[identity profile] tierfal.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] tierfallen
Title: Be Nice, Brother; It's Christmas
Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Pairing: Roy/Ed
Rating: (a relatively light) PG-13
Word Count: 16,900
Warnings: language, FRIGGING SCHMOOP, more adult implications than last time, LITERALLY DIDN'T FINISH REREADING THIS; FORGIVE ME
Summary: A sequel to Flying Horses: Despite many threats involving coal and minor bodily injury, Christmas turns out almost impossibly well.

Thank you guys all for putting up with me for another year. You are all the MVPs. ♥

This sucker is supposed to take place relatively shortly after the last one, and the dates are set for 2016. Given that I fudged the timelines so badly in the last one, I'm hoping you guys won't mind terribly if I fudge them again. XD

To the commenter from last time, who asked about whether Ed had a prosthetic in this AU: at the time, because the first fic was about Roy navigating his own feelings, I honestly hadn't even thought about it. Thank you for reminding me that not thinking about it is, in itself, a privilege; and thank you for reminding me that representation matters, no matter how small the corner of the internet where it appears.

Also: much as I love me some Al/Win in the right circumstances, you are going to have to pry aroace!Al out of my cold, dead hands.


Roy is comparing the sugar content of the store brand knockoff of the no-marshmallows-but-enough-colors-to-still-be-fun cereal with the certified version, which costs almost twenty percent more.  The nutritional damage is about the same, so he leans down to show Elysia the store brand box, hoping against hope that she hasn’t yet been so inundated by advertising as to make the distinction.

“Is this okay?” he asks.

She gazes at the box and nods sincerely, which is a greater relief than she will ever know.  Then she looks at him, equally sincerely, and says, “Can I go get the apple juice, Uncle Roy?”

“Do you know where it is?” he asks.

She nods again, with the sort of staunch resolution that comes naturally to a six-year-old.  Roy has always wished that that kind of laser-focused, unwavering resolve persisted longer in people than it does.  The world grinds it out of you as the years get whittled away.

“Okay,” he says.  “Go ahead.  I’ll wait right here.”

“Okay!” she says, and then she turns on her tiny, glittery-booted heel and strides off down the aisle.

Roy vacillates as he watches her turn the corner.  Should he follow?  It’s just the next aisle down; they buy the same container every time.  Would it make her feel safer for him to sneak after her and keep an eye on her just in case?  Or is it better to give her the freedom to take little chances whenever she feels up to them, and uphold his promise to the fullest instead?  He’ll be able to hear from here if something goes wrong.  But what if—

He’s always sort of half-intended to take her—or perhaps just himself—to a child psychologist and ply a professional with all of the questions that flutter around inside his head like so many disoriented bats.  He’s just never had the time.

No, that’s too charitable: he’s never made the time.  Largely that’s because it feels like it would mean admitting failure—like confessing that his instincts are insufficient, and he doesn’t believe himself capable of nurturing a child without doing some kind of irrevocable emotional damage to her in the process.  Surely he doesn’t need an intervention from someone with a diploma framed up on the wall to reassure him that he’s doing all right, or at least the very damn best that he can, and—

“Where’s your mommy, sweetheart?” a woman’s voice asks, muffled by the wall of well-marketed food stacked between them.

“I don’t have one,” Elysia says, so matter-of-factly that Roy almost smiles but also wants to wince.  “I have Uncle Roy.  And Ed.  He’s at school right now.  But he’s coming back soon for Christmas.”

There’s a pause.

“Oh,” the woman says.  “That’s—very nice.  Do you need some help carrying that?”

“I can do it,” Elysia says brightly.  “Thank you very much for asking.”

Maes would cry.  Roy might, too, but he’ll save it for a private moment later after she’s gone to bed.  Maes would be bawling right here in the supermarket, collapsing dramatically on top of the cereal boxes, and there would be wet, disintegrating cardboard all over the linoleum in a matter of minutes.

Before Roy can revel in that poignant mental image too much more, Elysia comes shuffling back around the end of the aisle, attempting to cradle a rather slippery bottle of apple juice in both arms.

“You got it, Princess?” Roy asks, straightening from where he’d been leaning on the cart handle—bad for his back, and he knows it; alas for a youth when he never had to worry about such things—just in case the bottle gets the better of her.

She puffs her cheeks out and shakes her head as she continues her dogged tromp up the aisle towards him.  Only when she’s close does he crouch down—not to take it, but to lift her high enough for her to set it down in the cart.

He probably will cry the first time she’s too big to pick up.  There’s something about it—something about the trust in it; something about the way she shifts her weight to help him but never squirms—that always makes him feel like he’s on the right track here, despite the wingbeats of the flocking doubts.

“Thanks, Uncle Roy,” she says.

She blinks up at him.  He always wonders, too, whether a psychologist would be worried about her—about how serious she is, even compared to other children, despite the pertinent exception of the frequency with which she squeals for Star Wars.  About how much more adult her concerns are.  About how deep and how potent and how gutting the loss is, even if she doesn’t have the vocabulary yet to put it into words.  Should he push her towards other children more often, even if she sometimes struggles to relate to their happy little nuclear families and their simple little lives?  Should he try to pare down their desperate codependence even though he suspects it’s the only thing that’s gotten both of them this far?  Would it be healthier for her in the long run if he tried to coax her towards someone else’s definition of ‘normalcy’?

“What else is on the list?” she asks.

“Let’s see,” he says, crouching down to show it to her.  He’s been working on his handwriting, which he’s been told, at least twice, is a definitive sign that he had been a lawyer or a doctor in a previous life.

She puts a tiny fingertip on the page, scrunches up her face as she concentrates, and leans in to squint at the awful overlapping loops.

“M…” The frown deepens.  She presses her lips together.  She looks like her mother.  “Is that a K, Uncle Roy?”

“Yes,” he says.  “Sorry.”

Milk,” she reads.  “We need milk.”

“That’s right,” Roy says.

She beams at him for a second.  She’s a dead ringer for Maes when her smile lights up her whole face—and the whole building—like that.  Then she pauses.  “But Ed hates milk.”

“Do you?” Roy asks.

She mulls it over for a few long seconds.  “No,” she says.  “But chocolate milk is better.”

“Fair enough,” he says.  He stands again and offers her a hand.  “Maybe we’ll get some chocolate milk as a treat for Christmas.”

Her eyes widen as she reaches up to latch onto his fingers.  “You mean from Santa?”

“I don’t know if it would stay cold coming all the way from the North Pole,” he says.  “We should probably ask Santa for something different, and get the chocolate milk ourselves.”

“I asked Santa for a sweater for Jack,” Elysia says as they start towards the refrigerators, and Roy almost trips.  “Even though he has a lot of fur, I think he gets cold sometimes.  And he sure likes my sweaters, so I thought maybe he wants one.”

She would, wouldn’t she?  The only child of the late Maes and Gracia Hughes would spend her one guaranteed Christmas wish on a generous intention for the cat.

Roy knows at least one little girl who has been very good this year, and who is going to receive significant Christmas-related karmic returns.

“That was very thoughtful of you,” he says.  “You didn’t ask Santa for anything for yourself?”

She shakes her head, pigtails whipping, and then pauses.

“Well,” she says.  “I asked him if he could just make sure that Ed visits.  ’Cause I know Ed said he was gonna be here, but I wanted to be sure.”

“Don’t worry,” Roy says.  “Al and I are going to help Santa with that one.”

Elysia squeezes his hand, grinning again.  “Okay,” she says.  “Good.  I wanna see Al, too.  And I know he wants to see Jack.”

Somewhere down the line, Roy must have done something very, very right.

“I like this one,” Elysia says, staring up.  She reaches out to pat a bough that looks, to Roy’s apparently untrained eye, exactly like all the others.  “Do you like this one, Uncle Roy?”

Standing here with the rusty borrowed saw slung over one shoulder, wearing a tragic flannel shirt dug up from the depths of his closet, sizing up an innocent Douglas fir to make sure it will fit in their living room, he probably looks like a weary, somewhat pathetic excuse for a lumberjack.  Or perhaps like a very lost stunt double from Supernatural.

“Looks great to me, Princess,” he says.

It’s a bit redundant of him to wish that Ed was here, since a part of him misses Ed’s physical presence every instant that the beautiful little shit isn’t within arm’s reach.

But today Roy misses him a little extra, and for a slightly different reason: namely, that he would not begrudge some assistance sawing down this stupid freaking monster of a borrowed pagan symbol and dragging it uphill back to the car.  He misses Alphonse, too, today.  And Riza.  And just about everyone he knows that he should have conscripted into helping him with this absurd physical labor nonsense.

One of the attendants taking payment—which is exorbitant, but he manages to keep Elysia from overhearing just how much; princesses deserve to revel in classic Christmas traditions no matter how much they cost—also takes pity, and helps him strap the thing to the top of the sedan in a way that only looks a little bit ridiculous.

Elysia, of course, is wearing an expression like Christmas just came on December tenth, and the Grinchiness leaches out of Roy’s tarnished soul almost instantly.

Heart grown several sizes or not, though, his shoulders hurt like a bitch that night.  Which is another reason he would love to have Ed around; a massage might be on the menu, and cuddling with a hot water bottle is not nearly the same as a warm human body, no matter how wriggly the body in question might be.

After Elysia goes to bed, presumably to enjoy some sugarplum waltzes in her unconscious, Roy texts Ed to tell him as much.  Judiciously, he leaves out the part about the wriggling.

you should have known better than to go cut a tree down, Ed sends back.  you already have enough sap.

Roy writes back nothing more or less than: Rude.

shut up, Ed sends.  you know I’m kidding.  i can’t friggin wait to get there.  on a scale of 1 to ecstatic how much fun did Elysia have??

Roy is lying on his side in the bed, which had seemed too large most nights even before the first time Ed joined him in it and stole all of the covers in the middle of the night.  A 17 at least.  I proposed to her that we don’t decorate until you and Al get here, though, and she was very much in favor.  It also minimizes the amount of time Jack gets to destroy the tree, ornaments, world, etc.

you have made, Ed writes back, a terrible mistake.  Al spends like six hours on the decorations because he’s a freak for aesthetics and i break everything i touch.  please tell me all your ornaments are plastic.  you have a kid and a cat, i sure fucking hope you don’t have any glass.  you don’t do you???  you can just lock me in the bathroom until everything’s done, i don’t mind.  that’s what Winry does.

My dear, Roy writes, if I shove you into a bathroom and lock the door, I will most assuredly be in there with you, and it will not be to keep you away from the Christmas tree.  I am positive you are not as dangerous as you say, but in any case, no, none of the fragile pieces come in close proximity to either the cat or the first-grader.  You can touch me instead!  I’m very durable.

Ed texts back, YOU’RE A FUCKING TEASE IS WHAT YOU ARE, which Roy is fairly certain counts as a win.

Gloriously, Berkeley’s finals week coincides with the one at the community college that was desperate enough to employ Roy Mustang several years ago.  Even more gloriously, Ed has managed to land himself with the last final exam in the entire cycle, while most of Roy’s wound up at the beginning of the week, which means that he’s nearly finished with his grading by the time a rather battered old Accord pulls up into the driveway on the second to last Friday night before Christmas.

Elysia has been in bed for a while, so Roy shuffles all of the remaining booklets aside, pushes his chair back, stands, and crosses the entryway to open the front door as quietly as he can manage.  It’s a good thing he didn’t give in to the temptation to grade on the couch after all; he probably would have fallen asleep by now.

Al is helping Ed haul a duffel bag nearly his own size out of the trunk of the car.  They both turn at the motion as Roy moves out onto the front step, and in perfect unison they grin broadly and wave.

Ed’s hand and face fall in an instant, and he drops his hard-won duffel bag onto the driveway and points at…


He gestures, indistinctly, and then holds both hands up in a much more recognizable What gives?

Roy does not have the faintest idea what that’s supposed to mean.  Despite the drowsy haze hanging over his brain like so much scribbled-essay-induced mist, he does have a faint idea that he’s letting cold air into the house, so he pulls the door gently shut before heading down to join them, whether or not they will deign to let him help with the bags.

“What?” he prompts in a low voice when he arrives.

“‘What’ yourself,” Ed says, pointing, more directly, at Roy’s… nose?  “What’s that thing on your face?”

Al sighs, loudly.  “Be nice, Brother.  It’s Christmas.”

“It’s December sixteenth,” Ed says.  “You’re wearing glasses.”

“Oh,” Roy says.  He had somehow forgotten, which he supposes stands to the credit of the manufacturer.  “Yes.  Sorry, I forgot to mention—” He didn’t forget.  He doesn’t like to complain.  Ed’s time is limited and valuable, and he tries not to waste it with whining.  “I was having a lot of headaches, and… I suppose it was probably inevitable from all of the reading.”  He pauses to pose, lifting one hand to lay a fingertip against the frames and gaze into the middle distance.  “Do they suit me?”

“Everything fucking suits you,” Ed says, and Roy’s feeble heart swells, and Ed will spoil him like this; Ed has the power to lure him into a false sense of significance.  “And you know it.  It’s just—different.  Is all.”

“I don’t need them most of the time,” Roy says.  He wants to take them off and tuck them into a pocket to prove it, but— “It is very nice to be able to see you extra-clearly up close.”

Ed wrinkles his nose, which is somehow even more adorable when it’s crisp like this.  If Roy is not mistaken—sunlight tomorrow will help him determine that—there is a dusting of freckles over the bridge of Ed’s nose.  He could weep for the sheer cuteness.  Ed would kill him in cold blood, of course, but what a way to go.

“You sure about that?” Ed asks.  “Way I see it—which is better’n you, apparently—you’re more likely to wanna bail when you can actually make out all the flaws and shi—”

“That is not the kind of making out I’m interested in,” Roy says.

“Oh, gross,” Al says.  “I mean—good save, Roy, but—gross.  Grab your stuff, Brother; I’m out of here before this gets any worse.  Tell Elysia and Jack I’ll be by tomorrow with croissants from the little French bakery downtown.  Is she allergic to almonds?”

“So far we’re in the clear,” Roy says.  “That’s very kind; you don’t have to.”

“I guess not,” Al says, cheerfully, “but you can’t stop me.”

Evidently, they also can’t stop him from snatching the keys out of Ed’s hand, hauling Ed into a brief but breath-stopping hug, chirping, “See you tomorrow!”, and making the transition between dropping into the driver’s seat and disappearing down the street so improbably brief that one has to wonder whether he’s traveled through time before.

Ed blinks at the place where the trail of fire should be.  “Uh… so.”

Somewhat reluctantly, although the airbrush-like softening of Ed’s features is rather delightful in its own right, Roy pushes the glasses up on top of his head and grazes his fingertips along Ed’s jaw.  “So.”

The light on the porch casts just far enough for him to see Ed’s pupils dilate, which is followed by a shiver, which is followed by a grin.

“Miss me?” Ed asks.

“More than I dared to think possible,” Roy says.  While Ed’s distracted attempting to suppress an extremely impressive blush, Roy darts forward and shoulders the enormous duffel bag.  “Shall we?” he asks, gesturing towards the door.

“Y’know,” Ed says, glaring at the duffel and then adjusting his backpack before he starts for the door, “sometimes I think you were born in the wrong era.”

He’s too quick—and the duffel bag is too damn heavy—for Roy to beat him to the door and hold it open and usher him through.

And something about that offhanded comment lodges in the meat of Roy’s brain, in a way that’s strange, and sticky, and tastes just a bit like… ash.

“Oh?” he says, pushing through it.

“Yeah,” Ed says, dropping his voice almost to a whisper as they step inside.  “You should’ve been… Victorian or something.”

“There’s still time,” Roy says.  Ed hesitates in the foyer for a short but significant second, then leans down to unlace his boots, and it is an unspeakable crime that the backpack is blocking Roy’s view of his ass.  “I believe the Dickens fair is on for another week.  I could buy a top hat.”

“Oh, God,” Ed says, standing upright and wobbling as the weight on his back shifts his balance.  Instinctively Roy extends a hand.  “You’d make it work.  By force of will, if necessary.”  He notices Roy’s hand hovering halfway to him, grins, reaches out, and latches on, and Roy’s heart just—

Melts.  No need for snow at all, which is good, because they won’t be getting any in this climate.

“I’d be stunning in a tailcoat,” Roy says.  He tugs, and then he starts towing, and drawing Edward Elric towards his bedroom will never, ever lose its luster.  “And a cravat.”

“Yeah,” Ed says.  “You fucking would.”  He shakes his head; they cross the threshold; Roy eases the duffel bag of doom to the carpet and then wraps both arms around Ed’s waist, which requires threading his hands between the backpack and Ed’s sweatshirt, and pulls him in close.  “Which is ridiculous,” Ed says, and his breath catches just a little, and his eyes light, “because you also look great in the shit you wear these days.”

“Mm,” Roy says, turning the smolder up to eleven and reaping a subtle little ripple of an approbatory shudder down Ed’s spine.  “I think that’s a bit unjust coming from someone who manages to make a collegiate hoodie into the sexiest thing I can think of.”

“Shut it,” Ed says, grinning.  “You’re ruining the progression of my come-on.  I was about to say you’d look even better in nothing at all.”

Roy meets the devastating grin with a highly-practiced smirk.  “I was about to say your hoodie would look even better on my floor.”

Ed makes a face like he just gulped down some unsweetened lemonade.  “Really?”

“Forgive me,” Roy says, leaning in to breathe against the side of Ed’s neck, which will guarantee that Ed obliges.  “It’s late, and you obliterate my brain.”

“Shame,” Ed manages, just a touch hoarsely, as Roy drags his mouth up.  “S’a—s’a pretty good brain.  Lots of—good ideas.  In it.  Y’know.”

Coming from Ed, that is a higher compliment than he probably understands.

“Thank you,” Roy purrs anyway, just as his progress upward reaches Ed’s ear.  He kisses it, and then he draws back.  “I think most of them should wait at least until tomorrow morning, however, because it’s really rather late.”

“Again with the fuckin’ tease thing,” Ed says, but his attempts at a scowl are being subverted by another smile.  “You practice that, or does it come natural?”

Roy brushes Ed’s bangs back from his face, tucking a section behind his ear and then dragging the fingertip around the curve and along his neck to trace it slowly down his throat.

And then to grab the strings of his hoodie and tug gently.

“Maybe you should stick around and find out,” Roy says.

Ed rolls his eyes.

But he doesn’t exactly argue.

“Christ,” Ed says when they’re all cleaned up and decked out in dorky pajamas and meandering towards the bed.

“I believe that’s the concept,” Roy says, grazing a hand across the small of Ed’s back before circling around to his side of the glorious, soon-to-be-warm-and-well-occupied mattress.  “Although the pagan solstice—”

“Shut up,” Ed says, but Roy can just see the way the corners of his eyes are crinkling around the fall of his hair.  “I was gonna say I’m exhausted.”

Roy climbs in and flips the covers back on Ed’s side in a way that he hopes is inviting.  “So get in the damn bed with your dashing, anachronistic boyfriend.”

Ed makes a face at him.

And then Ed hesitates, and then he sits on the edge of the bed, and then he draws a deep breath before he starts rolling up the left leg of his adorable red-and-green-plaid pajama pants.

Roy wishes he wouldn’t—hesitate, that is; dwell on it; agonize; fear.  But Roy senses that saying so would only make the self-conscious leap of faith rankle all the more acutely, and it’s better to lie very still and say nothing until Ed feels comfortable jumping from the ledge in front of him.

The first time was, he will admit, a surprise.

Ed had been far too quiet all night, though he’d plastered on convincing copies of the usual smiles for Elysia through dinner and dessert and a Disney movie and putting her to bed.  Roy had tried with all his might not to let the singing of his heartbeat through his ears sound like an alarm; had tried to believe that maybe it was something unrelated on Ed’s mind; had tried to coax himself away from panic, because there was every likelihood that it was school stress or the start of a cold or half a dozen other things; had tried to pretend that it was anything other than Ed working himself up to say I’m sorry, Elysia’s really great, and I like you guys a lot, but I just can’t do this… thing… with you anymore.

And when they’d closed her bedroom door, and Ed had reached towards him and then withdrawn the hand, and then said Can I talk to you for a minute?, he had braced himself with all his might, and he had tried, with everything in him, to believe that maybe it was better for everyone this way.  That maybe it would help him to focus on Elysia; that maybe Ed would be freer to follow his bright young heart wherever it led; that maybe the universe would rebalance, and everyone would be all right.  He had weathered worse heartbreaks, hadn’t he?

But not quite like this.  Not quite like Ed looking so shuttered, so fragile, so scared as he tilted his head towards the bedroom instead of the living room; as he licked his lips and then bit the bottom one hard when Roy sat on the edge of the bed and folded both hands in his lap and shored up all of his defenses—knowing, as he did, that the battlements would not make it to the morning.

Ed wouldn’t meet his eyes.  Roy laid his head down on the guillotine and forced himself to smile, and he said What’s on your mind? instead of Please, God, make it quick.

And Ed said Fuck in a little helpless half-gasp of a voice, and Roy hurt for both of them, so fiercely that it terrified him.  Waking up tomorrow was going to be a thousand times worse if he had to listen to the echoes of Ed’s pain, too—

Except that Ed was—

Fumbling with his belt.

And before Roy could even grasp the thoughts to turn to words to say something along the lines of What in the hell are you doing; how could any of the beautiful parts of you believe for an instant that I adore you any less because we haven’t yet had sex

Ed’s jeans were on the floor, and his face was tipped up towards the ceiling so that Roy couldn’t see it anymore.

And his left leg—

From halfway down the thigh—

Was smooth white plastic and gleaming steel.

And Ed’s voice wobbled, but neither of his knees did, and his clenched fists were steady at his sides.  I know it—changes shit; of course it does, but—but I was getting so tired of lying to you by not telling you, and—and it’s not fair if you don’t know what you’re gettin’ into, and—

And Roy heard a faint remnant of his voice say You absolute idiot; I thought you were breaking up with me.

Ed stared at him.  Roy stared back.  Ed stared some more.  Roy coughed, cleared his throat, and corrected: I mean—it does… it changes you, obviously; it changes who you are, and how I understand that, but—it doesn’t change anything about how I feel.

Ed eyed him for a long second, and then Ed started peeling off his shirt, and Roy was really too old for this sort of thing; he was going to have a hell of a time explaining this to the emergency room doctors when they carted him in for cardiac arrest.

The shirt crumpled on the carpet, and Ed flexed his fingers once, then twice, like he was resisting the urge to fold his arms protectively across his chest.

The chest in question was bisected by a broad swathe of mottled pink scars.

Ed was looking at the ceiling again, curling and uncurling his fingers—When we were kids, a little while after my mom died, Winry’s grandma was mostly taking care of us, but there was one night she’d had something she had to do, and Al was saying he was hungry, and I said I’d make him something, and I knew I wasn’t supposed to use the stove by myself, but I was ten, and I thought I was unstoppable, and I thought doing things even though you weren’t sure how they worked was the same thing as bravery, and I wanted to be brave for Al, but I didn’t know anything, and when the dishtowel caught I didn’t know what to do—

And Roy was off the bed, up and crossing the too-wide space between them, wrapping both arms around Ed and holding on as tight as he dared before either of them had had a chance to breathe.

Ed is warming to the concept that he’s safe here, but settling takes time.

Roy’s more than ready to give it to him.  Roy’s more than ready to give him anything.

Ed removes the leg—the action has become more ordinary, but the words to describe it somehow have not—and leans it carefully against the nightstand before he scoots in and lies down.  Before Roy can start cooing, he sighs, sits up again, reaches over to turn off the light, and then—at long last—snuggles into Roy’s open arms.

“Y’know,” he says, “I’ve been thinking.”

“I thought you were exhausted,” Roy says.

“It’s called multitasking,” Ed says.  “Try it sometime.”

Roy kisses at the nape of his neck until Ed squirms, squeaks, and makes a halfhearted effort to escape.

“I was thinking,” Ed says, “about Elysia.”

Roy has to put a hold on tormenting Ed at least long enough to get to the bottom of this one; the tiny, pigtailed center of his universe tends to have that effect.  “Ah.”

“Yeah,” Ed says.  “I was thinking… you’re really going to have to tell her someday.  You can’t just keep hiding it from her forever.  And if you don’t tell her soon, somebody else will, and they won’t be as gentle about it.”

Roy nestles his face into Ed’s hair a little bit, which he supposes proves the point.  But where in the hell is he supposed to begin?  Princess, I think it’s important for you to know something, okay?  Statistically speaking, most men are attracted to women, and most women are attracted to men.  That’s why it’s always a girl and a boy who get together in the end in a distressingly overwhelming percentage of the movies that we watch.  But some people are different!  You know your friend Victoria from school, who has two mommies?  Her mommies are attracted to other women, and that’s okay.

And I’m a little different, too: I’m attracted to just about anything humanoid that moves.  We can get into the gender binary being a lie later; the point is that that’s part of why Ed’s here so often.  Based on the rather pointed fake-casual comment about how he’s not a virgin, by the way, because he was in a polyamorous relationship with two guys who really seemed much more interested in each other than anything else, and he’s sure poly works for other people, but he’s not sure it works for him, and do I maybe think it’d be okay to be exclusive, since apparently it’s not obvious to him that I am infatuated with him and worship the ground beneath his feet—I assume that Ed is only attracted to other men, although I don’t know that for sure.  And Al isn’t attracted to anyone, which is also perfectly okay!  He has lots of friends, and you know how much he loves cats, and his life is very full and very meaningful just the way it is.

Anyway, people have a way of finding things out, and I imagine they might say some very nasty things about me, partly because we’re both men, and partly because Ed is so much younger than I am—but I want you to remember that what matters is that we’re happy, and that we take care of each other.  I know he thinks the world of you, and that’s what makes it safe for me to think the world of him; and most days I can’t believe I have the privilege of knowing him, let alone of getting to share parts of my life with him.  Even though the medium-distance aspect makes it difficult sometimes, no matter what anyone says, I honestly think he is the best thing that has ever happened to me except for you.

“There’s nothing you can do to stop it,” Ed says.  “Someday she’s going to find out that ‘Force Awakens’ isn’t the first Star Wars movie they made since the originals.”


“I suppose I could make that a project for this break,” Roy says.  “Trying to ease her into the disappointment.”

“I’ll help,” Ed says.  “Winry’s got some of the comics stashed at her place, and they fill in a couple of the gaps.  I mean, at least we can prepare her in advance, and she won’t have to go into the theater and find out the hard way.  That’s something.”

You’re something,” Roy says, nuzzling at his ear.  “My favorite something, in fact.”

“Oh, God,” Ed says.  “I can’t believe I didn’t fucking realize Christmas was going to make you even worse.”

“What a terrible fate,” Roy says, curling in closer.  “My sympathy knows no bounds, etcetera, etcetera.”

“You’re a disaster,” Ed says, but he isn’t making an especially strong effort to get away.

“Baby,” Roy says, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Eugh,” Ed says—belied more than a little by the way he rolls over and buries his face in Roy’s shirt.

Elysia sits very, very still with a half-empty box of ornaments in her lap, staring up at the tree.  Faintly, the strains of some Christmassy Pandora station float over from Ed’s laptop where it’s stationed on the kitchen table.  Elysia purses her lips, nods slowly, and then fishes a blue spiral ornament out of the box.  She holds it up to Al.

“Right there,” she says, and points towards the middle of an open space of greenery the moment that he takes it.

“Here?” Al asks, holding it up against the tree.

Elysia tilts her head, then motions a little to the left.  Al moves it.  She considers.  Then she nods again.  “Yeah.”

“Perfect,” Al says, hanging it carefully on the approved branch.

Ed, bundled into a sweater and curled up on the couch, with Jack draped over his lap and a mug of coffee cradled in both hands, pauses in grinning broadly for long enough to wink at Roy.  “This is better than TV.”

It is.  It is also taking significantly longer than last year, when Roy and Elysia flung the ornaments more or less wholesale at the tree and left the ones that stuck.

It’s better.  Everything is better; everything is easier, but Roy can still feel the shadow of a different kind of cold creeping up behind him, and he knows he can’t run far.

Procrastination is a time-honored tradition, however, so for the moment, he settles down next to Ed with his own mug of much more dairy-mediated coffee and tries to enjoy the show.  “I suppose I shouldn’t start breakfast until we’re about to put the angel on.”

“Yeah,” Ed says, utterly contentedly.  He’s wearing red socks.  “This’ll take a while.”

“Uncle Roy!” Elysia says, jumping up and scrambling over with a pearly globe in her cupped hands.  “What’s this one?”

He knows before he sees the curves of the calligraphy.  He doesn’t need the glasses to know what date’s displayed.

“This is one that belonged to your parents,” he says, setting his coffee on the table and taking it from her very gently to lift it by the string.  There’s gold glitter all over it, because of course there is.  Maes probably made it himself.  “This is their wedding date that’s written on it.”

Elysia climbs up onto the couch to grasp his arm for leverage and a better look.  “Were you there?”

“At the wedding?” Roy asks.  The tiny globe turns halfway; the string twists up until it stills the progress; and then the ball turns back.  “Of course.”  He passed his jacket around to almost every one of the bridesmaids, who apparently hadn’t gotten the memo that even in California, a wedding on the solstice was bound to be a little bit cold.  “It was wonderful.  Everyone loved your parents very much.”

Elysia watches the progress of the ornament.  Ed and Al are watching her—so intently that Roy isn’t sure what he, or anyone, could ever hope to say to this.

“Do you have pictures?” Elysia asks.

“Yes,” he says.  “I have a lot of them.”  Maes, of course, had literally hundreds of them printed—a stack of albums with everything meticulously labeled, and every distant relative marked down with a name.  There was an entire book of pictures of Gracia alone.  Roy remembers spending half the night wondering why they’d hired a photographer at all.

“Can I see them?” Elysia asks.  “Maybe—later.  Al’n I still gotta finish the tree.”

“Of course, Princess,” Roy says.  He’d gut himself for her more literally than this.  He offers her the ornament back.  “Do you want to put this on it?  Maybe somewhere low, so that even if Jack knocks it down, it won’t break.”

She nods, accepting it from him oh-so cautiously, and eases herself down from the couch to trot back over to Al.

Ed seizes Roy’s hand before Roy can reach for his coffee again—almost too tight.

“I’m sorry,” he says, too softly for Elysia to hear over Al’s commentary about which ornaments he would target if he was a cat.  “I know that—doesn’t fix anything.  I really know.  But—for what it’s worth, y’know.”

Roy squeezes Ed’s hand and leans in to kiss his cheek, which is—in addition to its obvious benefits—a prime position for drawing back and looking him in the eyes.

“It’s worth a great deal,” he says.  “Thank you.”

Ed half-smiles.  “I’m startin’ to think you spend so much time worrying about her that you completely forget to take care of you,” he says.  He doesn’t give Roy time to startle.  “But tough cookies, ’cause I’m going to do it for you.”

Roy’s not sure he has ever heard a more appealing threat.

Al’s head pops up from the most recent ornament excavation.

“Cookies?” he says.  “Where?”

Gravely, Elysia shakes her head.  “We have to have breakfast first.  Breakfast is Real Food.  Cookies are a snack.”

Al gives Roy a doubtful look.  “Even during Christmas?”

Ed makes a face.  “It’s December seventeenth.”

“No one has answered the original question,” Al said.  “Are there or aren’t there cookies?”

Roy draws a deep breath, lets it go, and straightens his shoulders.

“Why don’t we go to the store after breakfast,” he says, “and we can make some?”

It would perhaps be more impressive to say that Al’s and Elysia’s faces both light up faster than the tree if the tree wasn’t taking a considerable portion of an eon to acquire lights.

It’s lovely all the same.

Elysia is gazing raptly upward and around herself, and Roy can’t blame her—the Christmas display here is significantly bigger than he remembers from the last time he brought a fling through the park as a prelude to mulled wine and some time spent on the floor in front of the fireplace.

Then again, that was years ago.

He doesn’t miss it.  He misses the easiness—misses waking up every morning and not giving a single fuck, flying or swimming or perambulating, what was going to happen over the course of the day.  He misses the security.  He misses not spending every second mired in a background white-noise thrum of terror at what the world is capable of doing to the child with her hand wrapped tightly around two of his fingers.

It is a little easier now.  It’s a little easier every time Ed makes a claim—a shy, loose tangle of their fingers at this point, but unmistakable nonetheless—to his other hand.

“Can you see okay, Princess?” Roy asks.  “Do you want me to pick you up?”

A child psychologist would probably tell him to stop doing that, too.

Elysia manages to tear her eyes away from the overstated seasonal pageantry long enough to look up at him.  Her face contorts a little, and her bottom lip sticks out.  Uh oh.

He ushers all three of them off to the side of the walkway and then crouches down so that they can speak face to face.

“What’s wrong?” he asks.  She hasn’t let go of his hand.  “Is it a little too loud?”

She shakes her head, vigorously enough that the pigtails whip with the force of it.

“Okay,” he says.  “Can you tell me?”

She looks at him for a second, and then she looks at Ed, who dropped down onto his more maneuverable knee next to Roy.

“Can Ed carry me?” she asks, gripping his hand a little tighter.  “So I c’n—it is kinda loud, and—”

“You bet,” Ed says, giving her a thousand-watt smile.  “And then you can see better, and you can still make sure Uncle Roy doesn’t get lost, huh?”

She looks delighted—and freshly resolved to see this holiday business through.  She nods, and Ed holds both arms out, and she dives for him, and he swings her up onto his shoulders and starts to stand—

And his left leg shifts at a strange angle, and his weight wobbles, and Roy grabs his elbow to steady him—too tight, probably; maybe tight enough to hurt, but—

Ed’s smile twists with something like relief and something like regret.

“Thanks,” he says.  “My balance was a little weird for a second there.”

The pang that goes through Roy’s whole body at once rocks him a great deal more than any of the musical urgings to do so around the Christmas tree.  Was that wrong?  He saw Ed wavering, and in that instant of abject panic, he couldn’t envision anything except Ed and Elysia both hitting the pavement from a height, and he reacted; he didn’t think

Ed has been so seamlessly self-sufficient for the whole of their acquaintance that Roy didn’t even notice a disability until Ed deliberately put it on display.  Was it insulting to offer help before it was asked for?  It wasn’t because of the prosthetic—was it?  If it had been anyone else stumbling while they adjusted to Elysia’s weight, he would have reached out on impulse; he lives in a perpetual state of hovering fear at the prospect of something happening to her.

Or was it because—

“Jeez,” Ed breathes.

The feeling must have hijacked Roy’s face.  He used to be so good at this, but then he got into the habit of projecting emotions on purpose to make sure Elysia was never scared that he was lying, and never misunderstood his intentions and thought he was angry with her.

“Hey,” Ed says, at an ordinary volume this time, and then he hooks his arm through Roy’s, and that—

Well.  Roy’s out of practice, evidently, so he isn’t sure exactly how every syllable translates, but it says a great deal, and most of what he needed to hear is included.

“Relax,” Ed says.  “It’s flippin’ Christmas.”

“It’s not Christmas,” Elysia says.  Ed tries to look up at her, and she starts stroking his hair with an absent affection identical to the one she shows Jack while she pets him in front of Star Wars.  “Is it?”

“Not yet, sweetheart,” Roy says.  “It’s December eighteenth.”

“I can’t believe this,” Ed says.  “I started a household meme.”

Elysia pats the top of his head with both hands, apparently more as part of the grooming than for emphasis.  “What’s a meme?”

“Oh, God,” Ed says.  “I deserve this.”

Their elbows are linked, and the extremely fuzzy red scarf Ed is wearing with his trademark black hoodie makes his eyes so vibrant it’s hard to stop looking at him, and they’re surrounded by an overpowering profusion of Christmas cheer.

“We can explain it later, Princess,” Roy says.  “Do you want to see Santa?”

“No,” she says.  “He already knows what I want.  And there’s prob’ly kids who still haven’t told him yet.  They should get a turn.”

Ed, eyebrows high, turns to Roy and mouths what looks very much like an admiring intonation of the word Damn!

Roy gives him a very subtle half-shrug in return.  It’s her parents’ blood in her; he’s just done his best to let it thrive.

“That’s a very nice way of looking at it,” he says to Elysia.  “There are plenty of other things we can do.  What do you—”

Her hyper-dramatic gasp when the carousel comes into sight answers that question rather succinctly.

It’s the carnival-ride kind that has to stay up only for the duration of December, and it’s less than a third the size of the one Ed tended last summer, with none of the historical significance or antique gravitas—but it has horses, and it’s spinning, and Elysia now has a death grip on Ed’s hair.

“Can I ride the carousel, Uncle Roy?” she asks with the paltry remnants of her voice.  “Can I please?”

“Of course you can, Princess,” Roy says.  “Be gentle with Ed.”

“Eh,” Ed says, although he appears to be suppressing a considerable wince, “my scalp’s had worse.  Which horse you gonna go for, kiddo?”

“I dunno,” she says, hushed with awe.  As they approach the attendant, Roy reaches for his wallet; she spots the sign with the prices marked, and her whole face changes.  “How much does it cost?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Roy says, despite the sheer absurdity of the capitalist machine which is charging him three times the cost of the better carousel fifteen miles from where they stand, “because it’s Christmas, and you’ve been very good, and you deserve to ride the carousel if you want to.”

The smile she offers him is fragile, but there is a ray of hope in it like sunshine through the clouds, and Roy will be damned before he lets this greedy, grasping, nasty world pry that away.

“How about me?” Ed asks, and the tone of it is cheerful, but the slow, sly wink is not nearly so pure.  “Have I been good this year?”

“Hard to tell,” Roy says, swallowing down both the impulse to drool and the way his heart to leaps into his throat.  “Why don’t you go with her for now on good faith, and I’ll ask you some pointed questions later on Santa’s behalf?”

It is an indescribable shame that there are billions of potential Christmas-related innuendoes, and he can’t employ a single one of them in front of Elysia if he wants to continue to live with himself.  He supposes he can always save a few ideas for later.

Even if Elysia someday—most likely someday soon—grows out of the desire to wave furiously at him every time the carousel comes around, he is not, and will never be, the type of parent who turns to their phone the instant their child is accounted for elsewhere.  The only downside of that is that he can’t actually jot any raunchy puns down in the notes app or an email to himself: he’s just going to have to commit them to memory.

Ed and Elysia both wave at him as the silly little carousel starts to turn.  On second thought, this is a terrible place to be thinking about what he’ll be unwrapping, and about how he’s planning to lick a lot more than candy canes, and about alternative uses for tinsel, and what kinds of rides are on offer that have nothing to do with a sleigh—

Well, if nothing else, it’s good to know that a sliver of the incorrigible rogue he used to be has somehow survived the trek through the desert of surrender that brought him here.

Roy raises his hand to wave as Elysia and Ed come back into view, but Ed’s whispering to her, and then they’re both making ridiculous faces at him instead of waving back.

Just for that, Roy’s going to buy him one of those headbands with reindeer antlers and convince him that Elysia will cry if he takes it off before New Year’s.

Ed insists on sitting in the back with Elysia so that she can rest her head on his shoulder and sleep on the drive home.

Roy loves him.  Roy loves him, and it’s too early to say it; it’s too early and too much.  Ed won’t even graduate from college until next spring.  He has his entire life ahead of him, and it’s a life of mountains and monuments and stars and spectacle, with rules and records both waiting to be broken.  He is going to be extraordinary.

But he is already too good—too generous.  If Roy tries to tie him down, he’ll stay.  The loyalty will pin him here, and the weight of obligation will drag him to the Earth before he ever gets to fly.

Then again—perhaps that’s all the more reason to cherish him now.

“I feel bad for keeping you from your family,” Roy says at the next stoplight.  “Really, if you’d rather n—”

“We don’t do much,” Ed says.  “I mean, Winry bakes like a demon, but she’s completely self-sustaining with it, so as long as I eat a couple of cookies in the next week, she won’t even threaten to kill me.  I do gotta make sure I show up for the annual gingerbread house-building nightmare-party-thing.  I’d say Elysia should come, but there’s usually a lot of swearing.”

“Last year we had enough trouble with the cookie cutters,” Roy says.  “Santa enjoyed a glass of milk and some snowmen who had spent a bit too much time near Chernobyl.”

The ring of Ed’s laugh makes jingle bells sound impossibly cheap by comparison.  “Gotcha.  Yeah, Al and I really only have one thing I’d call a tradition, I guess.  We sit down and watch ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ and spike our hot chocolate like the Hot Topic hipsters that we are.  I think that one’d be too scary for Elysia, though.”

Sometimes, Roy can’t help demonstrating just how stodgy and decrepit he is: “But… neither of you is old enough to drink.”

He can hear Ed’s grin.  He doesn’t have to check for it with a glance in the rearview, though he does anyway for good measure.

“What’s your point?” Ed asks.

“That I’m an old geezer, apparently,” Roy says.

“Maybe,” Ed says breezily.  “But you sure make it look good.”

“Well,” Roy says, “you’re welcome to have your delinquent movie night at my place, as long as it’s after she goes to bed.”

“Yeah?” Ed says.  “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you liked spending time with me or somethin’.”

“Or something,” Roy says.

“Is underage drinking enough to get me on the naughty list?” Ed asks.

“I’m afraid,” Roy says, “that you’re going to have to do a lot better than that.”

Damn,” Ed says.  “I mean—darn.  I mean—c’mon, help me out here.”

“Not a chance,” Roy says.  “You have to get on the naughty list all by yourself.  I can’t give you any tips.”

“You better give me the tip later,” Ed says.

Roy only narrowly manages not to choke to death on his own spit.

“There you go,” he manages about half a mile on.  “Top of the list.  That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

Ed can’t keep the wicked grin out of his voice this time either.  “Not as hard as it’s gonna be, if you know what I mean.”

“My dear boy,” Roy says, “Santa isn’t the only one who will be coming on Christmas Eve.”

Ed laughs with such wholehearted, unfettered joy that it wakes Elysia, but she doesn’t seem to mind.

[Part II]


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September 2017

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