[identity profile] tierfal.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] tierfallen
Title: Heartbeat
Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Pairing: Roy/Ed
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 47,200 (12,300 this part)
Warnings: language; post-BH AU; emetophobic parties beware; depictions of anxiety and depression (including dark intrusive thoughts); very much unwanted touches
Summary: Ed makes the mistake of waiting on goddamn tenterhooks for something to change – and then, naturally, something does.
Author's Note: So! First off, this has a bit of The Kissing in it, so if that is not your jam, cut out before the end. ♥ Second, I started on the next part of this series (which is from Roy's POV for a change!) a little while back, but I sort of wrote myself into a corner, and now I'm working on Loud and Clear, so idk when I will finish it. But there will eventually be more. ♥

PART 4 (1/2)

Even if the food wasn’t so brain-meltingly, tongue-explodingly, tastebud-tinglingly fucking fantastic, this dinner would still be more than worth however much Roy’s about to pay for it.

Right after they ordered, Roy asked him what Al was working on for class, and explaining that took almost half an hour while tearing through some obnoxiously good bread, and Roy had a bunch of genuinely good commentary and shit.  And then their food came, and Ed was lost to the entire universe for the first several bites, and once he sort of spiraled back down to settle more or less solidly on the planet again, Roy asked him what the best thing he’d read lately was, which required explaining the qi book—which Ling straight-up fucking translated for him, personally, which makes it twice as important, and it was pretty important to start with—

And then Roy says something that makes Ed forget about all the pomegranates that gave their lives, or at least their rubbing for this steak:

“I can read Xingese.”

Ed stares at him.  “You—can?”

Roy makes an extremely unilluminating gesture that involves pressing his palms together like he’s about to do a transmutation, then parting them, then sort of vaguely waving them both.  “Not expertly, by any means, but I’m… conversational, I suppose.  The equivalent of conversational for literacy.”

Ed can’t think of a damn thing to say.  The full extent of his brainpower is going into trying to conceptualize the sheer fucking quantity of books that just became readable.

His face must betray the beatific excitement he’s feeling, because Roy looks faintly startled and continues with the vague hand-waving thing.  “It’s really not… My mother was Xingese, and my foster mother thought it would be a travesty if that part of my personal culture died with her, so she convinced her friend at the tailor shop to teach me Xingese as soon as I was old enough to read Amestrian as well.  My speaking is probably rather embarrassing, but—I could get around, at least in the capital.  My understanding is that the dialects in the countryside are so different that it’s essentially another language altogether.”

“You realize,” Ed says, slowly, which is the best his still-whirring brain can do, “that I’m about to conscript you as my study buddy from now until forever.”

“Oh, dear,” Roy says, but he doesn’t exactly look intimidated.  Smug, more like.  Maybe disproportionately amused.

“I mean it,” Ed says.  “I’m gonna ask Ling and Mei to mail me every damn book they can find about alkahestry and the history of science over there, and then I’m going to make you sit down and read them all to me.  So you better brush up on your alchemy vocab.”

Roy sets his elbow on the edge of the table, which Ed’s been told one too many times is an unmannered farm kid thing, but he forgets to point it out because of the shitty, horrible, no-good way that Roy is grinning.  How does he make petty fucking facial expressions brighter than that moment when rainclouds part and the sun starts shining and all the puddles gleam like glass?


“I guess I had better,” Roy says.  “I could always teach you Xingese, and then you could read them all yourself.”

“Good luck,” Ed says.  “I’m crap with languages.  I tried learning Cretan one weekend and didn’t get anywhere.”

Roy looks at him.

Ed can’t help fucking squirming a little.  Roy looks at him ever so slightly differently these days, and it’s… well, it makes him feel kind of inexplicably, increasingly… antsy.  That’s all.

And warm.  Too warm.  Uncomfortably warm.

“It’s going to take more than one weekend,” Roy says.  “I don’t think that’s a reflection on your faculty for languages so much as on your methodology.”

“I had the book and stuff,” Ed says.  “It said thirty days, so I figured three should be enough.”

The grin has softened into a smile that melts the antsiness into just more fucking heat.  “That is very, very you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ed asks.  “Usually other people’s timelines don’t apply to me.  It’s not, like, an arrogance thing; it’s just… true.”

Roy is toying with his fork in a way that is bizarrely arresting—he’s not even doing anything weird or particularly elaborate; he’s just… turning it over in his fingertips.  Really slow.  He’s awfully fidgety with pens, too, come to think of it; maybe that’s the physical manifestation of him mulling over shit.

“It is fascinating,” Roy says, “that you’re aware of your own general brilliance and nearly insurmountable capacity for just about anything that strikes your fancy, and at the same time you’re convinced that you don’t matter, and that no one finds you admirable.”

Well, that fucking stings—distantly, though, like a lot of shit these days.  Barely any of it filters through the layer of fog around all of the familiar stimuli; it takes something jarring as hell to startle him out of the mist.  The things he’s already thought about and articulated in his head don’t penetrate.  It doesn’t hurt as much to hear it when you already know.

He tries to trot out a good scowl anyway.  “It’s not like basic fucking intelligence fixes anything.  You have to have all kinds of other shit—impetus and motivation and social skills and…”  An uncanny ability to fit into situations regardless of their character, like you do—like I could never do if I fucking practiced with a step-by-step instruction manual for a million years, because I’m broken, don’t you get that by now?  “…stuff.  I don’t know.”

Roy waves his hands again, which at least is marginally less distracting than the way his fingertips were playing on the handle of the fork.  “No, no.  I know.  Forgive me; this is supposed to be fun.  And I assure you I’m guilty of a thousand far more egregious feats of psychological contortion in my own life.”

“Where the hell do you even get words like that from?” Ed asks.  “You just—open your mouth, and they’re there?”

Roy smiles slightly.  “I suppose so.  It’s a gift.  Or, as my mother used to call it, ‘Shut your trap and just say whatever the hell you’ve talked six times around.’”

“I think six is too high,” Ed says.  “I’ve only ever heard you talk around something twice before you got to the point.  Maybe three times, but that’s special.”

Roy arches an eyebrow, and the corner of his smile lifts with it.  “May I have that in writing?”

“What, so I can get in the middle of arguments between you and your mom?” Ed asks.  “No fuckin’ thanks.”  Roy laughs.  Because he’s a weirdo.  Which Ed knew, obviously, but he didn’t realize it extended to shit like laughing at Ed’s jokes.  He’s pretty sure that’s an indication that the disease is fatal, and Roy’s past help.  “You don’t have time to teach me Xingese anyway,” he says.  “I know your schedule now, so don’t try to tell me that you do.”

“Alas,” Roy says.  “Foiled by my own stratagems yet again.”

“You and the words,” Ed says.

Roy almost-pauses—he never really waits, and he only ever hesitates for a second, but if you’re really watching, occasionally you can catch him.

“Would you like me to stop?” he asks.

“No,” Ed says.  He means it.  “Keeps it interesting.  Plus I really have to pay attention if I want to have any idea what the hell you’re going on about.”

Roy’s cultivated neutrality breaks instantly into another blade-bright grin.  “In that case, I’ll have to work on making my sentences even more convoluted.  The last thing in the world that I want is for you to get bored of me.”

Ed eyes him.  “You sure you haven’t been drinking?”

Roy smiles thinly.  “I’m sure.”

Ed eyes him harder.  “Okay, fine.  But if you wanna know whether or not I get bored of people, you can ask friggin’ Winry.  I’m pretty sure automail’s the only thing she’s ever talked about since she was five.”

“No danger of that here, at least,” Roy says.  “I can’t begin to understand the nuances of how it works.”

“It took me a while to get with the program,” Ed says.  “But partly—or a lot, I guess—that was because I just sort of didn’t want to know any more about it than I had to, because I didn’t want to think about the reason that I had to know as much as I did.”

Shit.  That was, like, way too honest.  What the hell was in that steak, other than pomegranates with aspirations to grandeur?

“I considered never doing alchemy again,” Roy says.

Ed’s heart practically fucking stops.

“After Ishval,” Roy says.  “After what I used it for, and what I did.  I never wanted to face that capacity within myself ever again.”

That is a big thing to say—a significant thing, very deep and very serious and very far from the ordinary smalltalk chitchat bullshit.

And it occurs to Ed that there aren’t that many people Roy could’ve said it to.

Armstrong gets it.  Marcoh would.  They were in the exact same hell he was, tangled in the inescapable intricacy of the same damn spiderweb, feeling all the strands winch tighter every time they moved.  And the thing that had made them special for their whole lives—the thing that had given them meaning; the thing that gave them power; the thing they loved—was the reason they were trapped.  It was the reason that their options were to act the part of a killing machine, or to be cut down so that someone colder could finish up the job.

The thought of transmuting anything had made Ed sick for a long, long time after that night in the basement.  But he’d known—even then, even with the bile creeping up the back of his throat and tickling his tonsils until he had to scramble one-handed for the window to try to let the air in to breathe—that it was his only way out.  It was the only way forward.  It was the only recourse he’d ever had, so by definition it was the only one that he had left.

“But that’s the thing,” he says.  “It’s a capacity for anything.  Alchemy’s a blank slate.  And I guess—I mean, I guess maybe a lot of us have to fall down hard before we understand what that kind of power really means.  How we have to hold ourselves back, or we’ll end up like…” Kimblee.  Scar.  The Homunculus.  The people that they themselves used to be—thinking that alchemy was the exception to its own rules, and the power came without a price.

“It’s a tool,” Roy says, smiling slightly, “just like any other.  And it’s what we do with it that counts.”  He sits back and clears his throat, shaking his head, and the smile twists rueful.  That shouldn’t look so… good.  Nice.  Sweet.  “That was—forgive me.  I seem to be about as skilled with conversation tonight as I am at parking all the time.”

Ed shrugs, trying to lighten shit up again—it’s the sort of thing Al’s got a knack for, which usually trips Ed up faster than a thicket of ropes, but it’s worth a try when Roy’s sitting there looking like that.  “I think if either of us acted normal, everybody’d freak.  I’d think you were possessed, probably.”

“Me, too,” Roy says calmly.  “In any case—”

The waiter appears behind Roy’s right shoulder—and even from where Ed’s been looking that direction, it’s awfully fucking sudden and eerily fucking silent; maybe the guy trained for this by waiting tables in Xing, and—

And Roy’s whole body tenses, tight enough that the tendons in his throat stand out, and his fingers curl around the handle of his knife until the knuckles blanch.

While the shadow-ninja-waiter sweeps around to the side of their table properly and starts offering a dessert menu in exchange for their empty plates, Ed watches Roy force himself to relax, one muscle at a fucking time—and he covers it amazingly well, sure; but Ed’s been watching Roy for a long damn time.  Longer than he wants to think about, probably.  And a lot of the tells have come clear over the years, and a lot of the veils and layers that used to hang between the two of them have slipped away.

Roy maintains such impeccable fucking pleasantness that Ed can’t tell if he knows that Ed saw his reaction.  Is he—embarrassed?  Or is it the tired sort of hurt, too fucking dull now to peak into humiliation after all this time?

Ed’s fucking heart aches for him, and that is a weird feeling.  That is foreign and beautiful and strange; he wants to—

He wants to protect Roy Mustang.  From whatever’s out there, whatever’s in him—from whatever lingers in the corners of Roy’s head, waiting to catch him when the moment’s right.  He wants to save Roy Mustang from himself.

Shadow-ninja-waiter ghosts away as Ed’s brain churns over that one—and his stomach does, a little, too, but not with any force.

Roy holds out the small, folded menu.  “If there’s anything that tempts you,” he says, “feel free, but I was thinking… Have you been to that new creamery in Andrews Square?”

“Yeah,” Ed says, trying to make sure the sarcasm drips down his chin and burns a couple holes in the table.  “Me and the six-thousand friends I hang out with in all that spare time I’ve got.”

Roy grins, propping his chin on the hand not waving the menu.  “I sympathize.  One of my sisters blackmailed me into taking her.”

Ed takes the menu and half-glances at it, since that seems like the mannerly thing to do or some shit.  There’s cheesecake.  Is cheesecake Cretan?  Maybe if you put pomegranate in it, it is.  There’s pomegranate in everything.  And honey.

“I didn’t know you had siblings,” Ed says.  “They speak Xingese, too?  We could start a book club.”

“In all of that spare time you have,” Roy says.  “And I’m afraid not—they’re all from around here.  My foster mother collected quite a lot of us.”

On the wings of a casual thought, it seems weird to imagine Roy as anything other than a headstrong, independent only child.

Settling into a second, though, the way he treats his team makes perfect sense.

“Huh,” Ed says.  He gives the menu another cursory onceover and then sets it down.  “If it’s good enough to blackmail you over, I figure their shit’s probably worth the walk.”

Roy gestures munificently—that’s probably the word he’d use, anyway—to the menu.  “On the other hand, if you’d like two desserts, I’m not about to stop you.  I think the miracle of your metabolism can handle it.”

“I don’t wanna empty your whole wallet,” Ed says.  “Just, like, half of it.”

“Can we keep it to a third?” Roy asks.  “Don’t answer that; I know better.”

“Whatever,” Ed says.  “I haven’t gone on a real expensive mission in forever, because…” Well, shit.  “Because you haven’t given me any, I guess.”

“I’m getting paranoid in my old age,” Roy says—completely straight-faced, the bastard.  “I suppose averting an apocalypse will do that for you.”

“I like the indefinite article,” Ed says.  “Implies we might have to deal with more fucking apocalypses later on.”

Roy smiles, arching an eyebrow at him, which is so unfair it’s way past words.  “Let’s just say I wouldn’t be especially startled,” he says.  “You happen to attract trouble like honey draws flies.”

Ed holds up the menu.  “Around here, honey just draws pomegranates.  Everything does.  Where do they even get them all?”

“Maybe they grow them out back,” Roy says, perfectly calmly.  “Or on a special farm, so that they can select for the ones with the most rubbing potential, since I imagine the effort involved in rubbing an intractable pomegranate—”  Ed has been pressing his lips together hard to hold in the laugh, and right then, the waiter comes back up to their table, and Roy flashes a completely normal smile.  “I think we’re a bit full.  Could we have the bill, please?”

“You didn’t have to lie,” Ed says when the waiter vanishes into the ether yet again.  That dude’s a smidgeon fucking creepy, come to think of it.  “Could’ve just told him we’ve hit a critical threshold of pomegranate consumption, and we just can’t take any more.”

“I don’t want to hurt his feelings,” Roy says.  “What if he’s a pomegranate advocate?  What if they’re his friends?”

Ed stares at him.

Roy stares back.

Ed snickers.

Roy’s whole face relaxes into another easy grin, and Ed wonders, more than a little bit despite himself, how many people have grazed the zany-weird-silly sense of humor underneath Roy’s suave routine—and how many of them have summarily rejected it.

“Yeah,” Ed says.  “Guess you’re right.  All my pomegranate friends are sticklers about that kind of shit.”

“Shh,” Roy says, waving his hand in a detectably cut-it-off kind of a motion this time.  “The fruit sympathizer is coming back.”

Ed’s too busy trying to seal his own mouth shut instead of laughing way too loud for a fancy-ass restaurant again to notice Roy reaching for his wallet until it’s too late.

The guilt sort of sticks in the center of his chest—gooey-hot and rising to contract around his throat; he has to get some words out before it strangles him silent, but first the fucking waiter has to leave, because he doesn’t want to make a goddamn scene, but—

“You didn’t have to—do that,” he says the instant shadow-ninja slips out of earshot.

Roy, who’s fitting his wallet back into his pocket, glances up, looking genuinely surprised for a fraction of a second before he regains control of every last muscle of his face.  That’s one of the tricks—you have to watch him extremely closely right at that first moment for the real response.

“I wanted to,” Roy says.  “Besides, I’ve always felt that it’s only fair for the person who picked the venue to pay.”  He arches an eyebrow and starts to tilt one of those dangerous fucking ever-so-slightly-crooked smiles.  “It’s nothing to do with control and everything to do with courtesy.”

Ed had sort of assumed they were both in on the ha, ha, gonna eat you out of house and home joke as being, in fact, a joke.  Somehow he hasn’t learned his fucking lesson about assuming that other people can read his mind.  And his mind is broken—jumbled, jagged, fucked-up, way past help.  Even if it was written in a comprehensible language, nobody would risk touching anything that fragmented for fear of slicing their fingertips to ribbons.

“I just don’t want you to think I expect you to buy me expensive fucking food after everything you’ve already done for me,” he says.  “For us.  Me and Al.”

“I know you to well to think that for a second,” Roy says, and there’s a different angle to the smile now—a gentler one.  How the hell does he do that?  “Consider it a very small personal contribution to Alphonse’s tuition.”

Ed eyes him for a long, long second.

“You’re going to do well in government,” he says.

Roy laughs—lightly, brightly, loudly—and it resonates through Ed’s chest like pure fucking photons and warms him from the inside out.

“Did you doubt me?” Roy asks.

“I ain’t stupid,” Ed says.

“No one,” Roy says, “has ever been fool enough to suggest something like that.”

“Well,” Ed says.  “Nobody except Al.”

“Siblings don’t count,” Roy says.

“Al counts,” Ed says.  “He’s smarter than I am, so he’d know.”

Roy looks at him, quirking another of those incomprehensible little smiles.  “I’m not sure if I believe that.”

“You can believe whatever you want,” Ed says.  “That doesn’t make it true.”

“Now who sounds like a politician?” Roy asks.

Ed sticks his tongue out.

And Roy just—laughs.  The same laugh again, open and unfettered and unafraid, and Ed’s ribcage just keeps expanding until he thinks he’s going to fucking split.

There’s some bad news about Roy: apparently, when lives or the world-as-people-know-it aren’t on the line, he’s one of those people who walks really fucking slow, like he doesn’t actually care about getting anywhere.

Maybe it’s not such a bad thing.  It’s a nice night, and their route towards Andrews Square takes them through the best park in Central—it’s all wrought-iron streetlamps and windy paths and big swathes of greenery and shit; it’s always been Ed’s favorite.  All the rolling grassy hills kind of remind him of home.

But his nerves won’t settle now—now that they’re alone.  It’s different than sitting in a restaurant, under other people’s eyes; different than the strange safety of being in public; there’s no one around, and Roy could—

He could do a lot of things.  But he won’t.  Because this is fucking Roy, and Roy won’t fucking hurt him.  Not on purpose, anyway.

Slowly, slowly—maybe it’s a strategy thing; maybe Roy’s trying to give them time to work up an appetite for ice cream, like Ed’s a normal person who has to work up anything when it comes to dessert—they saunter up along the main little pathway, cresting the hill where you can just see the umpteenth city fountain topped with a big fucking statue of an officer on a horse.

And Ed can’t think it—has to think of anything else; anything but sitting on the edge of the one near Rebecca’s parents’ place on that miserable fucking day; anything but the dead weight of that absolute certainty that Hawkeye was going to abandon him; anything but the burgeoning realization that he couldn’t even be fucked-up right.

“Jeez,” he says.  “Anybody ever counted how many of those fucking things we’ve got?”

“Someone has to commemorate the greatest murderers of the modern age,” Roy says.

It’s probably a good thing they’re walking so slow, or Ed would’ve just tripped over his own feet.  So much for lightening the fucking mood with smalltalk and shit.

“Good Lord,” Roy says before he can comment.  “Apparently I should legally change my middle name to ‘Buzzkill.’”

“Yeah,” Ed says.  “You don’t have enough paperwork in your life right now.”  He wants to ask what Roy’s middle name is.  Why the hell would it matter?  He needs to change the fucking subject in a goddamn hurry, is what matters.  “Y’know, I always… like, back in the day, I always used to look at that thing—” He points, for emphasis, just in case.  “And think how fun it’d be to just… jump in it.  I think this is the biggest one.”

“I think you’re right,” Roy says, and apparently the last-ditch effort worked, because the corner of his mouth is turning up again.

“Never got around to it,” Ed says.  He doesn’t add Never got around to most of the things I used to daydream about; never got around to much of anything I liked the thought of.  “I swear there was a police officer hanging out right next to it every single time.  It was like they knew.”

“Edward,” Roy says.

And that—that—is like a warm tickle at the base of his fucking spine; the soundwaves shiver like an earthquake, and the ripples broaden into shudders underneath his skin—

Nobody should be able to wield that kind of power with a single fucking word.

Roy holds out his left hand, and his eyes keep gleaming in the streetlamp light.

“Come on,” he says.  “Let’s do it now.”

Ed stares at Roy’s hand, which is easier than looking at his eyes—but not by much.  It’s just—a nice hand; it’s nice-shaped; it’s all even and firm-looking, and you can tell just with a fucking glance that it’s strong as hell, but it’s soft, too; and the thick white scar bisecting the palm just makes it more trustworthy, somehow—

“What?” Ed manages, which is marginally better than Good hands, Mustang.  Well-done there.

“If you’ve always wanted to do it,” Roy says, “then let’s do it.  There’s no one around, and if anyone turns up, I will have them know that I am a decorated general of the Amestrian military, and I have prior authorization to be jumping in fountains.”

“Fuck,” Ed croaks out.  He dares to look up, and Roy’s just—grinning.  Grinning fit to shatter his own face; grinning like a kid who doesn’t know yet what it means to live in terror of the the whole damn world.  Grinning like the person Ed’s always wanted, and the one he’s always wanted to be.

And Roy Mustang is just so damn gorgeous with the moonlight and the lamplight and the sudden delight all warring on his face, and the air around them must’ve somehow purified itself into straight oxygen, because every time Ed drags in a breath, his head goes light.

“Okay,” he says.  “Okay, I—”

It’s a combination of an old habit that won’t ever die and the positions of their bodies: he puts his right hand into Roy’s, but Roy doesn’t really react as his fingers curl in around the gloved steel—just beams at Ed, insupfuckingpressible, and then starts to—


And then they’re running, and the air stays still dizzyingly fucking sweet, and Roy starts laughing five strides before he even hops up onto the rim of the fountain; he releases Ed’s hand seconds before he leaps right in—

The splash of water alone feels fucking freezing, but Ed’s got so much momentum that his brain doesn’t kick in before his foot kicks up, and—

In he goes.

Shockingly enough—as in, shock to the system; and also as in, not-fucking-surprising-at-all—the water’s even colder when he’s in it up to his fucking knees.  On the one side, anyway.  The automail obviously isn’t too bothered by the cold—yet, that is; he’ll feel it later when the chill seeps into the stump and aches like a motherfucker all the way up to his hip—but Roy’s making such a damn ruckus that there’s water everywhere, and it’s crawling up the fabric of his slacks.

And he knows he’ll regret it—sort of, kind of, one way or another; maybe just in a small way, but—

But he’s laughing.

And he’s wading through the tiny, slapping waves towards Roy.

And he can’t get himself to stop.

“What the hell are you doing?” he asks, like it matters at this point.

“Making your dream of negligibly minor civil disobedience come true,” Roy says, bending down to cup his hands in the water and then flinging it skyward—not that he needs to; there are jets pouring out on all sides of the bronze crag of rock that this douchebag general’s horse somehow found a stable perch on, despite the fact that horses hate this kind of shit.

More pertinently, where the fuck does Roy even get words like that?

He’s right, though, weirdly enough.  This is basically what Ed had imagined—except that it was always Al he’d envisioned, obviously, instead of his fucking C.O.; but the giddiness and the frigid water and the shaking of the unending laughter in his chest… That’s all there.  That’s all lined up and checked off and fucking perfect; this is exactly what he thought it’d be.

How long has it been since something in his life went according to the fucking plan?

How long has it been since stupid, simple, kid-in-a-candy-store glee just rose through him from the tips of both sets of toes like this?

Roy puts one hand under the spray of one of the spigots and then opens his palm—the better to bat a splash of it right at Ed’s face, but he’s not fucking with some amateur, and Ed ducks away and flings his arm over his face and maybe yelps aloud for effect, and—

“Come on,” Roy says, and then he’s sloshing around to the other side of the statue—he’s drenched; tiny little rivulets run down his face, and his hair is dripping, and his white shirt’s clinging to his collarbones, and he won’t stop fucking grinning like the whole world’s good.

That should be fucking illegal.  It is a fucking crime.

Roy makes a big point of swinging his feet as he walks, splashing as much as possible, and then he wedges one foot up on top of one of the pipes and starts clambering up the fake rock.

“Let’s see here,” he says, which is positively fucking ridiculous, because he’s already reaching for a handhold on the statue-officer’s accoutrements.

“What the hell are you doing now?” Ed asks, regardless of the fact that it’s fairly obvious at this point that what the hell Roy’s doing is climbing up the side of the statue and carefully levering himself up, the better to plant one foot on the front edge of the horse’s saddle and the other on its mane.  He clings to the bronze bridle for a second before he slowly lets go of it and carefully raises himself upright.

He looks so fucking pleased with himself that whatever else Ed was going to say disintegrates in his mouth and twists it into another smile in spite of him.

“The only thing better than negligibly minor civil disobedience,” Roy says, “is slightly less minor civil disobedience.”  The moment he’s steady, he hikes one foot up onto the top of the horse’s head and strikes a dramatic pose, fanning one hand over his eyes so that he can gaze histrionically into the fucking distance.  Then he pauses, and then he reaches down and holds a hand out again, like he’s not a good seven fucking feet up from the fountain at this point.  “The view’s impressive; you should come up.”

Ed sets his hands on his hips, pretending he doesn’t feel wet fabric squishing everywhere.  At least he can’t hear it over the loud ambient plashing of the fountain and shit.  “Exactly what’re you trying to imply, Mustang?”

Ed doesn’t know if he could refuse this man a fucking thing when he’s grinning like that.  It’s terrifying.  It’s terrifying, and it’s great, and he wishes more people got the privilege of this; he wishes more people knew who Roy really is—

“Nothing whatsoever,” Roy says brightly, “except that you should join me in less-negligibly-minor civil disobedience and see this.”

Ed tries to glower at him, but it’s hard from this angle, and it’s even harder when the lightness of his heart is a gentle sort of airiness instead of a desperate flutter for the first time in what feels like a fucking age.

“This better be good,” he says.  It’s nice to recognize, now that he has the chance, that this stupid life hasn’t completely beaten that pure little child’s impulse to climb things out of him yet.  He circles the statue to take it from the same side Roy did, then clasps his right hand around the draping bronze reins for leverage and kicks around for a foothold.

Roy’s extending a hand towards him for him to take with his left.

“I’m heavier than I look,” Ed says.  “Captain Hawkeye’ll kill me if I drag you off this thing, and you crack your head open.”

“No, she wouldn’t,” Roy says.  “She’d know whose fault it was.  She learned a long time ago that the bad ideas are always mine.”  He hooks his elbow around the raised arm of the cavalry officer and reaches down farther with his empty hand.  “Trust me.”


Ed takes his stupid fucking hand.

Even though they’re both soaking wet by now, Roy’s grip is so firm that Ed isn’t scared of falling for a second.

Probably that’s his first mistake.  A strong dose of cynicism is healthy, whatever anybody says—if you keep your hopes low, it’s that much harder to end up disappointed.

Roy hauls upward, and Ed leverages the spot where the edge of his boot fit in against some detailing on the horse’s saddle, and then there’s a scramble—and a wrenching, gut-droppingly horrifying moment where he thinks his momentum shifted Roy’s balance, because the automail is heavier than anybody understands—and then he’s up, and he’s stable, and one of Roy’s hands grasps his shoulder, and one brushes his back, and then they both retreat once Ed’s found his footing.

“There you go,” Roy says, which is a bit redundant, but Ed can forgive that.  “See?”

Ed figures Roy’s indulged him enough over the years to oblige him with this, so he gives the panorama a real, long, thoughtful look.

And Roy wasn’t shitting him—there’s a first time for everything, evidently.  The height of the fountain on top of the hill elevates them just over the treeline, so the contours of the city are laid out before them on every side.  The lights look like stars, and the stars look like gems, and the edge of the sky’s deepened into violet.

“Damn,” Ed manages.  “Okay, you’re right.”

“May I have that in writing?” Roy asks.

Ed feels the grin pulling on his mouth and is powerless to stop it.  “Sure thing.  Over my dead body.”

Roy clutches his chest.  “You wound me, Edward.”

“Nah,” Ed says.  “But I will if you keep full-naming me like that.”

“It’s a wonderful name,” Roy says.  “And I’ll confess to having been the slightest bit jealous my whole life of people who have more than one syllable to work with.”

Ed eyes him for the thousandth time tonight, trying to figure out if he’s serious.  “It’s just a name.”

“On the contrary,” Roy says, “it is your name.  I like to appreciate the entirety of it.”

Ed eyes him a little more for good measure.  “You realize how much time you’ve wasted speaking that extra sound over time?”

“It wasn’t wasted,” Roy says.  “It was cherished.  Besides which, you get so gloriously tongue-tied when I really savor it that I’m not about to stop.”  He pauses, and glances sideways, and smiles a bit.  “Unless it really does bother you, in which case—”

“Whatever, Mustang,” Ed says—pointedly, to make sure the bastard knows first that this road runs two ways, and second that he can probably get away with anything if he keeps on looking like that.

Roy’s faint smile gives away that he gets it.  That’s one of the things Ed likes so much about him—even when it spits in the face of his better judgment and shit.  He’s smart.  And he’s both book-smart and people-smart, like Al, which is something Ed’s come to rely on when it comes to communication and all of that crap.  He’s used to being understood—he takes it for granted, even, right up until he gets the blank stare from someone who’s unaccustomed to his brand of crazy—despite the fact that he’s an odd duck and he fucking knows it.  Al’s spoiled him rotten that way for as long as he can remember, and Roy’s sure as hell not helping.

“Well,” the master of melodrama says, sweeping one arm out in front of them.  “Behold my beloved city, or something like that.”

“Something like that,” Ed says.

He glances up and over, though, and there’s a softness to Roy’s eyes and the curve of his smile that has nothing to do with showiness or sarcasm.  Maybe he shouldn’t say anything—but then again, maybe it’s something that ought to be acknowledged whenever it’s safe.

“You really love this place, don’t you?” he asks.  “Deep down.  Under all the I-hate-paperwork-and-also-humanity shit.”

Roy takes a deep breath and sighs, but the faint smile doesn’t fade.

“You caught me,” he says.  “I can’t help it.”

“Yeah,” Ed says.  Every little light out there—every streetlamp, every front porch, every storefront and every window on an office or a home, every flashlight under the covers and every lantern in the night—is guiding someone through the dark.  “I know what you mean.”

“Thought you might,” Roy says.  He pauses, and then he glances around them.  “Now perhaps we should see if we can get down from here without breaking our necks.”

“You’re talking to the guy who does backflips off the diving board,” Ed says, curling a few of the metal fingers around the horse’s nearest ear, “don’t forget.”

“I hadn’t,” Roy says, and if he says anything else, it gets lost in the splashing as Ed swings down.

Obviously he doesn’t do a purely ornamental aerial somersault en route just for the sake of getting a glimpse of Roy’s amazement when he lands.  That would be seriously fucking ostentatious, of course.

Roy has a little more trouble, and there’s a heart-stopping second where Ed thinks he’s going to slip and break all his annoyingly nicely-shaped bones, and Hawkeye’s going to murder Ed and incinerate whatever’s left of Roy, but then the bastard makes it back down into the pool without any notable disasters.

“Right,” Roy says, so calmly you’d never know he was stepping back out of a fucking government-sanctioned fountain, dripping water and probably incomprehensible quantities of bacteria.  “Shall we see about that ice cream?”

“We can see it if you want,” Ed says, trying to shake a little bit of the squelchy wet out of his shoes, “but if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather eat it.”

Roy makes a face at him.  “Never thought I’d catch you quibbling about semantics.”

“Yeah, well,” Ed says.  “It’s probably your influence, so it’s your own damn fault.”

The face twists wistful.  “You’re… probably right.”

“Can I have that in writing?” Ed asks.

Roy smirks, and something deep down at the base of Ed’s stomach shudders hard and hot and bright.

“Shut up,” Ed says as he starts peeling bills out of his wallet.  He lays a napkin down on the counter and spreads the first piece of legal tender that he manages to extract down on it.

“I didn’t say anything,” Roy says.

“You’re snickering,” Ed says.  “Sound effects count under ‘shut up’.”

“They do not,” Roy says.

“Well, now you’re talking,” Ed says, flattening out another bill on his napkin bed.  “So shut up.”

The guy behind the counter doesn’t seem to have any idea what to do with either of them.

That makes… well, either two or three of them, depending on where Roy stands on this whole thing.

“It’s hardly my fault,” Roy says, “that you look ever-so-slightly ridiculous trying to dry out enough currency to buy ice cream with.”

“It is fucking completely your fault,” Ed says.  “You’re the one who wanted t—” Maybe he shouldn’t out Roy as a fountain-jumper in front of this cashier.  “It was your idea.”  He shakes one of the bills before he lays it out.  It makes this disgusting little splat noise as its own momentum unfurls it on top of the napkins.  “You know how many pigeons shit in that water?”

“Thousands, I’m sure,” Roy says.  “And yet somehow we survived.”

“Um,” the guy behind the counter says, “what can I get you?”

“Two scoops of strawberry,” Ed says.  “In a cone, please.”  He glances at Roy.  “What do you want?”

“A vanilla milkshake,” Roy says, “if you don’t mind.  Small is fine.”

Ed eyes him.  Roy darts a glance back, and the corners of his mouth twitch—which, honestly, is almost as fucking bad as articulating the joke.

Bastard can mock him silently now.  The fucking world might as well come to an end.

“Sure,” the cashier guy says.  “That’ll be eight hundred cens.”

“Really, I can—” Roy start.

“Nope,” Ed says.  Pointedly, after a sidelong glare for good measure, he sorts through his small pile of wet money and selects an appropriate bill.  He holds it out, and the guy behind the counter gingerly reaches out to accept it—probably Ed shouldn’t have said the thing about the pigeons, but too late now.

“Coming right up,” the guy says.

“Thank you,” Roy says for both of them while Ed undertakes the less-than-pleasant task of re-folding all of his wet money and trying to jam it back into his wet wallet.  Roy loiters a little ways down along the frosted window displaying all the flavors—just far enough to be companionable without hovering, which is fucking incredible; where do people get instincts for shit like that?  How can Ed wrangle his way into a few?

“This was easier back when I just used the watch,” he says, because silence is weird or whatever.  Winry always says that.  Except if you try to talk to her while she’s working, at which point she’ll assault you.  “But I guess it’s probably good I didn’t throw that in a fucking fountain.”

“They’re not especially difficult to replace,” Roy says.  “I may have told you a white lie about that to encourage you not to destroy yours.”

“That’s all right,” Ed says, struggling with the stupidly fucking impossible combination of damp glove, steel fingertips, and wet paper currency.  “I destroyed enough other shit to keep you busy.”

Roy grimaces, but you can tell he’s trying not to laugh.  “Rarely have I borne witness to a truer statement.”

Ed fumbles the last few bills into his wallet, shoves it into his pocket, and tries not to look too smug.

He succeeds at the first two things.

Roy saunters over to the little two-seat table in the corner by the cake display—which is a dangerous place to sit when you’re waiting for your dessert to be ready, but maybe people with duller sweet teeth than Ed don’t have to think about those sorts of things—and pulls out both of the chairs before Ed can get there and grab his own.  Ed gives him a warning look, which Roy pretends not to understand, and then sits down and folds his arms across his chest.  They’re both still pretty fucking wet, which should be way more annoying than it actually is.

Roy stretches his unreasonably long legs out away from his chair—one of them under the table, and Ed…

Ed is struck with some kind of ungodly, unholy, unthinkable inspiration, and he can’t even look—can’t even watch.  He stares intently at the wall and curls his fingers tightly into his own sleeves and gently, gently shifts and shuffles his right foot until the side of his calf is just barely brushing Roy’s.

Oh, fuck, he really just did that.  Oh, fuck, he can’t take it back now.  Is that weird?  It’s weird, isn’t it?  Or—worse—it’s fucking childish.  It’s stupid, puerile teenager shit; it’s immature and sappy and dumb, and nobody with any experience or gravitas would even attempt to do something so fucking—

Roy’s foot shifts a little closer, so that their ankles press together.

Ed’s face is on fire.

What a fucking way to go.

“Here’s your two scoops of strawberry,” the guy behind the counter calls, and he’s holding out a cone, so he can’t just set it down or something—so Ed has to jump up like he’s been fucking burned and practically run across the floor to go fetch it.  It’s just… courteous.  Obviously.

Roy is never even going to want to talk to him again, let alone take him out for pomegranate-abused steaks.

“Thanks,” Ed says as he takes his stupid fucking ice cream cone.

“Milkshake’s going to be just another minute,” the guy says, and Ed assumes nodding is an appropriate response.  It also buys him a few more seconds before he has to turn around and try not to look at Roy while he trudges back to the table with his ice cream and sits down.

He peeks through his hair.  Roy looks—

Fucking… distressed?

But only for a fraction of a second before he wipes it all away again, like he always fucking does.

It couldn’t last, could it?  The niceness, the happy part—things being good like this.

“Sorry,” Roy says, pitching his voice airily.  “I just realized I’m going to have to sit here and watch you lick that and try to keep my imagination as far from the gutter as possible.”

Back to face-combustion and a little bit of guts-churning that makes the ice cream look significantly less appetizing.

But the heat’s not just local to his cheeks and his throat and his ears, is the thing—because it’s in the knot in his stomach, too, and then it’s lower than that, and he thinks—


It wouldn’t be the worst thing—

For Roy to think about him like that.

Roy wouldn’t—be fucked up about it.  Roy wouldn’t think anything gross, or exploitative; Roy would… well, probably Roy would treat it the same way he’s treated all of this.  Respectfully.  Like he really fucking cares, and that comes first.


Ed tries to level a look at him that’ll seem more sardonically suspicious than… fucking terrified.  Which is closer to the mark.

“If you start drooling on the table,” he says, “they’re probably gonna kick us out.”

Roy blinks rapidly twice—dead giveaway that he wasn’t expecting that, which seems kind of weird given that he started it—and then makes a show of pretending to wipe at his mouth.  “Surely they can’t expel us from the premises before they’ve given me my—”

“Milkshake?” the guy at the counter says.

“Aha,” Roy says—apparently people actually say that, or at least Roy does; whether he counts as a person is sometimes up for debate—and then he springs out of his chair and starts over to the counter.

Ed watches him, and tries to pay attention to the way he moves.  Isn’t that something people get… interested… in?  Movement, bodies, muscles, the ever-changing contours of the individual parts beneath somebody’s clothes.  That’s supposed to—trigger something.  Right?  Flip a switch?  Start a fire?  Spark some kind of lightning up and down his spine?

He likes the way Roy walks.  He likes the lines of Roy’s silhouette; he likes the stupid floof of Roy’s hair, even.

But that’s it.

He just—likes it.

There’s nothing fucking magical about it.

It doesn’t make some kind of wretched-wonderful heat swell in the core of him and choke all of the air out of the room.

He’s always admired the way Roy’s easy confidence informs every single thing the bastard does.  That doesn’t add up in his head to wanting to strip Roy naked and lick him like an ice cream cone or whatever the fuck it is.

Fuck.  How do people do this shit?

Ed’s trying to keep the baseline of his heartbeat at a strong patter instead of a wild race, but he knows he pitched a losing battle here; he knows he can’t control that shit, and his own body won’t grant him any goddamn quarter when it comes to panic—when it comes to this variety of visceral fucking fear.

But Roy just swaggers back with a glass in hand, settles in his chair again, crosses one leg over the other at the knee (were they always that—long?  Or is it the black slacks that makes them look it?  It’s the black, isn’t it?), and turns to Ed with a bizarrely sweet sort of version of the usual smirk.

“Go ahead,” he says.

If he’s talking about the ice cream… But he’s not looking at it—just at Ed’s eyes; at Ed’s face, like that’s the important part.

Ed has to wet his lips, because the surface of his stupid fucking tongue just turned to sand.  “Go ahead and what?”

“And tell me that this is the perfect dessert for me,” Roy says, and then he punctuates it with this devastating fucking arch of one eyebrow, and tucks the little red-and-white-striped straw into the corner of his mouth; “because I suck.”

And Ed—


Which was not even remotely his fucking intention—which is stupid as fuck, actually, but which—

Makes Roy laugh again, not too loud, but with that same fucking glimmer of pure contentment in his eye, and that—

Shakes the tension, shatters the ice, and breaks the spell that had been winding frigid fucking tendrils through Ed’s veins to freeze them solid.

With that hanging between them—the echo of the laughter, not the tight web of desperate, defensive boundary lines—they’re just two fucking idiots on a date again, enjoying each other’s stupid company.

That’s what Ed wants them to be.

[Part 4, 2/2]


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September 2017

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