Ed was just beginning to think he might take advantage of the roaring fire, the foot of snow already on the ground that meant they weren't going anywhere, and the companionable way Roy leaned against him as a thin excuse to retire early and spend the rest of the evening in pursuits of the flesh when someone started pounding on their door.
"You've got to be kidding me," Ed muttered against the warm flesh of Roy's neck. "Who'd be out in this?"
"Maybe if we ignore them, they'll go away." Roy traced a line across his collarbone with his tongue.
The pounding continued and as much as Ed really wanted to be able to ignore it, to lose himself in Roy's touch and attention, it was too persistent. "Hold that thought. I'll go see what's up." He stood to answer the door, thought it nearly killed him to leave Roy sprawled on the couch, wanton and willing.
His irritation and belligerent greeting died on his lips when he saw Ella Grumman standing on his doorstep. "What's wrong?"
"Please, please tell me Kasch is here with you. I won't be mad that he didn't call. I'm not angry that he's spending time with you. I just want to know he's safe. It's getting dark now and the snow's not going to let up and he's not home." Her voice trembled as she spoke, but her mouth and eyes were firm with resolve, and Ed wanted nothing more in the world than to tell her Kasch was with them.
Instead he stepped aside and motioned her in as he grabbed his coat and yelled down the hall. "Roy, get your shit together. We've got to go." As he shrugged on his coat, he turned to Ella. "When did you last see him?"
"This afternoon. I dropped him off at a friend's house on the other side of the base. They were supposed to play for a couple hours, and then Kasch was supposed to call when it was time to come home. He said they were having so much fun in the snow he was going to sled home. I didn't want to let him, but he's been having such a hard time in Central and he sounded so happy? " She swallowed hard. "I should have insisted. He's too young to go so far."
"You called the friend?"
"He left hours ago." Roy came into the room on the tail end of her description and immediately grabbed his coat and shucked on his boots. Ed could not have loved him more in that moment for anything.
"Which direction was he coming from? Have you alerted the other neighbors? Is anyone else looking for him?"
Ed had to hand it to her. He imagined if his own child was missing, he would not have been able to collect himself enough to answer questions. "From the east. He should have passed your house first, which is why I hoped..." She shook her head. "Karl is talking with the other neighbors and they're searching now." She followed them out of the house and looked down the darkening street, a little of her composure collapsing. "Anything could have happened. He could be hurt, he could have fallen, someone could have...God, someone might have taken him."
Roy stepped next to Ella and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry. We'll find him. No one is better at finding people than Ed." His tone was so sure, so commanding that Ed wanted to believe him, and he could see Ella struggling with the same desire. The problem was that Roy didn't know what would happen. He didn't know the horrible terrible things that could happen to children in this country, hadn't seen firsthand what befell unaccompanied children, and it was cruel of him to promise something when he didn't know if they would ever find Kasch. False hope was often worse than no hope at all.
A hand settled on the back of his neck, strangely warm in the falling snow. "We will find him."
Roy looked up and down the street, seeing the dark forms of search parties combing the neighborhood for the missing boy. "We should check this way, see if maybe he had to stop somewhere along the way because of the snow." Ed hoped it was something so simple, something as innocent as a high snow bank too steep for the boy to climb, or a block in the road caused by the weather.
Despite the wind, the snow and the dropping temperatures, Ed didn't feel the cold at all. He was running high on adrenaline, sending fire through his veins and he knew it wouldn't stop until they found Kasch. He liked to think he would have gone to the same lengths for any of the other kids that lived around them. Regardless of what he thought of them personally, kids were kids and they belonged with their families; they belonged where it was safe.
For Kasch, though, Ed was ready to move earth with his bare hands. He was ready to break the laws of alchemy for this kid if necessary, and he was sure that only Roy's presence at his side would actually keep him from going through with it. If they were very lucky, it wouldn't be necessary at all, but Ed's life hadn't exactly been threaded through with luck up to this point. Maybe Kasch's was.
Down their quiet street, through the neighborhood, across the small park they searched and called his name and still there was no sign. The snow's coating muffled their footsteps and the sound of their voices died after only a few feet, and Ed couldn't help but wonder if they hadn't already passed him, hidden in a crevice and unable to hear them through the muffle of snow. If he was hurt or hiding, it could be hours before they found him. He felt sick at the thought of having to wait for a thaw.
On the far side of the park where there was often a small vendor serving coffee along with the morning paper, but it now stood empty. He thought he heard something, faint, but it could have been a trick of the wind or a bird not yet flown south. Ed paused and held up a hand to halt the others as well. He looked at Roy, his head tilted to one side as though that alone would make it clearer. "Do you hear something?"
"Just us." Roy shook his head and reached out a reassuring hand, as though he suspected Ed of hearing things out of desperate hope. Ed shook him off and took a few, careful steps toward the source of the phantom sound.
"Listen." For a moment, there was only the crunch of Roy's boots on the snow and Ed's heart pounding in his ears.
Roy tugged at the sleeve of his coat. "Come on, there's a lot more area to cover. I know you want to hear something, but?"
And then he heard it again, but this time, Roy heard it as well. They looked at each other for the briefest of moments, confirmation in each other's eyes before they took off at a run, Ella at their heels. They came out on the other side of the park, the frigid air making Ed's lungs burn, and the river came into view, frozen over within the last few days. Out of the blanketing trees, they could hear the sound clearly?Kasch calling for help.
Ed skidded to a stop at the bank of the river, sending a small flurry of snow up around his calves. Kasch waved at them from the center of the river where he was seated on a sled as cracks in the ice were slowly spilling icy water over the edges of the wood. His small face was pinched in fear and pink with cold, but he seemed otherwise unhurt. Ed wanted to collapse with relief.
"Why is he just sitting there?" Roy took a step toward the ice and both Ed and Ella reached out to stop him.
"Because he isn't stupid." Ed hoped Roy took the hint. "The ice isn't ready to hold much weight yet. Look at him, if he moves, he's going to go right through."
"How are we going to get to him? It doesn't look like it's going to hold much longer." Ella kept raising a hand and letting it drop after a moment and Ed could sympathize. They were almost close enough to touch, but the fragile ice provided a difficult barrier. Or at least it did to non-alchemists.
Ed stepped up to the edge of the river. "Just hold tight for one more minute, Kasch. We'll get you." He waited for Kasch's affirmative before he clapped his hands and pressed them to the riverbank. Ice that had been thin enough to see the movement of the water beneath firmed in an instant, and a swiftly expanding bridge stretched from Ed out to Kasch, healing the cracks in the ice and freezing the water that had begun to seep over the edges of Kasch's sled. "Come on, kid. It's safe to cross now."
Kasch seemed hesitant to try the ice, but he stood at Ed's urging and when his first steps didn't send him plunging into the icy waters, he finished the rest of the distance at a run. He flew into his mother's arms and buried his face against her chest. "I knew you'd find me."
"I'll always find you," Ella whispered fiercely in his ear, and Ed had to turn away. It was too private a moment to be witnessed and they both needed a little space. He crossed over to Roy and leaned against his arm, thinking about how badly it could have gone.
"If we'd been much later..." Roy shook his head. "He's a really smart kid. He knew what the water would do to him, but he would have had to try and swim for it anyway."
Ed shivered both from the thought and the actual cold. For the first time, he noticed how much the temperature had dropped and how much heat he'd lost from his automail. His metal joints felt stiff and he could feel the cold metal leaching heat from the flesh around his ports. "We should head back."
"You'll be warm soon," Ella said, giving up her coat to wrap it around the shivering form of her son.
"Hold on for just one minute." Roy pulled his gloves from the pocket of his coat and put one on. "I might not be able to make an ice bridge with the clap of my hands, but I can do this." The showy bastard snapped with a killer grin for their audience and really, Roy was meant for either politics or the stage.
Ed's exasperation was short-lived, however, when he was enveloped in a glorious pocket of pure heat. He could feel his fingers again and his automail wasn't painful in the cold. Both Ella and Kasch gasped in awe and from the look on Kasch's face, Roy might have a new admirer. A general and an alchemist? Kasch would be practically living in Roy's pocket if he wasn't careful.
As Roy pocketed his glove, Ed hooked his arm through Roy's and they started the walk back. When Ella and Kasch were far enough ahead that they wouldn't be overhead, Ed tightened his grip just slightly. "That was actually a pretty impressive display of alchemy. There's a fine line between warming someone and setting them on fire."
Roy lifted his chin. "I didn't get my State Alchemist's certification out of a cereal box, you know."
"I'm just saying it was impressive and I appreciate it." With the boy safe on solid ground, there really wasn't any need for Roy to have used his alchemy. They weren't that far from their homes and a little longer in the cold wouldn't have killed any of them. "You don't use it that often."
Roy went a little stiff at Ed's side. Not enough to pull away, and not enough for Ed to think Roy wouldn't answer, but enough for him to know it was a sensitive area. "I haven't often had the opportunity to use it without violence." He blew out a short sigh, the fog of his breath hanging around them for a moment. "Alchemy, for you, is a joy. I've seen you use it to help people like you did tonight. It's instinctive to use it for the benefit of others. My first instinct when I put on my gloves is to kill."
It was a hard life they'd chosen, each in his own way, and Ed tightened his arm around Roy's in a silent offer of support. When they argued about who was going to do laundry, or why the other didn't pick up food on his way home, when they went about their regular, ordinary lives living and breathing the same space, it was so easy for Ed to forget that above all else, Roy was a soldier—his soldier?and the scars from that ran deeper than Roy often let on.
He could have offered platitudes, and meant every word, and not have it mean a thing for Roy. What Roy needed sometimes was the silence, the physical fact of Ed standing at his side as they watched Kasch reunite with his father and the whole neighborhood rejoicing in his return. He needed Ed to crack jokes about their ridiculous neighbors when no one else could hear, to nudge him with his elbow when someone came out wearing clothes not to be believed. He needed Ed to be abrupt and irritating and an excuse to get him out of the congregation before he lost his own cool.
Ed was more than happy to be his excuse. He would do anything Roy needed, even if it was to live in this strange neighborhood, put up with the condescending looks, the late nights and stupid functions. Ed could live with arguments about wet towels on the floor of the bathroom and books left out when they could just as easily go back into the bookcase. It was all worth it because for him, Roy would put on his gloves, which reminded him of nothing more than death, just to warm up a little boy who had befriended Ed.
When he thought about it, it was hardly a trade-off at all.