It was dark by the time Edward came home, even though it was not past five o'clock. The gathering autumn combined with the heavy rainclouds to cast a pall over the sky, the city, and the people's moods. Roy's strange, fraught household was no exception, and more vulnerable than most.

When Roy heard the door open and close, he reached up to turn off his small golden reading light, and blinked at the sudden bluish-gray dimness that flooded the room. He laid down his book, not bothering to mark his place—he'd more been using it as a shield and a distraction than out of any real interest—and rose, heading out to see which of his young guests had arrived.

It was Edward, which was not surprising, considering that Al had left to hunt for groceries not half an hour before. Pausing in the doorway, Roy studied his young charge from above. Edward looked tired, drooping; hair falling into a lowered face, curved shoulders emphasized by a depressed slump.

"So how did the visit go?" Roy asked, casually, then cleared his throat. Startled golden eyes flashed up at him, then fell again, and Edward turned her back with a snort as she made a beeline for the couch in the living room.

"It was a total waste of time, just like I knew it would be," she announced, flopping down onto the couch and propping her legs apart. "She told me there was nothing she could do for my leg now that it had alchemy installed. I could have told her that. You shouldn't have made me go see her."

Roy sighed, and descended the rest of the way down the stairs. "It would have been extremely suspicious to contract a specialist from Xing and then not even consult her. Even if we paid her, there would have been rumors. This way, we can put it about that the treatment simply didn't work out, and she goes home."

"Yeah, well, it was a waste of time. As she made sure to point out to me, several times. She got real snitty about it, too." Ed rubbed her flesh hand over her automail shoulder, and moodily glowered into the unlighted dusk of the house. "Where's Al?"

It was on the tip of his tongue to remind Edward that it had been his own idea to invite the specialist out there, and no-ones fault but his own that the problem had been erased just as she arrived—to be replaced by a new set of problems that no specialist could help. But looking at the unhappy pull of Edward's lips, he thought he'd better not. "Out shopping. We have nothing in the house for dinner, as you know."

Ed snorted, and turned her head away. Roy crossed the room and turned on the lamp by the couching, dispelling some of the hellish blue-gray gloom. The light landed on Edward's hair, her turned profile, picking out the slightest glimmers at the corner of her eyes. Roy moistened his lips. "She's going to get ground beef, if she can, in order to make meatloaf tonight. She thought this might make you happy."

Al had been making all of Ed's favorite dishes lately, mostly, in the hopes that Ed would just eat more. It was driving the girl crazy, Roy knew, that her sibling's appetite had decreased so drastically since the transmutation. She was convinced Ed was trying to starve herself to death. Roy was not so sure, but made no move to interfere with Al's incessant cooking sprees.

Ed made a noncommittal noise, but didn't respond, only crossing her arms over her chests and blinking a few times.

"Oh, what the fuck," Ed swore suddenly, and surged away from the back of the sofa to begin struggling out of her jacket. "I don't need all this shit."

Courteously, Roy quickly stood and moved around to the back of the couch, looking in the opposite direction as the shirt was flung viciously after the jacket. Unlike Al, who had adopted female clothes right away, Ed insisted on continuing to wear his normal clothes, and binding his new breasts out of sight.

The new additions were not quite so large as to make concealment impossible, but definitely not small enough to make it easy, or comfortable. This, too, was a pain that Edward had inflicted only on himself, but neither Roy nor Al had dared to say so.

There was a pause in the rustling behind him, and as Roy listened he heard some ready breathing, ending in a long sigh. "Can you give me a hand here, Colonel?" Ed asked at last, her voice quiet. "I can't reach the back."

"Are you sure?" Brows lifting, Roy turned around to be presented with Edward's gleaming golden braid, pale, rounded shoulders, and cotton-wrapped back. "Why don't you just alchemize them off?" he asked. Not that he encouraged it, but he'd seen Edward do it before.

Ed snorted softly. "Idiot Colonel, because I want to be able to use them again! You can only transmute cotton so many times before it loses all tensile strength and unravels on you. Now will you stop gawking and help me out?"

Roy swallowed, but obligingly moved in to help. Ed leaned forward, hunching slightly so the curved length of her back was accessible. Roy's fingers, scrabbling over the linen fasteners, felt a faint heat rising from her skin underneath it. Should it be so faint? He remember Ed's skin as being so much warmer, when he was a man; burning with drive, energy, ambition. Burning with passion and life.

Now, it sometimes seemed lately, that flame was guttering low.

With a rustle, the chest bindings fell away from his hands, and Ed heaved a large sigh of relief. Roy swallowed; from here, he could see the faint outlines of Ed's curves as his chest expanded and contracted again. Nothing much—and he'd seen it before, God knew, when Ed was shocky and sick after the transmutation—but somehow, this was much more affecting.

As a self-consolation, he let his hands brush against Ed's braid as he raised them again, smoothing up and then down the golden silk. Ed bent forward a little bit, but voiced no objection, so Roy stroked the plait one more time before reluctantly removing his hands to the back of the couch.

Ed shifted slightly, and Roy's hands jerked, but Edward only said, "You know, as long as you're back there, you could get rid of the braid. It got wet earlier and now it's a pain."

Roy's breath caught; alchemy or no, Edward was certainly perfectly capable of undoing her own hair. That she would ask him to do it, instead, meant, meant... had significance, Roy was sure, even if he didn't know what. "Certainly," was all he said.

Roy quickly undid the hairtie and lay it aside, then began combing his fingers through Ed's hair. Under the surface, it was indeed slightly damp; a residue from the earlier rain, he suspected. It felt soft and heavy and cool against his fingers, as he spread it out to fan against Ed's neck and shoulders, stroking the strands over Ed's skin.

From there it felt perfectly natural to go on stroking that skin, over Ed's shoulders and down her back. Ed made a little noise, almost pained—but shifted forward to allow Roy more access, and did not protest. Encouraged, Roy settled in to a firmer rubbing, kneading the stressed and strained muscles over the bones, the hard knots by the automail port. "You've worked up a lot of tension here, Fullmetal," he observed, pleased by how controlled and natural his voice had come out. "You should relax more, you know. Alphonse worries." Not only was he not eating, but the girl was not sleeping well, either. From his light sleep on the couch in the living room, Roy could hear Edward tossing and turning long into the night and morning, apparently unable to find solace in sleep.

"Too much," Edward grumbled, and wiggled a bit; Roy paused, but Edward was apparently just seeking to guide his hands to a better spot. "Al should worry more about hims... about herself. A little tension isn't going to kill me, she knows that."

No, but too much indifference towards your body will, Roy thought, but did not say. That was at the root of their whole problems; first that Ed had considered his flesh dispensable enough to make such a bargain, and now he apparently found it not even worth maintaining. Aloud, he said only, "We would both like it if you would take better care of yourself."

"Mmmm," Ed said, and Roy heard her swallow. Then she straightened a bit, and glanced over her shoulder, and said tentatively, "But you both take such good care of me, why should I?"

Oh God. Roy swallowed, feeling his chest tighten, along with his groin. Did Edward have any idea how appealing she was, how beautiful and vulnerable? If this were Al, he'd know for sure that the posture and the expression were deliberate, inviting; but with Ed, he could see only raw need. And he had far less defenses against that kind of seduction than any other.

Unable to speak, he deepened his touch, pressing forward against the back of the couch. He noticed that Ed squirmed and shivered more when his hands went down over her back, over the long faint red marks left by the bindings. They must ache, he knew from Ed's grumblings, and left flesh and skin sore in their wake. He caressed the marks gently, felt more than heard Ed's long shaky sigh in response. "Feels nice," the teenager said, her voice shaking, and then stopped; swallowed.

Holding his breath, Roy slid his hands along the red marks, following them under her arms to her front. Edward gasped, startled; but her elbows lifted apparently of their own accord, granting Roy more room to cup her breasts, slowly massage from side to bottom to top. They felt exquisite in his hands, soft and yielding with firm, warm skin against his hands. And apparently, judging by Edward's shivering reactions, very, very sensitive.

He broadened his touch, sweeping his palms up over the soft nipples, gripping the whole roundness gently. Ed groaned, arching her back, and Roy wanted to do the same; but his voice seemed to have frozen in his throat, stopped by need and a breathless surety that any moment now he would wake up and this would be another of the frequent, frustrating dreams.

"Wait, stop!" Edward choked out, suddenly grabbed Roy's wrists and pulling them away. Obediently, Roy did, but he compromised; instead of removing his hands, he clasped them in front of her and slid his joined hands down to rest against her belly. Ed was trembling harder now, her head bent, and Roy wished he knew what was going through her head now.

Fortunately, she didn't keep him in suspense. "Roy, it's—it's no good," she got out after a moment, apparently struggling with the words. "You're—you're Al's boyfriend, not mine. It's not right, it's not fair... I mean, I don't approve of you guys, but it's what Al wants, and I can't take that away from her."

For a moment, Roy wanted to laugh, or maybe cry; but he swallowed down on both, instead, and leaned forward to kiss Edward's neck, then her jaw. "I'm not Alphonse's lover, Edward," he breathed in her ear, not without a tinge of regret.

"She asked me to play the part, and I did. She was hoping that if she made a show of being happy as a girl—if she seemed to fall in love and be happy with me—then you would stop feeling guilty, and wouldn't do something—" stupid "—rash to try and change her back."

For all the good that did. On some level, Roy was surprised that the brothers—siblings had clung so close to him once the other shoe dropped, and the charade was not, after all, required. He liked to think there was something more to it than proximity and happenstance, that he was the man to have seen enough and know enough that they had no choice to trust him.

Ed had stiffened, and turned far enough that Roy could see the expression on her face, skeptical doubt warring with hope. "You aren't just saying that, are you? To get at me?" she said skeptically. "I mean... that's just the sort of... but she never told me!"

"When she comes home," Roy said, and took a moment to trace the shell of Edward's ear with his lips. "You can ask her. I would never come between you." Breathed on the junction of her neck, the hollow where jaw met skull. "In the meantime... do you want me to stop?"

Ed's automail bit into his wrists as her grip tightened, but he remained still. He could practically hear the gears clicking round in Ed's head, and waited, breath held and groin throbbing, for the answer. He wanted to touch, to taste, so badly it was almost a physical pain to restrain himself; he had never dreamed of coming so close, so fast. But if Ed forced him to back off, he'd have no choice but to wait...

Finally, though, Edward butted her head sideways against his elbow, and her hands relaxed on his arms. Silently blessing any and all deities in his head, Roy took immediate advantage of his new freedom. He swept his palms, fingers splayed, up her stomach and grasped those lovely breasts again, this time rolling and kneading with more purpose.

She responded instantly, writhing in the circle of his arms, and her groans were music to his ears. He tweaked the nipples between thumb and forefinger, feeling her shiver even as they firmed in his touch. At the same time, he attacked her neck with his mouth, leaving kisses and gentle bites down the tense line of the tendon to the shoulder.

A brief lick along the edge of the automail got a shiver and a moan as intense as anything he was doing with his hands, and Roy made a brief mental note of that for future reference. God, he hoped he would get a chance to use that knowledge.

Something still wasn't right, though; even as she wriggled and moaned in his arms, there was still a trembling in her body and limbs that didn't feel quite right. Her head was bent forward, exposing the nape of her neck under all that golden hair, and he couldn't read her expression, but something seemed to be dampening her reactions, souring the mood.

This damn couch was too much in the way. Without releasing Edward, he swung one leg up over the couch back—wincing at the pull and rub of his pants against his throbbing groin—and climbed onto the cushions next to her. When he tried to pull her to face him, however, she resisted, hunching in on herself.

"No, Colonel," she gasped out, seeming halfway to a sob, "don't look..."

Roy could have smacked her—of all the times for Edward's bizarre fits of self-loathing to kick in, this was not a good time for it. But at the same time, this wasn't an issue he could just steamroller over, or Ed would hate herself—and perforce, so would Roy—later.

Instead he sighed, taking Ed's flesh wrist in one hand, and tucking the other under his chin. "I really wish you'd get over this delusion that you're hideous, you know," he said softly, trying to push as much of his sincerity into his tone as he could. "Ed, you are the same person you have always been, you haven't changed. And your new body is very beautiful. Don't think that I would want to do this with you if I just felt sorry for you."

Ed tried at first to avoid Roy's eyes, but met them when a spark of anger enlivened her face. "That's not the problem," she snarled. "You wouldn't understand. You've never—you just don't understand."

"Edward—" He wished Alphonse were here. Edward was right, he didn't understand, he COULDN'T understand, but that didn't mean he was going to let Ed roll himself up in self-pity. "Honestly, Edward, this is not the end of your life! Must you be so determined to finish yourself off instead?" he said finally, sympathy and exasperation warring in his voice.

Edward just glared at him, his eyes stormy, but his mouth and chin crumbled dangerously. Roy sighed, and pulled an unwillingly still Edward forward, falling into his embrace. He gave in to the temptation to stroke that golden hair some more, as Edward alternatively tensed and relaxed, fighting with his own feelings.

"I know I can't understand exactly," he started, tentatively, "but Edward, I have seen a good deal more years than you have, and... I think I know more about women, as well. It's not such a terrible thing, being a woman, you know; the women I know don't seem to mind. Would you tell your friend Winry that she's less of a person because she was born female, or Lieutenant Hawkeye that she's not fit for her job because she doesn't have a—"

"Don't you dare finish that sentence," Edward growled, against his chest. Roy sighed.

"Can't you at least try to look at the brighter side of things?" he said instead. "Alphonse does, you know, and instead of trying to feel more miserable to make up for him, maybe you should follow his lead, instead. You know things could have been much worse, but they aren't. There are still good things in life. There are even good things about being female, if you'd let me show you."

Edward's expression, when he pulled back enough for Roy to see it, was extremely doubtful. Roy tried not to feel insulted by that. "Am I supposed to believe you're doing this out of the goodness of your heart then?" Ed snorted.

"Not at all," Roy said, but he didn't feel like arguing the point further. He didn't feel like arguing right now in the slightest. He let his hands speak for him, instead; returning one itching palm to the lovely softness of Edward's chest, while his other dove ambitiously for Edward's pants.

If Edward had still been a boy, Roy never would have had room to work without taking a break to undo that frustratingly complicated belt. As it was, the pants were much looser in the crotch than they had been, giving Roy's fingers ample room to worm underneath her underwear and brush against the soft pubic hair. Edward gasped, flinched slightly, and tried to squirm away; but with Roy's hand trapped, she couldn't go far.

Roy did his best to distract her with a kiss, open-mouthed and devouring, even while his fingers worked apart her lower lips and skated lightly over the smooth, wet flesh between them. Edward half-shouted, and her hips thrust forward almost involuntarily. Roy's cock throbbed in painful, unsatisfied response.

He wanted to push her back on the couch, open her pants and slide between her legs so badly, so badly; but this was not the time for that. It was probably not even a good idea to spread her thighs and tongue her clit until she screamed, ether, as much as his mouth watered at the thought. One would be too painful, and either would be too intrusive, too overwhelming for Edward's shattered nerves. There would be time—had to be time later, once he'd coaxed her into accepting her sexuality as a female.

Besides, it didn't seem like it would be necessary. Edward was thrashing back and forth against Roy's chest, as two of Roy's fingers manipulated his clit. Smiling slightly, Roy released her mouth and pushed her back on the couch after all, one hand under her back to ease the transition.

Edward lay back, flushed and panting heavily, and Roy surveyed the new angle with deep satisfaction. Now he could slide his hand even further back, rubbing her clit with his thumb while two fingertips sought out her entrance. Fortunately, she was very slick by this point, which matched her reactions and gratified him more than a little.

She stiffened in alarm, however, when she felt the fingertips press lightly into her, and he thought some more distraction would be in order. The new vantage gave him the perfect opportunity to lower his mouth to her chest and close it lightly over one perfect, perky breast, alternately biting down lightly and sucking hard. This time, her cries of pleasure were much louder, no longer muffled sounds into his mouth, and Roy grinned around the skin in his mouth as her hands seized his head and pressed him back down.

"Feels weird," Ed panted, eyes tightly closed and head thrown back. "Never... felt like that, before..."

She was definitely wet, now, and the slick drawing heat around his fingers made him almost rethink his resolution. His own briefs were beginning to grow a definite wet spot, and he was briefly distracted from his tasks by wondering how quickly he could get away to the bathroom after this was over and jerk himself off. If he didn't, he was going to make a mess of his pants and underwear.

Fortunately for his sanity, in the end, it didn't take long. His questing fingertips encountered a slight change of texture—and thank god, on some women that spot was completely impossible to find—and Edward let out a high-pitched cry, her whole body going tense.

Expertly, Roy kept up the pressure until she finally collapsed, panting, against the couch cushions. Then, carefully, he withdrew his hand from inside her pants, and almost immediately grabbed for his own groin to relieve the urgent throbbing need. Oh, fuck, forget the bathroom. Clothes could be washed, and Ed's sticky warmth was still spreading his his palms as he fished desperately into his underwear and pumped, one, two, three—

One blinding moment of fireworks later, Roy slumped on the couch over Ed's legs, cursing to himself and fighting the slow mounting flame in his face. He hadn't gone off so early in years.

Something about the Elrics always brought his defenses down.

Mercifully for his ego, it didn't seem that Edward had even noticed his loss of self-control. She was still lying on the cushions where he had left her, her breathing gradually slowing and deepening. Her eyes were glazed and half-mast, and when Roy leaned over her for a post-coital kiss, he realized she was already mostly asleep.

Figures, Roy thought in disgust, pulling back to study her expression narrowly. Well, he had wished that she would sleep more. Maybe she just needed the right kind of relaxation.

He settled for a chaste, warm peck on the lips, rather than anything deeper or more satisfying, and then reluctantly pulled free to seek out the bathroom.

On his way back, he found one of the extra-large, heavy towels, in lieu of an actual blanket, and draped it over Ed's form as she slept. He settled down on the space next to her head, and manuevered it gently into his lap; this way at least he could indulge himself, stroke her hair while she slept.

He was pulled out of an almost-doze himself, less than half an hour later, when the shutting of the apartment door alerted him that their ragged household was complete. Al turned around from the locking of the door, bags hanging off her arms, and stopped stock still when she saw them arrayed on the sofa.

A confusing parade of emotions showed themselves plainly on Al's expressive face; too fast for Roy to identify them all, but he felt his stomach sinking all the same. He'd been so sure that Al had not returned his deeper affections; had he been wrong? Surely... surely nothing he could do could break the siblings' bond...

"Alphonse," he called out impulsively, before Al's shock could give way to whatever was going to come next. "Don't... I don't..." Nothing he'd planned to say was right for this. He took a deep breath. "This was my idea," he said instead, quietly. "Don't be angry with Ed."

A little stiffly, Al pushed away from the door and walked past them, into the kitchen; he heard the rustle as the grocery sacks hit the counters. Roy's heart dropped, but a moment later Al's footsteps were back again, and the girl was coming up to stand behind the couch, almost exactly the same position as Roy from before. "He's sleeping so well," Al said, in a voice hushed almost with awe. "It's been months since Brother looked so... peaceful."

"Yes," Roy admitted, looking up into the girl's face, soft and vulnerable in the low light. "Edward seemed... to need this. I'm sorry if it hurt you. I never intended that."

"No... yes... I don't know." Al's face fell, and she chewed on her lip; Roy's defenses, already weak against the younger Elric, crumbled again. "I knew... but I wanted..."

On an impulse, he reached up to touch her hand; when she looked startled but did not move back, he took it. "I want to be here for both of you, Alphonse," he said quietly. "And I understood when you moved in that to have one of you... was to have both. I can accept that, and if you and Ed are both comfortable with it... then so am I."

To his ears, that sounded inexuseably smarmy, and he almost regretted saying it; but then Alphonse's face brightened, and her small hand wound about his and squeezed, once, before releasing him.

"I'll keep that in mind, sir," she said, and went to make dinner.