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sisyphean effort

Getting Religion


In the great shadow of an old crumbling church steeple stood the darkened figure of a man, alone amidst a scattering of tombstones. A fall wind whipped his great, black coat behind him, casting even darker shadows across the parallel, cluttered lines of white marble. Behind him, from inside the ancient tower, church bells tolled, their deep, melancholy echo bouncing off the stones like the cries of lost angels. Minutes passed, as the figure stood with his head bowed, in silence. The he lifted his chin and spoke:

"So...we finally have the same rank."

It was not unusual for Roy Mustang to be seen speaking to the tombstone of his long-dead friend in this way. It was the anniversary of Maes' death, and—as was customary—Roy had made the usual pilgrimage to his friend's grave. A bouquet of white roses lay across the damp ground in front of the headstone, the petals swaying like waving hands in the breeze. Roy pulled his overcoat tighter around him, and said:

"Of course, it took me a lot longer to get there, but still..."

He had attended the church service earlier that day with Gracia and Elysia. That was also customary. Elysia was nearly eleven now. And somewhere, somehow, over the years she had grown from a round, chubby toddler into a thin, reedy long-haired girl. She no longer wore her hair in pig-tails...

"I wish you could see her now," whispered Roy.

Another great gust of wind, and the foil wrapping around the roses crackled, lurched. A sharp, cutting sound beneath the soft pealing of the great brassy bells. Then another figure came into view, drawing closer to the graveyard, and Roy's demeanor immediately perked up. Such a familiar gait. Edward! You've come home! he immediately thought. But, as the figure drew closer, Roy realized his mistake. No, not Edward, but close—

—Alphonse.

"Hello, Brigadier-General Mustang," said Ed's little brother.

"Good Morning, Alphonse," returned Mustang.

Alphonse carried in his arms a bouquet of bright, yellow chrysanthemums. That is so like Alphonse, thought Roy. The mums seemed perfectly indicative of the younger Elric's sunny disposition: bright, easy going, thoughtful, always ready to help...

Not like his older brother at all, mused Roy. Stubborn, temperamental, volatile, unapologetic. Yes, Edward was not nearly as easy going as his younger brother. He had a quick temper. And he was stubborn to a fault. Like with his views on religion, for instance. Edward was a staunch atheist. And Roy knew that, even if Ed had been home, he wouldn't have deigned to go anywhere near the inside of a church. Ed had made his views on churches and religion perfectly clear years ago. Still, that didn't stop Mustang from asking:

"Alphonse, why does your brother dislike religion so much?"

Alphonse placed the bouquet of mums on the ground next to Roy's roses. White clouds against a yellow sun. The younger Elric seemed to be smiling to himself, as if enjoying a private joke. Roy's brow furrowed at his expression. Then Alphonse answered:

"My brother just doesn't care for organized religions," said Alphonse, still smiling. "Ed's actually a very religious person, in his own way. He explained it to me in great detail, once." Then the younger Elric turned from Maes' tombstone and looked directly at Roy: "You should ask him about it sometime."

Now Mustang's expression was completely puzzled. "Ed's a religious person? Really? That can't be right..."

Alphonse's grin widened. "Ask him about it," repeated the younger brother. Then Alphonse turned away, "It was nice to see you, Brigadier-General. I'm going to visit Gracia now. She's promised me one of her apple pies." The younger Elric waved over his shoulder as he began to walk away.

"Oh, and tell Ed that I'll save him a slice," called Alphonse, belatedly. "He's back from his mission, you know. He telephoned me just this morning."

"He's back?" And Roy felt his somber mood immediately lift, like cloud cover cast from the rays of a golden sun. Yes, Ed might be stubborn, temperamental, unapologetic, but...

...he's still all mine, thought Roy, And I wouldn't have him any other way. Roy turned to exit the graveyard, then, eager to be home with his long-absent love. He made a mental note, in the back of his mind, to ask Edward about his "religion" when he saw him. Religious, indeed. Now, how can that be possible when we've been together for over six years and he's never even spoken of it? he pondered to himself.

*

Roy opened the door to his front entryway and almost immediately fell head-first over the suitcase that had been carelessly abandoned just inside. I should have known, thought Mustang. He leaves it there every time. So much for being a great strategist... Mustang felt a quiet surge of anger over the unintended booby trap, but those feelings were quickly displaced with ones of happiness, because...

...the suitcase definitely meant that Edward was home!

Roy took off his overcoat and hung it on the wooden coat rack by the door. He then proceeded down the hallway, the long, narrow space of which was lined on either side by tall, slim shelves filled with books. Those shelves had not always been there. His hallway, in fact, had once been entirely empty. No, the encroachment of the bookshelves was all because of Edward. Because of his love for books. And after several years of living together, the library had ceased to be big enough to hold the younger alchemist's ever-growing lit collection. And so, like creeping vines of ivy, it had begun to spill outward, into the hallway. At first, Roy had hemmed and hawed over the clutter, the lack of space. But, in the end, he had given in (as always). And now, if he dared to admit it, he kind of liked the shelves there. It was the smell. There was something inherently comforting about the scent of all that leather and paper. The way it hit him the moment he walked through the door. The scent held the key to a cabinet of olfactory memory, of familiarity, of comfort. It smelled like home.

Roy paused outside the library door and pushed it open. This time he avoided tripping over Edward's heavy, lace up boots that had been discarded by the entrance. Just follow the Hansel and Gretel trail of belongings, thought Roy. And there, in a plush window seat that was situated like a an island oasis amidst a sea of overflowing shelves, sprawled the love of his life—nose wedged inside a book, a steaming hot mug of coffee on the floor beside him. From inside the book a voice said:

"Ah, the lord of the manor has returned at last." Gold eyes then appeared over the top of the leather cover.

"You mean yourself, of course," said Roy.

"No, I mean you. Me—the lord of the manor? What a ridiculous notion..."

Roy crossed the room and squeezed into the window seat next to Edward. He lifted the younger alchemist's feet—one steel, one flesh—and sat them in his lap. Roy sat, and Edward reclined. It was a familiar arrangement for the two of them. Roy then glanced down at the mug on the floor. It sat on top of a book without a coaster. He then felt the tug of his OCD begin to kick in, but promptly squashed it down. Coasters could wait. Now it was time to focus on Ed.

"I tried calling earlier, but no one was home," said Edward.

"I was at the church with Gracia and Elysia this morning."

"I figured as much," replied Edward. And from the look in his eye, Roy knew that Edward had not forgotten what day this was. Or how important it was to Roy. Edward knew; he understood.

"I saw Alphonse this morning," said Roy, hands idly stroking Ed's leather clad calves. "He told me that you were home. He was on his way to Gracia's; she was going to make some of that apple pie you two like so much."

"Mmmm. Gracia's apple pie..." Edward closed his eyes, his look one of fond remembrance.

"Al said he'd save you a piece."

"My thoughtful little brother," sighed Edward.

"If it were the other way around, you'd eat the whole thing."

"Damn skippy. Gracia's pie is not something to be trifled with..."

Roy's eyes, like a magnet, were pulled back down to the mug on the floor. He couldn't suppress the words that spilled out from his mouth: "Shouldn't you put a coaster under that?"

Gold eyes followed his gaze to the floor. "The book is a coaster."

"You're using one of your books as a coaster?" His tone was one of surprise.

"It's just a very basic, beginner alchemy book. I'll never use it."

"Then why don't you get rid of it?"

"Get rid of an alchemy book? What blasphemy!"

"Speaking of blasphemy, I had an odd conversation with Al this morning concerning you and religion."

Roy watched as one blond eyebrow quirked upward. "Oh, really?"

"Really. Al says that you are, and I quote, 'a very religious person.' What do you suppose he meant by that?"

"What an odd thing for Al to say."

"I thought so. But then he said that you went on to explain it to him..."

A light seemed to finally dawn behind those sun-hued eyes. Then Edward laughed a little. "Oh, yes. Now I remember."

"Remember what?" asked Roy, his head tilted quizzically to one side.

"I was comparing our relationship to a religion."

"Huh?"

"I was talking with Al one day. And I was explaining how a long-term relationship is like a religion. They both have similar hallmarks."

Roy looked confused. "They're similar? How?"

Edward shifted in the window seat. He pushed the pillow under his head around, in the quest for long term comfort. He looked like he was gearing up for a long one. Roy watched his face, as Ed thought through what he was going to say. Then he began:

"Both require the four D's: Devotion, Duty, Desire, and Daily rituals."

"Really now?"

"Really. Those four things together create a binding faith."

"You sound like you've given this a lot of thought..."

"I might have."

"So...explain."

"Very well. You know how various churches have their rituals. You know, eating wafers, drinking wine, and all that."

Roy laughed. "It sounds so strange, the way you describe it—"

"—well, I was thinking. We have our daily rituals, too. You know, how the first one to get up in the morning always—always—lets out the cat, gets the newspaper, and puts on the coffee?"

"That's usually me," interjected Roy.

Edward waved the comment off. "Not the point. The point is, it's a ritual. Like in a religion. Based on devotion. Like this morning, I got here, and there was still coffee in the pot. You always make the same amount, even if I'm not actually here—"

"—I can't believe you're comparing holy communion to coffee making!" laughed Roy.

"That coffee, I'll have you know, means far more to me than any holy communion ever could."

Roy promptly stopped laughing. "You're serious?"

"Completely."

Roy stared at the hardwood floor, lost in sudden thought.

"...and then there is duty. Doing something—out of devotion—even if it's not the thing you want to do. Like when you drag me around to all those stupid military functions. Where I just stand by and watch you schmooze and kiss ass and do what you generally do in order to pave your way to the top—"

"—hey! Now, wait just a minute!"

"Oh, I'm not judging you," grinned Edward. He seemed happy, though, to have gotten a rise out of Roy. "Believe me, I know what 'The Mustang' is all about. You're your own publicity machine and marketing campaign all rolled into one. And I don't mind standing by and watching. It's pretty amusing, actually."

"Well, I'm glad I amuse you," drawled Roy sarcastically.

"Always," answered Ed, his eyes dancing with an impish merriment. "But, as I say, I don't mind. Again, it has to do with devotion. I'll stand by you, whenever and wherever you want—after you've made fuhrer. When you're no longer fuhrer. When you're an old man even..."

Roy felt a hitch in his throat...

"The root of it all is devotion," continued Ed. "And devotion is born out of faith. And faith is the root of all religion—yes? Absolute trust, and absolute faith. You know, I never doubt you, Roy. Even when I've been gone for days, for weeks on end. I don't doubt you for a moment. I know I have your complete devotion—"

"You have it right now," murmured Roy, overrun with a sudden rush of white-hot emotion at Ed's speech. He then leaned across the seat to take Ed's face in both of his hands, and he slowly—so very slowly—pressed his lips against those of his lover. He felt Edward sigh contentedly against him, felt the tingling of his breath against the sensitive flesh of his lips. Lips which parted to allow him entrance, to allow him inside heaven.

Roy thought again of holy communion. Of devotion. Of worship.

Roy took one of the velvet-lined cushions from his side of the window seat and tossed it on the floor before Edward. He then slid from the seat and knelt on the dense, plush material. He reached over and grabbed one of Ed's ankles and swung him around into a sitting position on the edge of the seat. "Ooh, now I sense a very good welcome home present about to come my way," Edward said devilishly, in a low voice. His gaze was all fire as his eyes met Roy's. The younger alchemist watched, in suspense, as Roy lifted his hand and—

—cautiously slid the nearly full mug of coffee far away from the seat.

Edward threw his head back and laughed. "Ha! I knew it! I knew you couldn't leave it there! Mmfph—"

The words were completely lost in the whirlpool created by Roy's questing tongue as he grabbed the back of Ed's braid and pulled his head forward, fusing their mouths into one. My angel of fire, he thought. Passion ignited and burned, spread like a wild-fire—a fire hotter than any alchemy he could command. After an age, the kiss finally broke, and Roy pulled back, panting, breathless. He then shoved Ed's knees apart and knelt between them, running a worshipful hand down from his face, over his chest, to his now-bulging crotch. Ed arched willingly against his greedy, questing fingers, his eyes darkened and half-mast. He lay back, supine, against the wine-colored cushions like some kind of black-clad shah, like a leather-and-steel odalisque. And Roy was his kneeling, worshiping supplicant. There was only one word to describe Ed's reclining form at this moment:

Beautiful...

Roy's deft fingers slid across the clasp of Ed's belt, pulling, unraveling. Above him, he heard Ed mutter, "This won't last five minutes; I've been away too long..." Roy smirked at the admission, but the comment didn't deter him from his mission. Love, passion, want—all of it pushed him forward, compelled him, until he at last had Ed's zipper down, and—

"—Ah, God!" he heard Ed cry out from above him, as Roy engulfed him with his mouth. His lips and tongue worked, as one hand pumped and the other hand strayed. Edward bucked wantonly at the sudden, surprising scrape of teeth. "Holy shit," Ed hissed and Roy heard the creak of wood from the window sill as Ed grasped it with his automail hand, using it for leverage. A string of words—half curses, half encouragement—fell from Ed's lips. It sounded like a prayer. Roy felt Ed's flesh hand tangling into his hair, tugging, pulling. Roy doubled his efforts, sucked him even harder.

"Oh...God...yes!" A hoarse cry, a sudden arch, and it was all over. Roy drank him down, consumed him, until there was nothing left. Edward lay spent, half-slumped on the window seat, as Roy sat kneeling on the cushion. Roy drank in Ed's contented, rapt expression the same way he drank in his bodily fluids. Like holy communion. Ed caught Roy's expression and smiled languidly.

"What are you thinking about down there?" he asked him.

Roy tilted his head to the side, a more watered-down version of the infamous Mustang smirk playing across his lips. "I'm thinking that I finally 'got religion.'"

Ed laughed at his choice of words. "What?"

"You've convinced me by the strength of your argument," said Roy, stroking the side of Ed's face. "You know, I never really seriously thought about religion before. But today, you've made me into a convert."

Edward laughed again. He leaned forward and kissed Roy on the lips. "It's a good model of religion, yes?"

"Very good," agreed Roy.

"You know, I didn't get a chance to explain the fourth D," said Ed.

"I think we made that one more of a show-rather-than-tell."

"Yes."

"You know, we could play more show-and-tell upstairs in the bedroom..."

"We certainly could."

"And I'm not nearly done worshiping you yet."

"Really?"

"Really..."

"Well, halle-fuckin-lujah to that..."