[identity profile] tierfal.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] tierfallen
Title: Loud and Clear: The Second Law of Thermodynamics
Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Pairing: Roy/Ed (with Al/Win)
Rating: R
Word Count: 43,250 (11,200 this chapter)
Warnings: language, modern!AU, naughty shit happens at intervals, +10 to cheesy domestic fluff
Summary: Occasions come and go – ordinarily, so do people, but Roy's fast becoming a fixed point with his own damn rules.
Author's Note: Also, I've had a few messages about this on Tumblr, and I totally encourage it: If you need a heads up/a description/some spoilers about what's going to happen in the next few parts to make sure it'll be okay for you to read, LET ME KNOW! I am more than happy to give you the DL on this shit so you can keep yourself safe. ♥ Tumblr is a great place to ask, especially if you have an account and I can answer you privately; otherwise, please leave your email or something when you ask, so I can send you a note and keep the comments spoiler-free. ♥

CHAPTER 4 (2/2)

The familiar hell of a persistent car horn soundbyte roused Ed to the beautiful hour of holy-fucking-shit-no-o’-clock.

“Oh, God,” Roy said into the pillow.  “You do this every day?”

“What else’m I supposed to do?” Ed asked, straining to reach the nightstand without leaving the nest of warmth.  The shitty thing about a phone alarm was that slamming your hand down blindly didn’t do anything except endanger your phone; you had to try to find the small motor skills to swipe your fingertip within the first five seconds of being awake.

The prospect of crawling back in and snuggling up to Roy and just… pretending that it wouldn’t matter was supremely tempting.  But if he let himself do that—if the first rock started sliding—the whole damn mountain would go down, and nobody would survive the fucking avalanche of his life giving way.  He wasn’t there yet.  He wouldn’t be there for a long time.  He’d slow down someday when he could afford to stop moving; he couldn’t yet.  There was still too goddamn much at stake.

“Nrgh,” Roy said, or something close.  “You could try sleeping.”

Holy hell, the air out there was cold.  Ed set his jaw and ground his teeth and put his bare feet down on the floor.  “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

“Maybe you should practice a little bit before then,” Roy said.  “Just to make sure you’re ready when the time comes.”

Ed managed to direct his stumble over to the suitcase he’d half-unpacked, gotten bored of, and eventually sort of nudged over towards the wall, which yielded up enough suitable clothing to make what matchy people called ‘an ensemble’.  “How about you try it first and let me know?”

Whatever Roy said next got lost in the pillow, but it didn’t sound like For the love of God, don’t take a shower, so Ed figured that was fair game.

When he reemerged, though, instead of cozied up with the pillow and snoring peacefully, Roy was… mysteriously absent.

Well.  Less-mysteriously when Ed scented the unmistakable tang of good coffee wafting up the stairs.

He rediscovered Roy in the kitchen, wearing a fluffy white bathrobe over his pajamas and incredible bedhead above them, filling a travel mug from the French press.

Ed blinked.  Words were still practically impossible this early.  “Fuck’s… sake,” he managed.  “Why didn’t you go back to sleep?”

Roy spooned sugar in, tightened the lid, brought it over, and kissed Ed right on top of his head, soaking wet hair and all.

“Because you’re beautiful,” he said, “and every life has a limited number of mornings.”

“Bullshit,” Ed said.  “But I guess the second part’s true.”  He took the coffee and basked in Roy’s bleary smile for a second.  “You gonna go back to bed now?”

“For as long as humanly possible,” Roy said.

“Good,” Ed said, and stretched up—not very far, mind—to kiss him.  His crap was all still in his backpack, and his backpack was still hanging by the door.  “I’ll see you later, okay?”

“I’ll count the hours,” Roy said.

The man was so soppy it was a wonder he hadn’t been inducted into a wet towel society by now.

As it turned out, he was also bad at counting.

“What are you doing here?” Ed asked at seven fifty.  “You’ve got a perfectly good coffee production device at home, d—” On second though, better not to call Roy ‘dumbass’ in front of other customers, regardless of whether or not he’d be offended.  “…silly.”

“I wanted to see you,” Roy said.  His sunny expression had an ever-so-slightly crazed edge to it—something in the eyes, and the tilt of the otherwise-placid little smile.  Bastard should’ve been sleeping.  “Not sure I’ll be up to this every day, but…”

Ed comped his coffee and held the cup out to him.  “Here.  Go.  If you get in trouble with Riza for napping on the job, I take no responsibility.”

Roy grinned.  “I spend half the day dreaming of you at my desk anyway,” he said.  “Whether I’m asleep or awake at the time should hardly make a difference.”

“Tell it to the judge,” Ed said.

“I’ll probably have to,” Roy said.  He took the cup and then tipped it towards Ed in acknowledgment.  “Thank you, sweetheart.”

Just like that, Ed’s face was on fire.  If somebody didn’t call 911 in a hurry, this whole place was going down.  “Get out of here,” he said.

Roy was grinning a little wider when he sauntered out the door.

By the end of the week, Ed had learned three things about Roy: firstly, that he was the laziest shit in the extended history of lazy shits on weeknights and could not be pried away from his trash TV with a crowbar; second, that the only exception to these immovable couch potato tendencies were the first forty minutes after he got home if the day had been stressful, at which point he disappeared into the tiny home gym in the basement and reemerged soaked in sweat and looking much better-adjusted; and third, that he sang in the shower.

And—if Ed was being honest—a fourth thing, which was that Roy was one of the easiest people to live with that he’d ever met, at least so far.  There was no bitching about how you were ‘supposed’ to load the dishwasher, or where Ed left his shoes, or whether he fogged up the bathroom mirror, or… anything.  There was no guilt-tripping when he came back from lab stupid-late and starving without having texted a heads up—just a huge hug and a deep kiss and a “Fried rice okay?”  No Where are you? phone calls every couple hours; no Who were you with? when he got in; no interrogations at all.  No passive-aggressive Gee, baby, those dishes are getting kinda old bullshit; just Do you mind helping me with these, sweetheart?, and Ed got the sense that if he said he was just too fucking tired, Roy would shrug and smile and love him anyway.

Ed stopped by his and Al’s place on the way back from lab on Saturday.  Al looked up with a terribly mild expression when Ed kicked his shoes off in the hall.

“Wasn’t sure I’d ever see you again,” he said.

“Shut the fuck up,” Ed said.  “You called me yesterday.”

“I said ‘see you’,” Al said.  “Not ‘hear the melodious tones of you cursing your experiment to a thousand fiery fates’.”

Ed shifted his weight.

“You’re thinking about moving in semi-permanently,” Al said.  “Don’t look like that; I suggested it; of course I don’t mind.”

It felt like a brick of helplessness had just slammed into Ed’s skull, and he was reeling like a motherfucker.  “I’d still—pay rent.”

Al pulled his legs up onto the couch and tucked his feet underneath himself.  He was wearing the red socks with the little brown cats on them.  “I was thinking,” he said, “that if you move in with Roy, maybe I should move in with Winry.”

“What about this place?” Ed asked before he could stop himself.

Al opened his mouth to say It’s just a building, Brother—if someone ever told Ed he didn’t know that kid better than anybody else on the planet, Winry included, he’d shove Al’s baby book up their ass—and then shut it again.

“Well,” Al said instead, “it can… it can be a safe haven for somebody else now.  Don’t you think?”

That was a nice enough idea, but it didn’t make the prospect of leaping out into the great void of the unknown any less fucking terrifying.

“How about this,” Al said.  “Let’s pay rent for another full month.  We can give Mr. Subramanian notification that we’re thinking of leaving, so he can start showing it to other people—which does mean you’re going to have to pry yourself away from Roy long enough for us to clean the heck out of this place, I’m afraid—but then if something happens during the month that makes us change our minds, we can always stick around instead.”

It was funny how different love could be—how different it could feel.  Roy was like a fucking bonfire in every single part of his soul—a constant warmth in his chest and a heat in the pit of his stomach; tongues of flame in his fingertips and darting back and forth between his ribs; a brightness.  And Al was the whole… Earth.  The whole planet, every grain of dirt and mile of bedrock; Al was blades of grass in the summer and every last breathtaking sunset clouds and curvature had ever made.

“I got one question,” Ed said.

Al smiled.  Fucking spring mornings and dewdrops on flowers and shit.

Ed grinned at him.  “Winry’s place take cats?”

“I guess we’ll find out,” Al said.

April arrived, with a minimal quantity of the promised showers in tow.  Well—a minimal amount of the sky kind.  Roy’s shower was like some kind of bathroom fixture revelation; the stream and the pressure were always perfect, and it heated up instantaneously.  Pretty much literally a walking wet dream—or a standing one, or…

Also, as they discovered fairly quickly, it was big enough for two.

Ed wasn’t really sure what this long-term thing was supposed to feel like—he and Ling had lasted a while, whether or not the end of it was more like a grim sort of mutual clinging than holding onto each other, but they hadn’t… settled down.  And the boundaries had been blurry from the start.  And it was different, choosing someone, choosing to stay, rather than feeling—what?  Desperate and obligated?  Like nobody else was ever going to want him, so he’d better take what he could get?

Was that really what the others amounted to?


Being with Roy was sort of—changing things.  Slowly, but he could track the progression when he thought about it hard enough.  Roy always seemed genuinely happy to see him.  Roy never complained about how much he ate, or how little he slept—they slept, although Roy claimed to have a knack for passing out again immediately after walking back up the stairs once he’d seen Ed off at the door—or what he wore, or how he conducted himself in public, or the weird way he had to deal with the dishes starting with the smallest things and working his way up, or… anything.  Roy told him every single fucking day—Ed was tallying for the first two weeks, just out of a data-gathering kind of curiosity, but then he gave up, because it wasn’t stopping—that he was beautiful, or cute, or gorgeous, or something sappy and gross and weirdly sort of validating.  Roy kept smiling at him while his back was turned and then just smiling wider when Ed felt the gaze on him and turned to look.

Roy wanted him to be here—Roy wanted him.  Not just for, y’know, a good time in the sack or arm candy on the street or as a pawn and a puppet and a manipulable ego-feeder or whatever other shit.  Not to use him; not to drain him; not to bleed him fucking dry and let the husk of him crumple in the dust.  Roy—loved him.  A lot.  Roy made him feel like maybe he deserved it.  Like maybe he was worthy of the worship, somehow.  Like he mattered.  Like he was a good thing.  Like he was important.  Like Roy needed him just as much as he needed Roy; like it was a two-way street without any fucking ninja-potholes or tire spikes or speed traps or ruts that’d fuck your tire alignment in a second.  Like this was going to… work.  Maybe.

And in the meantime, all his thesis shit was heating up so fast he couldn’t touch it or look at it straight on.  At Izumi’s suggestion, he dedicated a pretty good chunk of time to a sort of side-study focusing on the RNA-seq component of his real project, and he recruited Val to put together a short paper about it, and they offered it to one of the smaller magazines and instantly got a bite.  His CV had been a little barren since he’d married this stupid obsession-project thing, so it was a relief to be cramming some Look at me, I’m a capable scientist crap into it again.

The thing was, defending was almost just a formality.  Yeah, there was a possibility of failure, but after six years of this shit, he knew it inside-out, backwards, upside-down, and in Braille.  Brilliant as they definitely were, none of his committee members had been dedicating their entire lives to this particular problem for half a decade now, which meant none of them understood it as well as he did, which meant that he’d pretty much already succeeded at the point of the whole PhD exercise.  It was just a matter of proving it.  Which really just meant that the greatest threat to his success was getting so fucking tongue-tied that he ceased to function at the most critical moment.

He’d done a couple conferences here and there, though, and presented a couple papers, and unfurled and argued about a couple of posters, too.  Usually once he started in on the science part, it just felt… safe.  Numbers didn’t lie, and his experiments didn’t, and his conclusions were unassailably logical, so what the fuck was there to worry about?  Science wasn’t like people.  Science wasn’t fallible, or variable, or conditional, or arbitrary.  Science made fucking sense.  And once he dropped into it—once the words started coming out, and he started pointing to the diagrams, and he started getting excited again, excited about sharing knowledge with other people, which was the best thing on Earth—usually he floated like a motherfucking butterfly on a warm breeze instead of sinking like a stone.  It wasn’t even hard.  He was just the mouthpiece, was the thing—he was just voicing what the tests he’d executed on an existing fact had told him.  He was just articulating what the universe wanted him to know.

Overarching point was, he was preoccupied as shit.

And then, in the middle of staring thoughtfully into the centrifuge-center abyss, he bolt-from-the-blue remembered something Roy had said on their first fucking date seven months ago.

Specifically, that he was turning thirty-five in April.

April being the month that it currently was.

Such that it was possible Ed had already missed his fucking birthday, and holy shit

Ed texted Roy gotta run some errands xx—which was the best-worst habit he had picked up from anyone, ever; he felt so cutesy-cute typing it that he wanted to puke up his own intestines—and then booked it to Winry’s and Al’s place the second he could justify escaping from Experiment Hell.

By the time he got there, he had a text from Roy, which read How much longer ’til the weekend?  I swear I saw the word ‘sex’ in that sentence. <3

Ed could not be blamed for his behavior.  The whole lovey-dovey thing was highly contagious.  two more days sorry.  but if you’re good on saturday i’ll put some sex in YOUR sentence if you get my drift

Then he knocked on his baby brother’s door.

Winry answered.  The kitten—whose name was Benjamin Oscar Orpheus Pistachio for reasons Ed had tried and failed to determine—was perched on her shoulder, swaying slightly and chewing on a few strands of her hair.

“Hey, Boop,” Winry said to the cat.  At least that either explained the disaster of a name, or sort of remedied it.  “Look what your friends dragged in.”

“Har, har,” Ed said.  “Al there?”

Winry scowled.  “Well, sorry I exist, you jerk.”  She turned before he could backpedal and shouted over her cat-free shoulder.  “Hey, Al!”

“Coming, dear,” Al’s voice wafted back.

“Christ,” Ed said.  “You guys gonna get married already, or what?”

“That’s pretty rich,” Winry said, “coming from you.”

Before Ed could explain why his occasional brushes with the schmoopy side of things were totally different from Al’s ongoing quest to be Winry’s house-husband or whatever, the perfect brother in question sauntered over from the direction of the tiny little room they’d turned into an office.  His face lit up, and Ed felt all warm and fucking fuzzy inside, and it was criminal, really, that the lot of them had started out so promisingly jaded as children and then turned into a bunch of fucking romantics over time.

“Hi, Brother!” Al said.  “How are you?”

“Okay,” Ed said, which was a bit generous but mostly true.

“Yeah, right,” Al said.  He reached past Winry to grab Ed’s sleeve, like he’d vanish otherwise, and tugged on it.  “Come on.  Can I get you anything to drink?”

“You got vodka?” Ed asked.

Al glared, hauled him over the threshold, and shut the door behind him.  “No, we do not have vodka.”  He maintained his grip on Ed’s sleeve while he reached out to pet Boop’s head with the other hand.  The gesture settled him instantly.  “Do you want cocoa instead?”

“Nah,” Ed said.  “I’m okay.  Just—I need your help.  Both of you, probably.  I fucked up.”

“It is Wednesday,” Winry said.

Ed made a face at her.  She made one back.

Al sighed fake-discontentedly.  “I’m sure you didn’t really.  What happened?”

“I just remembered it’s Roy’s birthday this month,” Ed said.  “Only I don’t even know when, and I don’t know what to get, and—and tonight I gotta find his driver’s license or something, and—I mean, shit, what the hell do I do if it’s already passed?”

“Grovel,” Winry said.  “Weep.  I dunno, is Roy into that kind of thing?”

“You two are terrible,” Al said.  “He’s not the type to be mad about it, Brother.  Especially if he never even told you; how were you supposed to know?”

“Boyfriends have to know stuff,” Ed said.  “And—I mean, shit, I should’ve asked.  What kind of shitty-ass boyfriend doesn’t even ask, Al?”

“Well,” Winry said, “you, obviously.”

“Brother,” Al said before the despair completely swallowed Ed’s soul, “you are not a… bad boyfriend just because a specific piece of personal data didn’t occur to you to investigate.  And it’s okay.  Even if his birthday already passed, it can’t have been by much, so it barely even matters.  Here, come on.”  He hauled on Ed’s sleeve a little more, towing him over to the couch and sitting him down, then crossed back to Winry, plucked Boop off of her shoulder, and brought the kitten over to deposit the warm furball in Ed’s lap.  “All we need to do is brainstorm something small but meaningful that you can put together in a couple days and then give to him.  It’s fine.  And he’ll just say that getting to live with you is a gift already, and you don’t need to bring him anything.”

Ed eyed him.  That was probably exactly what Roy would say, word-for-word, which was sort of unsettling.

Al sighed.  “What?  It’s his M.O.  I have been paying attention.  So let’s think about it.  What could you get him that would be personal and cute without being too expensive?”

Ed scratched behind the kitten’s ears.  It purred loudly.  Fucking adorable.

It was also getting fucking adorable fur all over his jeans, but that was a different problem.

“I dunno,” he said.  “I could—do you have any cutesy-ass pictures of us?  I guess I could get one framed for his desk or—that’s stupid, isn’t it?  And fucking egotistical.”

No,” Al said.  “That’s a great idea.  I have a few from Christmas, and you could text Gracia and see if she has any from Thanksgiving.  He’d love that.  If we can’t find one of both of you, even just a nice picture of you by yourself, not making faces for once, would totally fit the bill.”

“I don’t ‘make faces’,” Ed said.

He realized too late that he’d started scowling deeply as he said it and tried to get the whole thing under control while Al slowly, slowly raised an eyebrow.

“Shut up,” he said.  “Lemme see what pictures you have.”

Ed would’ve hated it that Al was always right, except that it was incredibly fucking helpful most of the time.

In a stroke of suspiciously good luck, Roy’s birthday was April twenty-seventh—which was a Monday, which meant that Ed could cajole him into taking it off work, and get Rosé to cover his shift at Has Beans, and stay home to make pancakes and bacon and eggs and suggestive-joke-ready sausage while Roy slept in.  And he’d gotten a couple photos framed at one of those yuppie-ass craft stores—one picture that Al had turned up out of nowhere, which was weirdly flattering, where he was looking up from a book and gazing absently out the window at their old place, with sunset lighting making his hair look like it was on fire; and one that Granny had taken of him and Roy laughing at the breakfast table over Christmas; and one of all of them at Gracia’s, where Elicia was talking animatedly about something, and he and Roy looked totally engrossed; and one that Elicia had snapped at the aquarium, where Roy had one fingertip pressed to the glass of one of the exhibits to point at something and was obviously waxing poetic about it, but Ed was looking at him like he was the only real wonder in the whole damn place.

And Al had been right.  When Roy tore the tissue paper off, he sorted through the frames slowly, one-by-one, and looked for a long second like he was going to cry.

Then he fisted a hand in Ed’s hair and kissed him for about forever instead, which Ed sort of thought was preferable all around.  But either way, he was chalking up a tally mark in the Flawless Victory column, and it felt seriously fucking good.

There was even time for sloppy, lazy, coffee-flavored morning sex before he had to go to lab—and even that wasn’t much of a downer.  First off, he was way less sleep-deprived than usual; and second, knowing that he was coming home to goddamn Roy at the end of every day made everything suck just a little less.

Unfortunately, May sucked a lot.

Like, a metric-fucking-shit-ton-lot.  With some extra suck on top.  And sucky-ass fucking sprinkles.

In a logical, rational, observing-from-a-disassociating-distance kind of way, at the intervals in which he was capable of detached consideration, Ed knew that he was working himself fucking ragged.  But in the minute-to-minute scheme of things, he didn’t really have a choice.  The shit had to get done, and the fact that there was so much shit in need of doing that there was barely time to replace the contents of his entire bloodstream with pure caffeine some days—

The worst thing was, he usually tried to go to sleep when Roy did—he tried—but then he’d wake up an hour or two later with his mind racing like a scared hamster on a squeaky fucking wheel, and he’d slip out of bed and go downstairs and turn the light on in the kitchen and muddle his way through a little more data just to get his brain to shut up.

The world would start to get sort of—fuzzy, after noon or so every day.  Either he was hearing things, or people were really just… saying his name and then vanishing into the ether, and he wasn’t sure which was worse.  He felt nauseous a lot.  And dizzy sometimes.  He was spilling fucking boiling water or hot coffee on himself almost every day at the stupid shop, and the band-aids on his hands would just get wet all the time, and the constant sing of pain in his neck and his shoulder sometimes upped the tempo and the volume until it was screaming, and he couldn’t even see straight.

On weekends—weekends, beautiful weekends—Roy had a tendency to catch him trying to get up.  Roy, bless his fucking heart, would flail an arm out, grab Ed’s wrist, pull him back into the bed, and octopus-cuddle him and scratch his scalp until he dropped back into a blackout sort of sleep.  Roy would make him breakfast at lunchtime and then bundle him into the bathtub and pour in, like, lavender-smelling shit and comb his hair out so slow and wash it strand by fucking strand.  He’d say shit—little things, stupid little things.  You’re so beautiful.  You’re so dedicated.  It’s all right if you slow down just a little bit, sweetheart; it really is.  You do need to take care of yourself, after all—and that’s not a bad thing.  That’s not going to ruin your research or invalidate your work ethic.  Human beings need rest, I’m afraid.  I bought you some snacks and things to take in to lab with you; will you promise me you’ll try to remember to eat them?

Well—maybe he said all that.  Probably.  It sounded like stuff he’d say, but Ed was usually drifting on the threefold boundary between daydream and real dream and reality at that point, so it was hard to tell.

But it was okay.  The shit had to get done, and most of it was getting done; he was just sort of fumbling his way through it in a blurry, numb-fingered kind of way, and mostly it was turning out all right.  He just had to get through to June.  June fifth.  On June fifth, he was defending, and in a matter of a couple hours of pointing at slides and wordvomiting towards his thesis committee, this whole unending nightmare would be over.  Just—done.  All done.  Six years of work vanishing into the summer-blue sky.  Dust in the wind and shit.

He wasn’t letting himself think about what came after that just yet.  He wasn’t sure if he’d survive an existential crisis about the future on top of the ongoing existential crisis about the present, so it was safer not to try.

He couldn’t say there was a hardest thing, because all of this shit was nigh-on impossible, but he’d been tackling impossible since he was six, and fuck anybody who tried to stop him.  But he barely got to see Al, between the work shifts and the disappearing hours in lab.  He barely even got to see Roy, who he fucking lived with now—maybe an hour at night if he was lucky; forty-five minutes or so of him scarfing down real food and rambling incoherently about his experiments and waving his hands a lot.  Roy would sit across the table nodding and responding with that intense investment that made Ed feel so fucking valued, but with this deep consternation just underneath the surface—something troubled, something almost scared.

When Ed paused in the fevered maelstrom of that fucking month long enough to think about it, he hated himself for not asking Roy what was wrong—for not prying it out from the little cracks in the façade like… crabmeat or some shit.  For not even being able to muster the energy to come out with a Hey, you seem a little bit off lately; you wanna talk about it?

Maybe it was partly the fact that even on the rare occasions that he had a couple hours to spare, he was just too beat-down-tired to be much of a fucking boyfriend.  Or much of a boyfriend fucking, for what that was worth; they hadn’t had sex in, like… since Roy’s birthday, really.  Except Roy didn’t complain about that—didn’t even hint that he might be unhappy about it; never did the whole meaningful-suggestive-touch-deep-sigh guilt-trip thing.  Just tucked Ed into that gorgeous fucking bed whenever he’d sit still long enough to pin down, and kept feeding him, and kissed him so softly, like he was something precious.

Ed kept saying I’m almost there, I’m sorry, it’s almost over, like that mattered—like that made any of it okay.  And Roy still just… kissed him, and stroked his hair back, and looked into his sleepless-wild eyes, and smiled.  You’re a force of nature, you know that?  You’re incredible.  I don’t know how you do it.

Ed didn’t really know, either.  He just knew it had to get done.

With one week to go—May twenty-ninth, the Friday before the Friday to end all Fridays—he texted Roy during an honest attempt to take a breather and eat some trail mix.  It had M&Ms in it.  Trail mix that didn’t have M&Ms always felt like a betrayal; Roy had either noticed that about him, or magically sensed the sentiment.

hey is it ok with you if i grab dinner with Al?

He was the worst boyfriend in the storied history of monogamous interpersonal relationships, and no amount of Of course <3s could change that, but he felt like he was going to split into sixteen jagged-edged pieces if he didn’t get an Al hug pretty soon.

Fortunately, there were a lot of Al hugs waiting for him that night.  Also, hamburgers.

In addition to supernatural hugging powers, Al had a knack for helping Ed to see lights at the end of sewer tunnels and silver linings on hurricanes.  He was going to be fine.  Izumi Curtis—who was not in any way, shape or form a slouch in the world of bioscience research—thought he was a goddamn prodigy and kept telling him so.  That counted.  So did his chockfull CV and his inability to give up on anything, ever.  He had come a long goddamn way, and he’d done a hell of a lot.  That was the hard thing—the marathon.  This was just the last five-hundred-yard stretch of it, and even if he crawled over the finish line and collapsed and vomited, it still counted.  He’d get his stupid PhD, and life would go on, and he would be okay.

He came back to Roy’s place that night feeling stabler than he had in weeks, and all of the words of gratitude that he wanted to express were fighting each other in his throat as he let himself in.  Where could he even start on You made all of this possible, you fucking saint?

There was a light on in the kitchen, and Roy had a streak of secret-yuppie energy-conscious greenness in him, so the odds of Roy being present to utilize the light were fairly high.

Sure enough, he was sitting at the table, with one of those legal notebooks—stereotype in the flesh—and a slew of folders set out before him, and a pen in his hand.  He glanced up as Ed walked in and smiled.  He looked… tired.  Really tired.

Ed’s stomach dropped right the fuck out.  How much had he missed?  How much of Roy’s life had just slipped past him, totally unheeded, while he was laser-focusing on his own shit?

“Hey, you,” Roy said.  He stood from the chair, winced, and twisted to stretch his back.  “Oh, hell—sorry, rewind.”  He started to cross the room with his arms out, and Ed met him halfway and just about fucking dove into them.  “That was supposed to be ‘Hello, gorgeous,’” Roy said.  “‘Your agile, supple young lover wants to know if you had a good time at dinner.’”

“Yeah,” Ed said.  He had his cheekbone pressed to Roy’s collarbone, and it probably should’ve hurt, but it didn’t.  “It was nice.  Missed you, though.”

He was discovering that it was possible to miss someone every minute of the fucking day that you weren’t with them.  With Al, that was just sort of a fact, and always had been; he hadn’t realized it could apply to other people until… now.  Until Roy.

The being-in-love part was one thing; that had happened before.  It was just that he wasn’t sure he’d ever liked somebody’s company this much on top of it.

Roy was kissing the top of Ed’s head, rather meaningfully, which made Ed like his company a little bit less.

And then Roy went quiet, and his hug tightened before he drew back.  He kept his hands on Ed’s shoulders and looked him in the eyes, and Ed’s heart jumped right up into his throat and lodged there, shivering.

“Can I ask you something?” Roy said softly.

Golly gosh darn, that question was never the start of anything bad, was it?


But Ed owed this man a hell of a lot more than just meeting his eyes and saying, “Sure.”  That much he could do.

The pads of Roy’s thumbs stroked at the sides of Ed’s neck, and he looked away for a second, then looked Ed’s face up and down, then drew a deep breath.

“Just say ‘no’ if you need to,” he said.  “It’s just—they’re… raising the rent for our office, and dry spells aren’t that unusual, but Sheska’s mother’s in the hospital, and…”

“Shit,” Ed said.  “I’m sorry.”

And what?  And what, Roy?  God, please—

He had no idea what he was pleading for.  Something.  Anything.  Roy to stop looking so fucking wrecked all of a sudden, like he’d been holding it back and back and back to keep Ed safe, but the whole careful barrier was crumbling down—

How much had he missed?

“It’s not your fault,” Roy said, brushing his hair back—so gently, always so fucking gently.  “I… it’s just that—there was a mistrial, the first time, and Soph Kimblee called us again, and… I trust you, I do; I just—can you tell me?  About him, or what he did, or…”

“Roy,” Ed said, and his voice came out sounding like the last fucking croak of an anemic fucking frog.

He focused on Roy’s eyes somehow, and—holy fucking shit, the pain there—

“I’m sorry,” Roy said, and the syllables sort of—shuddered.  He’d never talked like this before, ever.

…no.  That wasn’t true.  He sounded a little like this—small and fucked up and sad and broken as all hell—when he woke up at three in the morning from a fucking PTSD dream.

That was what Ed was doing to him.

“I shouldn’t have asked,” Roy said.  “I’m sorry; forget it.  Never mind.”  He was pulling Ed back into another hug, and Ed felt—what?  Numb and trembly and twisted up inside and sick, straight through.  “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry; I’m just… tired, stressed; it’s all right.  It’ll be all right.”

“No,” Ed said, froggily.  “No, I’ll tell you.  Just—” He fisted both hands in Roy’s shirt and pulled them both over to the table and sat them down facing each other, and then he tried to remember how to breathe right.  “You’re—gonna have to be patient.  ’Cause it’s—fucked up.  And it’s all fucked up in my head.”

“Forget it,” Roy said, with a hell of a lot more urgency this time.  “Ed—I don’t—want—to dredge it up, if it’s this difficult for you—let’s just not.  Don’t put yourself through that.  It’s fine; it’s all right.”

“You should know,” Ed said, looking at the table.  Woodgrain.  “If… especially if… he’s here.  Around.  You should know.”

Roy took both of his hands and held them almost too tight.

“If you’re sure,” he said.

The thing was, Ed had never had to tell this story to anyone.  Al had been there, obviously—and Winry had seen parts of it, but he’d never let her in on just how bad it had gotten towards the end.  He hadn’t been sure how she’d take it, and a part of him had been… what?  Afraid that she wouldn’t respect him anymore?

Yeah.  Probably.

Al had backed him up, even though he seemed to have some reservations about the whole thing, and they’d given her a highly abridged version of the truth, and she’d been supportive and whatever, and that had been that.

But what that meant was that he’d never… articulated it… at all.

He looked down at Roy’s hands curled so tight around his—thumbs moving slowly, almost reverently, over the fucking grimy-ass band-aids he’d slapped on over the kinda gnarly burn this morning.  There were a couple lines deepening in Roy’s forehead like he wanted to say something about that, too, but knew he couldn’t derail this, or they’d never get to the fucking station.

“Long story short,” Ed said, “we… dated.”  Well.  “Maybe that’s—not the right word.  I dunno if we ever actually went on a date.  We were—together—though.  For a while.”

He could feel Roy’s eyes searching his face for the rest of it.  “Ah.”

If he kept tightening his grip on Roy’s hands, he was either going to break one of the burn blisters open or cut off the circulation to Roy’s fingers, and neither of those things sounded like a great plan.

“Just—it—was shit.  In the end.  It turned out to be shit, and he turned out to be—fucked up.  Really fucked up.”  Ed closed his eyes and took another, deeper breath, then two, then three.  “Okay, just—bear with me?”

“Of course,” Roy said softly.

So Ed told him.  Ed told him the whole sordid fucking story from the start.

Ed’s decided he kind of likes London.  He likes its tree-lined sidewalks (pavements) and its wrought-iron fences and its gloomy skies and its tacky tourist shops.  He likes its breathtakingly historic monuments and its chain fast-food restaurants; he likes its antiquity and its ambition.  He likes the skyscrapers and the greengrocers and the stupid, stupid souvenirs.  He likes the red buses and the gray (grey) rain.

He doesn’t have much on his agenda for Friday morning, so he whiles the hours away in the British Museum—just… wandering.  Totally fucking aimlessly.  He makes sure to hit the Rosetta Stone and shit, because he’s not a moron, but holy hell, how come nobody ever talks about Mesopotamia?  This is about the sickest shit he’s ever seen—and then the Parthenon Marbles, which are a nice little hotpot of controversy all on their own; and the Egypt section goes on for miles

You could live and die in here and still have barely touched the full extent of knowledge caged and breathing softly within these walls.

He was thinking of going to the British Library after this, before he heads off to the late-afternoon lecture-dinner thing they scheduled him for, but he doesn’t think his brain can contort enough to fit any more sheer fucking wonder into his skull today.

So instead he goes to Harrod’s, where he almost drowns in outrageous capitalist decadence within the first five minutes, and it’s mindless and soulless and way too shiny and seriously great.

He buys Roy a criminally overpriced apron that says Snog the cook, and he gets Al an even more overpriced china teapot set covered in kittens and hearts and Harrod’s logos.

And that’s the thing, about a city this ancient, and this simultaneously blazingly new—a city that’s been reinventing itself since long before the language he speaks was extant even in its most archetypal form.

It spans the whole spectrum—it holds the whole breadth of humanity.  Everything they have been; everything they aspire to; everything they are—all at once, in every drop of rain and every gasp of air.  You can feel it, like the overtures of lightning, just the faintest little tingle underneath your skin.

In the scope of all of human history, a couple hours with his deadbeat fuckoff dad isn’t even an infinitesimal glimmer in the vastness of the starlit sky.

And that’s… nice, kind of.  Reassuring, in a way.

It feels good—hoping.  Hope feels good.


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September 2017

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