The lights were still on in the house when Ed finally got home. He frowned as he came up the walk; Roy usually gave up on waiting for him once it hit midnight. Fumbling with his keys, Ed unlocked the handle and deadbolt, and then stepped into the kitchen. "Roy?"
The man himself stood at the counter brewing coffee with a half smile on his face. "I'm glad you're home."
Ed's first instinct was to ask who died. Roy never said he was glad to see him, never stayed up just to say hello after a long day. His stomach twisted. If it had been Al, he would have known. Someone would have called him while he was working, but if it was someone from Roy's office, he probably wouldn't have gotten the news at all. "What's wrong?"
"We need to talk."
Panic that had been hiding in the wings of his mind burst onto stage, filling Ed with the certainty his life was about to fall apart. "Are you leaving me?" He was surprised he could get the words out through the tightness in his chest and the relentless pounding of his heart.
"What? No. That's not—Why would you automatically think that? Why do you always assume that I'm going to leave?" Roy's worried expression was replaced by one of anger. "I've told you I'm not leaving you." He took the two long steps across the room and grabbed onto Ed's shirt, pulling their bodies together before crushing their mouths together as well.
Ed was tempted to stay that way, to let Roy distract him with his hands and mouth, but Roy tasted strangely desperate and he held on like he was afraid of Ed disappearing. Ed nipped at Roy's bottom lip before pushing him back. "What the fuck is going on?"
"I have to go." Roy held up a hand to keep Ed from speaking. "I'm not leaving you." He caught Ed's arm and pulled him to the couch, as if sitting would make any of this better. "It's a stupid regulation, and I thought I'd be past it, or exempt from it at this point. Every officer has to spend time on unaccompanied tours. Ishbal counted as one, but I have to have another before I can be considered for any other promotions." He ran a hand through his hair, creating little ripples of disarray. "At least this time it's not a war zone. I have to spend a year at Northern Command, and you can't come with me."
"Excuse me?" The hell of it was, he'd read the regulations about a year before and the thought that Roy might have to comply with them never crossed his mind.
"It's only a year."
"How the hell can they make you go? You saved this country. You killed the evil fucker who was going to turn the whole fucking place into bodies for a philosopher's stone. How can they make you do anything?"
Roy frowned at him, his eyes darting around the room as though looking to see if they'd be overheard. "Yeah, well, that's not exactly something I can broadcast, now is it, Ed?" he hissed. "That's the kind of thing that gets you court marshaled and killed, not promoted."
"You shouldn't have to."
"But I do. It's only a year." Every time Roy said it, the words sounded more like a lie.
Ed gave a sick laugh, knowing Roy didn't believe his words any more than Ed did. "Yeah, what can happen in a year?" He leaned forward, resting his head against Roy's collarbone.
"I'll be able to call. I'll call every day. And write. I'll keep the paper companies in business."
Ed snorted. He couldn't imagine Roy committing anything to paper that he wasn't forced to at gunpoint. "I should move in with Al. I don't know if I can live here by myself for a year." It was a big house for two people. Alone, Ed would lose his mind.
"No, please, please, don't leave. Have Al move here or get a dog or something." Roy tightened his arms around Ed. "I want to be able to picture you here."
"I'm not getting a fucking dog. Can you imagine? It'd be all,—-I'm so happy to see you, I'm going to sleep on the furniture all day long, I made a mess in the hallway.' Then when you come back, there'd be two of you." He wanted to push Roy away, to shout and throw things and really work himself into an all out tantrum, the kind he hadn't had since he was a kid, but Roy wouldn't let go of him and he wasn't a kid anymore.
"Can't we just skip the fight and go right to the make-up sex? I don't think I have the energy for both."
Ed wanted to fight, to take out on Roy what was out of their control, but he restrained himself because he didn't want to spend the time they had left fighting. Instead, he forced a smile and placed a kiss on the bit of raised skin over Roy's collarbone. "It's hard to be so old, huh?"
Roy squeezed him, this time with the intent of making him squirm. "Keep it up and there won't be any kind of activity."
"Pft. Please." He nipped at the soft flesh of Roy's neck, close to his ear just to listen to him gasp. "You're too easy for that."
"Ed," Roy moaned in his ear. He buried his hands in Ed's hair, pulling his face up for a real kiss. Their breath met just before their mouths, just before their tongues.
Sometimes, God, sometimes Ed thought he could spend the rest of his life like this: Roy's tongue in his mouth, Roy's hands in his hair and their bodies pressed together. He didn't know how he could live without this for a year.
When they finally broke apart, Ed pulled back just enough to see all of Roy's face, following every curve, every wrinkle, and every bit of hair he'd missed shaving that morning. It was aging and imperfect and so beautiful and so very Roy. He hated that he had to think this way, that he had to take this moment and the handful of moments they had left and file each one away so he could pull them out later when things got hard. It was like he was sixteen all over again instead of twenty-six, living moment to moment because the future was too big to contemplate.
"Hey." Roy kissed him again, this time fast to catch his attention. "Don't think. Just be here with me."
Ed swallowed, and then breathed in the scent of Roy, letting him fill his lungs, holding it as if he could keep part of Roy with him. "I'm trying."
"It's only a year."
"Children are born in a year, people are diagnosed and die in a year, you can learn a language—hell, a whole culture—"
"Maybe you could."
"Wars start and end in a year. There are animals whose whole lifespan is encapsulated in a year."
"And sometimes," Roy's voice was soft and gentle like he was trying to coax a skittish animal. "Absolutely nothing happens except you get a year older."
"Which I won't be around to see. I'll have to stay alone, in this fucking house, like the fucking military wives who get left behind. Do you know what they talk about when they get together? What their brat kids are learning in school. The next party they're going to throw. The best place to get food catered from, the amazing new piece of shit their cheating fucker husbands bought them after their last guilty affair. Only they don't know about the cheating fucker bit." He shoved his palm hard against Roy's chest, not to push him away, but he had to do something or he was going to start throwing things. And he liked their things. "I hate being left behind, being left out of everything. Being on the inside sucks, but being left behind—" He stopped, and took a moment just to breathe before he started babbling like an idiot. Roy would get that look in his eyes, like Ed was some kind of puppy to be taken care of and then Ed would have to kick his ass. "I have to know what's going on."
"You will. I'll tell you everything."
"Because I can't, you know." He waved to encompass the room. "I can't be left here, like, drinking my fucking breakfast from a wine bottle."
"You're not my housewife and you'd put a fucking fist through the first person who claimed it." Roy breathed a deep sigh. "It's only a year, and I'm coming back."
"You'd fucking better."
Ed didn't accompany Roy to the train station to see him off. In fact, he made sure he wasn't even in town when Roy was scheduled to leave. He invented a clever excuse that fooled no one and allowed him to be halfway across the country.
When he really needed space and time to reevaluate his life, to make a big decision or find focus, Ed liked to go to the desert. As hot and miserable as it was with his automail baking in the sun, there was something incredibly simple about the desert. The very heat that tried to kill him burned away all of the extraneous shit in his life. Petty daily concerns, budgets, fights, everything—big and little—was thrown into sharp relief and he was better able to see what he really needed.
Of course, when it turned out what he really needed was on a train headed north, the desert didn't end up helping much, and coming home to an empty house that still smelled like Roy was almost too much. If everything that Roy had been planning for years didn't hinge on this stupid tour, Ed would have gotten the next train and followed Roy, everything and everyone else be damned.
If only he could just find a way to think of the year as something other than a punishment, something other than that which must be endured. He'd been meaning to learn more about Xing's alchemy, Al had suggested he take up gardening, and Hughes thought it would be a perfect opportunity for him to spend more time with his perfect children. Before he left, Roy told him to take the year off, do nothing, but Ed had been working every day of his life since he was ten years old, and he couldn't really wrap his mind around the concept of an entire year with nothing to do.
Research, he finally decided, was the key. With no one to bitch about late nights in the lab or his office, it would be the perfect time to really get some work done. Arrays he'd been putting off until he had more uninterrupted time were now free game. He could immerse himself in the science, live and breathe it in the only way that would allow him to move to the next level. With Roy around, always nagging him to do stupid things like eat and sleep and speak, Ed never got the chance to really work at the arrays. He always kept a part of himself separate, connected to Roy and their life. It was a small sacrifice, a necessary one, and what had his life been, really, but a string of sacrifices?
Now, though, Ed could lose himself in the science and not have to worry about staying connected for someone else. It was the perfect plan, a way to make an endless year bearable and like so many things in his life, completely ruined by his nosy brother.
"It's not healthy, brother." Al shoved a plate under his nose and took Ed's notes away from him forcefully. "You can't disappear into a book for a year and think you're going to come out well-adjusted on the other side."
Ed sneered and thought for a moment of refusing the food out of spite; Al had certainly become very superior about Ed's health since becoming a physician. That was before the warm, fragrant steam wafted into his face and his body jerked with a sudden, all encompassing need for food. Somehow, he managed to eat like a regular person and not a starving dog, but only just, and all the while Al sat back looking fondly self-righteous.
"Maybe you should take up a new hobby." Al had a glint in his eye that meant he was about to say something specifically designed to set Ed off.
He was almost afraid to ask. "Like what?"
"I don't know. I've heard knitting is fun."
Later, Ed had to concede that throwing the plate at his brother's head was a little bit of an overreaction since he had gone to a lot of trouble to make sure Al got his face back in one piece. Also, in the realm of physical altercations, Al could still mop the floor with him. Still, at the end of their bout, both of them sprawled out on the floor, panting and bruised, Ed couldn't deny he felt better.
"Thanks," he said with a grin as he picked himself up off the floor and offered his brother a hand.
"Now I know why you don't write more letters."
"Hello to you, too. I've been fine, thanks for asking." Roy smiled into the phone, knowing that Ed would ignore him no matter what he said.
"I mean, I've read some pretty boring stuff in my life. Anyone who complains about insomnia should try some of those old treatises on alchemy. You wonder why I kept falling asleep in the library? It wasn't lack of sleep; it was sheer boredom."
"Did you have a point, love?" Roy could only imagine the full body twitch at the affection, just one of the many reasons he continued to use them.
"What I'm saying is that your letters are boring. Not that I don't care about how many stairs you have to climb to get to your office, or the very subtle difference in color between Central uniforms and Northern Command uniforms, but I have to wait until I'm ready to sleep before I read them or I'm likely to pass out in public."
Instead of being affronted, Roy leaned back, letting smugness infuse his tone. "And here I thought you were supposed to be a genius."
"What do you mean?"
Roy drummed his fingers on a desk almost as nice as the one he had at home, and smiled. "I would have thought that someone of your intellect would have understood, but well, I suppose age does slow the mind."
By now, Ed should be writhing in an attempt not to react to his mocking tone. Roy thought he knew what it was to miss home before this, but it was torture to imagine how Ed would look, what he would smell like and not be able to touch him. By the end of this, would Roy even be able to have these visions of Ed, or would they be distorted and weakened by time?
"What do you mean?" Ed asked slowly, a pace he reserved for Roy when he was being particularly trying.
"I'm just saying you should read my letters with a little more care."
Roy looked up to see his secretary holding a stack of forms, no doubt waiting for his signature. "Listen, I have to go, but we'll talk later."
"No, you need to tell me what—"
Roy felt bad for a moment about hanging up, but getting off the phone with Ed was, at times, like trying to remove a limb with a spoon. Also, he already suspected his secretary of starting two rumors about him that he could have done without. There was no need to give her more ammunition. The point of him being here, away from his home and Ed for a year was to advance his career, not fall further from the list of possible candidates for the next Fuhrer.
"Hello?" He spoke before he was even aware he was awake; years of answering the phone in the middle of the night had trained him well.
"You need to fire your code guy."
Dear God. Ed's voice, usually such a welcome sound, was jagged in his ear. "Do I even want to know what time it is?"
"Um, sometimes after three, I think. I lost track. I was thinking about what you said, and the way you said it, and I cracked your stupid code in about six hours. I know you didn't write it. It's too clever for that, but the guy you got to do it wasn't much better. I hope you're not using him to keep state secrets, because otherwise we're pretty well screwed."
Roy closed his eyes, letting Ed's voice wash over him, hardly paying any attention to the words. If he ignored the absence of Ed next to him in the bed, which still didn't feel normal even after a month, he could almost pretend that he was home and Ed had just woken him from sleep to tell him about some theory that Roy had no hope of ever understanding. "Uh huh."
"You're not even listening to me, are you, you bastard?"
He had to get up in less than an hour and if Ed kept talking at him, he'd never get back to sleep. "I'm listening." Maybe if he closed his eyes, he could fall asleep to the sound of Ed's voice. Ed's gentle, soft voice, soothing him to sleep.
Roy jumped, his heart pounding. "What?"
"Pay attention to me. You're the one who sent the damn code. If you didn't want to know when I figured it out, you should have thought of that before telling me."
"Can't we talk about this tomorrow?" God, he felt like he never slept anymore. Between the early morning meetings and the late night functions with his superiors, endless paperwork and the strange apartment, Roy was barely averaging four hours a night. And Ed was stealing them from him, right now.
"Can't. I'm headed out tonight and won't be back for a couple weeks."
Roy stifled a yawn and rubbed at his eyes. Maybe he could sneak in a nap at lunch; the food was overrated here, anyway. "Where're you going?"
"Oh, you know, here and there. Al thinks he can learn something useful from some rural doctors, stuff they didn't teach him at university. I told him he's already a doctor with a license and everything, but he insisted he wants to keep learning. You know how Al gets into trouble on his own, so I told him I'd tag along." Ed's voice was too casual, too at ease to be anything but filled with lies, but Roy couldn't bring himself to call him on it. Their conversations were too few to waste time arguing.
"You'll be careful."
Ed snorted. "You don't need to worry about me."
As if Roy had done anything but since he'd met Ed. "Right."
"You sound tired."
"Maybe it has something to do with the part where you woke me up in the middle of the night." He closed his eyes, tucking the phone against his cheek and relaxed back into the pillows. "Tell me a story."
"What? Like you're a baby?"
"It's the penalty for waking me up."
"This is stupid."
Roy smiled. "Just be thankful this is a long distance penalty and I don't make you do this at home."
He could hear Ed sigh along the line before clearing his throat self-consciously. "What kind of story?"
Ed was quiet for a moment and when he began to speak, Roy could hear the smile in his voice. "Did I ever tell you about the time Al and I transmuted Winry's favorite wrench? I was about six, I guess and Al was five."
"These rules are stupid." Ed took a step back, indicating a halt to the session and let his sword arm drop. "I mean, if you're just going to stand there, I don't see why I can't kick you in the face and then run you through."
Hughes let his sword dip towards the floor and he grimaced at Ed's words. "The point isn't to run your opponent through. Not anymore, at least. Fencing is a gentleman's game, a pastime for the educated and civilized."
"It sounds more like an excuse for a bunch of rich idiots to get together and congratulate each other on how quickly they'd get killed in a real fight. I can't believe you do this for fun." Once a week since Roy had left for Northern Command, Hughes had taken it upon himself to invite Ed to different activities. Usually they involved embarrassing public outings with his children: school plays, dinner with the whole Hughes family, and ice skating now that the ponds were solidly frozen over. He'd made the mistake of going out drinking with him once and only once.
When Hughes first mentioned taking up fencing, Ed thought it would be fun. He'd get to fight with Hughes for an hour or so, and when Hughes asked him embarrassing and inappropriate questions about his sex life, Ed could try to make him bleed. But then there had been all the rules: the proper way to hold his sword, where to put his other hand, how to wear protective gear that would never allow for actual blood to flow. Kicking was illegal, as was flipping over his opponent and transmuting his automail into a second blade. Even mocking the other fencers was frowned upon. Fencing, it turned out, was for pussies.
"Come on, you're not even trying. If you wanted, you could whip out one of those daggers you carry around and pin me to the floor before I could blink." He bounded on the balls of his feet, itching for a real fight. "What do you say?"
"I think you had a very strange childhood. This isn't your State Alchemist re-evaluation or the parade grounds, and I'm certainly not Roy Mustang."
"Don't I know it." Almost five months into Roy's assignment, even the mention of his name was enough to punch a hole in Ed's chest. "Whatever. Our hour's up anyway."
"Ah, it's just as well, I guess. Gracia told me to invite you for dinner and not take no for an answer."
Ed waved a hand, grateful not to have to spend more time in the achingly empty house than necessary. "Yeah, okay." It was better than cooking for one and eating alone, or not eating at all.
They stored their equipment in silence and Ed could tell Hughes was building up to something. He was not normally a silent man by nature but Ed could never tell if his silences were going to lead to a big, important conversation or a stupid poll on whether Alicia was the most beautiful girl in her class or her whole school.
As they stepped out onto the street, Ed hissed out a breath as the cold wind cut through his coat in an instant and snow began settling on his shoulders. He'd have to make a fire in the house tonight if he didn't want to freeze by morning. And if it was this cold in Central, Ed didn't like to think of what it was like further north. Roy was probably miserable.
"I talked with Roy this week."
"Good for you." Ed talked with him every day.
Hughes rubbed his eyes beneath his glasses. "He sounds depressed."
"Roy's a big boy. He knew this wasn't going to be fun." Part of Ed wanted to sympathize with Roy, to coo at him on the phone and write long, involved letters about how much Ed ached with missing him. But mostly, Ed was just irritated. However much the regulations were the cause of Roy's assignment, it was Roy's drive to be the Fuhrer that kept him on this path. Roy chose to be in the army, he chose to try and claw his way to the top, he chose this separation and Ed wasn't really interested in listening to him bitch about how sad he was.
"You don't seem so good yourself."
Ed frowned, not really interested in discussing any of this with Hughes. He wasn't really interested in discussing it with anyone, for that matter. "Yeah, well, it sucks, but we've only got a couple months left and it won't suck so much then." He shrugged uncomfortably. During their separation, Ed had made it a point of not noting exactly how much time had passed and how many days they had left to go. He had no doubt Roy had a little calendar all set up for himself with the date of his return circled in red, crossing off each day as it passed. Ed couldn't think about it in those terms or he'd lose his mind.
"It sounds like you're blaming him."
"It sounds like you've taken up amateur psychology as a hobby."
"I'm just concerned."
"Isn't everyone?" Ed could barely walk into a room without having a dozen different people ask him how Roy was doing, and ask him how he was handling everything. As if after losing two limbs, spending his formative years in military service, being chased by crazed, inhuman monsters, and facing the Gate to get his brother back, spending a year apart from Roy was the thing that would send him over the edge.
Hughes wouldn't stop poking, though, like a little kid with a scab. "I'm just—"
"Yeah, well you can stop. I know Roy is your friend, but he can take care of himself. I can take care of myself. We are capable of being alone for a while without having breakdowns. And, yeah, when I see him again, when he comes home, I'm probably not going to know whether to fuck him or fuck him up, but that's just us."
Hughes looked satisfyingly shocked at Ed's blunt language for about a second before recovering. "I just want to make sure that when he does come back, he'll have something to come back to. I know you guys can be alone. Roy practically made it into an art form before you, but you're better when you're together. You can't deny that."
Ed missed a step, tripping over a nonexistent crack. "You think I'd leave just because he's been away for a while?"
Hughes shrugged as he stopped at a stand to buy flowers for Gracia, careful not to look Ed in the eye. "He doesn't sound like himself."
"What the fuck have you been telling Hughes?"
There was a pause along the line, but Ed could hear Roy's breathing on the other end. "I think the more appropriate question is what has Hughes been telling you?"
"He thinks you're depressed. He thinks you think I won't be here when you get back. He thinks that I'm apparently so fucking fickle in my affections that I'm going to get bored waiting and take off. And I wonder who the hell put that little thought in his head? We talk every goddamned day and I have to find out from Hughes about this?" Ed paced the length of the room, managing only five steps in either direction before the cord to the phone jerked him back, straining against the wall. When Roy didn't answer, didn't do anything really at all except breathe on the phone, Ed stopped in his tracks. "What?"
"I don't really know what to say, Ed." Roy sounded like he was choosing his words with great precision, the way he sounded when he spoke with higher ranked generals and potential adversaries.
"I want you to tell me why. I talk to you every fucking day—"
"But you never want to listen," Roy hissed, and Ed wondered if there was anyone else in the room.
Ed resumed his pacing, the steady thump of his footsteps in time with his pounding heart. "Do you want a recitation of every conversation we've ever had? I could do it. I do listen."
"Do you think this is easy? Do you think I want to be so far away?"
"Fuck you." Under no circumstances did Roy get to be the martyr on this one. "Yes, I do think you want it. If you didn't want it, you wouldn't be there, you jackass."
"Do you think if there was any other way to do this, if there was anything else I could do, I would be doing it?" A sharp crack echoed across the phone and Ed could imagine Roy smashing the phone against his desk. "This is why I don't talk to you about this; it doesn't do any good. You blame me for being here, and it doesn't matter how much I miss our home, or Central or the way you smell and taste and look. I can't tell you because you blame me for it."
"I'm not blaming you."
"You are. It's in every conversation, every letter. If I could see you, I'm sure it would be in every look."
Ed kicked at the wall, not caring that he'd have to use alchemy before the end of the night to fix it. "If you could see me, we wouldn't have this fucking problem."
Roy sighed, a prelude to all the fight going out of him. "I don't want to argue."
"It's kind of late for that."
"I can't have any part of you. All I have are your words, and I don't want to fight. Please."
Roy never begged and this was as close as Ed had ever heard him. Ed closed his eyes, ceasing his pacing, and leaned against the wall, the cool surface a bright contrast to his heated face. Sometimes he missed Roy so much he wanted to puke from it. He wanted to curl into a miserable ball and shake. Roy sounded just as bereft and Ed couldn't bring himself to continue. "Tell me about your day, really tell me. I promise not to make any comments." At least out loud.
"Hello, love. How are you?"
Roy's voice was perfect, soft and warm in his ear. Ed's breath hitched as he caressed himself again, his hand tightening just slightly on his cock. "Okay."
"Are you all right? Did you run for the phone?"
"No." Ed drew out the word, imagining Roy's hands on him instead of his own.
"Then what are you doing?"
Ed tripped over a breathy laugh. "Lying naked on our bed, touching myself, thinking about you."
He heard Roy's breathing quicken over the phone line, and then nothing for a long moment. When Roy finally spoke, his voice was hoarse and urgent. "Well, now I am, too."
"Excellent." Ed tucked the phone against his ear, nuzzling into a pillow that had ceased to smell like Roy months ago. "Tell me about it."
Roy gave a little grunt, filling Ed's mind with a thousand filthy pictures. "I miss you so much."
"Yeah, I know. Tell me what you're doing."
Roy sighed in frustration. "I just told you I was naked, too."
For someone so smart, Roy didn't always catch on as fast as Ed would have liked. "Tell me. Where are you hands? Are you imagining me on my knees in front of you, about to suck you off? Do you wish I was there to leave handprints and bite marks? Are you touching your nipples, or did you dive straight for you cock, impatient and needy? Are your balls already tight and close?" In his ear, Roy choked a gasp and his own body responded to his own words and images. He tightened a hand on his cock to keep from coming too soon.
"Yes, all of it, anything, everything."
Ed liked it when Roy was like this. So much of their relationship had been spent with Roy so clearly in control, so cool and unaffected by anything and everything Ed did that it gave Ed a not so secret thrill to see Roy lost. "Don't come until I tell you."
"I won't, God. I won't until you tell me. Please let me, I'll do anything."
If Roy's opponents for Fuhrer knew he was this easy, Ed would have a lot more friends. "Stop." Ed grinned into the phone, living for the grunt of frustration and confusion. "Don't move."
"Why?" Not many people who knew Roy knew he could whine so effectively.
"Are you sure this is a secure line?"
A moment of silence echoed down the line before Roy swore fiercely into Ed's ear. "One time, one fucking time, I asked you if you were on a secure line because I was disclosing state fucking secrets. One time and I'm going to pay and pay and pay." Roy whimpered into the phone. "Please, I'm so close."
"Are you hard?"
"You know I am."
"Do you miss me? Do you wish I was there, touching you?"
"Yes," he hissed out in one long breath.
"I can't wait for you to get back. You'll have to come home, because if I go to meet you at the station, we'll get arrested for pubic indecency. I'll have you naked and bent over a bench before you know what hit you." In his ear, Roy's breathing grew sharp and frantic, small sounds that could have been words filled the space between them. He started stroking himself again, willing himself to feel Roy's hand instead of his own, to taste Roy's hot breath against his mouth. "When you're here, I'll tie you to this bed and not let you up for weeks."
Ed could feel his own release building, knew Roy was just as close. "You can come now."
Roy moaned out a long syllable that could have been Ed's name and just the sound of it was enough to send Ed over the edge as well with barely a touch. As his breathing slowed and the trembling in his limbs subsided, Ed could hear the steady breathing of Roy on the phone. The bed seemed bigger now, and with his own semen cooling against his belly, Ed felt lonelier than he had before they'd started.
"It's not much longer now," Roy said softly as though that made anything better.
"You're an asshole."
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
When Roy imagined himself in the military, when he first thought of being Fuhrer, he'd had no idea how much paperwork was involved. Had he known then what he knew now, Roy thought it would have been a much harder decision. Sure there was the safety of his country to consider, his own desire to make certain nothing like Ishbal ever happened again, but the paperwork. Was anything really worth that?
He'd already written his letter to Ed for the day and was considering writing another—despite the smug phone call he knew would result when Ed realized he'd gotten two letters in one day—when his phone rang. Not many had his direct line, as most of his calls went through his secretary before ever hitting his door. He frowned, secretly hoping Ed wasn't calling for a round of afternoon phone sex. His secretary already thought he was a deviant; he didn't need to add more fuel to her gossip.
"General? It's Al."
Roy smiled. Al hadn't contacted him much during his exile, but they generally had pleasant conversations that pertained mostly to bitching about Ed. It could be just the distraction he was looking for. "What can I do for you?"
"Okay." Al sounded oddly breathless and a tingle of unease ran along Roy's shoulders. "The first thing I want you to know is Ed said you can't come."
Roy swallowed hard against the bile rising in his throat. "What's happened?"
"There was an accident. He's in surgery right now. I'm calling from the hospital. There was so much—I didn't think you could bleed that much and—" Al stopped and Roy didn't think he'd ever heard Al so upset.
"What happened?" Roy placed his free hand flat on his desk to keep the room from spinning
He heard Al take a breath, could almost picture his look of concentration as he tried to formulate his response. "You heard about the car bomb at the school last week?"
"Yes." It'd been all over the papers and even in the far north, Roy had spent the better part of the week combing through reports to try and find those responsible.
"I have a friend whose daughter goes to the school so I asked," Al blew out a harsh breath. "I asked Ed if he'd help with the repairs. All the engineers said it was sound. They said it was okay for people to go in and clean up, but the foundation shifted or something while he was inside. It's not really clear, no one knows how it happened, but part of the roof that was supposed to be secure came down."
"How bad is it?"
Al was silent for too long for it to be good news. "He was conscious when we pulled him out, but only for a couple minutes. One of the support beams—" Al cut off and through the muffled phone, Roy could hear a retching cough. "Sorry, sorry. Roy, it went right through him."
"I can be there in a day." If he left right now on a train headed south, he could be there by tomorrow evening. He was already standing, the phone tucked against his neck as he scanned his office for what he needed, reaching blindly for papers.
Roy stopped all movement. "Why?"
"It was the only thing he kept saying. You can't come. It'll all be for nothing if you come."
"I'm not going to fucking stay here while Ed's—" Roy choked, his stomach rebelling at the words he'd almost said. Ed wasn't dying. He was too strong for that. "Unaccompanied means that he can't be here with me, not that they won't let me come home for an emergency."
"This is what they're looking for. If you come now, it means you're weak. You'll drop everything for Ed and that's not the way to become the Fuhrer." Al sounded panicked and desperate, but also determined. "Brother's stupid sometimes, but he's right about this. If you come home now, you'll ruin everything. This last year will have been for nothing."
"Without Ed, it isn't worth anything, anyway."
"He's going to be fine," Al said. His voice was filled with such certainty, and though Roy wanted to find a measure of relief in Al's faith, he was terrified by his optimism.
"I want to be there."
"Unless you've suddenly received a medical degree, you can't do anything but sit here and worry. You can do that there. You'll be home in three weeks. He'll be fine."
Roy sat back down in his chair, his strength gone. He couldn't breathe properly and even the effort of holding the phone seemed too much. He didn't think his fingers were supposed to be tingling.
"Roy? Can you hear me?"
"Yeah, I'm here," he answered out of reflex.
"Ed's going to be fine." Of the brothers, Roy often thought of Ed as the stronger of the two. It was so easy to forget about Al; he was always disappearing into the background, letting his older brother take the stage. Yet Al had spend years as a soul in a hulking suit of armor, never really knowing if he'd have a body again. He'd placed all of his trust in Ed, a far stronger act of faith than anything Roy had ever seen. If Al believed in Ed now, who was Roy to argue? "I can't stay on the phone. I have to make some other calls, and I have to be available to the surgeons in case they have any questions. But I'll call again tonight, okay?"
Roy nodded, forgetting for a moment that Al couldn't see him. After a moment of silence, Roy voiced an affirmative and let the phone slip from his fingers. He really wanted to go home, not to the empty and echoing apartment he'd been assigned here, but his own home, the one that smelled like Ed. The one with books on the dining room table and papers stacked near the fireplace. He wanted to crawl into their bed and let himself be surrounded by Ed's scent even if he couldn't touch him.
He knew that even if he were home, he wouldn't be able to do anything, but he'd never felt so far away this whole past year as he did at this moment.
"What do you know?"
"How did you know it was me?" Al sounded tired but not bereft, and the tightness in Roy's chest eased fractionally.
"Who else is going to call me at three in the morning?"
"Right. He's out of surgery and they think they've repaired the damage. It was," Al stopped to draw a long breath. "It was bad. They had to remove some things that were too damaged and he's going through blood like it's nothing. If he makes it through the night, they think he'll pull through, but I don't know how he can. He looks so bad and I sent him there."
Miles away, Roy could do nothing for Ed. He couldn't sit with him or hold his hand to let him know he wasn't alone. He couldn't whisper to him in the dark or promise to follow him. Far to the north, Roy was bound by the things he couldn't do, so he took solace in the one thing he could.
He closed his eyes, tried not to think about Ed and instead spent the night consoling his beloved brother.
The first time Roy was able to speak with Ed, he was at work. It was the middle of the morning and it was the first time in days that Ed was lucid enough from the pain and medication to be on the phone. He wasn't much of a conversationalist that morning. Roy got little more than his name, a couple of half formed questions and contented humming at the sound of Roy's voice.
Roy honestly thought it was the best thing he'd ever heard. Their talk lasted less than five minutes when Ed drifted off into a drug-induced sleep, but the relief he felt and the relief in Al's voice when he took over the phone left Roy feeling lightheaded. He wanted to pack up and spend the day basking in the knowledge that Ed would be fine, but instead he had three appointments with committees he had to wrap up, two officer reviews and a small barricade of paperwork waiting for him before the end of the day. Leaving a post after a year was more taxing than staging a coup and Roy was beginning to think that if he'd pulled that off once, he could probably do it again.
His first real conversation with Ed came almost a week later while Roy was watching the movers pack his things into neat boxes and carry them out to the transport. Roy hadn't taken much with him, but somehow he'd collected a lot of stuff during the year.
"I won't be able to meet you at the station."
Roy winced as one of the movers dropped a box. "I wasn't expecting you to be there."
"You'll come straight home? Al says I should be out of the hospital by the time you get here."
"I have two week's leave before I start back. Plenty of time to take care of you."
Ed snorted, and his was voice a weak shadow of his normally bright self. "I don't need anyone to take care of me."
"From what I understand you still can't walk on your own."
"Yeah, well, you try impaling yourself with a metal beam and see how easy walking is. I'm doing fine. Everyone says so."
Roy closed his eyes against the image, secretly glad that he hadn't been there to see the damage. His imagination was bad enough, but if he'd actually seen the wound, Roy doubted he would have slept soundly for the rest of his life. "Indulge me."
"When," Ed's answer was cut in half by a yawn. "Do I do anything else?"
"You should sleep."
"Don't tell me what to do."
His last day. His last hour and he didn't know if he'd be able to stand the ticking of each minute without losing his mind. It didn't matter that he had hours' worth of travel ahead of him; at least he'd be moving. The base commander had proposed a farewell gathering in his honor, but Roy had politely declined, and when that didn't work, he insisted it be held the previous night. Lack of sleep was well worth the price of an earlier start home.
Roy's office was empty of nearly everything now. His personal affects were already packed away and on their way back home. All he had left was a calendar with the day's date circled in red, train tickets for later in the evening and the last stack of forms to sign.
Part of him found it hard to believe that it'd actually been a whole year. It seemed both longer and faster than that, reminding him how fluid time could be. He certainly felt older, though the worry of the past several weeks had done most of the damage.
He was most of the way through signing his last papers when his private line rang, and he set aside everything to take the call.
"What happened to your slack ethic? I remember back in the day you wouldn't be caught dead in your office this time of day. Are you that anxious to stay?" Ed's voice was stronger than their previous conversation, and just the sound of his voice eased a little of the anxiety in Roy.
"I'm that anxious to make sure I never have to do this again. Can you imagine the form letter?—-Due to leaving your post five minutes before the end of the day on your last scheduled shift, your tour is invalid. We're shipping you to the end of the world.' No thanks."
"I guess that's a fair point. Hey, do you know what today is?"
Roy tucked the phone against his shoulder and pulled the last of the papers across the desk, scrawling his signature as he talked. "Tuesday?"
"Today is a year and a day since you've been gone. A lot can happen in a year, but a year and a day? That's when the special stuff happens. Freedom. Rites of passage. There's a culture in the south that only acknowledges marriage after a couple has been bound a year and a day."
Roy huffed out a quick laugh. "What does that say about us?"
"I don't know, it just seemed important. Are you done yet?"
"Almost." He penned the last document, stacked the papers neatly in the middle of the desk and waited for the last seconds to tick by. "And that's the day." He stood, collected his things and paused a moment to lean against the edge of his desk. "I have to go catch a train, love, but I'll see you tomorrow."
"It's about fucking time."
Roy smiled. "Just be patient a little longer. I love you."
"Yeah, just get your ass home."
The outside of his house looked so unassuming, so normal, that it didn't seem right that Roy would experience such a high level of anxiety from looking at it. It was still the same color, the same door. The yard was neatly kept, but then Roy didn't really expect Ed to fire the lawn service while he was away. Everything on the outside looked to be the same, but it was the interior that made Roy's gut clench in fear.
It was his own fear and his driving need to see that forced Roy from the car and through his own front door. The smell hit him before anything else. Ed. Energy, passion, metal, like a summer evening after a thunderstorm. His home felt empty of his own presence, but was bursting with Ed's.
"General!" Roy stumbled at the sound of his title, turning to see Al striding towards him. Though not as tall as the armor had been, Al still outstripped his brother by several inches, passing even Roy in height. Flesh was a good look for him, even with eyes darkened by exhaustion and worry.
He shook Al's outstretched hand and accepted the awkward half hug. "You look tired."
Al ran a hand over his face, his shoulders slumped. "Brother's being difficult, as usual. We had a screaming match this morning because he wanted to sleep upstairs, but he can't manage stairs yet." Al frowned as he looked at the stairs. "He's too heavy for me to carry, so he spent the morning pouting."
All Roy wanted was to push past Al and see Ed for himself, but he forced himself to focus on Al and at least appear interested. "How is he?"
"Healing." Al shrugged. "I'll be honest with you. I love my brother, but I'm really glad you're back and you can deal with him now. I'm happy to take care of him when he needs it, but if I'd had to do it much longer, I was thinking about murdering him in his sleep."
Roy shared a laugh and patted Al on the shoulder. "I think I can take it from here, then. I like Ed just the way he is."
"I'm sure you do." Al quirked a tense smile. Although Roy liked Al, theirs had been a mildly strained relationship in recent years. Roy had a hard time seeing past the time when Al had been made of metal and Al seemed put out that Roy was fucking his brother. "I'll leave him in your hands, then. He's sleeping now, but he'll probably be up soon." Al walked over to the side table and collected a small stack of paper. "Here's his list of medications and when he's supposed to have them. This page is the list of his doctor appointments. These are the symptoms you should be watching for that could mean complications, and here are the phone numbers of his doctors. These are his exercises that he should be doing twice a day, no matter how much he bitches that it hurts, and the times that his therapist will come to work with him to get him back on his feet." Al gave him a sympathetic look. "There are going to be a lot of strange people in and out of your house for the next couple weeks, I'm sorry to say."
Roy took the papers and tried desperately to keep his hands from shaking. He'd known it was bad when he'd been sitting by the phone waiting for a call to tell him if Ed had survived the surgery. The circumstances had been dire enough from a distance, but seeing Ed's injuries and treatments printed in fine type made it more real and somehow more terrifying now that he was home.
"He's going to be fine." Al was always the more perceptive of the brothers.
Roy nodded. "Thank you."
"Call me if you need anything. I'm still his primary physician, so he can see all the specialists he wants, but he has to answer to me at the end of the day."
"Right." Al saw himself out, the door closing softly behind him and for a moment, there was nothing in the house but the sound of Roy's own breathing.
He dropped the stack of papers on the nearest flat surface, promising himself that he would read them soon. As he looked around the familiar room, Roy noticed that Ed had changed some of the furniture while he was gone, that the walls were a slightly different color, making him feel strangely uneasy in his own home. There was so much of Ed here, but nothing of himself, and he wondered if there was room for him left.
A cough, muted and soft, broke Roy from his thoughts and drove him toward the bedroom. No matter what the year had done, Ed was still Ed. If the loss of his mother and limbs, of his childhood and innocence couldn't change him, a year couldn't make him any different or rearrange Roy's place in his life.
Roy pushed into the bedroom, expecting to see Ed blinking at him sleepily, a grin on his face to greet him. Instead, Ed's eyes were closed and his chest rose and fell in a slow rhythm. He was pale and drawn, making him look years older. Pain had marked lines on his face, and even in sleep it was clear Ed wasn't resting. Even colored with worry, it was still the best thing Roy had ever seen.
Roy must have made some sound, or perhaps it was just the knowledge that there was someone in the room, but a moment later Ed's eyes opened and a weak smile broke across his face. "Don't look so worried. I'm fine." Ed waved a hand at him, beckoning him closer. "Sorry I can't get up to greet you properly."
Roy shook his head, unable to speak, but felt himself drawn across the floor to Ed's side. He traced gentle hands across Ed's face, over his lips, and down to his throat where his pulse beat strongly against Roy's fingertips.
"I'm fine." Ed reached up and caught his hand, drawing him closer. "You look like shit."
"I," Roy laughed and had to stop himself before he broke into hysterical tears. "I—"
"Roy Mustang at a loss for words," Ed closed his eyes, a smile still faint on his lips. "I should have done this years ago." He held out a hand, gripping Roy's hand with more strength than seemed possible. "Come here."
"I'll hurt you."
"You won't. This side is perfectly safe. You look like you could use a nap." It was so strange to hear Ed's voice in the flesh, without electronic devices and distance to mute him. He was stronger and clearer in person in a way that had nothing to do with his recovery.
Roy climbed into the bed that smelled of Ed and medicine, careful not to jostle Ed too much with his movements. Ed clucked at him and muttered half phrases of comfort, and seemed content to run his hands over every available part of Roy's body.
Within moments he was tucked against Ed's side, his arms wrapped delicately around him. Roy listened to Ed's heart beating against his ear, the sound of his breath echoing through his chest and the physical feel of him in his arms. He pressed soft, careful kisses against Ed's throat and chest, reveling in the senses that had been denied him for so long, and for the first time, he felt welcomed home.
"Who are they?"
Ed pushed himself up from the breakfast table, unhooked his cane from his chair and limped over to the window to stand by Roy's side. "New neighbors. General Something and Wife Number Two. Apparently Wife Number One was not amused by General Something's philandering and he needed to get himself a more garden-variety house pet."
"You seem to know a lot for not liking them very much."
Ed shrugged, his shoulder brushing against Roy's arm. "The wives kept trying to bring me things while you were gone. You know, food and stuff, but they weren't content to drop it off. They wanted to talk first.—-Isn't it hard when the man is away' and—-it gets so lonely in these big houses' and—-I don't know why he always has to work so late'." Ed rolled his eyes.
"They aren't all cheaters, you know."
Roy wrapped an arm around Ed, pulling him close, enjoying the sensation of Ed's body next to his own. "I didn't. I don't." Ed seemed stuck on the cheating thing since Roy had returned, but until this moment, Roy hadn't thought it'd been directed at him.
"It was a year." Ed's body was suddenly tense, and Roy thought Ed would move away, but he stayed next to him, his eyes locked on the window. "I wouldn't blame you—Well, no, I'd kick your ass, but I'd understand. It was a long time and you're you, and as long as you came home—"
"Ed, I said I didn't." A horrible thought occurred to him. "Did you? Is that why you're being so understanding?"
Ed laughed. "Who the fuck else would have me? No. And I do not have a reputation as a slut."
Roy turned, looking at Ed until Ed returned his gaze. "There was no one."
For a moment, it looked like Ed didn't believe him, or wanted to argue the point further, but instead, he took a long breath and the tension flowed out of him. "Okay." He nodded once, sharply and bumped his head against Roy's shoulder. "Come on. I have PT in half an hour and Dr. Ansel is a bastard if I'm late." Ed cocked his head to one side. "He thinks I might be able to ditch the cane in the next couple weeks."
"That's great news."
"I'm thinking about having you set it on fire when I don't need it anymore."
"Why me? You're perfectly capable of lighting a fire."
Ed grinned at him. "Because you're dead sexy when you snap."
Roy echoed the expression, though he could still see some tightness around Ed's eyes. "Are you sure we're okay?"
"You said you didn't. I told you it'd be okay if you did and you still said you didn't. So I have to believe you, right?" He met Roy's eyes for only a moment before looking away, almost as if compelled to break the contact.
"There is no one else. There couldn't be. You've ruined me for everyone but yourself." Roy sighed. "For the first time, I actually like my life. I like this house, I like sharing it with you, and I love you. Do you think I would do anything as stupid as fucking someone who couldn't possibly mean as much as you and put all of this at risk?"
"You really think that? That I've ruined you? That all this means that much to you?"
Ed was quiet for a moment before he broke out into the first real smile Roy had seen from him. "You're such a girl sometimes, Mustang."
Roy was too relieved to feel offended. "Someone has to be."
"Yeah, I'm just glad it's you." He leaned in and kissed Roy fiercely, reminding Roy of all that he'd missed in the last year within the space of a few seconds. "Come on, I have an appointment to keep and you have a car to drive."
Roy watched as Ed made his careful way to the door, relying heavily on his cane but with a determined set to his shoulders. They still had months' worth of appointments ahead of them, months of work to get Ed back to where he'd been before the accident. Roy himself still had probably years' worth of work to make his way to Fuhrer, but standing in their kitchen, watching Ed take small steps to the front door, it didn't seem so far away.