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sol 1056

The Shadow of Desire

chapter 7. patient
part 1 of The Contraries Arc

The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.—William Blake, Proverbs of Hell

Roy opened his eyes when the door opened, but couldn't muster the energy to do more than stare as Franco stepped through the door with a metal bucket. Behind him was Kelly. The woman ignored Roy, setting a tray on the table and removing several items. Roy turned his gaze back to Franco, and was stunned to see Edward appear. He was blindfolded; Erin was guiding him in. There were towels or bedding of some sort, draped over the bar between Edward's wrists, and Roy would have snickered had he the energy. Kelly tucked the tray under her arm and left the room, but Roy paid her no mind.

He watched as Erin removed the linens and placed them on the bed, then took the blindfold off Edward while Franco undid the shackles. The two moved swiftly, and Roy blinked when the door shut, leaving him alone with Edward. He sighed, and dropped his chin.

"Unexpected..." Roy couldn't manage more than that, and coughed. His throat hurt, and the skin on his cheek was tight when he tried to move his jaw. He started to shrug, but the thin scores across his skin complained at that movement, as well. So he closed his eyes, and waited to see what Edward would do, instead.

"Damn it, Mustang," Edward growled from the other side of the room. Several things clattered on the table, then Edward's heavy tread was approaching. Roy could hear sloshing water. Edward's voice, when it came again, was closer than Roy expected. "You are the biggest damn stubborn fuckin' asshole I've ever had the displeasure of seeing whipped," he muttered, but there was a tremulous note in the last word that surprised Roy.

"Admit it," Roy whispered, his eyes still closed. "You'd give years of your life to have been the one with the whip."

There was silence, and the teasing smile faded from Roy's face. He opened his eyes to see Edward kneeling next to Roy's outstretched legs, removing his gloves and tucking them in his pants pockets. His hands were trembling, and there was a catch in his voice.

"You really think that?"

Roy couldn't think of what to say, so let it pass in silence, and hoped that sufficed as an apology. He shifted against the wall. "Fuck," he muttered.

"So you are human," Edward retorted. He sat back on his heels, and pulled off his black under-coat, throwing it onto the bed. There was a clap, and something sizzled. Edward had heated the water, and steam was drifting off it gently. "You stay there, Mustang."

"Not going much of anywhere," Roy cracked. "I'm not about to pass up the room service."

Edward muttered something rude, and studied Roy's left foot. He glanced up shyly at Roy—as if asking permission, Roy mused—and lifted Roy's foot. Edward placed the ankle gently across his thigh. His left hand sloshed in the water bowl, and Roy had to bite back a surprised cry when Edward pressed a washcloth against the ball of Roy's foot. Edward froze, waiting, and Roy panted for a second before calming.

"Sorry," Edward mumbled.

"Just...warn me next time," Roy told him. He contemplated telling Edward not to bother at all, but something in the tense set of the young man's shoulders suggested Roy would be ignored. "Sure you don't want me to sit on the bed?"

"And get water all over where you'll be sleeping?" Edward shook his head, and continued dabbing at the cuts on Roy's foot. He rinsed the washcloth, his metal hand holding Roy's ankle across Edward's thigh, surprisingly gentle for all Edward's natural and mechanical strength.

You could get rid of the water easily enough, Roy wanted to say, but his throat hurt too much. And if he went so far as to admit the truth to himself, he was having the damnedest time keeping his foot from jerking in Edward's hands. He couldn't help it, though, when Edward's knuckles brushed the arch of his foot.

"What?" Edward looked up. His eyes were wide and anxious.

"Ah..." Roy wondered if he was blushing. "Startled me."

"Startled you..." The golden eyes were suddenly narrow, and Edward cocked an eyebrow. "You mean you're ticklish."

Any answer died on Roy's lips when he noticed the mischievous gleam in Edward's eyes. Wasn't it bad enough Edward was washing him off like a helpless child? Roy glared, trying to cover the fear that he'd been squirming to keep from laughing at the sensation.

"Heh," Edward said, and bent back to his work. Roy relaxed once it became obvious that Edward was doing his best to wash the dirt and blood as gently as possible. A minute later, Roy heard another clap, and opened his eyes to see Edward calmly picking up a newly made bundle of wrapping. "This part probably will tickle," Edward warned him.

Roy nodded, bracing himself. His shoulder blades were pressed against the stone wall, and he realized some of the whip-marks were probably going to start bleeding when he pulled away—not to mention leaving a big blood stain where he'd been leaning. Meanwhile, Edward was curled over Roy's foot, twisted sideways in a compact arch, carefully applying some sort of salve to Roy's foot. Edward's fingers, blunt-tipped and strong, pressed in just enough to not be ticklish, but still light enough that it didn't hurt too much. Roy let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, and closed his eyes, falling into a drowsy state.

He roused long enough to watch as Edward gently set down one foot, and shifted around, reheating the water before picking up Roy's other foot. Roy wondered what to say—Thank you? Don't bother? Really, I can do it myself?—but pushed it aside. Everything hurt with every breath, countless thin stripes across his back and arms sealed to the stone with dried blood. Roy gritted his teeth, staring at the solid wooden door rather than Edward's attentive expression, fixed on what he was doing.

"Fullmetal..."

"Elric," Edward corrected absently, but without rancor.

Roy rolled his eyes. "Elric. When we're done with my feet, if you―"

"We'll do the rest," Edward replied, but something in his tone put Roy on alert. It was too guarded, too businesslike.

"What aren't you telling me?" Roy opened his eyes wide, wishing he had the strength to reach forward and shake Edward away from wringing out the washcloth. He noted distantly that the water was already tainted pink.

"Havoc," Edward whispered, ducking his head. "They've got Havoc somewhere else, here."

Roy closed his eyes with a sigh, as what he'd seen suddenly made sense. "What did Creighton say?"

"He gave me a choice," Edward said, flatly. "If I said no again, one of you would die. But he'd let me choose." Edward snorted and set down the washcloth, then picked up the jar of salve. "I don't want either of you to die," he added, in an undertone.

"What proof did he show you?"

"Havoc's pictures of his sister. Carries them everywhere," Edward replied. "And after you left, Creighton brought me...one of Havoc's fingers." He capped the jar of salve. "Right ring finger, with his class ring still on it." Edward dug in his pocket, and pulled out a thick gold band. The sapphire glittered in the low light.

Roy stiffened, his blood running cold. "Fuck," he breathed.

"Yeah, that was about my response." Edward put the ring away, his jaw set, and began wrapping bandages around Roy's foot, but halted, looking up at Roy with a furious expression. "Damn it, Mustang, why'd you have to be so stubborn? Couldn't you for once just give way and let them think they'd won?"

Pot, meet kettle, Roy wanted to say. Instead, he returned Edward's look with a level stare. "I considered it. But I doubted you'd do anything but think it was a trap, and it had to convince you, too."

"It would've convinced me," Edward protested, but he didn't say it with a great deal of conviction. "I don't know you that well, sir." His cheeks were flushed, Roy noted, curious, and Edward frowned at him before finishing off the wrapping around Roy's ankles. Edward set the foot gently down on the floor and got up from his cross-legged position. Walking forward on his knees, he knelt by Roy's side, and studied the whip marks on Roy's collarbones. Edward's lip curled, and his look was suddenly quite amused. "Okay, where is it?"

"Where is what?" Roy opened his eyes wide, more than a little uncomfortable that Edward was leaning into him, looking both delighted and somewhat predatory.

"The arrays, you stubborn Alchemist," Edward replied, running one finger down Roy's collarbone. "You're all smeared, and unless you turned cat and tried a tongue bath, I'd bet you've got an array hidden in this room."

Roy couldn't help but grin wryly. "Under the bed. Wind, fire, and one for locking oxygen out of the area."

"Like what you used to―" Edward cut off, and turned away to drag the water closer. When he faced Roy again, he was all business.

"When I what?" Roy stalled, not wanting to see Edward's reaction to the worst of the injuries.

"In the fire," Edward said, wringing out the washcloth. He reached out and caught Roy's jaw, his eyes narrowed. "Stop talking."

He swiped at Roy's cheek, rough at first, but easing up as he continued to clean the wound. His metal fingers were cool against Roy's jaw, and Roy's eyes slowly closed again, fading out. Edward's words called him back, and Roy blinked.

"You keep zoning out," Edward said. He was only inches from Roy's face, pushing Roy's chin up. Roy had to crane his neck a little to see what Edward was doing, and Edward scowled. "Damn it, Mustang...Okay." Edward dropped his hands to his thighs, and sat back, his spine curved in a casual bend, his shoulders relaxed, his stomach pulled in as his gaze flicked across Roy's body. "Do you want me to spread out the blanket so you can lay down, or do you want to sit up?"

"For what?" Roy felt dazed. I'd rather lie down and sleep, he wanted to say, but didn't. "Sit up is fine."

Edward nodded, and leaned over Roy to run his fingers across Roy's shoulder, where the skin met the wall. Roy shivered, but Edward didn't seem to notice. Edward sat back, pushing his braid over his shoulder with an aggravated snort.

"I can pull your legs so you don't put your feet against the floor, or help you by the arm," Edward suggested.

Roy opened his mouth to answer, and shut it with a snap, glaring as he realized. When Edward gave him an innocent look, Roy glared even harder. "Fullmetal, I'm not an invalid."

"You're exhausted and injured. It's a fact, not a shame."

"Still." Roy gave up on the glare when Edward didn't flinch, and waved the fingers of his right hand at Edward. "Whichever. I don't know."

"Arm, then," Edward said. Rather than get up and go around Roy's legs, however, he just came up to a crouch, stepping over Roy's thighs and settling down by Roy's left side. Getting his hands around Roy's left arm, Edward waited for a moment. "When you're ready," he said.

Roy nodded, and with a grunt, pushed away from the wall. Crab-walking awkwardly, Edward assisted him until Roy was several feet away from the wall. Edward stayed where he was, his hands on Roy's arm, as Roy got his balance.

"Where'd you learn..." Roy glanced down at Edward's hands—the tanned flesh one, the silvery metal one—but Edward didn't loosen his hold.

"Alphonse," Edward said, one hand sliding from Roy's arm to snag the water bucket and pull it closer. He moved around behind Roy, one hand constantly on Roy, gently, just the fingertips, as though steadying Roy, or perhaps reassuring him that Edward was close by. "When he first came back," Edward continued, "his body was new and holy fucking shit."

"Hunh?" Roy frowned. He started to twist to see, but doing so hurt too much. Edward's hand on his side, he realized, was trembling, and he could hear a soft exhalation, as though Edward were shocked. "Full― Elric?"

"Damn it," Edward murmured. "I'm going to enjoy disemboweling that bastard."

"It's not―"

"Don't even say it." The water sloshed noisily, but the washcloth's touch on Roy's shoulder was light, almost hesitant. The water stung, and Roy's skin shivered again.

"You didn't let me finish," Roy protested.

"I've got a good idea." Edward's left hand pressed against Roy's head, insistent but cautious. "Lean forward so I can see just how bad it is." He was silent for several seconds, the washcloth unmoving against Roy's skin. Roy shifted, and Edward hissed.

"What?" Roy was starting to get irritated. Being treated like a child, he grumbled. I can―

"You couldn't clean this up yourself," Edward interrupted his thoughts. "And I do know you well enough to know that's what you're thinking." He was quiet again, the washcloth beginning to move in small circles across Roy's shoulders. When he spoke again, his tone was subdued, and hesitant. "Would you...if it were Hughes here, would you have been so..."

"Maes," Roy whispered, and closed his eyes. He knew the answer, and knew the one word was answer enough for Edward, too. He sighed, focusing on his breathing, trying to ignore the stinging while Edward carefully washed each whip-score. He had no idea how long it took, but every now and then Edward would mutter something inaudible, and Roy hid his smile, amazed he could be so amused despite the wish to demand Franco come knock him out. It would save him the agony of feeling the warm water running down his back, catching in the grooves sliced across his skin.

That was the reason, Roy assured himself, and not because he felt jumpy, off-balance, with Edward speaking so casually to him, moving and touching and helping as though this were a perfectly normal thing to do. It's because of his experiences with Alphonse, Roy decided, but wasn't sure whether that knowledge helped. He told himself that was the only reason Edward's touch was so careful, yet so deft. It didn't make him feel any better.


"Mustang," Edward whispered, his breath stirring the hairs across Roy's ear. Roy shook himself mentally, and hummed sleepily. Edward chuckled, a little, and Roy frowned. "I'm...I..." He huffed for a moment, and then spoke more forcefully. "Undo your pants."

"Un― what?" Roy sat up straight, and pain shot through his back and shoulders.

"The blood's run down...and there are cuts that went down across your hips," Edward explained patiently. "Look, do you want me to remind you that whatever you've got, I've seen? Alphonse and I are both guys, too―"

"Can it, Fullmetal." Roy slowly moved his right hand, picking at the buttons on his pants with awkward fingers. Leaning forward, he gritted his teeth as Edward gently tugged the pants and boxers down to below Roy's hips, washing the remainder of the blood.

"Your pants protected your skin, but there'll be some bruising, I think," Edward said. The warm fingers of his left hand ran up Roy's side to Roy's left shoulder, pressing Roy forward. "Lean over as best you can. I'm going to start applying the salve. Then I'll bandage and we can eat."

"No food," Roy mumbled. He felt queasy, tilting forward at such an angle.

"You have to eat, Mustang," Edward retorted, but amiably. His slick fingers ran in long strokes, back and forth across Roy's back, following the whip lines. It prickled, and Roy lowered his head, his muscles straining from the awkward position.

Edward was silent, then, working efficiently from Roy's neck and shoulders, down his back, to the bruises across his hips. A rustle of cloth warned Roy, and Edward silently guided him back up to a sitting position. Roy didn't get warning, however, when Edward hugged him from behind, until he realized Edward was passing the bandage around Roy's chest. Roy tensed, though, when Edward did it again, although he noticed the young man seemed to be vigilant about not leaning into Roy's back.

Roy kept his breathing even, his eyes focused on the far wall as Edward's movements lulled him back a stupor. The shift and drape, the hands brushing his chest as Edward fumbled for the bandage, passing it from one hand to the other; Roy struggled to consider Creighton's intentions and what Roy could do. It was preferable to noticing Edward's soft breath against his ear each time Edward leaned forward to wrap another layer of bandage around his chest.

When Edward began wrapping Roy's shoulder and right arm, hissing in annoyance at the whip-scores slicing through the burns and bruises, Roy was almost disappointed that Edward was done. It had been good, he admitted, privately, to have someone doing something like that for him. And having admitted that he liked it, Roy promptly squashed the awareness down into that secret box where he kept all his other hopes and wishes. Letting people close just didn't work in the light of day, he'd learned through long experience. And the rare chance to be taken care of—perhaps even be protected, he realized—was something that would end the minute Edward stood up.

"Done," Edward said. "I just want to look at your left hand, now."

"That, I can―"

"Mustang," Edward growled, and Roy wasn't sure whether to roll his eyes or glare. He settled for grunting in annoyance while Edward unwrapped his left hand, whistled, and gently rubbed salve across the burns. Roy's hand jerked in Edward's grasp, and Roy gave Edward a wry look.

"Hurts like a son of a bitch," Roy whispered.

Edward surprised him by chuckling. "Yep, you are human in there, somewhere. This is from having your hand out against the array?"

Roy gave Edward a long, intent look. "How much do you remember?"

"An explosion, and then..." Edward shrugged, and bent his head over Roy's hand. His golden hair fell down, masking his features as he wrapped the hand, from second knuckle to wrist, quickly and efficiently. "I remember seeing an array on the wall. Figured that must've been you..."

"Yeah," Roy said. Edward lowered Roy's hand onto Edward's knee, still regarding the bandages with a thoughtful eye as he tied off the linen around Roy's wrist. Roy could feel the ridges of the metal plates of Edward's knee, padded by the bandages against his palm. "But I wasn't counting on people bursting in through the door."

"Wouldn't that be good?"

"No. Floods the room with oxygen. If the fire's still smoldering, it will explode." Roy sighed, and allowed a rueful smile to appear momentarily. "Which, coincidentally, is exactly what happened."

"So you're actually a three-trick pony," Edward observed dryly. He put a hand on Roy's left elbow. "Up on the bed, now. How much help― no, scratch that. I'll lift you up, and then just lean sideways and I'll guide you onto the bed."

"I don't get a choice this time?" Roy snorted.

"Al didn't give me half as much grief, so...no, you don't." Edward slanted a sideways grin at Roy, and hoisted him upwards. Roy flinched as his feet took his weight, but Edward maneuvered him quickly onto the bed. Roy started to roll over on his stomach, but Edward stopped him. "Food, first."

"Not hungry," Roy gasped, trying to cover the fact that his right hand was clenched against the blanket. He struggled to catch his breath from the lancing pain in his feet and back.

"You're skin and bones, General," Edward retorted, but he sounded altogether too informal, despite the title. He stood up, brushing off the seat of his leather pants, and headed to the table. A quick clap behind Roy told him Edward had probably reheated the soup, and a second later the bed creaked as Edward sat down next to him, bowl and spoon in hand.

"I bet Alphonse was just peaches and light," Roy grumbled, eyeing the bowl. His left hand was in his lap, and his right arm was throbbing just from the move from the floor to the low bed.

"Not really," Edward said, his face lowered as he stirred the soup. "Are you going to be able to..." He held up the spoon.

Roy frowned, and sighed, taking the spoon. "Yes, but..."

"I'll hold the bowl," Edward offered, and Roy considered that for a moment before nodding.

It's no worse than having him wipe blood off nearly half my body, Roy reminded himself. He leaned forward, spooning the soup, slurping a little out of nervousness at how close Edward was, head cocked as he watched intently. Roy paused, glaring, and Edward arched an eyebrow.

"The second I see that hand waver," Edward informed him, "I'm spoon-feeding you."

It was Roy's turn to growl, but Edward only gave him a flat stare.

"I'm not that bad off," Roy complained. "I don't see why you're treating me like this."

"Mustang, there's a blood mark on that wall that's larger than me," Edward replied, eagle eyes watching as Roy took another spoonful of the broth. "You want me to start with that, and work backwards through your injuries? You're hurt. Just accept the help gracefully for once, would you?"

"I've accepted help, before," Roy told him, frowning.

"Once? Twice? I'm surprised the occasions weren't marked as national holidays." Edward stared at Roy's hand, suspiciously.

"Stop that, Elric." Roy waved the empty spoon, before stirring the bowl again. He knew there was another meaning to his words, and Edward's slanted glance down at the bowl, and past it to gaze at Roy's bandaged chest, told Roy that Edward caught the underlying meanings, as well. Roy sighed, and took another spoonful. "What kind of work do they want you to do?"

"I'll tell you on one condition."

Roy raised his eyebrows, and licked the spoon clean before lowering it to the bowl again. "And," he prompted.

"I'm not stupid, Mustang," Edward said, but his cheeks were tinted lightly pink, as if embarrassed or perhaps annoyed. "You spent a lot of the time I worked for you, gaining points off what I did. But you did a lot of things that got you nothing."

"Equivalent trade," Roy quipped, but his voice sounded flat in his ears. The room felt stifling, and he frowned at the bowl, cradled in Edward's hands, so close to Roy's chin.

"That excuse worked when I was fifteen," Edward murmured. "Protecting us...you took risks on which you never received a return."

Roy could feel himself leaning away from Edward, sensing the unspoken question hanging in the air between them. He stared at the dark brown liquid, stirring it up and watching the color shift to golden as the broth was mixed, then fade as it separated.

"I got a return on every investment," Roy told Edward, keeping his voice as neutral as possible. "You're here, and not on some train heading back to Kavanaugh, after all. Or perhaps my life isn't a big enough return." He twisted the words, making them light, but something in his gut ached, although he knew the whip hadn't reached that far inside him. Roy ignored it, even as he recognized he had gotten pretty good at ignoring things, in his life.

"Like I was saying," Edward whispered, his eyes following the spoon's path from bowl to mouth, "sometimes equivalent trade isn't true."

"It is true, and it defines everything in our world," Roy answered. "You just get aggravated when you can't see clearly the terms of the deal."

"You still haven't answered the question," Edward replied softly.

Roy paused, spoon at his lips, and met Edward's eyes. The young man's golden irises were swallowed by the dark of his pupil in the low light, but Edward's expression was puzzled, curious, perhaps even a little hurt. Roy swallowed the last spoonful of broth, and dropped the spoon in the bowl.

"I presume there's another bowl for you," Roy said, pointedly. He glanced towards the table, flinching at the pain from the bruises around his neck.

"Yeah. I get stew. There's also some water, if you want it," Edward replied, lowering the bowl to the floor by his feet. He picked up the jar of salve and set it in his lap, screwing the top off with a quick motion. "One last thing."

"What?" Roy frowned, looking down, and the next thing he knew, Edward's hand was in front of Roy's face. It hovered there, uncertain, at an odd angle for Edward's left hand to reach Roy's right cheek, and then it was stroking the cut across Roy's cheek. The fingers followed the line of the slash, and Roy had to close his eyes, unable to risk Edward seeing the truth of his thoughts.

I like this feeling, Roy whispered to himself, uncertainly. I like that he's grown, that he's no longer a boy...that he doesn't see me as a Brigadier General or the notorious Flame Alchemist. Roy realized Edward's fingers were still stroking the cut, and he opened his eyes just enough to see Edward's face, unmasked and vulnerable, misery shining through in every line as Edward stared at the wound. Roy let his eyelids fall closed again, feeling the misery echo in his own heart, beating against the wall of his independent pride.

"We are a great deal alike," Roy murmured, half to himself.

"Time was, I'd kill someone who suggested that," Edward said, but he dropped his hand, closing the jar tightly. He stood up. "Lay down on your stomach. You should get some rest, if you're going to recover."

"You still didn't tell me what Creighton―"

"We're even, then, 'cause you didn't answer my question, either. Now, lie down, Mustang. If I have to redo any of those bandages, you're getting salt, not salve."

"I'll fry you if you try," Roy snapped. "I'm fine like..." Everything faded, and Roy shook himself, opening his eyes to see Edward's face only inches from his. The young man was grinning like a maniac, and it took Roy several heartbeats before he schooled his face into a scowl. "Fullmetal," he said, in a warning tone.

A hand on his shoulder and a low, evil chuckle were his only answer. Roy yawned, taking refuge in the sudden sleepiness to lie down, unresisting, as Edward raised Roy's legs onto the bed and shifted him about as easily as though he were half Edward's size. Too much experience with Alphonse, Roy thought, only marginally irritated with it. It was when Edward turned Roy's head so his injured cheek faced up, that Roy thought to protest.

"The broth," he mumbled, his eyes closing. Cloth brushed his arms, and he realized Edward was pulling the blanket over him. "Edward..."

"Shut up, Mustang," Edward admonished. "Even you wouldn't fall for hot chocolate a second time."

"You drugged me?" Roy tried to sit up, annoyed. "Now is the last time I want―" but a cool metal palm on his left shoulder gently pushed him down again. Then two hands took his right hand, holding it gently and curving his arm to press against the underside of the bed.

"This is the one for..." Edward moved about, not letting go of Roy's hand, and Roy opened heavy-lidded eyes to see Edward lying on the floor, peering under the bed. "Wind," Edward said, satisfied, and pressed Roy's hand against it. "And this...is air. And this is fire."

"No spark," Roy sighed.

"You remember where each is?"

Roy nodded into the pillow. Edward's voice sounded quite far away. There was a resounding clap, and light flared against Roy's eyelids. Then Edward was taking his hand again, rubbing Roy's index finger against something protruding from the bed frame.

"Flint," Edward explained. "There's your spark. Got all that, or do you need sign posts?"

"Fullmetal," Roy growled, as best he could manage, but it sounded more like a purr, he thought, sleepily amused. "Damn you for..." His voice trailed off, and he yawned, not quite sure what he'd been about to say. His entire body felt heavy, but the aches were fading into a blissful absence.

"Mustang, shut up already," Edward assured him. He sounded amused, and Roy managed a half-hearted scowl. "You need to be rest and let the medicine do its job."

His voice moved away, his words reduced to a mumble, only the tone indicating a certain rude informality Edward had rarely shown in the past except when truly angry. But Edward's words, filtering into Roy's sluggish mind, didn't make a great deal of sense.

"...What pisses me off the most is that..." The words were muttered, barely audible over the sounds of sloshing water. Wood scraped against stone; perhaps Edward was moving the stool closer to the table. "...But no, not Roy Mustang..."

Roy wondered what Edward meant, noting only the aggrieved tone. Roy was certain he'd been about to say something else to Edward, but sleep was too near and Edward too far away.


Roy was dreaming.

Crimson filled his dreams, sometimes, not a nightmare, but an overwhelming presence. Perhaps blood, perhaps fire, perhaps urgency, but his body was sluggish and his mind was dull. The scratchy fabric of the pillow against his cheek merged into the dream as a wool-dressed shoulder under his chin; the shift and curl of the blanket against his arm was the comforting grasp of a rare accepted touch.

Fingers stroked his forehead and through his hair, and Roy sighed, unwilling to open his eyes, clinging to the dream's affection. He instinctively turned into the touch, hoping for more, and the fingers were still for a moment. The dream hesitated, despite Roy's longing, and then the hand shifted to scratch lightly behind his ears. Roy knew by that single touch the truth of the illusion but welcoming it regardless. It was better than the emptiness. Dreamscape images danced in his mind, flickering, the touch too familiar, yet unknown.

"Edward," he whispered, in the dream, or perhaps out loud. It was one and the same, to him.

The fingers stilled again, the touch lightening. Loss struck Roy as surely as the moment he'd known, years before. The illusion was incomplete.

"Maes," Roy breathed, uncertain, hoping...

The hand was close, its warmth a tangible presence, and Roy's chest ached with longing. Then the fingers descended again, stroking gently, running through the thick strands of Roy's hair.

"Shh, sleep," someone replied.

Roy smiled at his old friend's voice, and continued to dream.