Post-series Fullmetal Alchemist Roy/Ed story; the first chapter started out as a one-shot of angst, but grew into plot-complicated family saga.
A Change in Routine
It was ironic, really. Roy Mustang had spent most of his military career slacking off. Not when it counted, of course. He'd known the game well enough to know when quick action was important and when it wasn't. Up here, nothing was important. Time was marked not by days and weeks but by supply drops and seasons (cold and colder). The military never came to check on him. They only cared that he sent in reports on a regular basis. Those were always the same:
So long as he sent those in, he got his supplies and the pension he never had reason to spend. The military really couldn't care less how he spent his time. And yet here, he kept to a strict schedule. When he woke. When he ate. When he patrolled, useless as it was. When he retired. It gave him something to cling to, something to occupy his mind. Focus on the task at hand, and don't think about tomorrow, don't think about yesterday. His routine was the only thing that kept him clinging to the edge of his sanity. He knew all it would take was a tiny slip, and his grip would fail, and he would slide down into the abyss. So he kept his schedule.
The sun was low, and Roy was building up a fire to thaw himself out after his evening patrol. He didn't want the fire, or more precisely the associations he had with it, but it was the only way to heat the small outpost. After he warmed himself a little, he would eat, then he would retire to bed. The routine rarely deviated.
Except this evening there was a knock at the door. Roy frowned. It was too soon for more supplies, and the supply truck always came in the morning. The only other possibility that came to mind was one of his former subordinates coming to try to talk him into leaving.
The former Colonel sighed and straightened from his crouch, wincing as his cold joints protested. He wished they would leave him alone; it was always torture, facing one of them. Even worse when they came in pairs.
The knocking came again. No, more like a pounding. It sounded like someone was taking a hammer to the door. Just who of his former subordinates would be this impatient? Not to mention rude.
The hammering stopped abruptly when he turned the lock. Roy sighed, braced himself, and opened the door.
He was hallucinating. The cold and isolation had finally gotten to him, and his mind had snapped. That was the only explanation.
Because gold eyes were glaring up at him through a fringe of equally golden hair, and beneath that was a scowl he hadn't seen in . . . he'd lost track of how long. Three years? Four?
"Well, let me in already!" the apparition snapped in a voice that was deeper than he remembered. "It's fucking cold out here!"
Roy stepped aside, and automatically shut the door after his hallucination stomped passed him and towards the fire.
"Do you have any idea was a bitch it is to walk through deep snow with automail? My leg feels like a block of ice and my arm isn't much better. Any colder and my ports are going to freeze off, and it'll be your fault, you bastard."
His hair was in a high ponytail, not a braid, and his coat was brown, not red, and had no symbol on the back, and then there was the deeper voice and the fact that he came up to Roy's chin instead of his collarbone. Really, if he was going to hallucinate, the least he could do was get the details right.
The small man who was so familiar and so different looked back over his shoulder and gave him an odd, nostalgic smile. "Well . . . I used to be."
In a daze, Roy walked over to where this stranger—Edward!—stood in front of the fire, and reached out to touch the young man's—not a boy, not any more—arms. Cold and hard and real. Real.
He gripped the mismatched arms and gave the boy—man—a shake. "Where the hell have you been??"
Edward gave him another odd smile, one Roy couldn't read. "England. Germany. I passed through France, but didn't stay there."
Roy blinked, trying to process these strange names while still in shock over Edward simply being there. "Are these . . . cities, somewhere?"
"Countries, actually. It's a long story." Edward gently pried first one hand then the other off his arms. "How about you fix something to eat—preferably something warm—and I'll tell you about it."
Roy nodded and turned toward the stove. Food. Right. Food he could understand.
Edward grabbed a blanket and settled down in front of the fire. Roy watched him, paying only as much attention as needed to the soup he was heating. "Where's Alphonse? I'm surprised you're not with him."
"Oh, he's back at the inn, with Havoc. We figured we didn't all need to come out here." The young man gave him an odd look, then sighed and tried to arrange himself more comfortably, wrapping the blanket around his shoulders and then pushing layers of clothing back from his right arm and left leg, holding the metal out to the fire. Roy found the sight of the automail comforting. "I missed you, Colonel. I never would have thought that I would actually miss you, but I did."
The older man sighed and stirred the soup. "It's not 'Colonel' anymore, Fullmetal. I'm sure you were told about my demotion."
The blond flashed him a grin. Finally, a smile he understood, one he remembered. "If you're gonna call me 'Fullmetal,' I get to call you 'Colonel.'"
Roy smirked, something he hadn't properly done in years. "Fair enough."
"I even wrote letters to you," Ed continued, staring into the fire. "Stupid, really, but I guess I needed to talk to someone, even if I couldn't get an answer back. Someone other than Al, because I wrote to him, too, of course, but . . . sometimes I just needed to talk to someone else."
"I'm flattered," Roy answered honestly. "As well as a little surprised. Why choose me?"
He shrugged. "You just kinda came to mind."
"Do I get to read these letters?"
"Eh. . . ." The flush might have been from the fire, but somehow Roy doubted it. "Well, I didn't really know if I'd ever get the chance to actually send them or not, and they kinda became like a journal. . . ."
Roy raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
The flush was definitely not from the fire now. Edward scowled and ducked his head, hiding behind his bangs, and suddenly he was fifteen again and reporting to his commanding officer in a military office. "Shut up. Just forget I said anything."
Roy had a sudden urge to rush forward and pull this young man into his arms and not let go because he was back and it was Edward and he was well and truly back.
Instead he turned off the stove and dished the soup into bowls. "You've piqued my curiosity now. You must realize I won't be able to forget until it's satisfied."
The muttered insult made the older man smile.
He joined Ed in front of the fire, and while they ate he listened to the young alchemist describe where he'd been for the last three years (had it really only been three?), in a world on the other side of the Gate, a world that was like and unlike their own, where alchemy didn't work and automail was unheard of. He told of a desperate search to find some way home, searching both science and technology for an answer that seemed nonexistent. Of meeting people who were at once painfully familiar and painfully strange. Of one person in particular who was so like his brother that it made him ache to be home. And, ultimately, of his father's sacrifice to open the Gate, and of his brother opening the other side to pull him out.
"But how did Alphonse know to open the Gate right then?"
"He said it was a hunch. I'm glad he didn't ignore it, because otherwise who knows where I would have ended up, or in what shape. But we do have a theory." He finished the last of his soup, and set the bowl and spoon on the hearth, next to Roy's. "Back when we tried to transmute our mother, Al and I were both pulled in. We were both deconstructed and reconstructed at the same time. We think something might have, well, crossed. Nothing major, obviously, but enough that Al said it felt like some small part of him was being deconstructed when I was pulled through the Gate. So he took a chance."
"What about the equivalent exchange?" Roy asked with some trepidation. "What did the Gate take?"
Edward snorted. "There's nothing 'equivalent' about the way the Gate operates. But he used some Red Water stones that Russel and Fletcher had—the Tringham brothers, remember them?—and it seems that was enough. Hohenheim had already paid most of the passage fee from the other side, after all." His eyes went distant for a moment, and Roy looked away, not wanting to intrude. "Anyway," Ed said after a moment, almost physically shaking himself out of whatever emotion had taken hold of him, "that's my story. What's yours?"
"Yeah. Your fight with Pride and all. Is that how you got that?" He nodded to the left side of Roy's face.
The older man smiled sourly and fingered the edge of the eye patch. "Not from Pride, no. I'd already finished that fight when this happened."
Roy had never told anyone the full story before. A few people, those he trusted, knew what happened, but he'd never gone into detail. He took a moment to gather himself, and then picked up the story from the last time he'd seen Edward, when they'd parted on the side of the road.
He got through his fight with a monster in a man's form, the death of an innocent child, and being shot by a mad man, then faltered. The aftermath was the painful part. That was when his life had ended, quietly in a court martial office.
He looked over to Edward. The young man was watching him with what looked like concern and sympathy. Sympathy, but not pity, and for that Roy was grateful. "The doctors said I was lucky," the older man continued, fingering the edge of the patch again. "If the angle had been any deeper, the bullet would have entered my brain. They said it was a miracle I survived." He shook his head, a small, bitter smile on his face. "I don't feel lucky."
Ed watched him a moment more, then reached over to touch the patch. "Let me see."
Roy pulled back automatically, reaching up to catch the metal arm by the wrist. "Edward, I . . . I don't know." Stupid. It was just a scar, and Edward was no stranger to scars. Even so, Roy was reluctant to remove the fabric barrier.
But Edward nodded and pulled his hand back without question. "All right."
Roy opened his mouth to explain, but then realized he had no idea what to say, so he closed it again. "I'm sorry," he offered instead.
Edward had started to straighten his clothes, pushing his pant leg and sleeve back down, but paused and glanced up, a thoughtful look on his face. "Colonel, did you ever wonder why I always kept my automail covered?" He turned his gaze to his metal arm, still showing between his sleeve his glove. "It was a real pain sometimes, always wearing long sleeves and gloves, especially in the summer. But I did. Ever wonder why?"
Roy frowned and shook his head. "I never gave it much thought. I suppose I assumed you were self conscious about it."
The young man gave him a self-deprecating smile. "Yeah, but 'self conscious' doesn't quite cover it." He held up his arm and contemplated it again. "I didn't know why myself for a long time, either. But somehow, it's as if I felt that anyone who saw my automail could see why I had it. They could see my sin, and they'd judge me. Or worse, they'd pity me." He dropped his arm and shook his head. "I can't stand pity. Especially not for something I did to myself." He signed and finished straightening his sleeve. "I guess I'm saying, if you don't want me to see, it's okay. For whatever reason. You don't have to explain or apologize for it."
Roy stared at this man he had known as a boy, his mouth open slightly in amazement. Then he smiled and shook his head. "You've grown. And I don't just mean the centimeter or two you've gained in height."
"It's more than that."
The older man smirked. Perhaps he hadn't changed quite so much after all.
"Bastard. You can never resist, can you?"
"When you make it so easy?"
Ed huffed, and turned to look at the fire.
Roy contemplated the blond for a long moment, taking in the leaner face, the sharper cheekbones, the modulated expressions—and under it all, the boy he'd grown so fond of a lifetime ago. He hesitated a moment, then reached over and cupped the boy's—man's—cheek and turned his face toward him. The gold eyes looked startled, but the young man didn't pull away.
"Edward . . ." he said, stroking a cheekbone with his thumb, "what would you do if you found me pointing a gun at my head . . . with my finger on the trigger? How would you react?"
Golden eyes widened, then narrowed. "I'd tell you you were an idiot for even thinking of doing something so stupid."
Roy smiled and dropped his hand, brushing his fingers against gold bangs as he pulled back. "That's what I thought."
"Colonel—Roy—" Edward caught his hand before he could pull it back completely. "Have you . . . actually thought about this sort of thing? About . . . about killing yourself?"
His left hand was warm, and soft from being kept gloved. Roy curled his fingers around it. "Three times in my life, I've thought about ending it. Twice I've come close to actually pulling the trigger."
Edward stared at him, shock and confusion and several other emotions playing across his face. "I never would have thought . . . you, of all people. . . ."
"Most people wouldn't," the former Colonel agreed. "It seems I've done a pretty good job of fooling everyone." He looked down at their hands, stroking his thumb along the smooth skin. "The first time was in Ishval, after I. . . ." He faltered, but Ed's hand tightened on his, and he knew he didn't have to specify. "I got very drunk afterwards, and thought it wasn't right that I should live while they didn't. I had just put the gun under my chin, when Marcoh stopped me. Told me the blame was his, and I was just following orders." He smiled bitterly. "It didn't make me feel any better, but it did keep me from pulling the trigger.
"The second time was after I came back, when the war was over. I think something inside me had snapped back in Ishval, and stayed snapped for a long time. I started looking into what it would take . . . to bring someone back from the dead." He glanced up and shook his head. "I knew the only thing I was likely to accomplish was my own death from a rebound. I was talented at what I did—but I wasn't that good. It would be easier to simply kill myself outright. But I couldn't. I took the gun out and stared at it, but I couldn't do it. Maes came by later and beat some sense into me, and helped me find a focus for my life."
He dropped his gaze again, and cupped Edward's smaller hand between his own. "The third time was after my demotion and transfer. I'd lost everything, as well as . . . some people who were very important to me. There was no point in living, not anymore. And I knew . . . no one would be coming to stop me. Not this time. I very nearly pulled the trigger."
"So what did stop you?" Ed asked, after Roy had fallen silent.
The older man glanced up again and smiled. "Your voice in my head."
Roy chuckled. "You told me to stop being an idiot. Told me I was stronger than that. You said a lot of things."
Ed was silent for a moment, then his eyebrow quirked. "Have you always been insane?"
"Perhaps," Roy replied with a smirk. "But that was the only time it evidenced itself like that."
"Well, I'm glad your insanity kept you from being an idiot."
"Yes . . . I imagine you wouldn't have forgiven me."
"I've found I'm a lot more forgiving than I thought I was," Edward said quietly. "But I would have been . . . disappointed, to say the least."
The younger man looked down at their joined hands, and Roy was suddenly self conscious about it, wondering if perhaps this was a liberty he shouldn't be taking, if maybe he had taken too many liberties already. After all, they'd parted as nothing more than superior and subordinate, and while Roy had been more fond of Edward than he should have been, he was certain the boy had not returned his affection.
But Edward only snorted quietly and shook his head, making no move to pull his hand away. "It's funny. I can't decide if you've changed, or if I'm merely seeing a different side of you. I'm guessing it's a bit of both, huh?"
"Are you bothered?"
"No . . . I always knew I wasn't seeing the whole story. You were always so fucking opaque, it drove me nuts. That was half the reason I wanted to punch your face in, I wanted to see you react for once like a normal human being, instead of . . . I don't know what. I just wanted to break that mask you always wore."
"Well, I haven't had much need for it up here, so it's fallen into disuse," Roy said with a slightly self-mocking smile. He pulled his hands away from Edward's and picked up the bowls.
Edward caught his sleeve before he could stand. "You don't belong up here, Colonel. Come back to Central."
He settled back down with the bowls in his lap, not looking at the younger man. "I wondered when you would bring that up."
"I talked to Hawkeye and Havoc, they said there might be a way for you to get your rank and title back, some loopholes you might be able to use. It's a small chance, but it's better than staying up here. Right now you're standing still. Stagnating."
"Move forward, huh. . . ." Roy twisted the bowls in his lap. Would such a small chance be worth it?
Did he really have anything left to lose?
Did he want to make the effort?
Was he capable of such an effort, now?
He shook his head, mostly to keep it from spinning. It was all too much. "Edward, I don't. . . ." He sighed. "Ask me in the morning. Right now . . . I don't want to think about it. I don't want to think about anything."
"All right, Colonel." Ed squeezed his arm before letting go. "But I'm going to expect an answer."
Roy got up and set to cleaning the bowls in the outpost's small sink. Edward tucked the blanket around himself and stared into the fire.
"But, um, maybe there's something else you could answer for me?" the smaller man started, almost timidly. "It's nothing, really, just an argument I was having with Al and Havoc."
Roy looked over and raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"
"Well, it's. . . ." He seemed to hold his breath for a moment, then let it out in a rush of words. "I was saying that I didn't think you'd listen to me but Havoc said you were more likely to listen to me than anyone else and Al agreed with him. I told them they were both crazy, but, well, now I'm not so sure. Not whether or not you'll listen to me, but the reason why. They said you . . . um . . . that you. . . ." He faltered, chewing on his lip. "I'd still think Havoc was crazy, but Al said he saw it too, back then, and . . . just now, you—I mean. . . ."
Roy couldn't help it. He leaned against the edge of the sink and started to laugh. It might not have been the best thing he could have done—no, judging by the glare Ed was giving him, it really wasn't—but it felt good to laugh. He hadn't laughed in over three years.
"You bastard! You're laughing at me!"
"No, I'm not—okay, maybe a little. But it's not why you think." He turned around and leaned back against the sink, wiping his eye. "It's that—damn, I wonder when Havoc figured it out. Either he's a lot sharper than he was letting on—which wouldn't surprise me—or I really wasn't hiding it as well as I thought." He shook his head, wondering if the then-Second Lieutenant had been responsible for a certain photograph showing up on his desk. "I never would have thought Alphonse would catch on, though. Wait a minute, does this means he remembers now? When did he start remembering?"
"When he saw the Gate," Ed answered absently, gold eyes wide. "You mean . . . you really . . . back then . . . me?" This last came out almost as a squeak.
Roy sobered up a little, regarding the blond with a small smile. "I had feelings for you that I shouldn't have had, yes. Feelings I couldn't act on."
The young man stared at him, cheeks slowly turning red, looking very much the boy he used to be. He ducked his head and turned away, mumbling something under his breath.
He was silent for a moment, and Roy had decided to let it go, but then he spoke up. "I said—maybe I will let you read those letters."
The older man stared at the younger one, unsure how to reply—or if he should. He wasn't at all sure how to interpret what he'd just heard. He knew how his heart wanted to take it, but the rest of him was too afraid of being wrong.
Edward stood, letting the blanket drop from his shoulders. Without ever quite looking at him, he walked over to his former commanding officer, and shyly slipped his arms around his waist, resting his head against his shoulder. The embrace was awkward and stiff, as if he wasn't used to showing affection in this way, or as if he expected to be pushed away. "Missed you."
Roy slowly wrapped his arms around the small body resting so hesitantly against his own, and then on impulse tightened his embrace, crushing this man-who-was-no-longer-a-boy against his chest and burying his face in long golden hair. Soft. Edward's hair was thick and soft, and he smelled of fresh sweat and faintly of oil. Ed had tensed for a moment when Roy embraced him, but was now gradually relaxing, starting to lean against the older man instead of just standing next to him. "Welcome back, Fullmetal," Roy said through the tightness in his throat. "I was waiting for you."br> br> br>
He slept spooned against the smaller man. Edward had grumbled about it, but there wasn't any other way for two people to sleep comfortably on the narrow bed. It seemed to Roy that as Edward got close to sleep, he not only relaxed, but started to snuggle into the arm around his waist, but he would never mention this to the boy. Young man. The proximity also meant that Roy, unused to sharing his bed, woke any time his sleeping partner shifted or made a noise. He couldn't bring himself to mind. In fact he found it rather endearing, the way Edward talked in his sleep. He couldn't even bring himself to mind the automail, even though he was sure he'd have bruises.
It was morning now, the thin sunlight coming in the small window and waking him as it always did. Only this morning, he didn't immediately rise and head for the washroom. Instead, he pulled the small, warm body in his arms close, pressing his face to tangled strands of gold for a moment before giving a metal shoulder a gentle shake.
"Hey. Edward. Wake up."
"Hnnng." The young man tried to shift onto his back, metal arm smacking into Roy's side as it had several times in the night.
Roy winced, but smiled, giving into temptation and brushing his lips against the temple that was so close to his mouth. "It's morning, Fullmetal. Time to wake up."
Smirking, Roy let his hand rest lightly against Ed's cloth-covered side. "Shall I see if you're ticklish?"
Edward's arms clamped down against his ribs protectively, immobilizing Roy's hand rather painfully under steel, and one gold eye cracked open to glare at him warily.
"So you are awake."
The blond muttered something nasty and turned his back, scooting as far away as the narrow bed would allow and pulling his knees up.
Undeterred, Roy took his freed (if somewhat bruised) hand and brushed the hair back from his bed partner's his face. "Edward . . . ask me again."
"Ask me again."
Edward turned over and regarded the older man for a moment. "Roy . . . come back to Central. Start moving forward again."
Roy smiled, surprised—but pleased—to hear his given name, and took the young man's chin between his thumb and forefinger. "If you promise not to disappear off the face of the earth again . . . then yes. I'll come back."
Edward grinned. "Deal."
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