trees and thinks what he was getting at (but he didn’t say) was philosopher’s stones, like there’s a way to pull them from the earth+trees w/o humans, death, etc. I read some of it and it’s a lot of mother nature garbage but what are you gonna do right. Al’s super into it.
They do their arrays different here too by the way and I’m trying to learn but no one in our camp really knows alchemy and my Canitovish is fucking shit. Getting better. Gonna forget it all when I get home but it’s still good. Wish I knew more languages. Big surprise Al’s better with it than I am haha.
Maybe it’ll be Christmas when you get this. Or New Year’s? Happy New Year then. Christ it hurts my hand to write this much you’d better be grateful. Like i said i put where you should address your letter to me to on the back of one of these. If you want. genuinely don’t know how the mail works here so if you don’t hear from me i’m a) dead b) not in a mail zone, so whatever don’t write if you don’t want. but Also give me your home address I don’t want the military reading my letters and you KNOW they go through your shit constantly and speaking of which I might be gone for a long time so I’m expecting you to be at least a couple ranks up by the time I get back. That’s do-able, right? Don’t mention it if you write, I wanna be surprised.
Roy did the math: it had taken the letter almost two months to get to Central City. He was surprised that it had made it at all; the address Ed had scrawled on the back made no sense to him, but he trusted that it meant something in Canitova. He pulled a sheet of official letterhead from his top drawer and started writing.
I’m writing to you on December 23, which is the day I received your letter. Because you will most definitely receive this letter in the new year, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I hope you and Alphonse got a moment of rest to enjoy the holidays, if they celebrate such things in Canitova.
Canitova sounds mesmerizing. I’ve never deeply studied botanical alchemy, but I’ve heard about the possibility of energy in rings of trees. I look forward to reading your research notes on the matter. Congratulations on the cabin and wood stoves, I’m sure they appreciate your help. I’m afraid I don’t have any wild and interesting tales from Central. It snowed today. Havoc is dating a woman Breda introduced him to, and Breda says that this means Havoc owes him favours for the duration of the relationship. Fuery moved into a larger apartment. My desk is a mess.
I’ve attached my home mailing address, but I hate to break it to you, I think my mail is searched regardless. Not to deter you from writing.
A story: When I was fourteen years old, a friend’s older brother offered to buy us a jug of lager, at twelve in the afternoon. It was warm and disgusting. We were piss drunk within the hour, and my friend’s mother was picking us up in her car. As soon as I got in, I knew I was going to be sick, but I didn’t want her to know we’d been drinking, so I vomited down the sleeve of my own shirt. Hope that will suffice. When I told that to Maes, he laughed so hard whiskey came out his nose.
Best of luck in your travels,
Roy stared down at the finished letter and realized, reading it over, that he’d never really spoken to Ed before, not without a purpose in mind. Personal correspondence was different, with no reason to write except that you wanted to, and he did want to. He knew he came off stilted, but didn’t know how to fix it. He folded up the letter, wrapped it in an extra sheet of paper and tucked it into an envelope. He went down to the post office and mailed it personally, paying extra for priority shipping, although he wasn’t sure how much that would count overseas.
Jan. 13–16, 1916 (continued discrepancy over date)
Your puke story is the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever read. I’d read it to Al but I don’t want him to know I’m writing you (nothing personal). I can’t believe there was a time when you weren’t a smug asshole. Were you a shitty kid? I bet I could’ve kicked your ass if we were the same age. Not that I also can’t kick your ass now.
Cabin burnt down. It was exactly 33% my fault. I like to think everyone was impressed cause there’s 2 feet of snow here and it still managed to burn down, but mostly I think they were mad? This was 2 weeks ago and we headed out from there, west, to find this guy and maybe somewhere bigger where they know more about alchemy. We were there for a couple months and I forgot how much it fucking sucks to trek through the woods—like I don’t mean a shitty logging trail, even, I mean UNTAMED WILDERNESS. You gotta climb over stuff constantly, we’re forging a path. I want something to get named after us. We’re pioneers. Elric Gulch. New Elricton. This has nothing to do with anything but my hair is disgusting, I’m keeping it twisted and pinned back just so it doesn’t touch me. Gross
I’ve been taking notes and measurements and stuff on the trees here (attached) hold onto my notes for me, some of them are just “need to know” things that i don’t have to keep here, so start me a filing cabinet or something. Also stuff written in red are parts I need you to look up (no books here) so do that by the time you write back and send em to me. If they’re good enough you can co-author a poncy academic paper with me.
Anyways we found another little settlement, which is why I can write (new address on back; might take longer to get to). This one’s in a big valley someplace, things are getting flatter now. This one’s about 5 or 6 cabins and a smokehouse, trade furs like the last place. They don’t like us much I don’t think so we’re camping just nearby for now, no cabin, but my Canitovish is getting better so that helps. Less flailing (LESS not none) but they don’t like how big Al is I think. The armour or whatever. Keep asking him to take it off. They definitely know something about b. alchemy here, though, cause their cabins are made of trees in a way you couldn’t do by hand, all bent up and stuff. It’s pretty.
Ok I was complaining about the wilderness but it’s actually really cool. It’s so silent everywhere but at the same time so LOUD, with animal sounds and bugs and water. The snow makes everything quiet. I’m writing this sitting next to our fire, which is always going. It’s fucking freezing, I’ve got like 4 coats on (well not coats. Furs? We got them at the last place) and I have to keep heating Al’s joints or he freezes up. But it’s really nice. Blue skies here, not gloomy like Central’s winters.
You realize we’ve never had a real conversation, right? I mean, why would we, but still. Tell me stuff about you. Real things.
Dead & frozen probably,
March 21, 1916
Your letter arrived so wrecked and stained that the mail carrier had it in a plastic bag. I’m glad they’re not coming to my office, I’m not sure what anyone would think. Speaking of which, correct me if I’m wrong, but I notice you haven’t been writing letters to my unit. Consider it, or ask Alphonse to. Everyone’s too proud to say they’d like to hear from you, but they obviously do.
I was something of a shitty kid, yes, in the way that any young hotshot thinks he’s the second coming of Christ, despite his obvious flaws. I’m sure you know all about that. Remember that until you, I was the youngest ever state alchemist. I certainly had a complex about it.
In any case, I’d be honoured to co-author an academic paper on botanical alchemy, but I’m not sure that I’ll be as qualified on the subject as you. I’m sending this a week after your letter arrived, and I spent my evenings in the library looking up those texts you asked for. Relevant passages have been copied out in the attached folder and I think you’ll find that the arrays are perfectly composed, geometry-wise. Hope they serve your purpose.
I took some time to consider what kind of things to tell you, regarding your last letter. I don’t think there’s much to me, but I’ll try. Not to start off on a morbid note, but my parents died when I was very young and I was raised by my father’s sister. If my apartment building was burning down and I could save one thing, I’d pick my phonograph. I have an extensive comic book collection. I listen to the radio every night as I go to sleep. When I was a teenager, I had long hair. I lie about my height on official military documents. Hope that’s what you were looking for. Your turn.
I have a feeling that my letters will always be shorter than yours, which makes sense, as you’re the one travelling. Thank you for allowing me to live vicariously through you. I’m up to my throat in political drama lately, but I won’t bore you with the details. You asked me not to tell, if I remember correctly.
May 1-ish, 1916
HOW TALL ARE YOU? I think the best thing about growing up has been realizing that you’re not that tall at ALL, for an adult. When I was a kid you looked like a giant but you’re not even that much taller than me. You’re as tall as Lieutenant Hawkeye, aren’t you (how is she by the way?) Tell me how tall you say you are and how tall you actually are. In numbers. I made Al measure me last week and we don’t have anything accurate but he says I’ve grown. Not surprising (also I’m 17 now. Al has gotten real good at carving and made me a little wooden horse for my birthday. He’s the best.)
The notes were good, thanks. It’s so weird to describe how the energy runs through you here, like the biggest trees are these pillars of power. Like lightning rods! It’s absolutely fucking fascinating. Everyone we’ve spoken to about it says that’s how it’s done, energy drawn from the rings in trees, and that you’ve gotta be … in tune, or something? With the trees? I’m working on it. It’s hard to tell what’s lore+culture and what’s science but the feeling you get is so powerful (smaller population? Less drawing at it maybe?) that it’s so unruly, at least compared to back home. It crackles inside you.
With that being said—we’re nowhere near any trees right now. Did you know Canitova has PLAINS ? Last month we hit this big flat area and it’s just grass and tiny copses of trees and I haven’t seen a hill in weeks. Not a single slope. I bitched about hiking but fuck, this is boring. Finally not so cold anymore but it’s insanely dry here. The people here are different too. I didn’t know they spoke more than one language here and now I’m fucked, no language books either this time. They get Canitovish better than Amestrian, but it’s still a slog. Trying to pick up what I can. I’ve got my automail almost permanently in a scythe for hacking down tall grass (drawing on left. how sweet is that thing??). They dry it to make hay and weave it and stuff, so at least that’s helpful. Gonna try to keep heading west ASAP, so I don’t know when you’ll hear from me again.
So—my turn, eh? I don’t know what you wanna hear but whatever. I wear my hair in a bun when no one’s around. I really want a pet dog. I used to love novels but don’t read them much anymore. I pretend to like coffee to make myself seem older. Sometimes I get embarrassed that Al is obviously already (and going to be even more when he gets his body back) the better brother. Both my parents were tall so I don’t know what happened to me. I wish I knew more about physics. When I was a kid I had a crush on one of Pinako’s clients and would loiter around like an idiot on days I knew he was getting work done (automail hand). And when I was 8 I gave the lady who worked at the flower shop in town a note that said DO YOU LIKE ME YES/NO then ran away.
Speaking of which. I wonder if you actually know any useful military stuff or if you just got to where you are on your good looks and charm. I’ll give you the key this time. It’s BASTARD.
It was a Friday night when Roy got Ed’s letter. He sat at his kitchen table and squinted at the last lines, thought he might be having a stroke until he understood: it was a fractionating transposition cipher, the kind used by the front lines of the Amestris military, easy to convey over morse and difficult to crack. A lifetime ago, Roy had learned it as part of his early military training, but he hadn’t had a reason to use it in years. It didn’t surprise him for a second that Ed knew how it worked.
He considered asking Fuery, who practically dreamt in ciphers, to decrypt it for him, but he couldn’t be sure of what it said. It was more likely than not that Ed was just fucking with him and the decrypted text would be a colourful insult, but that speaking of which in the prior paragraph spoke volumes. The good looks and charm, dripped with sarcasm but was, contextually, enough to give him pause.
Roy knew he wasn’t going to get any sleep until he decoded it.
He felt guilty for ordering that a library book be delivered to his home immediately, but he wasn’t sure that it officially counted as an abuse of power, and he tipped the courier well. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he remembered how to use the cipher—at least Ed had given him the keyword and that was half the battle—but as it was, he was going in a decade cold. He had a bath, changed into cotton boxers, an old sweatshirt and wool socks, put on a pot of coffee and settled into the armchair in his study with a notebook, Ed’s letter and Introduction to Amestrian Military Cryptography, 1850–1910.
It was simple enough once you got the concept down: the letters A, D, F, G, X arranged on a five-by-five grid, and on each square of the grid, a corresponding letter of the alphabet, from A to Z. Not knowing what key square Ed used—the order of the alphabet within the square—he could only assume they were alphabetical. He scribbled each letter in. On another page, he wrote B A S T A R D, and under that, the corresponding sets of letters that matched the grid. Columnar transposition. Then fractionating, moving things around—or was it un-fractionating when decrypting? It was slow-going, three coffees worth, but in the end he got a string of seemingly intelligible letters. He wrote them out again to make sure, adding spaces.
are we going to talk about it or do you want to pretend it didnt happen i can do either
Roy’s heart did a backflip. It twisted up like it was being wrung out to dry, seized up, stopped beating entirely for some of the longest moments of his life. He put his pen down, took one breath, two, three, and his life continued, time rolled on.
He kissed Ed—Edward, Fullmetal—in August. It had been nine months of silence and letters and silence and letters, talking about everything except the last time they saw each other. If he were on the phone to Ed, he would have blurted out exactly what he was thinking—that Ed’s letters were the best part of his month, that Ed was one of the brightest, most interesting people he knew, that he had started to miss him bitterly and that against his best efforts, against logic and hope and everything else that told him anything of worth, he still wanted him. He'd tell him that this was something inside him that was always more convenient to shut down, a blacked-out sector of not now and not ever that interfered with his aspirations, and that Ed was the last person he ever thought would bring it out in him. But there he was, up at midnight, cracking ciphers for him.
The thought that Ed wanted to talk about what happened but would keep quiet if that's what Roy wanted gnawed at him. He had no idea what to say. He poured another cup of coffee, sat back down, and started working out his own encryption. As if Ed would accept any less.
“I can do that for you,” Al said.
Ed was sitting on a tree stump outside their cabin, trimming his own hair with two fingers on his right hand transmuted into scissor blades.
“It’s alright. You’d have to find scissors.”
“You always make the end crooked when you pull it over your shoulder.”
“Well, you can even it out after.”
The mountain air was cold and thin, even in July. Their cabin was an a-frame on the outskirts of a small settlement in the foothills of a mountain range that, according to Al’s maps, stretched North to South across almost all of Canitova. Al stood a few paces from their cabin, holding a bundle of gnarled logs.
“You’ve been keeping your hair longer,” Al said, awkward. “Looks okay.”
He walked up and dumped the wood at Ed’s feet. “And you’ve been snippy lately. No pun intended.”
Ed huffed and took an inch off the lock he was holding. “I don’t know. Sorry.”
“It’s fine, I’m just saying. I know this has all been … a lot. I miss home, too.”
“I don’t miss anything.”
Al sat heavy in the dirt, the plume of his helmet billowing in the wind. “Brother, come on. It’s okay.”
Ed dropped his hair, half cut and jagged. His under-eyes were dark and tired and his hair, even the part that was cut, reached the middle of his ribs.
“It’s just—we’ve been here for fuckin’ I don’t even know how long—”
“—ten months, and we haven’t even met this guy yet.”
“Well, he’s on the west coast.”
“And we’re so far from home, like—what if we can’t get back? What if we find this guy and he doesn’t have anything to tell us?”
Al shrugged. “Then … then we ruled out another possibility, that’s all. That’s life.”
“I mean it, though. What’s bothering you?”
“Nevermind. I won’t pry.” Al hauled himself to his feet. “Please let me finish your hair, we have a knife inside. You’ll butcher it.”
Ed resigned himself to the haircut and sat with his hands on his knees as Al carefully trimmed the rest of it with a small, sharp knife they’d gotten in their first months on the continent. Trading had been easy with all the objects they could make from seemingly nothing. The day had been quiet, Al collecting wood to chop for their stove, Ed doing what laundry he could in a stream that ran down into the village. It was getting warm out, the first week where Ed hadn’t had to wear a sweater. He didn’t miss winter. Traveling through summer heat would be a different kind of hell.
Tumbling stones alerted them to a visitor. Al whirled around, still holding the knife, and the Canitovan man coming up the path behind their cabin startled and held his hands up.
“Sorry!” he said in the language that they’d encountered since the plains, which sounded more like Xingese than Canitovish or Amestrian. Both brothers were still struggling with it.
“Sorry!” Al yelped back, dropping the knife. “Sorry, um—hello, good morning—”
The man reached into his backpack and pulled a parcel out. Ed leapt off his stump.
“Mail! They actually got all the way out here, holy shit, thank you,” he said to the man, who smiled at his stunted accent and handed the letters over. Two for Al and one for Ed.
July 3rd, 1916
I am five-foot seven. Official documents say I’m five-foot eight or nine. I can’t remember which, nor do I remember exactly why I lied, besides thinking that no one would respect a five-seven Fuhrer. I’m sure you can sympathize. Congratulations on the new height.
I hope you’re nearing your goal. A year’s worth of travel would be exhausting for anyone, even you. Tell me what Canitovan summers are like; it’s as muggy and hot here as ever. There was an … incident here last month. Everyone you know is fine. Not to scare you, but things might be different when you get back.
There's no better brother between you and Alphonse. You know that, don't you? You're very much a unit. Like trying to play favourites between the sun and the moon.
I’m sorry that you will have waited months to get back such a short letter. I find myself at a loss for words, as you can probably imagine. Thank you for the decryption work, you always keep me on my toes. Your keyword is hidden in this letter.
Ed was so nervous about Roy’s response that he tucked the letter away and didn’t read it until nightfall, sitting cross legged in front of the glowing stove in their cabin with the smell of cedar filling the room. He bit his cheek to keep from smiling; he wasn’t always great with people, but he knew a change in tone when he read it, he knew Edward and Roy and that loss for words. He fished his notebook out of his rucksack and started making a grid, slotting in the letters where they fell. He pored over Roy’s letter again and again to find the keyword until he noticed that four letters and only four letters in the note were written with a heavier hand, more bold—they spelled HOME.
He furiously started decrypting Roy’s three lines of code in the low light, smiling to himself. It took him an hour, and he didn’t get up once. In the end, it read:
i cant apologize enough if i forced you into what happened
its all ive been thinking about
not the way it should have gone
“Did she send you a crossword puzzle or something?” Al said from the doorway. He’d been out gathering their dry laundry and the sound startled Ed into dropping his book.
“What? Did who what?”
“Winry. You started scribbling right after you read it, so I thought maybe she sent something for you. Unless you’re just starting your reply.”
Ed was bad at lying on his feet and stared and stared and stared at Al, trying to think of a way out of lying that didn’t involve telling the truth.
“If that is who you’ve been writing,” Al added. “I guess I just assumed. You never show me your letters but you’ve been getting them this whole time, so I just figured. You glow for days after.”
Ed scowled down at his lap. “I do not glow. You haven’t read your letters yet and you got two , big shot.”
“I like to save them for later,” Al said, shutting the door behind him. “It’s so nice to get them. They should be savoured.” He picked his letters up off the table in the corner of the cabin and sat on the bed to read them. Ed stared down at his workbook. It’s all I’ve been thinking about. Paper crinkling as Al slit his envelopes open, paper crinkling as he read them.
“Oh,” Al said. He paused. More paper crinkling. “Winry says you haven’t written her yet.”
Ed held his breath. He didn’t look up.
“Right,” he said tightly.
He swore he could feel Al looking at him. Roy’s words moved on the paper below him. I find myself at a loss for words. HOME. He had wanted to tell Al for months because secrets were a specific kind of cancer and the two of them were all each other had, they couldn’t afford to hide anything, but he couldn’t get it right. He’d spent months thinking about how to phrase it but with so much uncertain, the thought of telling Al everything—that he wanted Roy and probably even liked him, if their letters were any indication of how a real conversation would go, but he wasn’t sure that they were—only to have it go to shit when they got back to Amestris was beyond humiliating. He wasn’t so naive to think that Roy would want to date him, and explaining something like that to his smart-as-a-whip but incurably idealistic little brother was nothing he wanted to do.
Al sighed his tinny sigh.
“I know you’re only a year older than me, but you’re turning into a weird, cryptic teenager way faster than I am. But, I know I’m supposed to be accommodating, so I’ll respect your privacy.”
Ed let go of the breath he’d been holding. “I don’t deserve you.”
“I know,” Al said, without a trace of malice.
FIVE SEVEN ISN’T EVEN TALL. That's great. And what do you mean, an incident? Tell me! And what's FINE? You’re being weird.
Anyways, sorry it’s been so long. I’m sure that silence freaked you out but we fucking MADE IT and we were in the mountains since I got your last letter so I couldn’t send another, and now we’re on the west coast and I’ve never been so exhausted in my life.
Somehow we didn’t think about this but since Professor Dwyer (guy we’ve been looking for)’s notes were in Amestrian, he obviously fuckin speaks Amestrian, he’s not from here. I forgot about that part, so we get there, and the settlement on the coast is called Austrir and they all speak Amestrian. It’s not old like Halvor (big city on other coast) so everyone still speaks Amestrian and consider themselves Amestrian, they’re just like, over here. Colonists. It’s still pretty rural (cabins and stuff) but they’ve got generators and gas lamps which is more than what’s been at the camps we bopped between on the way here.
We’ve only been here for two days as of me writing this. Since it’s been so long I didn’t want to
worry you bother you, so I thought I’d get it out of the way. The letter I mean. We’ve talked to Dwyer a bit and can you fucking believe he’s HEARD OF US? Al and I. Al lost his shit. Dwyer’s old and a little weird in that way that science types are, but he seems like a chill guy. Taking us under his wing sort of thing, showing us the stuff he does with trees. He’s got these massive plots of forest all marked out, and there’s all this … stuff? Between the trees? I didn’t get a close look. Christ it’s good to be talking Amestrian again, though, that was rough. Getting cold here again but I’m hoping it’s not as bad as last winter by the lake.
You say there's no better brother but Al’s so charming. He doesn't get mad like I do. He can talk to girls. Everyone's just blinded by my good hair.
How have you been? I can’t believe it’s been over a year that we’ve been gone. It sounds like things are rough back home but I hope everything’s alright. And how’s the Lieutenant’s dog? And also her. And you, I guess. Next letter’ll be longer and I’ll probably need you to look stuff up for me but for now that’s it.
I’m sure the cuteness of cryptography has worn off but I feel like we should keep using it if you were serious about the military reading your mail. Keyword hidden.
[i dont regret it]
[tell me how youd rather it have gone]
Why do you and other people send letters that end in “best”? It’s weird.
November 12, 1916
“Best” is a sort of shorthand for “all the best.” It doesn’t make a lot of sense on its own, you’re right. And regarding “Colonel”—I didn’t think I’d have to tell you it’s alright if you call me Roy, but: you’re officially welcome to call me Roy. And you’ve never scratched out text in your letters before. You're very thorough, I can't see what you'd written at all. Consider using pencil if you're so nervous. With that being said, I’m quite sure I’m being kept under surveillance (I’ll explain later) so maybe this is best. Make sure the keys you’re picking are only things that I would find.
It doesn’t surprise me that Professor Dwyer knew of you. The few times I’ve travelled out of country and been introduced as an Amestris state alchemist, people have asked if I know the Elric brothers. Your reputation precedes you.
Tell me about Austrir. What’s the governance like in the colonies? Is it centralized? Collective? How does Dwyer fund his projects? The idea of leaving Amestris to pursue life elsewhere is fascinating—being able to pick up everything and go. What about their currency? I realize these things don’t interest you, but I’m beyond curious.
Lieutenant Hawkeye is doing well. Worn a bit thin, I believe, but you know how she is, it’s hard to tell. I took her to dinner last week and we stayed up until two in the morning afterwards, playing cribbage and drinking scotch at her apartment. I like to think it helped her mental state. She could learn to have fun. Hayate was also there, but he did not drink scotch or play crib.
As for myself, life has been unimaginably difficult this year. Sometimes I feel like your letters are the only thing keeping my feet on the ground—remembering that life marches on outside the confines of this country and you’re there in the thick of it, thousands of kilometers away. I look forward to hearing about your research with Dwyer and wish you the best of luck in your work. With the distance you’ve gone, now, I suppose it’s officially a “quest,” isn’t it? Best of luck in your quest. Give Alphonse (your other half and your equal, neither lesser nor greater) my regards.
When are you coming back?
P.S. When is your birthday? If you don’t mind me asking. Tell me what you miss most from Amestris and I’ll do my best to send it.
[id rather it have involved my bed privacy a conversation and been a lot longer]
[tell me if this is too much to say but i cant stop thinking about you]
Over and out (is this better?)
Jan. 25 ‘17
Roy (feels weird)—
You’re freaking me out with this “under surveillance” stuff you can’t tell me. What did you DO? I tried to get news from here but there aren't many people coming and going except traders from Xing, coming around the other side, but no one that’s into politics. Not Amestrian. If you get fucking exiled or something I’m gonna be so pissed, watch yourself.
Working with Dwyer’s been wild. I’m so shit at botanical alchemy. It’s so insanely precise and involves a lot of state-of-mind stuff? It sounds like a bunch of bullshit but I’ve seen what he can do with it and it’s unbelievable, it’s like magic—twisting trees out of rock or anything, making whole lakes sprout with flowers. It’s so obviously creating life and there’s gotta be a link to philosopher’s stones somehow. Dwyer’s a weird guy and it’s hard to get a straight answer from him about anything (drawing of him ---> his beard is insane). He’s into teaching Al and I how it works but it’s so slow-going, focusing on theory and mind exercises and stuff, and he hasn’t told us anything about his weird tree farm. I keep trying to sneak over there but I don’t want to get on his bad side. It’s definitely tubing that’s running between the trees, not that I know what that means. Also haven’t told him about the human alchemy thing. It’s cold enough right now that I wear a jacket and gloves all the time, so he hasn’t seen my automail, and I think he thinks Al is a really big weird guy. Come to think of it, he probably suspects something, but it’s weird how many people DON’T.
Answers to your dumb politics questions: there's a Lieutenant Governor appointed by the Fuhrer. Governor Reinders. And some kind of democratic body, I don't know what it's called. Ok I got up and asked Al, it's a legislative assembly. They fund it through trade—the colony sells stuff to Xing, mostly lumber and fur I think. But it kind of feels like a shit show, something’s always in scandal. Maybe you're barking up the wrong tree over there, you'd live like a king here i bet. looking for a new job? (ha ha)
My birthday is next week. Feb 3. I put a list of books I want on the back of this letter, pick a couple, whatever’s easy. But if books are too pricey to ship I’d do anything for one of those foil-wrapped chocolate bars they have on the counter at the corner store by the train station in Central.
I’m turning 18. wait how old are you? I realized I have no idea. Al says you're under thirty but I don't believe him no offense. Not that you look old, you've just like.. done a lot of stuff to be under 30.
Happy New Year. They have the most amazing fireworks here, these giant fountains and sparks that light up the sky like it was mid-afternoon. You'd love it. Can you make fireworks with your alchemy, if you tried? You should. Hope you got to do something fun to ring the New Year in, but by the sounds of it, maybe you haven’t.
Don't make fun of me but I sort of miss you
[how do i know youre not fucking with me]
[arent you with l hawkeye]
March 18, 1917
Happy belated birthday. I hope the parcel made it with this letter, and vice versa. I also included my personal copy of A Room With a View; apologies if it’s battered. It’s one of my favourite novels. Your book list was all reference work, so I thought you might enjoy some casual reading, although you probably find alchemical reference texts fun in your own way. I’ll also be surprised if that chocolate bar makes the trip in one piece, but let me know. I got one for myself when I bought yours. I can see why you like them.
I couldn't write you back right away. I can explain later. I know you were joking, but leaving for the colonies is almost tempting—a chance to start over, something genuine, a clean slate. Everyone here talks out both sides of their mouth. Do you ever get exhausted with the way people are? You're very noble, Edward. Or, you seem to always do the right thing. How do you keep from getting jaded? Are you? I’m so tired.
To answer your question, I turn 32 in July, God willing. Thank you for suggesting I’ve done things with my life. Sometimes it doesn't seems like enough.
To answer your other question, and I don't feel that I have to encrypt this, about Lieutenant Hawkeye: I’m not dating Riza, no. Maybe this is just me being old and jaded, like I said, but I feel that it's possible to love someone TOO much. I thought when I was younger that her and I were headed for something romantic, and we tried, but I don't think that anymore. She’s the most important person in my life, hands down, but it's not like that, no. Sometimes I wish it was, and sometimes I'm so blindingly happy with her role in my life and mine in hers that I would never change anything. Her and I are too similar, for all she wishes we weren't. Or maybe we’re too different. Love is extremely confusing.
You came up last week. Falman said he missed you. I made a sort of noise or a comment or something, and then there was a conversation, and Havoc said he thinks that you and I are very similar men. Has anyone ever told you that?
Do you know if botanical alchemy is possible in Amestris, or is it localized? I admit I haven't done much reading besides the notes and figures you've asked me to send. If you learn it in Canitova, are you able to do it in Amestris? I'd love to be able to see you pull trees from the earth.
What I’d like to communicate is extremely long to be encoded, so I’m only doing portions. Do you have an ETA for your return? I forget what speaking to you openly without ciphers is like.
I miss you terribly.
I understand there's nothing I can say to make you immediately trust me. I don't blame you for being skeptical. [but youre one of the most brilliant talented strange beautiful people ive ever met]. I don't know what I’m asking of you. [i just want to see] [talk about it] I know this reflects badly on me but know that I have [no motive this is as absurd uncomfortable sickmaking for me as it is for you tell me to stop and ill never mention it again]
Christ, that was a lot. My brain hurts. I'm sitting in bed as I write this and it's one in the morning on a Tuesday. You're a bad influence.
June 2 17
Thanks for the books, they're perfect. The novel you sent was sad. Do you like sad books? Feel free to send more, my brain’s gonna turn to mush if I don’t do creative stuff once in awhile. Reading counts. I'll bring all your books back.
Speaking of being sad: you sound sad. You sound really exhausted. Do guys like you get vacations? It sounds like you need one. What good is a prestigious position if you're working your ass to the bone? Be careful. I don't know what I can tell you. I’m not NOT jaded, I just think you've gotta believe in yourself and what you're doing. It's easy to see the worst in people, but no one deserves that, especially not you. There's a middle ground between cynicism and rose-coloured glasses. You do good things. It sounds like you're trying to be good. People might not appreciate it, but you'll be able to sleep at night. Did any of that help?
Austrir is pretty nice. Getting busier even in the year we’ve been here. It's summer now. Come visit, that's your vacation. The trip might be shorter through Xing.
I don't wanna talk about Dwyer’s stuff. It's all I've been thinking about. Attached some notes for filing away, if you've been keeping my junk, so you can read those if you want. I have no idea if b. alchemy is localized but I guess we’re gonna find out. neat thought
You said once that my letters are keeping you grounded and I get that, cause it's exhausting just being here, you gotta pump water and gather wood and it's always raining. We never stop moving. Al feels bad for me cause I get tired and he doesn't. So it's nice to be able to think of home
You know everyone THINKS you're dating Lieutenant Hawkeye, right? I get why, but when you think about it, it's fucked up that people assume you must be dating a woman you're friends with, so, my bad. Like did anyone think you were dating Hughes (sorry) (were you?)
To save us some back and forth cause i'm sure you'll ask, cause you've met her: I’m not dating Winry. Everyone bugs us about it but it never really happened, cause we grew up together and it'd be like dating your step-sister. I've thought about it I guess
and I do love her but I don't think it's gonna happen. If you were wondering.
Al says you and I are alike because we bother each other so much. I can see it.
And ok about all that stuff I get it but you know we’ve never really spoken to each other right? Are we friends? Were we ever? Don't you just think of me as a kid?
[dont stop i just dont wanna say I like you and have all this be a joke]
[im not saying youre lying but i was sixteen]
[what if i like you then whats it gonna be like when i get back]
PS: Still no idea when I'm coming home. And re: the photo—I made that cabin! Pretty sick huh. thought you might forget what i look like
“Yours” is pretty forward,
Roy had a stack of letters waiting in his foyer when he got home after a two-month absence, a string of visits to units stationed at the outskirts of the country. He rifled through the stack for Ed’s letter before he'd even taken his shoes off and found it; the ugly envelope, Ed’s customary scrawl, addressed as always to Colonel Roy Mustang. Roy toed his shoes off and hung up his coat, wet with dewy autumn rain, before carrying the letter to the kitchen. He opened the envelope and slid the letter out, but there were two items, the second too small to be a sheaf of messy notes like Ed usually sent. He turned the envelope upside down and a small, square photograph dropped to the tabletop.
It was a photo of Ed. In it, he stood next to a structure made from braids of thin, springy trees curled around each other to form an a-frame bursting with leaves, a living cabin. Ed had his arm proudly outstretched and pressed to the cabin wall, the way someone might lean possessively on a new car. It was taken in summer—Roy could tell by the foliage, and by Ed’s lack of a shirt and the sweat shining at his brow. His hair was nearly a foot longer than when Roy had last seen him, although Roy had only ever seen it in a braid, and in the photograph in question it was twisted into a ponytail that hung tangled over his shoulder. Roy stared—at his biceps, the cut of muscle in his abdomen, the intricacies of his automail arm, which Roy had never studied in any detail or even really seen, and his impossibly happy grin. The years between sixteen and eighteen had measurably widened his jaw and shoulders. Roy stared and stared and stared.
He pulled himself away long enough to read Ed’s letter. Thought you might forget what I looked like, he’d written in his postscript, as obvious a power move as any Roy had seen. He sent him what essentially amounted to a pin-up photo, him and his golden hair, tanned, shirtless and sweaty. Roy wondered what his encrypted text said. Desire burned low in his gut and he missed Ed fiercely, something he had trouble admitting to himself. The thought that some stupid boy could compromise him emotionally when he'd clawed his way to the upper echelons of the military with grace and poise was beyond embarrassing, but he supposed he deserved it, all things considering.
He picked up the photo again. In it, Ed looked unbelievably, nonsensically happy, and Ed had chosen to share that with him. That was more than enough.
September 19, 1917
Sorry for the delay, I spent some months of the summer at Briggs and elsewhere and didn't get your letter until late. I've included a couple more novels; thin ones, less likely to get taken during shipping.
There are no words for how busy I’ve been. I feel like I haven’t sat down for more than twenty minutes in months. My blood must be 60% coffee and 20% whiskey at this point and if I look as if I’ve aged twenty years by the time you get back, please be kind about it.
I’d love to come visit you but I think Lieutenant-Governor Reinders might take an official visit as an attempt to steal his job. I’m technically qualified to do so. And an unofficial visit might … reflect poorly on us. Not that I could take the time off, regardless.
To answer your series of questions: I don’t know if I’m sad. It’s a complicated thing. Your words helped. I think I’m just exhausted and I don’t know how many times I can cryptically tell you that things have changed here without explaining myself before you get so frustrated that you stop writing me back. I still can’t speak on it and besides, you asked me not to. I will say that I’ve had a new office for eight months and I still don’t how how the heating works, and it’s been too long for me to acceptably ask anyone, thus admitting that I’ve spent enough months not knowing how it works. I mention the new office because you have no way of knowing if I’ve been demoted, promoted, or just shuffled around. All you know is that I haven’t moved house—I’m still getting your letters.
I do know that everyone thinks I’m dating Lieutenant Hawkeye, yes. You’re right: people make assumptions about the relationship between a man and a woman that they don’t make between two men. I could waltz down the street holding
your a man’s hand and people would do mental backflips to insist it’s not romance. If a man dates women, there’s no conceivable way he could also date men, as far as the public is concerned. There was nothing between Maes and I not for lack of trying Maes was always incurably straight.
I wasn’t going to ask if you were dating Ms. Rockbell. I figured you would mention it, or not. Not my place to pry.
I think you and I are alike because we’re both very driven, but we don’t let it consume us. I know I don’t project much more than stuffy bullheadedness in a professional capacity, but I hope these letters have done something to convince you that I have a personality outside my office. Just like how you’re fascinating, brilliant and funny, but if someone didn’t know better, they’d think you were a loud-mouthed brat. Genuinely no offense intended; I’ve known you since you were eleven, forgive me.
And—you're right, we’ve never spoken much in person, there was never time. But know that I never thought of you as a KID, not in the way you mean. I guess I didn't think about it. You've just been you. I want to spend more time with you, as ridiculous as that sounds. I don't know what else to say. Thank you for the photograph.
[when you get back things will be however you want them to be you owe me nothing]
[all i can give you is honesty im absolutely enamoured with you and if it doesnt work on your return thats perfectly fine]
Ed read Roy’s letter sitting cross-legged on his bunk, squinting at the scratched-out block of text before Maes was always incurably straight as if he could read through the ink at the words underneath. No luck. He turned to the two lines of encrypted text at the end and with unbearable curiosity; it had been so long that he could hardly remember what he’d said to Roy in his last letter.
He slipped the letter back into the envelope and it caught on something. A photograph fell to his scratchy, woven bedspread, face down, and on the back were the words wish you were here in Roy’s handwriting. He turned it over.
It was a photo of a bed—a brightly sunlit bed covered in a white duvet, rumpled and slept in, with a thick oak headboard. There was a mug of coffee on the side table and a book lying in slats of light, face-open on the duvet. Wish you were here . Ed’s body burned for something it had never known and he imagined Roy in that bed bathed in sun, his hair mussed from sleep, tired and sated and happy. He imagined Roy’s wrists flexing in his hands, the bright smell of laundry and the foreign feel of a hard, warm body under his own.
Al ducked into the cabin and Ed stuffed the photo back into the envelope.
“Yeah,” Ed said. “Yours is on your bed.”
Al hummed in thanks. “Anything interesting?”
“Don't know.” Ed looked down at his letter, Edward Elric written with the colony’s post office address on the front in Roy’s neat script. “I, uh, got one from Central. When we head back, we’ve gotta go there first.”
Al sat heavily on the other bed. “What? What do you mean?”
“They said we need to debrief right away. Orders.”
“Seriously? We’ll be coming through Xing this time, we can't even stop in Risembool on the way?”
“They'd rather we not. I mean, when we do leave.”
“You've been talking a lot about going home lately.”
“Yeah, I guess, I don't know.” Ed slid the letter under his pillow. “We’re getting close, aren't we? This is starting to seem like a dead end for sure.”
“Not a dead end , I don't think. It's not as if we haven't learned anything, just because he's not making Stones—”
“We don't know that.”
“See? Let's not write it off. I miss home too, but let's not waste opportunity or whatever.” Al cracked his metal knuckles, a habit he'd picked up. They popped and clanged as the joints moved. “Who was the letter from?”
Ed looked down at the worn knees of his slacks. “Colonel Mustang.”
Al perked up. “Really? He wrote you himself? Did he say anything about what's going on there? I know you've been down at the port asking the sailors for news.”
“Can I read it?”
“No. It's not anything interesting, you know him—just Fullmetal this and report on my desk that. Two lines, really.”
“That's a bummer. It's been almost three years, you think he'd miss us.”
Ed tucked his hair behind his ear. “Yeah, I—who knows, with him.”
Dec 20th 17
It was all a fluke. Dwyer was extracting this red liquid from the trees, tapping them and using arrays to synthesize the energy into matter. had healing properties but wasn't stones. waste
Don’t write back cause we’ll be on the move. see you in the new year
Chapter 3: back again
thanks so much for the overwhelmingly kind words on the previous two chapters. i've loved fma since i was a kid and this is the first real full-length fic i've ever written for it, so it's like a love letter to the series. this chapter got away from me, but i hope it's still worth the wait and rounds the story out well. and thanks again.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was early spring, not warm enough to be pleasant but somehow warm enough to be unforgivably humid, and Roy was having a godawful day. He was out of coffee and had to run to the corner store for more, which turned out to be subpar and overpriced, and it was also another day in life’s impenetrably armoured succession of days in which he hadn't heard from Ed, which he’d gleaned from checking his mail. It had been months and months and he wasn't worried, per se, but the idea that something could have happened to the Elric brothers and neither he nor anyone in Amestris would know for a long time, or maybe ever, stung. This was alongside the regular pain of missing Ed, which he’d gotten used to. He also didn't have a spring uniform. The upper echelon was always expected to be in full regalia to command respect, which was ridiculous. Wearing a hat in twenty degree weather ruined his hair, and hat-head did nothing to command respect.
It was a quiet day at headquarters. His assistant, Harriet, was chipper as ever, although she demanded that he decide on times for a number of meetings and go over his speaking notes for a round-table discussion on rising tensions with the Cretan navy next week, which was the last thing he wanted to do, but she was just doing her job.
Riza came by bearing coffee near the end of the day, as if sensing his mood; she dropped by often, but never with gifts. She sat on the edge of the leather sofa next to his desk, asked the usual perfunctory questions about his day, then eyed him in quiet contemplation.
“You seem off,” she said abruptly. Roy shook his head.
“It’s just the weather. I don’t know. I was out of coffee this morning.”
She kept looking at him. He wondered how much weight she placed on the one conversation they’d had about Ed nearly three years ago. He hadn’t spoken about him since, nothing beyond the way he’d speak about anyone else, too afraid of what Riza would think if she knew he’d slowly fallen for a teenage boy through letters sent from halfway around the globe. But she wasn’t stupid, she must have suspected something.
She said, “You’re an awful liar where it counts, sir. After so many years, it’s funny that you think you can fool me.”
Roy opened his mouth just as Harriet knocked on the door and stuck her head into his office.
“General Mustang, Colonel Hawkeye, sorry for the intrusion,” she said. “There’s a young man here who says he knows you, sir. I told him to make an appointment, but—”
Roy shot to his feet, nearly knocking his chair over. “Let him in! For God’s sake, let him in—”
Riza looked at him. “You don’t think it’s …”
Someone in the hall cackled, “An appointment! Can you believe that?” and a hard shiver rolled down Roy’s spine.
The door opened and Harriet entered followed by two figures, one very short and the other very tall, and then Edward Elric was in Roy’s office after three years’ absence. He dropped a filthy rucksack on the nice carpet, crossed the room in a few strides and stood defiantly on the other side of Roy’s desk, a couple inches taller than when he left; the top of his head was level with Roy’s nose, or maybe his chin. His hair was knotted into a tangled braid and sun-bleached, tumbling almost to his waist, his skin was ruddy and tan and his grin was as snarky as ever. He was wearing a dirty cotton shirt with a tear in the shoulder seam. He was a vision, Adonis, Venus in shoddy clothes and metal limbs. Roy couldn't breathe.
“Gen-er-al,” Ed said, making the word last as long as humanly possible. He snapped a sloppy salute to offset any genuine awe Roy might have heard in his tone. “Long time no see.”
“Fullmetal.” Roy stuck his hand out, his left one, and Ed grasped it with his own left, his skin warm through Roy’s glove. The hair on the back of Roy’s neck stood up. He didn’t let go after the initial handshake and Ed was looking at him and he was looking back, and Roy knew it had been too long but he couldn’t look away. He dragged his gaze from Ed’s mouth up to his eyes; yellow like whiskey, pale eyelashes glowing white in the sun. He bit back a smile that had been years in the making. “I trust you had a good trip.”
“Fabulous,” Ed said, still openly grinning, his hand still in Roy’s.
No one spoke for a long couple of seconds.
To their left, Al gasped and covered his face. “Oh my God.”
Ed dropped Roy’s hand and stuffed his own into his pocket. Roy adjusted his hat.
“Alphonse?” Riza said. Al shook his head hard.
“No, I’m sorry, I just—remembered something. That I forgot to do. Earlier. Never mind. Anyways, Colonel—General, I’m sorry, oh my goodness, what a promotion. You must be incredibly honoured.”
“Very. It was more of a series of promotions, to be fair. It wasn’t one straight shot.”
“Of course not,” Ed drawled. Roy’s eyes snapped to his, then away.
To Alphonse, Roy said, “Things have been a little tumultuous around here since you left. I’m sure you’ll be caught up to speed soon.”
Ed replied, “No doubt.”
Everything Ed said dripped with intent, with knowledge and mirth and snark. Roy couldn’t stop looking at him and prayed Riza didn’t notice but knew full well that she did. He wondered what Ed had told Al about him. About them, if there was a collective pronoun to speak of. His hand felt as if it were still in Ed’s strong grip and he was light-headed. He'd only been in a room with him for a minute.
“Brother,” Al said, “We should get out of their way, we’ve got so much to get sorted. We don’t have a room yet, so, first of all—”
“Yeah, yeah, sure.” Ed dragged his hair back over his shoulders; Roy stared. Ed gave a two-finger salute and said, “Nice to see you again, General,” sarcastic and insubordinate, and turned on his heel.
“It’s so good to see you,” Al said to Riza, taking both her hands in his, nodding politely. “Really wonderful. We’ll be back soon, there’s so much we have to talk about!”
She smiled warmly. “Of course, Alphonse. It’s wonderful to see you both.”
Ed shook her hand again, too. “Good to be back,” he said, and she nodded. Roy couldn’t see either of their faces from where he stood.
Once Roy’s office door had shut behind them, Al grabbed Ed’s shoulder hard enough to hurt, bent down and hissed, “That’s who you were writing!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Edward Elric, do not lie to me! The Col—General Mustang, you’re not—”
“You’re going to have to be more specific.”
“Oh my God, I don’t have eyes but I can still see! Brother, you both—oh my God, that was embarrassing to even witness, you looked at each other like—like—”
“Like even if you told me right now, cross your heart and hope to die, that he wasn’t who you were writing this whole time, and that you’re not—you’re not interested in him, I wouldn’t believe you. Not for one second would I believe you.”
Ed jammed his hands into his pockets and looked away to hide his smile.
“Well. I won’t tell you, then.”
“You’re making some pretty wild accusations about the General here, Al. I’d be careful, if I were you. He’s big stuff now—there's, what, only a dozen generals in all of Amestris? Give or take?”
“You’re the worst person I’ve ever met.”
“That’s not true.”
“You’re my brother! And you don’t tell me anything!”
“There’s nothing to tell!”
“And now you’re trying to lie! Who raised you?”
“You did, basically!”
“Some job I did! Why didn't you tell me?”
There was genuine hurt in his voice. Ed stopped walking and tucked his hair behind his ear.
“It's … not like it’s set in stone or anything. It's embarrassing. I didn't want to weird you out. I don't know, we don't talk about stuff like this.”
Al jabbed him in the chest with his index finger. “You don't talk about stuff like this! I have always been incredibly open to talking about stuff like this! He—he’s Colonel Mustang, Ed, General Mustang, I can't believe this! How on Earth did you—I didn’t even know that you—”
Ed started off again, scrubbing his blushing cheeks. “That wasn't an invitation to start talking about it.”
“Oh, so you put on a big sexy tough guy act in front of him, but now you're too shy to talk to your own brother?”
“Stop sassing me!”
“You got it. You're so smart.”
“I’m going to hang you up by your irresponsibly long hair until you tell me how you started dating a general in the Amestrian military, whom we’ve known since we were ten.”
“You're using the term dating pretty liberally.”
“You’re fucking him, then,” Al said, flippant, and Ed tripped over his own feet.
“I’ll pay you to never say that again.”
“Well, are you? God, Ed, when we left you were—"
“Of all the conversations to have at headquarters!” Ed hissed. “You're gonna get him court martialed!”
“That wouldn't be my—”
“I’ll talk once we get a dorm, alright? I swear. I’m sorry. I mean it.” He patted Al’s arm with his right and their matching metal clanged loudly.
Night fell quickly. Ed had Roy’s address memorized but had never seen his house, and searching for it took time without a map. It was a tall, narrow condo with white siding and a wrought-iron gate out front, perfectly nice but nondescript. It seemed to glow in the dark. Ed rang the doorbell, feeling both entirely uninvited and, at the same time, like Roy had been expecting him for years.
The moment seemed anti-climactic: the door swung open and there was Roy, in his civvies, barefoot, and they were about to have their first ever private conversation. It seemed ridiculous to Ed that they’d never even spoken alone before, but the look on Roy’s face—bewildered and nervous, regardless of how he tried to hide it—assured him that yes, it was true. Ed twisted the end of his braid in his fingers.
“Hello.” Roy was stiff-shouldered and charmingly awkward. “I wasn’t sure if you’d …”
“Well, yeah. It took me forever, that street down there turns into that other street without …” The anxious intensity of Roy’s gaze made him trail off. “... warning.”
They both went quiet. Roy was wearing a soft white oxford with the sleeves rolled to his forearms and grey slacks, and his hair was fluffy and clean. Behind him, Ed could see his condo’s entryway, white walls and a painting of something colourful.
“I can go if you want,” Ed said, and before he finished, Roy stepped out of the way and ushered him in.
“No, I’m—please, come in.”
Ed wanted to joke about how formal Roy was being but the words stuck in his throat because being in Roy’s home had been so easy to think about—the way he had for the past two years, staring at that photo of Roy’s bed—but so hard to deal with in reality, because the man in his letters who told absurd stories and said he was enamoured with him and asked all the right questions about his research still wasn’t the man who owned this condo. That man was just standing there in his bright foyer floored with gleaming white tile, looking exceedingly awkward. He looked older than Ed remembered, not that he'd ever tell him that. His dark hair swept back off his forehead and his eyes were black as anything, his skin pale and almost sallow in an elegant, prefer-to-remain-indoors kind of way. He had a small, pretty mouth and a sweeping neck. Long eyelashes. Not unattractive.
“Um.” Roy rubbed his neck. “Can I get you …”
Ed didn’t know how to talk. He didn’t know how to do anything else either, but turning water into wine was easier than talking about his feelings, so he stepped in close and fisted his hands in Roy’s shirt before he could think better of it. Not having to push very high up on his toes to reach his mouth was a beautiful, screaming victory.
Roy grabbed his wrists and Ed almost gasped at the feeling of skin-on-skin for the first time in years.
“Edward.” Roy’s voice was low; the first time he’d used Ed’s name. “Don't.”
“What? You've gotta be kidding, after three years, you tell me—”
“I mean, don't yet.” He kept his hands around Ed’s wrists. “I can't take back the first time, but I can do things right this time around. Come in. Hang your coat up. Let’s have a conversation, tell me about your trip. Because if I kiss you now, I’m not going to stop until I pass out from exhaustion, and I'd rather be a gentleman about this.”
Ed glowed. He loosened his grip but Roy didn’t let him go. “Alright, fair enough. But fuck my trip, you're a general now. I feel like your story’s better than mine.”
Roy smiled. “I don’t know about that. You crossed half the planet and came—” He stopped. “When did you get back?”
“Into the city? Earlier today, why?”
“Was coming to see me the first thing you did?”
Ed’s ears got hot. “I—maybe, so what? It’s not like I—”
“I’m asking if you bathed. You smell awful.”
Ed tried to swat at Roy, who laughed and let his hands go.
“Well, I’m glad you’re finally comfortable enough to insult me again,” Ed griped. “It looked like you were gonna pass out when you opened the door.”
“Maybe it was from the smell.”
“If you’re not gonna follow this up with please, Ed, have a bath in my my rich guy bathroom all you want, you’re officially not worth coming back for.”
Roy raised his eyebrows. “Is that why you came back?”
“Can I use your bath or not?”
Roy’s bathroom was upstairs next to his bedroom and like the rest of the condo, it was immaculate and white. Ed stripped, looked at himself in the mirror and dragged a hand through his tangled hair as best he could. His automail needed polishing, something he'd never noticed before, never having spent three consecutive years away from Winry. He didn't like the stark, golden tan lines that marred his left arm, solidified from so many days spent working outside, and he looked tired, but not bad. He'd never thought of his appearance in any real way until he started thinking about Roy; up until then, he'd just been himself, a container for his thoughts. Now he was something that someone looked at and, if Roy’s letters and ardent stares were to be believed, liked.
He drew a bath and sat on the edge of the tub to watch it fill. He studied the few bottles lined up on the ledge, opened them, smelled them, and supposed they smelled like Roy, but he didn't have much of a frame of reference. He couldn't tell if he was nervous or not. He felt like there was a ball of energy in his chest, adrenaline and exhaustion all at once from the combined thrill and dead weight of being home. He thought of his name in Roy’s voice, Edward, Edward, Edward.
The tub was big enough that he could sink to his nose and not let his knees broach the surface. He closed his eyes and lied there still, unmoving, trying to let years of cramped basin baths and heating arrays, or else freezing cold river baths, seep out of his bones. He lathered his hair, combed it with his fingers until it was straight and scrubbed every inch of his body with a fragrant bar of soap.
He drained the tub when the water got cold and hauled himself to his feet. He padded to the door and stuck his head out, ready to yell down the stairs for a change of clothes, since Roy had insisted on running his through the wash, but they were already sitting on the floor in the hallway. Ed pulled them on—cotton lounge pants and a worn t-shirt that said EASTERN AMESTRIS MILITARY COLLEGE. He had to roll the pants’ cuffs up, but the shirt more or less fit.
“Hello?” he called into the hallway, heading for the stairs.
“In here,” Roy said from behind him. “Last door on the left.”
He half expected Roy to be in his bedroom, splayed on a ridiculously corny bed of rose petals. He found him in his study, reading in a massive armchair. He looked up and put a bookmark in the hardcover lying on his lap.
“You wear glasses.”
Roy took off said glasses, biggish wireframes, sort of round, and put them on the side table. “Only to read. They make me look a hundred years old.” Ed opened his mouth and Roy cut him off: “Don't comment.”
Ed took a seat in the exact middle of the sofa next to the armchair so it couldn't be said that he sat intentionally close or far from Roy. He plucked at the shirt he was wearing.
“Military college. Yours, I guess.”
“Kinda brazen, huh? Me wearing your stuff.”
Roy held up a finger, “One, I never said I was subtle, and two, you can't expect me to own guest clothes.”
“I don't know your life,” Ed said, but he was looking at Roy’s hand, realizing with horror that he'd never seen him without his gloves before. When he tore his eyes away, he saw Roy looking at his automail. They were having similar epiphanies.
“I didn't think to ask,” Roy said, “but would you prefer a long-sleeved shirt?”
“What, ‘cause of—” Ed wagged his metal fingers and Roy nodded. “No, whatever. I mean, I don't love it. It's a reminder, but that's not bad. I mostly hide it so other people aren't uncomfortable, ‘cause I'm a shit liar. What am I supposed to say, lost it in a threshing accident?”
“Maybe.” Roy was still looking at it. “I don't know if this is right to say, but it's quite beautiful.”
“Not at all. It's so intricate.” Roy edged his hand along the side of his armrest. “Would you mind if I …”
Ed smiled. He scooted to the close end of the couch, flipped his palm up and extended it to Roy. “Go nuts.”
Roy gingerly took his hand. He closed his fingers around the thick bars of metal that made up Ed’s forearm, looked at the delicate joints in his wrist, layers of cascading steel plates, the bolt in the back of his hand, his fingertips, and turned his hand over and back. The intimacy of it made Ed’s throat tight.
Roy said, “Forgive my ignorance, I've never been close with anyone who had automail, but—you can't feel anything, can you?”
“Nope. Not feel feel. Sometimes I imagine I can feel pressure, but I don't know if that's a ghost limb thing or what.” He curled and uncurled his fingers one by one, making a quiet tink tink tink. “I hate it, for obvious reasons, but I hate the leg more. The leg was the initial mistake. The arm I gave to save Al, which I don't regret, and the arm’s pretty fucking cool sometimes, punching with a steel fist. The leg doesn't do anything cool.”
Roy asked, “How high up does it go?” and Ed’s eyes snapped to his. Roy started babbling, “Not in a—God, that sounded like—”
“Mid-thigh. Don't worry, I get it.” Roy was still holding his hand and he tapped a metal index finger against his thumbnail. “You're only paranoid ‘cause of context, and ‘cause people are always afraid of asking. I know it's taboo, but call a spade a spade, you know? So, mid-thigh. Almost all the way up.”
Roy went quiet and Ed was worried he'd said the wrong thing until Roy said, “Must be heavy,” and Ed figured it'd take more than idle chats about missing limbs to phase him. He laughed.
“Not more than a regular leg, I don't think. Winry’s real smart with metals and mobility and stuff. Fun fact, though, I got them when I was a kid, right? And the best thing ever is—as I've gotten older and got buff, Winry’s had to change the way my automail looks so they match the curve of muscle in my real limbs. Neat, huh?”
He looked up and Roy wasn't looking at his automail anymore, he was looking at him, eyes boring into his, lips parted, his body angled towards him, and Ed’s mind went blank. When he spoke, his voice was strained.
“Please tell me that was enough of a conversation.”
Roy slid his hand down to touch a metal elbow. “For now.”
Ed leaned in and kissed him before the last sounds of the word were past his lips. He got a head rush and closed his eyes against the dizziness, opened his mouth, breathed Roy in like a drug and felt him surge closer, his hand running up his arm until it crossed from automail to flesh and blood where Ed’s neck met his shoulder. It was a kiss years in the making, awkward stretched from the armchair to the couch and Ed’s nerves sparking fear just under his skin, and it was intoxicating. It was everything he’d spent way too long thinking about.
He pulled back and felt Roy’s breath stutter against his lips. He ran his hands down Roy’s chest, warm and hard under the cool linen of his shirt. His heart beat furiously under Ed’s palm.
“I thought about this,” Roy confessed softly, twisting a lock of Ed’s hair around his index finger. “Every day.”
Ed’s head was still spinning. He felt slow and stupid and not afraid, fear wasn't right, but anxious in a way he'd never been, intensely aware of his own vulnerability.
“Me too,” he admitted, like it was the biggest thing in the world. His eyes were level with Roy’s throat and he stared at the pale sweep of skin in the dim, warm light of the lamp on his desk behind him. Roy took his face in his hands and kissed him again and at least for a moment, everything in his head went silent.
As he followed Roy down the hallway, his right hand in Roy’s left, he said, “I knew it, too. I always used to catch you looking and I thought, there's no way, I've gotta have it wrong.”
Roy just said, “I wish,” which was completely fair.
His bedroom was cool and dark and the second he shut the door behind them his mouth was on Ed’s, his hands in his still-wet hair, and Ed let himself melt in his arms like he’d meant to nearly three years ago. He pressed Roy back against the door and Roy let him. Their movements were frantic and impatient, his fingers fumbling with Roy’s shirt, Roy pulling his easily over his head. Roy walked him back to the bed, his hands exploring the bare skin that his eyes couldn't, not while kissing him, and he never wanted to stop kissing him. Roy braced himself above him and pinned him with a thigh between his and it was like being carried away in a current, letting his hands move up Roy’s back, into his hair, every movement of his a response to his touch, a back-and-forth like rolling waves. Less stressful than drowning. More euphoric.
He breathed against Roy’s cheek, “Full disclosure, I don’t know what I’m doing.” Roy ran a hand from his hip to his knee, cinched up around his waist.
“Neither do I.”
“I don’t believe that for a second.”
Ed felt like he was on speed, the way his hands were shaking, the way Roy’s mouth was on his again and again and again. Roy kept running his hand up his leg, each time stopping just short of the crux of his thighs until Ed snarled incoherently and Roy laughed at him, pretty and breathless like Ed had never heard before.
“Sorry, sorry,” Roy whispered. “I’ll stop bugging you.”
He slid his hand past his waistband and touched him and Ed shuddered just from that, the insanely foreign feel of a hand on him where there’d only ever been his own, except for once, also Roy, and that had been so long ago that he nearly forgot. He curled up involuntarily and Roy sucked his lower lip, trailed kisses to his ear.
“Don’t be afraid to tell me what you want.”
Ed said, “Take your clothes off,” and Roy laughed. Ed wasn’t sure if people were supposed to laugh so much during sex but he liked it, though he still felt caught between the necessity of hashing out first-time boundaries and the uncomfortable intimacy of talking during sex. Roy sat back and pulled his slacks off, then his boxers, and Ed stared and stared and stared. He lifted his butt and squirmed out of whatever else he was wearing and then there was nothing left, no remaining pretense to spend time on, just the two of them and their antsy nerves and whatever God gave them.
Roy wasn't staring at his metal leg and Ed was grateful. He just settled overtop of him and kissed him, and again, it did that thing where everything in his mind got quiet. Pent-up longing shoved them together and made them panicky in their quickness, needing to get closer when there was nowhere left to go, the world reduced to teeth and spit and mouths and hands. Roy jerked him off and Ed had to keep grabbing his wrist and stuttering waitwaitwait to bring himself back from the edge, and Roy stared down at him like he was the last beautiful thing on Earth.
Roy grabbed lube from his nightstand—earning an amused snort from Ed—and slicked his fingers up and worked Ed open; Ed stopped laughing. He could tell Roy wanted to say something because every time he glanced down and saw him between his legs, his hand working inside him, he was looking back up at him. He'd look away and press a kiss to the inside of Ed’s thigh or the back of his knee, metal or otherwise. Ed let his head drop back against the bed and reached down to grab Roy’s arm again, fuck, slow down.
He pulled Roy back up his body, crushed his face in his hands and kissed him. He liked seeing Roy so unhinged and clumsy; he fumbled the condom and lost it in the sheets and kept glancing up at Ed as if to make sure he was still there or confirm that it was, in fact, him. He’d never seen Roy nervous before, but he was pretty sure that was what he was seeing. He braced himself on his elbows above Ed and Ed fitted his legs around his hips. He could feel his heart beating in his ears. He smoothed his thumb up Ed’s cheekbone, tucking hair behind his ear, and even with everything they’d already done, it was one of the most disarmingly intimate things that had ever happened to him.
And then slower than anything, careful to a fault, Roy eased inside him. Ed held his breath—it was so much, too much, like the air had been punched out of his lungs. He fisted a hand in Roy’s hair and Roy let him, his lips against his cheek and waiting patiently, his voice coming in over the sound of Ed’s own heartbeat, it's okay, that's it, breathe.
Roy didn't move until Ed gave him the go-ahead, his knees falling open, his heel rapping him on the back. Roy moved torturously slow and Ed whined, trying to get used to it, every muscle in his body pulled taut. It wasn't bad, it was just a lot. Sweat pricked his left palm, behind his right knee, everywhere Roy was touching him. Roy carded fingers through his hair as he pulled out. He eased back in and Ed’s spine arched like a bow. Ed stayed locked around him, too embarrassed to let him sit back and watch, too overwhelmed to let him go, content to squeeze his eyes shut and twist his fingers in Roy’s sweat-wet hair and get used to the absolutely unbearable, insatiable feeling of letting someone inside him, the closest anyone had ever been.
He could hardly hear himself, just gasps and half-swallowed words and creaking bed springs. He was already close and closer every time Roy slid inside him and swore under his breath, the pain of earlier blossoming into this heat and tightness inside him that was both same and different than what he already knew, so intense he could hardly speak. He knew enough about sex to know it was supposed to last, and he didn't want to come in two minutes flat but he could already feel it starting.
Roy kissed him and whispered against his lips.
“You can come. I can feel you—”
He didn't hear the rest over the rush of static in his ears as he came sobbing into Roy’s shoulder, his hands digging marks into his back. It was long, endless, sparking pleasure rolling through his body like nothing he'd ever been able to give himself. Roy kissed him and his jaw was trembling.
“Don’t stop,” Ed stammered, and dissolved into incoherence when Roy didn't, twisting under him as he bucked into him again and again, nothing but the sound of their skin and shared breath. Roy’s back shuddered hard as he came and his toes curled in the sheets. He pressed his face into Ed’s hair and went still, both of them crashing down from their frenzy, Ed’s arms wound around his neck. He smelled like sweat and skin and it was wonderfully human. Ed closed his eyes.
After a few more moments, Roy pulled out and flicked the bedside lamp on, and Ed saw his bedroom for the first time. It was small and sparsely furnished, just the bed, a sideboard and a table. There was a closet door in the corner and on another wall there was a wide window covered by thick curtains, closed. He had a book on the nightstand; Ed couldn’t read the title. Roy lied down next to him and he turned towards him and they looked each other in the eye for the first time since before Roy was inside him. Roy was flushed high across his cheekbones and his hair flopped over his forehead. Ed could feel his own hair being a mess. His body buzzed angrily in something he thought might be pain, later. He had no idea if he was embarrassed or not, because it seemed pointless now, but he still pulled the sheets up to cover his lower half.
“Christ,” Roy said eventually, and Ed smiled.
“I’ll let you know when I can feel my face.”
Ed rolled onto his back. “Not bad for my first time, eh?” Roy didn't say anything. Ed looked at him and his brow was drawn. “Don't tell me you didn't know it was my first time.”
“I … wasn't sure.”
“Oh. Well, don't feel too weird about it.”
Roy hesitated again. “Too late.”
“What? You didn't care it was my first time when you were reaming me two minutes ago, why—”
“Not to be rude, but can we talk about something else?”
Ed turned back on his side and squinted at Roy from a foot away. Discomfort radiated off him in waves so Ed shrugged and said, “Sure. You’re a general now. Can you talk about that yet?”
Roy seemed to de-tense instantly. “Not exactly heartfelt pillow talk.”
“Hey, you asked for it.”
“So I did. Alright, well, I’ll try to be brief.” He offered Ed a pillow and tucked his arm under his own. “Shortly after you left, there was a bombing here at headquarters.”
“No. There was a public event, a sort of community consultation, and someone showed up with explosives. He was part of a group of Ishvalan extremists. And a dozen people, some of them civilians, were killed.”
“To make an incredibly long story short, and not to sing my own praises, but I spearheaded a group that called for reason. Determined not to let this become another war. People wanted blood—it was disgusting, very, very clearly racially motivated, and—well, it didn’t happen. I won. We took the diplomatic route.”
“Really. Not that it was easy. I had armed escorts for several months last year. I was incredibly unpopular, and then … quite popular, once things were going smoothly. The phraseface of a new Amestris was used.”
“Very. A lot of it is obvious propaganda, you know—a young, left-leaning group coming up the ranks to replace the old guard, that type of thing, but it genuinely was a massive victory. And it clearly works in my favour.”
Ed looked down. He hadn’t noticed Roy’s hand creeping across the sheets between them as he spoke, but there it was, closer to him than it was to Roy. He wasn’t sure what to do about it. He reached out and touched the back of Roy’s hand with his pinkie, tracing his fine, radial bones.
“So, what does being a general entail?”
“Travel. Lots of … overseeing things. So much responsibility it makes me miss being a cadet.”
Ed watched his skin on Roy’s skin. A few shades darker. Roy had a couple scars on his knuckles and Ed did too. “That’s some pretty weak shit from a guy who wants to be Fuhrer.”
“I’m just complaining. You’re right, it’s incredible.” Roy was looking down at their hands, too, Ed still following the lines of his bones, back and forth. “I don’t know if you remember what you said in one of your letters, but—something about how all you can do is to try to do good, at the end of the day.”
“Something like that, yeah.”
“Well, this feels like that.” He turned his hand over and Ed traced the lines in his palm. “It’s taken long enough, but I’m finally doing something I’m proud of.”
Ed’s fingers strayed from Roy’s palm to his wrist, then up his forearm. He glanced up and Roy was looking back at him.
“I think,” he said carefully, slowly, gliding along the shape of muscle in Roy’s arm, “that you’re pretty good at fixing your mistakes.”
He both was and wasn’t talking about Ishval, and Roy knew it. They held each other’s gaze for a few long moments before Roy leaned in and closed the space between them. His lips were warm and soft, kissed-out. It was Ed who deepened the kiss, pushing up on his arms to lie Roy back flat. His hair hung a curtain around their faces, cool to the touch in the post-bath limbo between wet and dry. When he laid his hand flat on Roy’s stomach, moving downwards, Roy eased him back.
“Are you …”
“Yeah? What's your … There's a word for that, how long it is before you can—”
Ed wished he could have captured and bottled the look on Roy’s face: the perfect look of a man slowly realizing, with horror, that he’s in over his head.
“I have no idea,” Roy croaked. Ed raised his eyebrows.
“Oh, weird. Well, this is as good a time as any to find out.” He kissed him again, deep and wet and full of intent, and Roy groaned.
“Are you always like this?” he said against his lips, and Ed laughed.
“I dunno. You try living with someone who never sleeps and tell me you aren’t all pent-up.”
Roy couldn’t argue. It was slow-going but they fucked again with Ed up on his knees, Roy behind him. It was less frenzied, drawn out and almost sweet. Roy scraped his teeth across Ed’s shoulder, kissed the nape of his neck and fucked him in slow, deep thrusts that took his breath away and left him sweating, shaking and less shy, a loud, inarticulate bundle of yes fuck yes oh my God there. Ed came just as quick as the time before but Roy drew it out until Ed’s limbs were lax and he sighed and gasped into his own folded arms. When Roy finished inside him again and was reduced to a clutching, trembling mess, Ed decided that it was a beautiful, all-consuming feeling to make someone come, something extremely satisfying about knowing that you and your body are why they’re so blissed out.
Roy spoke against the back of his neck. “You’re so …”
The sentence had no end. Ed turned his head and Roy kissed his cheek, nosed his hair, and Ed laughed hoarsely.
This time, when they lied down next to each other, Ed tucked his head into the crook of Roy’s neck.
“Do you have a clock in here? How long was that?”
“We’re not doing it again,” Roy said, absentmindedly twiddling Ed’s hair between his fingers. “It’s after midnight. I’m old.”
Ed scoffed. “You are not. No excuses.”
“You’re going to kill me.”
“What a way to go, though, eh?” Ed sat up and turned over; Roy’s hand stayed in his hair. “Do you have anything to eat?”
Again, Roy looked horrified. “Aren’t you tired? When was the last time you slept?”
“I slept on our last train, sort of. C’mon, come with me, I don’t know your house.”
Ed pulled on his dryer-fresh boxers and the t-shirt Roy lent him, then followed Roy down the hall and stairs to the kitchen. He decided against food, once there, and Roy put the kettle on for tea. His kitchen was small and narrow with unreasonably high cupboards, Ed thought, and a small wooden table with two chairs. A stack of mail, a notepad, a salt shaker and Roy’s gloves and wallet sat on one corner of the table. Ed took a seat, stretched his legs out and said, “Your place isn’t always this clean, is it? It’s spooky.”
Roy had his back to him at the counter and stayed that way for a moment before turning around. “No. Good eye. To be honest, it was a mess this morning, and when you came in, I called ahead to the cleaning service and had someone come by.”
“I had to make a good first impression. Sue me for being vain.”
“Like I’d care if it were a sty.” Ed looked around. “S’nice, though. I mean, it beats the dorms.”
“Would you and Alphonse ever consider renting an apartment here in the city?”
“I don’t see why we would. It’s a lot of money for somewhere we’re not guaranteed to stay.”
“I’d be happy to keep the place for you while you’re travelling.”
“What, like, financially?”
Ed tipped his chair back on two legs. “You’re gonna have to fuck me way better than that,” he said, gesturing at the ceiling, upstairs, the bedroom, “before I let you pay my rent.”
Roy wrinkled his nose. “Don’t be crude, that wasn’t—”
“I know, I know, I'm kidding. I know you’re not trying to take care of me, if you know what I mean.”
“I do, unfortunately. And good. That’s not—”
“—what this is, I know. You made yourself plenty clear, don’t worry.”
They lapsed into an almost comfortable silence. With their clothes on, in the neutral territory of the kitchen, Ed’s mind whirred: what was this? Where did Roy see this going? He wasn’t stupid enough to ask, determined not to fall into the trap of the simpering, sentimental teenager, the vulnerable party in what was nearly a May-December relationship. Relationship. Already getting ahead of himself.
He said, “I’ve got a weird question.”
“Are you from Xing?”
Roy leaned on the counter. “My mother was. My father was Amestrian. Why do you ask?”
“I dunno. Just thinking about it. How come you’ve never said?”
“Because it’s no one’s business.” He picked at his nails as he spoke, which Ed found charming. “And people never ask—I know everyone can tell, but it’s as if it’s rude to talk about race. Instead of being upfront, they’d rather ask these sly half-questions about my heritage. Where are you from. The long final syllable.”
“Right.” Ed studied the lines of Roy’s face; the wide bridge of his nose, his high cheekbones and dark eyes. He wanted to tell him he was beautiful but he couldn’t think of a way to phrase it that didn’t sound dumb. And Roy’s ego was big enough as it was. He went with: “Well. It looks good on you.”
Roy stared. Ed found that charming, too, the way Roy would visibly blank while going over something in his head. It was a hint of sweet dumbness in a man that was all smoothness and brains. “You are … implacably, otherworldly weird, Edward.”
“Thanks.” His chair clattered back to the tiled floor.
The kettle boiled and Roy poured them each a cup of tea. His cups were unnecessarily dainty, bone china pressed with flowers (charming) and he didn’t keep his milk in a carafe, just a carton, which he pulled from the fridge and sat between them (charming) and the sugar was in a tiny ceramic teapot that Ed knew was meant for serving green tea (charming). Roy sat across from him and closed his eyes in exhaustion, unknowingly allowing himself to be studied. He was wearing a navy sweatshirt and his hair was limp and tired and his face was still flushed and blotchy from earlier. He stretched his legs out under the table and fitted them between Ed’s, their ankle bones clacking, and it was Ed’s turn to become quietly, slowly horrified as he thought: I could get used to this.
“Tell me about your trip,” Roy said, his eyes still closed. “Your last letter said it was a bust. What happened?”
Ed groaned. “Fuck, it was so, so anti-climactic. All that fucking time. So, I told you about Dwyer’s secret forest, yeah? That he had tubing hooked up to all these trees and Al’s research said he was extracting something?”
“Yes, of course.”
“So I sneak in while he's got everything going and find out the stuff’s red, and I decide, fuck it, that’s it, I’m confronting him about it. So we did, and he wasn’t mad at us, really, but I think he was peeved that we even suggested he’d be doing something so taboo. He was always kind of prissy like that. It turns out he knew about us—about Al’s suit and my limbs and stuff—and that’s why he was keeping us at bay.”
“He thought you were bad news.”
“Well, he wasn’t wrong. But the guy was real good about it. He told us more about the stuff he was making. It’s actually a lot like a stone, but not to the same degree of … omnipotence. So, not something we could use for what we want. But in the same sense as stones, it takes naturally occurring energy in living things, in this case, trees, and the Earth, and turns it into something healing.”
“So he was making healing potions, essentially.”
“Exactly.” Ed ran a hand through his hair and tucked it behind his ear. Roy’s eyes followed his movements and Ed made a little game of seeing how long he could keep him transfixed on him playing with his hair. “It wasn’t a total loss, though. I mean, it was a pretty big loss. But the stuff worked great, like—did you see the scars around my automail ports?”
Roy looked up. “Hm?”
Ed pulled the collar of his shirt to show his right shoulder. “Here, from cauterizing the wound. They used to be real dark and gross, super raised, and now they’re so faint. Same with my leg. It’s great.”
“Oh. I hadn’t seen how they were before.”
“It was pretty rough.”
“Well, that’s good, at least.”
Ed shrugged. “Not really. I was fucking pissed at first, what a waste of three years of my life. But we left almost six months ago, I had a while to cool down. Al helped.”
“Speaking of which, does he … I mean, did you tell him …”
Roy picked at his nails. “Yes.”
“Yeah, today, after we saw you. You know he knew? The second he saw us, he said, the way we looked at each other. He knew you were who I’d been writing.”
“Lord. He’s perceptive.”
“No kidding. He’s spent enough time around me to know, I guess. So I got to come out to my brother crammed into a shitty bunk in the barracks, after a twelve hour train ride, which was … something.”
“Not your fault. I should have been more chill about it, but Christ, it’d been three years and the last thing I remembered about you was coming in your mouth. Kinda hard to keep your cool.”
That got Roy’s attention. He sat back, his feet retreating from Ed’s. “About that …”
“You don’t need to apologize. You really, really don’t. We’ve been over this.”
“I know. I think. I just never got to say it to your face, how much I—I know I shouldn’t have—”
“I know. Really.”
“Still. I was thinking about that recently, the Cumulonimbus Alchemist. I never got to thank you, either, you know. You really did save my life, I don’t know what I would’ve done if …”
Ed tilted his head. “Is that why you kissed me, by the way? In thanks?” Roy touched his hands together and Ed said, “Stop messing with your nails. You’ve got important hands to shake, they’re not gonna respect you if you’ve got bitten nails like a schoolgirl.”
Roy scowled. “I’ve got these,” he said, plucking at his gloves on top of the stack of mail, “But, fine. Thank you.”
“So … no, that’s not why. I don’t know. I didn’t think much about it at the time. I was almost delirious, I … I really did think I was going to die, and in those last moments I thought about my regrets, and things I’d be leaving unfinished, and—one of them was you. The thought that there’d never been a time or a place where I’d felt I could … tell you. Or even tell myself, really. And then when I knew I wouldn’t die, and you were there, it was just the thought that all of us could die at any moment, in theory, and you would have never known, and it was … absolutely unbearable, I suppose.” He went back to fiddling with his hands and Ed didn’t stop him. “The circumstances of when and where stopped mattering, then.”
Ed didn’t know what he expected to hear when he asked, but it wasn’t something so heartfelt. “Oh.”
“Not that it excuses my behaviour, at all. Know that I’m not trying to—”
“I know, I know.” Ed stuck his feet out under the table until he found Roy’s again, soft and barefoot. “It’s alright. Seriously. That’s … I know what you mean.”
“I imagine you would.”
“Yeah. Anytime you’re in a death-possible situation, you think of all the stuff you never did, and you feel like such an idiot. I don’t blame you. That old fuck absolutely could’ve killed you.”
Roy sighed. “I know. God, for all I’ve done, flame alchemy seems so woefully inadequate sometimes.”
Ed raised his eyebrows. “Bullshit, I’ve seen you wreck—”
“Not like that,” Roy said softly. “I just mean that your alchemy creates. Fire only destroys. Razes things. Scorched earth. Etcetera.”
“That’s not true. Look at early man, fire created civilization. Look at … bunsen burners, and campfires.” Ed pushed his lukewarm tea across the table with his index finger. “Kettles.”
Roy rolled his eyes. He pulled a glove on and snapped his fingers, causing a pin’s width of fire to cut a jagged arc across the table and disappear into Ed’s tea, which started steaming.
“You’re over-simplifying it,” Roy said, slipping his glove off.
“I know. But creation isn’t all good, either.” Ed tapped a metal finger on the table. “Obviously.”
“Oh, of course. Nothing is.” Roy raised his mug. “Here’s to our imperfections.”
“To fucking up,” Ed said, then clinked their mugs together. His tea was too hot to drink. “So, before we get too far off-topic—about that blowjob.”
Roy scrubbed a hand over his eyes. “Can we not?”
“No, no, wait, hear me out.” Ed stood up while Roy’s hand was still over his eyes and stepped around the side of the table. “It’s been, uh, three years. Of me waiting. To return that favour.”
Roy’s eyes flew open. Ed reached out, grabbed the back of his chair and twisted until he was facing away from the table, then sunk to his knees.
Roy looked like he wanted to cry. “You’re joking.”
“You don’t get something for nothing,” Ed said, impossibly cheery. He grabbed the hem of Roy’s boxers and tugged. “Equivalent exchange. I’ve always wanted to do this. Up.”
Roy sighed. He lifted his hips.
Roy was forty minutes late to work the next day. When he showed up, he passed Havoc and Riza in the hallway near his office. Riza saw him first and snapped a salute. Havoc turned around.
“Hell-oh, holy hell. No offense, sir, but you look like shit. You feeling alright?”
Roy smiled and clapped Havoc on the back hard enough to make him fall forward.
“My man, I have never been better.”
Ed found Al in one of the research labs at headquarters, a small, out-of-use space no one ever seemed to mind them being in. Al was wearing gloves over his leather gauntlets, which was delightful. He looked up when Ed all but bounced into the room, swinging his pocket watch at his side.
“Where were you last night?”
Ed crashed down on a stool on the opposite side of the work table. “Guess.”
Al set down the vial of Dwyer’s health potion that he was preparing to test and sighed.
“You know, you’d think that after knowing you for eighteen years, I’d be more used to your … antics.”
Ed grinned. “Never a dull moment.”
“So, do you have a boyfriend now? Can I say that, boyfriend?”
“No. I don't know.” Ed pulled his braid over his shoulder; it still smelled like Roy’s shampoo from the night before. “We didn't talk about it.”
“Not surprising. God, I feel almost responsible for you. Like I should have written a manual to help people who aren't me deal with you. Should I call the General and give him tips?”
“Don't you dare.”
“Well, I'm sure he knows what he's getting into. He's not stupid.” Al leaned forward across the bench. “What is he like? I really, really can't picture it. Does he open car doors for you? Did he bring you flowers?”
Ed scowled. “We didn't go in any cars, and no. What do you mean, what's he like? You've met him.”
“Yes, but he's not courting me. I can't imagine what he's … oh my God, I’ve never even seen him out of uniform and he's dating my brother.”
“It's—he's—the same. It's not like … I don't know. He's fine. Nice. Whatever. You’ll see him outside of work eventually, probably.” Ed paused. “And don't say dating.”
Al sighed. “I wish I could roll my eyes at you. When I sigh, picture me rolling my eyes like I’m exhausted with you.”
Ed smiled at him. “I always do.”
Summer waxed and the days got longer and the two of them tried to find their footing. At first Ed would show up at Roy’s late and unannounced, and they rarely left the bedroom. Then he'd come over earlier, on weekends, and Roy would make him dinner; later, he'd show up with groceries and help cook. Ed worked his way through Roy’s collection of comics, sprawled on the couch in his study while Roy worked on one thing or another at his desk. Roy saw Ed with his hair piled in a bun on top of his head. Ed saw Roy snoring.
Al kept asking questions and Ed both hated and loved him for it. When Ed saw Roy at headquarters, he was appropriately distant. It wasn't until early May that he turned to Roy while they were getting dressed and said, apropos of nothing, “So, uh. How's this going?”
“How is what going?”
“You and me. Is it going okay?”
Roy regarded him quietly for a moment from the other side of the bed. “What do you think?”
Ed pulled his shirt over his head and drew his braid out of the collar. “I think it's fine. I mean, if it's something you want to do. Or keep doing. Or whatever. I think it's going fine.”
Roy came around the end of the bed and took Ed’s face in his hands.
“My sweet,” he said, dripping with sarcasm, “I want you like I want Alex Armstrong to punch me in the dick, but I’m nothing if not a sucker for punishment.”
Ed laughed and shoved him away. “Asshole.”
Roy snagged his wrist, pulled him into his arms and kissed him, which was more of an answer than anything else.
Two days later, Roy was simmering a pan of garlic and diced tomatoes at the stove and Ed was sitting at the table behind him going through his mail, and Roy said, “I’d like to have Alphonse over for dinner one night.”
Without looking up, Ed said, “Al doesn't eat.”
“I know that,” Roy snapped. “Fine, if not dinner then just a social call, I don't know. I'd like to have him over. That's not too much to ask, is it?”
“No,” Ed said, continuing to rifle through Roy’s mail. “But dinner would be fine. He feels bad if he knows plans are being made around him, I think. Just make it take-out so he doesn't have to refuse homemade food, he hates that. Why are you getting mail from the Western Amestris Media Corporation?”
“They publish that photography magazine I like and anyways, do you know why I’m asking?”
Ed looked up. “‘Cause you've never seen Al in your capacity as my—” He stopped; Roy raised his eyebrows and waited. “As anything other than General Mustang, and he's my brother and the most important person in my entire life, so you probably wanna like, meet the family.”
“Exactly. And I know your father—”
“Even if I knew where that bastard was, you wouldn't be meeting him.”
“Right. So, I have Alphonse. And I'd like to get to know him a bit better.”
“You say that now, but I'm warning you: he's pretty polite but he's not afraid of anything, and you're gonna have to look him in the eye—more or less—while both of you know that I come here to get fucked stupid most days of the week, so. Have fun with that.” He went back to the mail, flicking an envelope away from the others. “Also, your credit card bill’s almost overdue.”
Roy stared at the crown of his head.
“Has anyone ever told you that you have a very strange way of speaking for someone so intelligent?”
“Yeah, but if you talk like an idiot no one expects anything from you. Talk like you do algebra in your head the way other people twiddle their thumbs and all of a sudden they expect stuff.”
“Do you do algebra in your head?”
“Only when I’m bored. I like solving quadrilaterals better. Angles are cool, and useful.”
Roy hummed. “Of course. So, next week. Let me know when you're both free and I’ll invite Alphonse over. Or you can. Whatever you'd like.”
“Sure,” Ed said, again, not looking up. “Just don't be weird.”
Roy turned back to the stove. “I can't promise that.”
Roy cleaned his condo top to bottom in a nervous fit of agitation the night that Al came over, because Ed could be a bit of a mess but he was under the impression that Al was the cleaner sibling. He had no idea what to wear; how dressy was too dressy, or not dressy enough. He wore a collared shirt under his softest, nicest sweater, and was only mildly embarrassed by how hard he was trying to impress an eighteen-year-old non-corporeal boy.
Ed and Al showed up together. Ed had stopped knocking several months ago and announced their arrival by hollering, “We’re here!” while kicking his boots off. From the kitchen, Roy heard Al hiss, do you always just let yourself in?
Roy hurried into the foyer. Ed looked impossibly small next to Al and Al’s head brushing the ceiling made Roy’s condo seem incredibly inadequate. Ed’s hair was pulled back and the thick rope of his braid hung over his shoulder.
“Alphonse,” Roy said, holding his hand out to shake. “Good to see you.”
“You too,” Al said. He took his hand and bowed lightly. “Thank you so much for inviting me over. I hope it’s no trouble.”
“None at all, I’m glad you could make it. I feel like I’ve been hogging your brother lately. You should at least see where he’s been going.”
Al scoffed. “Hog him all you want, you can have him. The peace and quiet’s been nice.” Ed scowled and smacked Al in the back of the knee, making him stumble forwards. “Brother! I could have fallen and broken the General’s things! Rude.”
Ed trotted past the two of them without much of a greeting to Roy, which Roy expected. Ed was brilliant, but more than a little socially awkward, especially where romance was concerned.
“We’ll sit in here, c’mon,” Ed said, waving them towards Roy’s den, opposite the kitchen. Like his study, it was cozy and packed with books, but it had a sectional sofa in one corner and a coffee table in the middle and was, by all accounts, a prettier and less messy room than the one upstairs. Al sat on one half of the couch and Ed sat on the other and Roy didn’t know if Ed wanted to sit next to him as a show of solidarity or if being anywhere within a few feet of him would be embarrassing. He sat next to Ed because there wasn’t much room next to Al. Ed didn’t glare at him and he counted it as a victory.
“You have a lovely home,” Al said, folding his hands in his lap.
“Thank you. It’s certainly enough. Apologies for not having you over sooner, things have been hectic.”
“So I’ve heard! I read an article in the Daily last week about your work establishing an Ishvalan embassy here in Central. I imagine that’s been difficult, to say the least.”
Roy ran a hand through his hair. “Something like that, yes. That article was an absolute mess, though, the Daily has done an awful job of covering the changing legislature and this entire thing. Did you find it too—”
And so Roy and Al found common footing, much to Roy’s relief; Ed understood local politics but didn’t care much about following them, while Al was considerably more involved. Roy had always known that Al was bright but he found him a wonder to talk to, curious and smart as a whip. Ed didn’t say much but Roy caught him looking at him out of the corner of his eye and hoped it was a look of approval.
After some time, Ed stood and said, “I thought we’d get food from that place around the corner that’s got those big wraps.”
“Which one do you want?”
“Whatever you’re having. Take my debit card, it's in the pocket of my grey coat.”
“Cool, thanks.” Ed closed his hand around the back of Roy’s neck and squeezed as he passed behind the couch. “Back in a sec.”
As soon as the front door shut, Al said, “Brother touches you with his automail.”
Roy blanked. “I’m sorry?”
“Just then, he touched your neck with his right hand.”
“I … Yes. Is that bad?”
Al waved his hand. “No, no! Um. It's. Can I say something that might freak you out?”
“You can say whatever you'd like,” Roy said carefully, with no idea of where this was going.
“Okay, well—I have never ever seen Ed touch someone with his automail hand, un-gloved, unless he was punching them. And had somehow lost his gloves. Or else his arm was a sword.”
Roy got goosebumps. “Oh.”
“Does he do it often?”
Roy had to think about it. Ed passing him things. The clink of metal fingers against one another, laced through his own. Ed’s hands in his hair, both of them. He wasn't shy about using his right in bed, but that had taken some coaxing. Two mismatched hands braced against his chest as Ed rode him. He'd turned his index finger into a screwdriver to repair Roy’s glasses once.
“He does,” Roy decided. “I never thought about it. That he might not …”
“He's much more uncomfortable with it than he lets on,” Al said. “Don't tell him I’m telling you this. He doesn't bring it up, because, well, all things considered.” Al tapped on his breastplate. “He doesn't want to complain. But he really, really hates his automail. I think it's a kind of Stockholm Syndrome most of the time—he loves it, too, because he has to—but I think he thinks it's ugly. Dwyer helped with the scarring, did he tell you that?”
“He mentioned it.”
“It used to be really bad. To be honest, I was happy when he told me about you, General—”
“Call me Roy.”
“Only if you call me Al.”
“So, when he told me about you, because, I don't know—you've got scars, too, probably. Or if nothing else, you already knew about his automail, and it didn't seem like you'd ever think less of him for it.”
Roy thought back to one night, months ago, where Ed had danced fingers along constellations of pale battle scars that marred his body and asked him where they came from. Gunshot, gunshot, knife, fire, shrapnel, Roy told him. Then Ed had pointed out his own. Some were similar. It was one of the only times Roy hadn't hated talking about his scars.
“Of course I wouldn't think less of him,” he said. “He's one of the most—” He was going to say beautiful, stunning, striking, but caught himself; Al wasn't as cagey as Ed, but that didn't mean he should make it weird. “I can't imagine him worrying about his looks.”
Al shrugged his massive metal shoulders. “There's his looks, and then there's being an amputee. He acts tough, but he's not invincible.”
Roy’s heart caught in his throat. “Could’ve fooled me.”
“That’s exactly what he's going for.”
Silence stretched between them. Roy didn’t know what Al was expecting, whether he owed him the full formality of asking for his blessing to be with Ed, or if he needed to tell him his intentions with his brother were entirely pure, which was true depending on one’s definition of pure; he cared about Ed with a ferocity that surprised even himself and making him laugh felt better than every Christmas morning, birthday and orgasm he’d ever had, but if pure meant virginal, he didn’t want to lie.
Al seemed to sense him worrying and Roy wondered if it was an Elric trait.
“I already like you, by the way. I’m not going to tell you you can’t date my brother,” Al said. Roy sat back a little easier and Al laughed. “Did you think I wouldn’t approve?”
“I—I’m not sure. Edward didn’t suggest that I spend time with you, it was my idea, and I thought maybe he was … embarrassed. Because I’m so much older than him. And … you know.” He wasn’t twice Ed’s age anymore, but that hardly made it better. Al must have known that Roy was a risk and a liability, a public figure with something to lose, and that Ed being a part of that could end badly. It wouldn’t end badly, not if Roy had anything to say about it, but it was a possibility. Same-sex relationships were far from condoned in Amestris; not illegal for a number of years, but still far from safe.
Al laughed his wonderful, silvery laugh again. “I don’t care how old you are, sir.”
“Right, sorry, Roy. I haven’t seen Ed talk to someone his own age since we were kids, Winry aside. He’s always been like that.” He paused. “And if that ‘you know’ meant about Ed liking men, well. He’s never been particularly good at hiding things from me.”
Roy was hit suddenly with the idea that Ed was this whole entire person who had a future and a past that had nothing to do with him, and a brother who loved him, and Ed chose to be with him. He knew all that already but somehow, alone in a room with the person who knew Ed best, it became crystal clear. The tenderness of it caught him off guard.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” he said quietly. “Subtlety isn't exactly Edward’s strong suit.”
Again, they went quiet. Roy wanted to say a thousand things, not knowing when he’d have a chance alone with Al again. He wanted to ask if Ed ever talked about him. Whether he seemed happy. Whether Al, knowing Ed as well as he did, saw a future for Ed that had Roy in it.
“I … trust that I can speak freely around you,” Roy said, staring at his hands. “I know we don’t technically know each other well, but through Edward, I feel that we—”
“Of course,” Al said, cutting him off. “Other than me, you’re the only person he even talks to. It's nice to be able to talk to someone about him, too. Go ahead.”
Roy took a deep breath. “First of all, I’m sorry for making this so intense. I like to think that in the future, you and I can talk more easily, but I haven’t spoken to anyone about Edward since … And I know you want what’s best for him, and I just want to say that I do too, and that at this point in time it’s not smart for either of us to be public about this, but I just want you to know that I’d like to be open about it at some point in the future, because your brother deserves everything—”
“My brother deserves whatever he gets,” Al interrupted. Roy lost the momentum of his rambling train of thought. “I don’t mean that in a bad way, he just overthinks everything. I sincerely doubt he got into this with you expecting you to jeopardize your career for him. It would be nice if we lived somewhere where you felt comfortable being out, but I really, really doubt that Ed expected that. Don’t feel bad.”
Roy was unexpectedly, profoundly speechless. After a moment, he managed, “Thank you.”
He wished he knew how Al was looking at him. A burning desire to do whatever it took to make it so Alphonse had a face to express things on swept through him, as it often did.
Al went, “Um,” and Roy looked up into the dim pinkish light that glowed inside his helmet, signal of something alchemical, magical, not-all-there. “You said future, before. You mean, like … a future with Ed?”
Roy’s heart raced for no good reason. “Maybe. Yes.”
“You really, really like him, don’t you?”
“I’m sorry! That was inappropriate, I don’t know what you—I just—it seems like—”
The front door banged open and Al jumped a foot in the air.
Ed yelled down the hall, “Roy, oh my God, the guy behind the counter recognized me and said hey, where’s that guy you’re always with, here’s a baklava for him on the house, ‘cause you always tip so good! I’m taking it from you as a delivery fee. This is the best day of my life.” He appeared at the door to the sitting room with a massive, oily paper bag tucked under his arm and flicked his gaze from Roy to Al. “You were talking about me.”
Roy said “No,” at the same time that Al said, “Obviously.”
“Good things or bad things?”
Roy smiled at him, the best, most genuine smile he knew how to do. “Perfect things.”
Ed scowled, but his ears went red. He thrust the paper bag towards him.
“I got you the chicken one.”
Roy stood and took the bag, intentionally covering Ed’s hands with his as he did.
“Also perfect,” he said.
In early summer, Ed got back from a couple weeks in Risembool and Havoc jumped him when he showed up at headquarters.
“Ed, buddy! I heard you're finally nineteen! What say you let the boys take you out for your first legal drink, eh?”
“My birthday was in February, but thanks.” Ed twisted out of his headlock and held him at arm’s length. Havoc and Breda had coerced him into going for beers once when he was fifteen, but besides that, he'd had his first legal drink with Roy earlier in the year, when they'd first gotten used to holding a conversation and could manage a meal together. They split a bottle of wine at a restaurant and Ed didn't like it but he drank his share anyways, and by the last glass, it had grown on him. Mostly, he liked the way alcohol made Roy blush.
Havoc said, “Okay, so, we’re a bit late. You were gone! It still counts. C’mon, we’ll get the guys together and show you how to bro down. Like men.”
Ed rolled his eyes. “Sounds awful.”
“You'll love it! A real initiation into manhood. You won't even be the drunkest one there, Breda can't hold his liquor for shit, and Feury knows this guy in Signal who’s your age, too, he’ll come. It'll be great.”
“Breda and Feury are coming? What about Colonel Hawkeye?”
“Uh, she could—”
“And General Mustang?” Ed tripped over the name, which he'd been doing ever since it became more foreign for him than Roy. He couldn't pinpoint when that had happened.
“No dice. He hasn't gone out with us for months, I don't know what's up. I mean, we got pretty rowdy last time, but it's not like we’re in uniform, no one knows we’re military. Well, except him. He can wear a hat or something.”
“Ask again,” Ed said, smiling. “Tell him I’m going and I think I can drink him under the table, he won't say no.”
Havoc raised his eyebrows. “Are you serious? He’ll skunk you, you're gonna go home in a bucket.”
“Oh, obviously. I’m not gonna do it, he's just a little bitch when anyone thinks they're better than him. He’ll show up.”
“So you're in?”
Ed got a phone call at the library. One of the librarians crept up to him, bent down and whispered, “Excuse me, sir, you’ve got a phone call at the front desk.”
“Are you sure?”
“I was told to find a short, blond man who always sits at the oak table in the back corner,” he said. Ed rolled his eyes.
“Right, okay, I know who it is.” He followed him through the stacks up to the front desk, which he let him go behind to pick up the phone. “At the library? Really?”
“You don’t have a home phone,” Roy said. “Because you don’t have a home.”
“Noted. Which is why I always just show up at your place. Which I was going to do tonight. What’s up?”
The librarian was looking at him out of the corner of his eye. Had Roy introduced himself when he called? Should he be speaking more formally?
“I heard you think you can hold your liquor better than I can.”
Ed covered his laugh with a hacking cough. “Well, I don’t know. Prove me wrong.”
“You want me to go out for drinks with you and my former unit.”
“Me and your friends. It’ll be funny. They miss you.” He twisted the phone cord around his fingers. “And we’re all extremely lovable degenerates. You’ll have a great time, c’mon.”
“I don’t know if that’s …” Roy’s staticky voice hesitated. “We’d have to be careful.”
“We will be. Don’t sweat it, mum’s the word. Bring Colonel Hawkeye, I haven’t talked to her in forever.”
Roy sighed. “Alright. Havoc says seven p.m. at Forrester’s, in the north end. Please don’t dress nicely, you’ll make this ten times more difficult.”
Ed grinned against the receiver. “Don my finest burlap sack. Gotcha.”
Roy wasn’t nervous until he got to the wine-soaked pub they were meeting in, scanned the room and saw Ed sitting at the bar between Breda and Feury in a cone of garish light from the lamp above his head, and like Roy had half-jokingly requested, he wasn’t wearing anything special, and Roy’s breath still caught in his throat. It had been half a year and he'd seen Ed wake up with his hair tangled and greasy and smile the real smile that crinkled his face up, and he still made Roy’s heart race. And that's when Roy realized how bad he had it, and got very, very nervous.
He got a different kind of nervous when Ed noticed him, smiled and gave him a two-finger salute, not looking the least bit breathless, and he was left to wonder whether Ed felt the same way.
“Alright!” Breda said when he saw him, clearly already a couple beer deep. “The chief’s here, let's grab a table.”
“Nice to see you too,” Roy said dryly. He nodded at the others. “Havoc, Fullmetal, Feury, and, uh—I’m sorry, I don't know your name.”
There was a young man next to Fuery with shaggy red hair who stood so abruptly that he nearly toppled his stool. He knocked his boots together and violently saluted Roy.
“Johnny Braiser, General Mustang! Nice to meet you, sir!”
Ed nearly inhaled his tongue laughing. Johnny looked hurt by it. Havoc had the decency to hide his laughter in his sleeve and Roy had the decency to not laugh at all. He approached the bar and shook Johnny’s hand.
“Please, no need for all that. This is a social call. It's nice to meet you. You're in Signal Corps with Feury, yes?”
The kid was a head taller than Roy and half his weight, and he took his hand like it was a bar of gold.
“Yessir! Just started this Spring and boy, it's been great to—”
Havoc hit him in the back. “No time for being starstruck, we ain't here to get nice. C’mon, let's spread out. Flamey, you and your big boy salary’ve got the next round, yeah?”
Roy rolled his eyes. “Flamey is worse than sir.”
“Noted, Flamey. But if this is just social, I'm not being insubordinate, I’m just being a dick, and that beer’s not gonna buy itself.”
Everyone arranged themselves along the bench seats flanking a table in the corner, bringing their half-finished pints with them. Roy grinned.
“Good to be back.”
It worked out that Roy sat across from Ed. He was good at keeping his eyes off him until he downed his second pint and then he kept catching his eye by accident, looking whenever he tucked his hair behind his ear or laughed. Ed was being quiet, for Ed, and Roy knew it was because he was out of his element; guffawing with smart but simple, normal men, the pub atmosphere. The only words he'd said directly to Roy were, no Colonel Hawkeye? To which Roy replied, she couldn't make it. But every time Ed looked at him, he had this glint in his eye and a quirk to his mouth, the look of a boy with a secret, and it was intoxicating.
Johnny kept trying to ask Roy questions about work and Roy kept politely waving him off, distracting him with questions about his family, friends, how he was liking the city. But after the second pitcher talk turned, as it always did, to dating and sex and whatever else people refused to talk about sober.
Havoc leaned forward and said, “Alright, Ed, I’ve got a question.”
“Okay, so, like, not to sound gay or—”
“Off to a bad start.”
“—or nothing, but, you're a man now, and you’re a pretty good-looking dude, so you must be getting more ass than a toilet seat, right?”
Breda leaned over and jammed his shoulder against Havoc’s. “Yeah! I mean, you're short, but you're super buff, that balances out, right?”
To Ed’s credit, he didn't look at Roy even a little.
“First of all,” he said, pausing to take a swig. “Fuck you, I'm still growing.”
Breda chuckled and sat back. “So, that's a no.”
“It's not a no,” Ed snapped, “It's—”
Johnny, sitting on Ed’s other side and getting increasingly drunk, chimed in. “Do girls like long hair? Does that work for you? I never know if I should grow my hair out.”
This time, Ed looked at Roy and Roy, a known lover of Ed’s hair, looked away.
“Yeah,” Ed said slowly. “It really works, yeah.”
Havoc whistled. “So, that's not just not-no, that's yes, then.”
“Yeah,” Ed said, allowing himself a small, smug smile he aimed at the table. “It's a huge yes.”
Havoc thumped him on the back. “Man, good for you, then! We’re not vultures, we’re not gonna make you give us the goods, it's just that you gotta look out for your buds. If you weren't getting laid on the regular we’d have to show you the ropes.”
To Roy’s left, Feury laughed quietly. “I’m not sure how much help your specific ropes would be, Jean.”
“What? Speak up, was that a dig at me?”
Roy, the only one who’d heard Feury, laughed and knocked their shoulders together. Feury’s ears went pink and he looked very pleased with himself. Havoc stormed off to get another pitcher for the table and when he plunked himself back down, he gestured wildly at Roy and said, “Well, I was gonna be polite ‘cause, you know, you're the big shot here now, but here we go: you’re obviously seeing someone, Flamey. Spill.”
Roy sat back. “What makes you say that?”
“‘Cause you’ve been in a consistently good mood for months, and that doesn’t happen with you unless you’re getting some seriously primo tail. So who’s the lucky lady?”
Ed finished the last half of his beer in a single breath. Roy rolled his eyes at Havoc.
“If I didn’t tell you before, I’m not going to tell you now.”
“Oho, a secret, eh?” Breda leaned in. “It’s not your assistant, is it? What’s-her-name, with the curls?”
Havoc laughed. “God, she’s like twenty-five, you dog!”
Breda waved his hand. “Nah, it’s not her, she always seemed like a bit of a bimbo, eh? I don’t think—”
Roy slammed his glass down on the table and Ed and Johnny jumped. Breda’s mouth snapped shut.
“I am not dating Harriet,” Roy snarled through his teeth, “and I’ll thank you not to call my significant other primo tail, bimbo, or anything else that reduces our relationship to where I’m putting my dick, gentlemen.”
There were a few moments of stunned silence and for a split second Ed’s face was a portrait of surprise, open and awestruck. He smiled. Roy forgot to smile back. Then Ed ducked his head.
Havoc said, “So it's serious, then.”
You could cut the tension with a knife. One second ticked by and then two, three, and the sounds of the bar roared around them, and then Roy laughed.
“Yeah. I guess it is.”
Everyone let go of their held breaths. Roy risked a glance at Ed, who had this funny look on his face. Roy wondered if anyone but him noticed.
“You poor son of a bitch,” Ed said, and everyone laughed. Roy laughed too, but not for the same reason.
They took turns buying pitchers. Roy took his coat off and rolled the sleeves of his shirt up and watched Ed watch him as he did it. Havoc told a story about a disastrous date he'd been on earlier that month and Feury told one about some work snafu and Ed laughed and laughed and laughed. Roy watched him: the glint of his wild, wiry hair in the dim light, the way his shirt sat on his shoulders, his fingers around his pint glass.
“Yo, Ed,” Breda said, shoving Havoc out of the way to lean over. “You were on another continent for forever. Learn any cool shit?”
Ed said something in Canitovish, a string of seemingly unintelligible consonants, nasal and crass but somehow lyrical. Roy liked watching his mouth move. Feury coughed and said, “Well. Not exactly a romantic language,” and Ed said something else and flipped him off. Roy recognized the cuss words from what Ed had taught him.
“Alright, fancy boy, we get it,” Havoc said. “Any neat alchemy tricks? Woo us.”
Roy was hoping someone would bring that up. By his grin, Ed had been hoping too. He slid his beer out of the way, took a deep breath and carefully placed his hands flat on the table, palms down, his index fingers and thumbs forming a triangle between them. He closed his eyes and there was a flash of nearly indescribable colour, not quite blue or purple or grey. Ed slowly lifted his hands straight up, and as he did, the grain of the wood table churned and moved and twisted up into a little sprig of plant under Ed’s hands, complete with a single verdant leaf.
Roy had seen this before. He had a small ficus growing out of the corner of his kitchen table that wilted when Ed wasn't around.
Everyone at the table clapped and Ed bowed. The bartender saw the plant and started yelling and Ed shouted back, “I’ll put it back! It’s not damaged! Christ!” He put his hands back over the plant, same position, and dropped them down over top of it. It sunk back into the table, the leaf twisting and folding back into the grain.
“Holy shit,” Havoc said. “That was God level.”
Ed looked beautifully, blindingly pleased with himself. Fuery got up and sat back down on Roy’s other side so he could lean across closer to Ed and ask him ten thousand questions all at once about botanical alchemy, which Ed took obvious pleasure in answering. And so Roy watched him talk with his hands and trace arrays in the air as he explained them, bright and alive.
He's so, so smart, but he doesn't care about politics. He's single-minded. Stubborn. Brash. Crude.
Someone bought another pitcher and Roy had a full glass he didn't remember pouring. Ed and Havoc disappeared.
“You were the youngest state alchemist,” Johnny said, leaning across the table, “In your day, I mean. What was that like? I've heard so much about you. And the civil war.”
“I don't know,” Roy said, honestly. “It's … being a veteran. I don't know. I want—I want to make it so kids like you never have to feel like I do.”
“You're a national hero,” Johnny said.
“How old are you?” Roy asked.
“Edward is nineteen.”
“I know. He's something, isn't he? Confidentially, I'm totally scared of him. He's your subordinate, right? I've heard so much about him and his brother, I mean, everyone has.”
He's idealistic. Moralistic. In a bad way. Or a good way. Both. He's impossible.
Ed came back smelling like cigarettes. He topped up Roy’s beer. His eyes were iridescent, golden, a galaxy in and of themselves, flecks of amber and bronze. He twisted his braid around his wrist, his automail visible above his jacket sleeve in a slice before his glove.
He's a pillow queen. You never get to come first. He pulls your hair. He can't keep quiet.
Johnny turned to Ed.
“Listen, hey, I’m Johnny.”
Ed smiled and Roy didn't know how anyone could be on the receiving end of that smile and not end up where he was. “So I heard.”
“Oh—right, obviously, I mean, it's been hours, I just, I never got a chance to say hi.”
“Hi. Nice to meet you. You havin' fun?”
“Yes! Absolutely. Major Fuery talks about you all so much, it's been great to really like, rub elbows, you know? I've—I mean, not to be weird, but I’ve heard of you? Like, all of you? You and General Mustang. I don't know, I hope it's not weird to—”
“Nah, I get it, don't worry about it.”
He's not even twenty. He's not ready to settle down. He's starting things you finished ten years ago. He'll outgrow you so fast it'll make your head spin. He’ll leave. You wouldn't ever let him stay.
Ed’s voice was a sluice through water, that split second before two cut sides of liquid joined, crisp and almost otherworldly in their grace.
It harkened all the other times Ed had said his name; putting groceries away, Roy, where do these go?; standing over the phonograph, Roy, come flip the record, I'm gonna break it; bent over the bathroom counter with a sweaty palm on the mirror, fuck, Roy, oh my God, I’m gonna come.
“Good,” he said. “I’m fine, I’m good. Sorry.”
He felt something against his foot that was either the table leg or Ed’s boot, he couldn't tell.
“No sorry,” Ed said.
He gets off on embarrassing you. He hardly respects you. Do you even like him? Does he like you?
“How do you two know each other?” Johnny asked. “I mean, I know, I guess, but just—”
“I was already into alchemy when I was a kid.” Ed interrupted, his eyes on Roy’s, “I was eleven. My mom died, and I'd lost everything, and … Roy showed up. Asked me to become a state alchemist when I was old enough. Get to travel the world and learn everything I needed to know to get my life back on track and help my family. So I did. And eight, nine years later, here we are.” Ed tipped his head and raised his glass towards Roy. “Here's to that.”
“To history,” Roy said. He raised his pint and their glasses chimed.
Ed corrected him. “Good fortune.”
His pupils were blown. Venus in shoddy clothes and metal limbs. Adonis.
Shit, Roy thought. Shit shit shit shit.
Two days later, Ed woke Roy up in the middle of the night with a sleep-clammy hand on his shoulder.
“Roy. Roy. Are you up?”
Roy was lying face down with his arms folded under his pillow.
“Wh—yeah, what’s …”
He heard the rustle of sheets as Ed turned over next to him and whispered near his head.
“This, uh, this thing we’re doing, whatever you want to call it, you and me. Is it a requirement of it that I … be here?”
“I have no idea what you're talking about.”
“I mean, can I still go travel with Al and stuff?” he asked. Roy groaned.
“Edward, I loved you when you were on the other side of the planet, I'm going to keep loving you if you spend a year in Creta.”
Ed sat up. “You what?”
Roy stayed face down. “Liked you.”
“Oh, do not pull that—”
“I’m in love with you,” Roy said into his pillow.
There was silence. One of the longest Roy had ever experienced, he was sure. And then: “Oh.”
Roy turned his head and cracked an eye open under his fringe. Ed was sitting up next to him, his tangled ponytail hanging over his shoulder, and he was staring very, very intently down at him.
“You don't sound thrilled,” Roy said.
“I can pretend I’m not, if you'd rather.”
“No! No, I. Uh.” Ed ran a hand through his hair and it got stuck. “I don't—Fuck, I’m not good at this, I—”
Roy was sure he'd scared him off once and for all, but he was still half asleep and it didn't seem real, so he just closed his eyes. That's what love was for him: if Ed didn't feel like loving him, then he respected that, and he would keep on quietly loving Ed until he was asked to stop, because his love wasn't dependent on Ed loving him back.
“Lie down,” he said softly, reaching back for Ed. “Please. Don't worry about it.”
Roy turned on his side and Ed tucked himself against his back, his face pressed right against Roy’s spine. The metal hand on his side was faintly warm from the bundled-up coziness of sleep. When Roy drifted off, he could tell by Ed’s breathing that he was still awake.
The next morning, Roy woke up and let Ed sleep, and left his house keys and a note on the nightstand that said meet me whenever to give these back, or be here when I’m off. In the afternoon, Harriet was sitting on the end of the sofa in his office with a daytimer balanced on her knees as she dictated his schedule for the second half of the day.
“—So your four o’clock is with General Twining, and I believe that’s to discuss the new chief of police’s request for military presence at the northernmost border crossing, until that whole thing dies down.”
“Right, right, okay. Great. Anything after that?”
She paused and flipped a page. “Colonel Hawkeye called an hour ago and asked to drop by and discuss diversion of supplies to the East, to make up for that lost shipment last month. And also, your birthday.”
“Tell her I have plans for my birthday.”
“You can tell her yourself, she’ll be by at five.”
The phone in Harriet’s office rang and she shot up. “Let me get that.”
“I can patch it through here,” Roy said. Harriet sat back down and Roy picked up his desk phone. “General Mustang. Who may I ask is calling?”
He could only describe the noise that came through the receiver as a guffaw.
“Is that always how you answer your phone? No hello?”
Ed, which was a surprise. Harriet was politely looking down at her daytimer, pretending she couldn’t hear him.
“It’s not customary,” Roy said. “How are you?”
“Fine. Still at your place. I watered the table-ficus.”
“Thank you. Is everything okay?”
“Oh, yeah, for sure, I just wanted to ask if you wanted me to pick anything up for dinner. To save you time on your way home.”
“Uh, yes, sure. Did you have something in mind?”
“Well, what about … that rosemary pork rub, with the potatoes. It’s been awhile since we had that.”
“Oh, sick, okay. I can do that.”
“Great, thank you.” Roy squinted down at his desk. “Was there anything else you wanted to talk about?”
“Nope! No. Just dinner. Okay. Cool. I’ll talk to you later. Uh. Love you. Bye.”
Roy almost dropped his pen. “I love you, too. See you tonight.”
Ed hung up so violently the clatter rung in Roy’s ear. Roy gingerly put the receiver down and looked up at Harriet, who was looking back at him.
He said, “Sorry about that. Where were we?”
Harriet’s expression was pleasantly and utterly bemused. “Who was that, sir?”
“Oh, you know. Nothing.” Roy bit the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling. “Anyways, the new chief of police. What can you tell me about him?”
Roy turned thirty-five years old on a Wednesday. Ed woke him up by sucking him off, which already made it a better birthday than any in recent memory. Riza took him out for lunch and gave him a Louis Armstrong record wrapped in beautiful foil paper, and he told her he had plans to stay in, drink whiskey sours and listen to records to ring in his new birth year, and she didn't press the issue.
“I understand,” she said, “You’re old now. You have no time for all that hubbub of fun.”
What Roy actually did to celebrate his birthday was go for dinner with Ed. The restaurant wasn’t the intimate, candle-lit venue Roy would have chosen in a perfect world, but it was secluded enough for his liking and Ed wore a collared shirt and a skinny black tie and smiled at him a lot, so it was as close to perfect as he could hope for. Roy said, someday we’ll go to a place with flowers on the table and I’ll be able to reach across and hold your hand whenever, and Ed said, that’s gross. Ed talked animatedly about the lab work he’d been doing with Al and his pride in his brother made him positively glow, and Roy loved him. He drank his share of wine, and Roy loved him. He stole a scallop off Roy’s plate, and Roy loved him. Being in love was beautiful and dumb and embarrassing and Roy loved that too.
It was a warm summer night and they walked slowly back to Roy’s, taking the long way around.
“You look exceedingly handsome all dressed up, by the way,” Roy said, leaning down, and Ed scoffed.
“I look like an idiot kid playing dress-up, but thanks.” He knocked their arms together. “You’re the one who looks good in fancy stuff.”
“Only because I have to. If I had my way, I’d wear sweatpants everywhere.”
“Bullshit. You love being fancy.”
Roy wanted to take his hand so bad it hurt. They cut through a park on Roy’s street, dimly lit by white-bulbed street lamps, and the night air smelled sharp and smoky.
Ed said, “So what’s next on the agenda? The night’s young.”
Roy’s condo loomed at the end of the street, all shut up and dark.
“Are you asking because it's my birthday?”
“Yeah. That's all birthdays are, you get to do all your favourite stuff.”
“Well, in that case. I’d like to make us each another drink or two and put on the record Riza gave me today. You like Louis Armstrong, right?”
“And then what?”
Ed’s fingers danced against his wrist. Roy fished his keys out of his pocket with his other hand.
“Then we go upstairs.”
“I'm sure you can use your imagination, you've been there.”
“Is this all in order?” Ed purred. “‘Cause I vote we go upstairs first, and do something you've absolutely been hinting at for at least a month, and then go back down and make drinks and listen to records or whatever.”
Roy grimaced as they climbed his front steps. “I have not been hinting.”
“You're not as sly as you think. Ever.”
“If you're talking about what I think you're talking about, it sounds like something we’d do on your birthday.”
He went to unlock the door, but Ed pressed himself to his back and hooked his chin over his shoulder.
“Oh, come on, you don't have to be all macho. It's your birthday, let loose. You're thirty-five now, do you really wanna get to forty without ever having—”
Roy spun him back against the door and kissed him, and Ed laughed against his mouth and wound his arms around his neck. Roy pushed him against the door with his body and felt him breathe deep and laugh, breathless.
“You're gonna get us in trouble,” Ed said, and Roy shook his head and kissed him again, fumbling for the lock behind him.
“Fuck it.” Roy bit Ed’s lower lip and buried his hands in his hair. “I don’t care. We’re not making it upstairs, I’ll fuck you on the couch.”
Ed’s mouth was hot and demanding on his and behind his back, Roy got the key in the lock and turned. Ed fell back against the door as it opened into the dark, warm house.
The lights flicked on, but Ed’s arms were still around his neck.
There was the collective sound of many people taking a breath in unison.
For a moment, the shock of adrenaline was so intense, a real, physical pain, that Roy thought he was having a heart attack.
A golden birthday banner hung across his foyer. Every person he would even halfway call a friend was in his home at that moment, maybe two dozen people, piled into the entryway and living room, lining the stairway, crowded into the door to the kitchen, well-dressed in party attire and staring, staring, staring. Riza, standing at the front, had her hand over her mouth. Alphonse was visible over the tops of heads in the kitchen doorway and had both hands over his face.
Roy had the sense to snatch his hands off Ed like he’d been burned and Ed caught his balance and detangled himself from Roy, but neither of them moved beyond that. No one did. Havoc, to their right, still had his hand on the light switch. Roy couldn’t even breathe.
Ed was brilliant, talented, ambitious, beautiful and enigmatic, but there were a thousand reasons that Roy wanted to keep their relationship a secret, a plan that had been going well up until that exact moment. Somehow, hauling a trigger-happy military state back from the precipice of war was easier than knowing what to say to a room full of his friends and colleagues who’d just caught him with his nineteen-year-old boyfriend.
No one spoke. Nothing had ever been so quiet or felt so stifling, and Roy screamed to himself to say something, anything, but he couldn’t make his mouth work and what was he supposed to say even if he could? How could he talk his way out of this? He saw the way his future would crumble out from under his feet as word spread, at first gossip and then evidence, grainy photos of him with Ed, no privacy ever again, a court case, a career destroyed, all because he couldn’t keep his hands to himself until he was in the privacy of his own home. Walking in with Ed would have been incriminating, but not unreasonable. Making out was extremely unreasonable.
Ed took a deep breath and, in a voice that was uncharacteristically wobbly, he addressed the room: “Surprise.”
“Sir, Roy, I’m—this was an irresponsible use of my spare key and I swear to you, I will run damage control, I will speak quietly and calmly to everyone here individually and ensure that this doesn't leave the party.” Riza pushed an incredibly stiff old fashioned into Roy’s clammy hand. “Everyone here either loves or respects you. I swear it. Everyone … understands.”
The two of them were huddled against the kitchen counter in the corner by the sink. The music was on and everyone was talking again but everyone was also pointedly not looking at Roy, not since Riza rushed him off. Roy had no idea where Ed was.
“They understand what it means.” Riza’s hands were still around the glass tumbler and Roy’s were too and his heart hadn't stopped slapping against his ribs but her reassurances helped him feel less wild-eyed. “They know what it would mean for you. This is your birthday. No one will …”
Tell, Roy knew she would say, spill, rat, use this to ruin your career and your life and improve their own.
“... Let you down,” she finished.
“I’m an idiot,” Roy ran a hand through his hair and hissed, “This is my fault, I should have known I—it was stupid to even think we could—that I could have something for once in my fucking life without fucking ruin—”
Riza put her arms around him in a hug and a decent chunk of the rage behind his breastbone melted away.
“You didn't do anything wrong,” she said into his ear. “This is valid like anything else. You're not a monster.” It wasn't the first time she'd told him that. She held him at arm’s length and said, “Is this the first time you …”
Roy shook his head, looking anywhere but her. “Since he got back.” He didn't know how to phrase it, so sure that it would sound stupid to anyone but him. “He's over more nights than not.”
“You didn't tell me,” Riza said, tight-lipped.
“I'm sorry. I didn't know how, I was so embarrassed and I respect you and it never seemed like the right time.”
It was a lousy excuse and he knew it. Riza squeezed his arms and let him go.
“It's the world that needs to change. Not you,” she said. She turned and peered through the throng in the kitchen. “I wonder where he is. I hope he's alright.”
“He's … I get it. Honestly, I do.”
Roy scratched his cheek. “Don't patronize me.”
“Would I ever? I mean it. Edward has a way about him. To be honest, I think everyone who’s ever met him is at least a little bit in love with him.”
“Yes. I think everyone's surprised, but I don't think anyone is … surprised.”
“Hm.” Roy took a healthy swig of his drink, strong enough that his nose burned. He peered through the kitchen for Ed but the only crown of golden hair he found was half a foot too high up. “I’m going to stand here and wallow in self-loathing for two more minutes, then I’m going to go to the bathroom, splash water on my face, and come back out ready to be an adult.”
Riza saluted him; he couldn't help but smile.
“Perfect, sir. I’ll make the rounds.”
Roy did just that, taking a detour back to the kitchen to pour a second drink. Everyone seemed just as eager as he was to not address the elephant in the room, and he had a number of pleasant if not slightly stiff conversations as he made his way down the hall; Riza was right, it was his birthday, and no one with whom Roy wasn't comfortably intimate was there. He couldn't find Ed, but didn't want to appear like he was trying too hard to do so. He didn't see Alphonse either, and he wasn't sure if that was good or bad.
Roy slipped politely away from a circuitous conversation and on his way to the phonograph, Havoc, whom he hadn't spoken to all night, grabbed him by the wrist, slapped both Roy’s cheeks with his palms and held him there.
“Happiness is a series of moments,” he said gravely. Roy blinked at him, bewildered.
“Uh. Thank you, Jean.”
“Has anyone said anything? Anything bad? I’ll kick their ass, just tell me who.”
“No, no, it's been fine, everyone has been … fine.” He pried Havoc’s hands off his face. “What kind of a reaction is this?”
“There's no way he was the serious relationship you were talking about, right? Last month at the bar. I mean …”
Roy nodded. Jean buried his face.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry. It was a dick move, all that stuff I said, I don't want you to think I’m one of those guys, I’m not an asshole, I just—”
“Don't worry about it, you had no way of knowing. Happiness is a series of moments more than makes up for it.”
“I'm sorry. I've had a few. Happy birthday. Congrats, Ed’s a great kid. Uh. A great man. A great person.”
“A great guy. Buddy. Dude.”
“I’m gonna go get you another drink.”
“Yes,” Roy said, “Well, no, the embassy is more of—”
“Isn't that just telling them that sovereignty is the answer? Treating them like a foreign nation?”
“No, not at all, I believe it’s treating them with respect. It's something they've asked of Amestris and while I don't agree with Ishvalans who wants to leave Amestris, I think self-governance is absolutely a positive thing, and that starts with respect.”
“I know, but isn't an embassy sending them the wrong message?”
“So don't call it an embassy then, the point is for Ishvalans to have—”
Roy stopped, mid-gesticulation, wine glass in his outstretched hand, when he saw Ed step into the sitting room. Ed only seemed small shoulder-to-shoulder with others and that's what he was now, still wearing his crisp white shirt and his tie from dinner, but his hair was loose and finger-combed and pulled over his shoulder. Whatever else Roy was going to say got stuck in his throat, and for the first time, he didn't care if everyone he was standing with saw who he was looking at.
Ed spotted him. He straightened up and tucked his hair behind his ear.
“Excuse me,” Roy said to the people standing around him, his eyes still locked on Ed. He left his wine on the sideboard and slipped through the crowded room, and for the first time in hours he stood in front of Ed and Ed looked back up at him, trying not to smile.
“Hullo,” Ed said.
“Hello. How are you?”
“Fine, good. Talking to Feury about plants again.”
“Is that where you've been?”
“No, I was mostly holed up in your study with Al.”
As if on cue, Al lumbered down the hallway behind them. Roy was acutely aware of the buzz of conversation around them and asked, “Do you want to join me outside?” and Ed rolled his eyes at him.
“You talk so weird when you know people are listening. Sure. Let's go.”
At the back of the house, a door opened to a narrow patio and small, dark yard fenced in by hedges. Roy followed Ed out, shut the door behind them and pulled a cigar from his pocket.
“Breda gave me this as a birthday gift. Do you want to share?”
Ed nodded. Roy leaned on the patio railing next to him and pulled a book of matches from his pocket. Ed laughed.
“You lighting anything with a match is a special kind of irony. No gloves?”
“I don’t wear them to parties, they’re essentially weapons. You don’t pack heat at your own birthday party.”
“Pack heat. Was that a pun?”
Ed barked a laugh. “Shut your mouth.” He tipped his head back and looked at the yard upside-down. “Nice night. Super warm. Makes you wanna open all the windows, it’s stuffy in there.”
“It is.” Roy struck a match and lit the cigar; the smoke was acrid and perfumey, syrupy thick. “How’s everything going?”
“I wish I could say I've never had so many people in one room stare at me before, but I’ve done some pretty stupid shit in public spaces, so that wouldn't be exactly true. But tonight’s in the top five.”
“Don’t be. Of all the things I’ve been stared at for, fucking a very good-looking military general is easily the best.”
“It shouldn't be, the other things on that list are pretty appalling,” Ed said. Roy passed him the cigar and he took it. “To be honest, everyone here’s been too nice. I totally expected to get snide looks or people asking about my qualifications, or my research or whatever. Trying to suss out whether I’m good enough for you.”
“Of course you’re good enough for me. You’re too good for me. What kind of a question is that?”
“No, no, I know I’m too good for you. Obviously. I love me. But these are your friends, military people, and I’m probably just some pretty kid to them. ‘Cause, let’s be real, it looks like we’re just fucking each other.” Ed tried and failed to blow a smoke ring. He passed the cigar back. “That’s thing’s nice, by the way. Kind of almondy.”
Roy nodded. “So, that’s what you expected, to get sized up. But …”
“Oh, right. But no, everyone’s been weirdly nice. I think they’re trying to sell you. I’ve gotten a lot of … ‘Roy is a really nice man. He’s a good man. He’s doing a lot of good for this country.’”
“People said that?”
“What did you say back?”
“If you say so, yes, and I know.” Ed turned around, rested his elbows on the railing and pressed his arm up against Roy’s. “They also asked how we met. And since most people know I’m your subordinate officer, I assume they’re asking about how we got together.”
“And you told them …”
“A series of polite lies, mostly.” Ed held his hand out for the cigar; Roy gave it to him and kissed him on the temple. He saw Ed smile out of the corner of his eye. “So. You scared?” Ed asked. Roy sighed.
“Not really. It’s not how I would have liked this to come out, nor the time, but all things considered, it could be worse.”
“A lot worse.”
“A lot lot worse. I looked like a jackass in front of some of my closest friends, but I’m not going to prison. If I’m lucky, I won't ruin my career.”
“Well, any day you don’t go to prison is a good one.”
“I love that can-do attitude of yours.” Roy turned his head and pressed his lips to Ed’s hair. “And the rest of you.”
“Good,” Ed said softly. “That’s. Yeah. Good.” Clink clink, Ed laced his fingers with Roy’s. “We should get back in there, I heard there’s cake.”
“In a moment. This is nice,” Roy said, squeezing Ed’s fingers between his. “Am I allowed exist within a foot of you when we’re back inside, or are you still too proud?”
“Shut up, you’re allowed.” Ed pushed off the railing and tugged Roy back towards the door. “C’mon. I’m out of wine.”
Roy was sure he was imagining the collective drop in tension when him and Ed came back inside and were seen talking to each other. They stood close enough that Ed’s shoulder pressed into Roy’s chest, a singular unit for the first time, a couple. If Ed felt out of his element, it was impossible to tell.
Acquaintances left as the night wore on and only friends remained. An old friend of Roy’s aunt put her coat on to leave and Roy walked her to the door. She touched Roy’s arm and said, “Edward was telling me about the lovely little tree growing out of your kitchen table. He's an extraordinary young man, Roy,” and Roy’s heart caught in his throat.
“Thank you,” he said, “Really. He is.”
The remaining guests had relocated to the sitting room, nursing final drinks, talking in small groups. Havoc and Al sat on the carpet in front of the coffee table, Feury, Riza and Falman were on the sectional and Ed sat next to Breda on the other couch.
Roy walked up to Ed and caught the tail end of, “He basically waits on me hand and foot when we’re at his place, he's such a sap.”
Breda said, “You're joking. You must hate that.”
“It's annoying sometimes, but there's a lot to be said for having one of the most powerful men in Amestris comb jasmine oil through your hair. As a concept.”
Roy clapped a hand down on top of his head. “That is more than enough out of you. This is why I can’t take you anywhere.”
Ed hauled himself to his feet in front of Roy, smiling sleepily. “You love it, you big liar.” And then Ed tugged on the front of Roy’s shirt and kissed him. Just quickly. “You gotta let people know you’ve got a soft side, they eat that shit up. You’re a terrible politician. Read a book.” Ed patted him on the chest and headed for the door. “Who needs another drink?”
There was a chorus of positive mumbling and Ed disappeared out the door. Roy sat on the couch where Ed had been and from across the room, Riza caught his eye and gave him an impish smile. Havoc waggled his eyebrows. Roy sighed.
After a beat, Havoc said, “I could say the same thing about—ow!” Riza booted him in the back. “Alright, alright, but you were all thinking it.”
Roy closed his eyes. He had no idea what time it was. Falman said something to Feury and Al was talking to Riza and Breda leaned over and chuckled.
“Smells nice,” Roy said, his eyes still closed. “He's got a big mouth.”
“As if you didn't already know that,” Breda said. “So. This is … hm.”
“Are you surprised?”
“Yeah, honestly, but what do I know, right? Can't judge.”
Roy opened his eyes and sat up a little straighter. “Thank you.”
“No worries. It's just wild. Like, I’m not gay or nothing, but I mean, he’s gotta be a firecracker in the sack.”
“Makes sense now, like, when he first got back from wherever-the-fuck, you were glowing. You musta been screwing like rabbits, he’s what, twenty?”
Roy rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t think he’d like it if I—”
Ed came up behind the back of the couch and and smacked Roy on the back.
“I could hardly walk all week. He's got good stamina for someone so old,” he said to Breda, then turned to Roy. “Is there another bottle of the rosé someplace or just the white, and if yes, can I open it?”
“Top shelf at the back of the pantry, and yes.”
“Sick. Thanks.” He squeezed Roy’s shoulder and hurried off. Breda boggled at him.
“It figures you’d settle down with someone who never stops moving.”
Roy watched Ed go, stopping to flash Al a thumbs up and mouth something that looked like you good? And he knew when Ed came back, he'd find a way to fit between Roy and Breda on the couch, or else sit on the floor against Roy’s legs, and he'd keep everyone happy and talking, the brightest thing in the room. He'd leave the cleaning until tomorrow morning and crawl into bed with Roy and sleep until noon, and Roy could see himself wanting to do all of this over again next week, next year, whenever. Ed would go away and Roy’s life would slot into the spaces between writing letters, and then Ed would come back, different, evolving, with more limbs than before and a beautiful little brother, Roy was sure of it, and he'd still be Ed. Breda’s settle down didn't scare Roy much.
He took a deep breath and smiled. “It does figure, doesn't it?”