Here he was again; all strung out and irritable. It was rare to have a visit that included any other mood. But he opened his door and stood back to let the herald of gloom into his house and trailed after him into the living room where said herald parked his miserable ass on the couch. He threw his legs up onto it, offering a glare, as if daring any criticism of his selfishness, and Roy knew it was just better to leave him alone and let him brood. He'd work up to his latest rant eventually. He'd been doing this for the last ten years.
Roy moved into the armchair, crossed his legs, laid his paper in his lap and waited. It usually didn't take Edward that long to start talking. He wasn't aware that Edward had made it back into Central. He felt no need to keep tabs on the adult as he had on the teenager. Better to let him go out and live, work off some of his wild energy; let Alphonse handle the worst of it before he came slinking back to his lair, or rather Roy's lair, to lick his wounds and collect himself before the next excursion.
"Where is your brother?" This was always the opening line, Roy made as if to lift his paper in indifference and Ed snorted from where he was becoming one with Roy's sofa cushions.
"Ditched me for some herbalist in Kreshing, I don't expect it will last long, she's rather evil," Ed toyed with the ends of his ponytail. "I guess Al just likes utter bitches, they say opposites attract."
"Where's Amalie...Amelia? What was her name?" Roy asked, letting the paper sag in his hands.
Ed said nothing for several long moments, twisting the end of his ponytail then slapped himself in the face with it, he shifted in the cushions.
"I don't know, in the arms of some brutish Drachman is my best guess, I obviously wasn't man enough for her. I read books, y'know," he grate out, then stared at the ceiling.
Roy straightened the paper up then, jiggled his foot a bit, rattled the newsprint.
"You're getting quite the list," he said. "Not that I am any sort of advocate for monogamy, but you certainly are taking full advantage of playing the field."
"Just what I wanted to hear, I'll end up a washed-up career military has-been who sits around at night getting his jollies from reading the obituaries to see which rival for the political seat that should be rightfully his had died," Ed growled. "I'm so looking forward to my early senility, thanks for being such an excellent role model."
"Well you've already picked out my couch as the place where you'll waste away," Roy said, turning a page of the paper, "it's not like you should be all that shocked. What was it this time? Surely you're not seriously saying she dumped you because you read too much."
"She got all bent out of shape. There was this lecture circuit on biomechanics and I just decided to follow it from college to college for a month or two. I mean I was studying, when you study you need time to do it properly, and no, I couldn't be bothered to call her or write her during that time. She was fine, she was living with her sister and working at that fancy hotel. What did she want me to do, hang around and breath down her neck every day? Sometimes I really don't get chicks. I mean, for fucks sake, don't they ever want any alone time?"
"Not while they're in a relationship," Roy said from behind the wall of evening news.
Ed heaved himself up from the couch and went to the small wooden bar at the other end of the room. He squatted behind it and dug around on the shelves.
"I'm sure they're stale by now," Roy said, deciding which bit of evening news was really worth reading, "it's been months since you were last here."
"Doesn't matter," Ed found the pack of cigarettes and book of matches. He fished one out and walked to the front door, he opened in and leaned in the doorway, used three matches to get it lit and looked out onto the street. He had Marilyn and her constant need of smoked drenched, cheap swill, music battered bars to thank for this occasional habit.
Roy folded the paper and sat it aside, listening to Ed shift and breathe in the doorway behind him. How many times had this scenario played itself out? How many times had he watched Ed wander about his house, depressed and bitter thinking there really wasn't anyone out there for him? It was becoming to many times to count, and it was becoming a bit worrisome. Each failed connection made Ed more cynical; each doomed tryst made him more reserved and resignated. If only he weren't Ed, with all his eccentricities and brilliance and talent. If only he were normal; but that wasn't something he was ever likely to be.
There had been a time, long ago, when Roy had let himself toy with the idea of keeping Ed close. There had been a time when Roy had seen this very sentiment reflected in Ed's eyes. But who was he to keep Ed bottled up from the world? It wasn't proper, it wasn't healthy; no matter how old Ed's soul seemed, he was still to young to know exactly what it was he wanted, and Roy couldn't take advantage of that.
So he'd kicked Ed out into the world despite all of Ed's attempts to foil his plan. He'd ignored the logic, he's ignored the threats and in the end he'd forced himself to ignore the pleas. He didn't have time, he told himself, to babysit Ed through what was likely to be the most disastrous affair of a lifetime. He didn't have the patience then, he didn't have the heart. All he'd had was the lust, he was quite sure of it, and that was something that Ed would never phantom. It was all or nothing with Ed, and quite frankly, Roy had been intimidated. So each time he came back, as he slowly grew into a man, Roy reminded himself that no matter what, this was the creature that could not be; and he had to content himself with that.
The fact that Ed always did come back was both joyous and painful and he wasn't sure what'd he'd do if Ed did find someone to break the cycle.
He heard the door close, felt a presence move into to the room behind him.
"I hope you put that out before you flicked it off into the bushes," Roy said. "It wouldn't look good for my house to burn down for obvious reasons."
Ed moved to behind Roy's chair, leaned on the back of it.
"I ground it out on the door frame, just like always," he said, the folded his arms on the back of the chair and rested his forehead on them. "Tell me again how the fuck you do this. How you just go on day to day in this place doing the same thing over and over and not having to worry about anyone else. I don't get it, I don't get how you can just be alone."
The urge to touch him was hard to control. Just to reach back and lay his hand on his head was still something he mustn't do, he mustn't ever encourage that he squashed long ago. He longed to find the answers Ed needed, knowing it was fruitless. Unless Ed could be understood, unless the person could see past all the barriers Ed himself had erected, each and every new attempt at reaching out to someone else was going to be met with the same failure.
And that was sad, and Roy didn't want that for Ed.
"There is nothing wrong with being a confirmed bachelor," Roy said patiently, "we've gone over this many times. You just date, but you can't seem to do that Ed, you've never been able to do that. You need to learn to keep some of yourself back. I've never seen anyone rush headlong into something the way you do, heedless of the precautions. We've had this same discussion time and again. I can set you up with a few girls, you could stay here in Central, do your research and when you feel the need to go out with someone you just pick up your black book..."
"Fuck that," Ed jerked up, shoved the back of Roy's chair hard. "You think that's all I want? All that superficial drivel? That might work well for you, but that's not what I'm looking for. I don't want to live the rest of my life with my head up my ass waiting for something that isn't going to happen!"
Roy went silent then, because he knew what Ed was talking about. It wound his stomach in a knot and he folded his hands in his lap. It was better now to let Ed tear about the house a bit and just remain where he was and try not to be hurt. All he'd done for this boy, every sacrifice he'd ever made, every deal he'd ever struck, even now, letting him come here whenever he damn well pleased to talk about his failed sex life, and did Ed honestly think Roy wanted to hear that?
Of course he did, Roy had set this up perfectly. He may not have ever allowed himself the opportunity to have Ed, but he was still in Ed's life. Only, the years hadn't done what they were suppose to, and soften the edge of what he couldn't, shouldn't have, they'd only shown him what he's missed out on.
"Fuck, sorry, sorry," and he was there again, behind Roy's chair. Roy almost felt a hand touch his shoulder, but then it didn't. "Look, I'm sorry, ok? I didn't mean that."
"It's said you never say anything you don't mean," Roy said, stung and perhaps wanting to hear more of that tone out of Ed's mouth. Ed's apologies were always sincere and sometimes beautiful, and it's not as if Roy fished for them, but he was owed on this time, might as well make the most of it.
"If my advice is so abhorrent to you, why do you keep coming back?" Roy pushed further.
"Don't be like that, come on, you know that I mean it when I say I'm sorry. Fuck, look, I just had the shittiest week, cut me some slack. You know, you're the one who said I could come here when I needed to," Ed defended, "so you can't get offended when I say shit because I'm mad."
"You only come here when you are on the ass end of a break up," Roy snorted, "all this is to you is one big venting ground. You know you could come by occasionally when you're in a good mood and we could go out to dinner or something."
There was silence now. Long, evil silence that seemed to hang over his head and wind around his chair and keep him there, immobile. He kept waiting, almost holding his breath, and just when he thought it was to much and he was going to have to turn in his chair, Ed spoke.
"No I can't. You made that really clear and long time ago. You remind me of it a lot, too, sometimes. I can't come here in a good mood. I'm not out to be your friend."
Reap what you sew, Roy Mustang. The only person driving a knife into yourself is you.
"That's nonsense," Roy said, not sounding as strangled as he felt. "Of course we're friends, if we aren't, then what are we?"
"Whatever you make us to be," Ed said quietly, still hiding there behind the chair. "This was your decision, not mine. So shut up and listen to me whine already, and tell me the same thing you tell me every time I'm here. Tell me that no one is going to have me. Tell me to console myself with meaningless sex and tell me that you aren't interested, just like you always have for the last ten years."
Roy did turn then, turned his body in the chair and looked up over the back of it to Ed's face. The young man looked drawn and quiet, as his voice had been. When Roy looked at him, Ed's eyes began to search his face, just like they always did, just like they always had, just the same as they had on the day Roy had made it clear that it was never going to be. How did Ed hang on to all that sad hope all this time?
"Ed, I sincerely hope you don't think I've been telling you no one would have you," Roy said, feeling the knot in his stomach grow. "I don't mean that at all. Anyone would be lucky to have you, people should line up on their knees to get a chance to know you. Ed you are incredible, and I for one, am grateful I got the chance to know you at all. No, I don't mean for you to have meaningless sex, I just thought it might help you to learn to socialize better and then, when you're ready and you find another girl..."
Ed waved him off angrily, shoved away from the chair and stalked into the kitchen.
"Save it Romeo, I'm starving," he said as he went under the arched doorway.
Don't follow him.
Don't follow him, it will lead to a discussion, the discussion will lead to an argument. Wounds will open; regretful things will spill out. You don't want this; this is not the relationship you want. You have made this a truth in your mind, don't listen to any other part of your body. Especially not that traitorous organ beating in your chest.
Don't follow him, that is what he wants. He likes to rip and tear at things that are suppose to be closed. He never gives up, he knows that no odd is impossible. He has been wearing you to a nub over the last ten years, he's looking to deliver the killing blow. Don't give in, this isn't what he wants, he just thinks he wants the unobtainable.
He's not a child anymore.
Don't follow him. He's not a child anymore and you are not the pillar of steel you use to be. You can't still want this, it's been to long. You don't have half of his determination. He's consume you, he'll use you until there is nothing left; and for what? Because he can, because you'll let him.
Don't do it.
Roy got up from the chair and walked slowly into the kitchen; it was a fitting place to be eaten alive.
Roy admired the back of him. Ed was still short, there was no way around it, but his shoulders were wide, his back was straight and the long tail of his golden hair hung in a straight line parallel to his spine. Ed had always been attractive, both to the eye and to the mind, but never accepting of any acknowledgment of his looks. Ed wanted to be wanted in a whole manner. He didn't want to parcel himself out; didn't want to give up the most desirable bits. It was all or nothing and it shouldn't be any other way.
To want him, to need him would be to open yourself to all the possibilities of him. The drive, ambition and deep, deep regret. Ed would be the most exhausting of lovers, and Roy could see it easily, could all the other's he'd made an attempt at being intimate with see it, too?
"There's nothing to eat in the fucking hovel," Ed said, slamming the only cabinet he'd opened. "You eat out every night, don't you snob? Don't like eating alone?"
"No, as a matter of fact, I don't," Roy said, leaning his hip into the counter, folding his arms. "If you're hungry you can go down to the deli and get take out."
Ed glared at him in silence, and they both stood there, poised as if the tiled floor was a large chessboard and it was time for the other's move.
"Ok, answer this question," Ed said, moving first, "you want to be alone the rest of your life?"
The first bite.
"I always assumed my political ambitions would make it necessary," Roy shrugged. "Ambition doesn't leave much room for family. You know all about all or nothing, Edward."
"So you've never had a selfish thought then? You're whole being is making the world a better place from...what? Other people? You know, all that shit we went through? We won in case you haven't noticed. We're the good guys, and we actually won. The world is as safe as it's gonna get from what you and I dealt with. Don't you think it's someone else's turn now?"
"It's become a habit," Roy said. "And even if we do turn over the reins, don't you think we should watch their backs, after all, you and I have had the experience."
"You are avoiding the questions, you're very, very good at it," Ed said, reached up to run his hand down the side of his face. "I don't know why I keep coming here, I really don't. You know what, I'm going to lay it on the line. Do you know why I keep coming here?"
"Well I thought it was because we were friends, but you seem to think that's not the case, so I'll admit that I'm baffled," Roy said as casually as he could.
"You would be lost with me," Ed said. "I seriously think you just sit here and wait for me to get tossed out on my ass and come crawling back to you. It's easy and safe for you. You get me, but you don't have to have me, that's it, isn't it? Yeah, all that stuff you said all that time ago, do you think I ever believed you? No, that was bullshit. But I decided that I would make you happy, because that's what people do, you know? When they care they make other people happy."
"I want you to be happy, Ed. I sincerely do."
"You want me to find happy," Ed looked at him for a long moment. "You want me to find it so you can finally let go of that breath you've been holding for ten years. And then what, Roy? Then what do you do? Then you go and find happy? I don't think so. I think then you just become another face in a blue uniform. I think you want obscurity to fade away because you're so fucking unhappy right now. Because you're so fucking scared to do anything that might ruin my chance at happy. You never once, in all this time, considered that it might be some fucking mutual happy thing if you'd just...if you'd just give in!"
"Don't you tell me what I have and haven't considered," Roy said, arms folding tighter. "I have considered every possible angle of this impossibility you speak of and I just don't see how it could work."
"What? Why? Because I got a lousy track record with women? You know what? I'm only doing that to make you happy! I thought you wanted me to go out and get some experience, and then...and then...but you know, ten fucking years is excessive! I won't listen to this you never intended to...I won't! I haven't done this for nothing. We're so busy trying to make each other happy we're fucking miserable!"
Chewed and swallowed.
Roy took a step back, and then another, he unfolded his arms and turned to walk out of the kitchen.
"NO, don't you run from me!" Ed chased after him, into the living room where Roy turned on him and they both stood their ground.
"Stop this, you can't mean you've been going out and dating for ten years to be good enough for me, that's ludicrous," Roy's voice broke and rose. "Don't you lay that burden on me! You don't know what you're talking about, I'm not...no one is worth that! Ed, I want you to be yourself, why can't you see that?!"
"I'm pretty good at being myself, thanks, I don't need you to tell me that," Ed countered. "What about you? What are you doing? You go to the office, you go out once in a while, you hole yourself up in here! That's not who you are, that's not what you are about! What are you doing in here? What are you waiting for, is it me? Here I am, all you got to fucking do is let me in!"
"You are in! You're in and you've always been in, there is no one else I... look, you're just saying all of this on the rebound, you must have really liked that girl. You shouldn't feel so desperate, you're still young, you'll find someone else," Roy cast around desperately in his heart and his mind. "Ed, take a good look at me, I'm old, I'm used up, what can I possibly offer you? You...you've done amazing things, you've accomplished incredible, impossible tasks and here I am, just like you said. I'm here, waiting for nothing because nothing is coming. I'm a pit, Ed, a pit! Open your damn eyes!"
"You think I'm desperate?! I'm not desperate you fucking moron! I want to be with you, and you know it and you're scared, admit it! I'm tired of this fucking game and I just want...I just want you! I don't understand why that is so hard to believe! Fucking hell Roy Mustang, when will you open your own damn eyes and see what has been in front of you all this time!"
The room was almost spinning, and he turned away, and showed throat and Ed pounced, literally, knocking him into the couch. He looked up at Ed, who was panting slightly, fists clenched and mouth drawn.
This is all or nothing, this very night, isn't it, Ed?
"Tell me you've never wanted me and I swear, I will walk out that door and never bother you again," Ed said, suddenly somber and quiet.
"I've never...," Roy began. All it would take was a lie. All he had to do is tell Ed a lie and then, maybe, Ed would go out and find someone that could be all he needed them to be, someone worthy of all that he was. All it would take was a lie and his world could shrink to his little pigeon hole of existence and he could know that Ed was out there, in what was beyond, having a life and not babysitting a failure.
"I have never...," he continued, feeling the knot in his stomach work it's way into his chest and reach for his heart. Ed's eyes were an open doorway, Roy could see everything there, everything that Ed was putting on the carpet tonight, everything that Ed hope and waited for, and it couldn't possibly be him, it just couldn't. Why was Ed forcing him to do this? Why?
"I have never not wanted you," Roy said, and felt his heart make the ultimate betrayal of all.
Ed's entire body jerked, his eyes widened and his mouth hung open. He looked all around the room as if he didn't know where he was and he reached up and clawed at the collar at his throat.
"Happy?" Roy said tiredly. He then noticed Ed's eyes become overly bright, and Ed turned scarlet and he fled down the hall, slamming the bathroom door so hard Roy's teeth rattled.
He waited for a few moments, looking down the hall where Ed had gone. He fidgeted and rubbed the back of his neck, then finally he got up, walked quietly down the hall and pressed his ear to the door. He could hear some heavy breathing, some sounds like someone trying to swallow something down, against his better judgment he said: "Ed?"
The bathroom door wrenched open and he almost feel inside. Ed glared at him, eyes red rimmed and cheeks wet.
Roy wasn't sure what to do, after all, he thought...well he thought...maybe Ed would be happy. But apparently the confession wasn't what Ed was after. He tried to think back over the conversation, he tried to see what he might have said to illicit such a reaction. Utter confusion made him hesitant and that seemed to make Ed angrier if his reddening face and gritted teeth were any evidence.
"You fucking bastard," Ed howled, " you made me wait ten years to hear that!"
"I thought I was doing it for your own good," Roy tried to reason, Ed was a man, he would listen to reason.
"Ten long fucking years of knowing and you just strung me along," Ed shrieked.
"No, no, I didn't, honestly, I thought it was best you get out and explore and be yourself. You've been around me since you were a child and you didn't know anything other than your quest and it was time for you to live," Roy tried to placate.
"I was all over that the first couple of years you fucking idiot," Ed snarled. "I'm a prodigy so I caught on pretty quick. Fuck, I can't believe you, fuck, I just can't," Ed grabbed up a handful of toilet paper and blew his nose and dropped it in the toilet. "I ought to beat you senseless," he said and sniffled.
"I ought to be beaten senseless," Roy murmured in agreement. "Now that you own me, what are you going to do with me? It seems only reasonable to ask about my fate."
"I'm thinking about it," Ed said and sat down on the toilet after closing the lid, he looked up at Roy. "I think for starters, fucktard, I'm going to make you make this up to me in every way possible. Ten years you pulled this shit. To be honest, now that you finally came clean, I'm at a loss."
"You're not the only one," Roy said, leaning in the doorway.
Ed suddenly pushed himself up, came right up to Roy and looked up at him. His searched Roy's face, but not with the weary, guarded expression Roy was use to, but with something that suddenly began to unravel the knot in Roy's gut.
"I guess I'll be moving back to Central for the time being, I'll crash here until I find my own place," Ed said.
"Alright," Roy conceded, unable to pull himself away from Ed's eyes.
Ed lowered his eyes then, but stayed close. It seemed a sort of hopeful half lean in Roy's direction, and how could he resist that? He reached out slowly and put an arm around Ed's back and pulled him the step closer needed for Ed to be all up in his space. Ed kept his eyes down and Roy just gently rubbed at his back.
"I don't know what to do," Roy confessed, "I never had a plan for this contingency."
"I had lots of plans," Ed told him, "but you kept fucking them up."
Roy leaned down, he pressed his lips against Ed's forehead and just felt the warmth there. Ed hitched in a breath, his own hands moving to grip Roy's sides. Roy pulled back and Ed glanced up at him. Slow, nice and slow, time to learn each other, time to figure this out, that's what they would need.
"If you tell anyone I cried, I'll fucking break both your legs," Ed promised on a whisper.
"Stop it, you'll make me hot," Roy whispered back. Ed poked him hard in the stomach.
Maybe ten years hadn't been long enough after all.