Total Word Count for Suicidal!Ed Arc: 28,095
Total Word Count for this Section: 14,613
Huh. Well. Would you look at that? Only about 7,000 more words than I thought it would be. Xx -dies and is dead-
I don't know how this particular story ever evolved into something so epic, but boy am I glad that it's over. I've wanted it to be over since I started it months and months and months ago, but for some reason, I had no idea how to end it and I just couldn't let it fade off. The ending I put here, even, seems rather abrupt to me. Maybe it was just ending the story that got to me. XD Maybe I couldn't believe it was happening myself. Regardless, I want this thing posted. I want this thing dead. I'm so ready to start on a new project it's not even funny. So I'm going to get straight to the story and let you guys judge it for yourselves. ♥
Warnings: Still suicidal intentions and some heavy themes, still language (Ed just lost his brother, so naturally, he says "fuck" every other sentence. Naturally.), still character death, still some morbid imagery.
The men who Havoc and Breda had recruited to look for Edward really had no idea what they were doing. It was little wonder that he hadn't been found yet. They checked all of Central's cemeteries first off, which was just silly, because he really had no one to visit in the graveyards of Central aside from Hughes who he wasn't thinking of right now anyway. All that they knew was that someone close to Edward had died, and so they sought to check every cliched spot in the city. Most of them seemed to be convinced that Edward was dead already too, seemed to be absolutely certain that they would find his body washed up on the banks of the river or slammed against a sewer grate somewhere. That, too, was silly. If Edward really wanted to be dead, he would have been by then.
Certainly, there was the niggling voice the back of Roy's mind as well that could recall precisely how dejectedly his shoulders had slumped as he stood on that railing, precisely how tired his eyes had been in Roy's living room that night. And that same voice demanded that he dredge the river and buy a coffin. But the fact that Edward had run away and not sliced his throat in their bedroom or thrown himself off the balcony said that he wasn't all that determined to make himself dead just yet. It was something Roy realized now that he'd had a chance to clear his head some.
And something else kept coming to mind.
In the moments after it had happened, Roy had been too busy fishing Edward out of a raging river to really think about it, but now, he couldn't help but think that Edward had never actually intended to jump. Certainly, he had stood on the railing and looked down at the river,
and certainly he was depressed enough to have attempted it, but that didn't mean he actually had. When Roy had made his last desperate scrabble toward him, had he actually unintentionally pushed the boy in?
The thought was boggling, but at the same time, an amazing relief.
Edward hadn't jumped. Edward hadn't given up on the world.
Edward was considerably more clumsy with three automail limbs, Roy thought, and sniffed haughtily.
Roy pulled his car to one side of the road lay his head gently on the steering wheel. So maybe he had pushed Edward to his near-death, and maybe Edward hadn't tried to commit suicide – that didn't change the fact that he was gone now. It didn't change the fact that he had just spent his second evening outside in the cold of winter with three automail limbs and if what Fuery said was true, little more than a pair of flannel pajamas on his back. It didn't change the fact that if they waited much longer, their search radius would need to increase exponentially. It didn't change the fact that Roy was still worried as hell, or that he needed to be found immediately, so that Roy could talk to him, and slap him until he saw reason, and hug him until Roy had memorized the new feel of every piece of metal, every bone, every body part against his own.
He shifted the car into gear and set off again, scanning the wan light of the early dawn with tired, blurry eyes. What the soldiers helping them hadn't known is that the only thing one can predict of Edward Elric is his unpredictability.
Roy was summoned from his office, like a father to a guilty child caught in the principal's office, when Edward's manic drawings moved off the paper he was provided and onto the walls.
His men flashed him sad, sympathetic smiles as he passed, and as he climbed into the car behind his driver, she granted Roy a brief, kindly grin as well. She didn't ask the destination, just shifted the car into gear and set off toward the hospital.
This was becoming a daily occurrence.
As the only person that could coax any sort of response out of Edward within the city boundaries, Roy was summoned whenever he did something that the doctors and nurses didn't feel "qualified" to handle.
That was damn near everything.
It was frustrating, to say the least, that every time Edward wouldn't eat his breakfast or take his pills or stay in bed, Roy had to leave his office, leave work, to attend to him, when he couldn't do a thing about it, anyway. He wouldn't talk to Roy. He wouldn't listen to Roy. Roy had half a mind to just stop coming, because sometimes it was as if the nurses just summoned him to ogle. But even after he informed them all that he was happily married, thanks, they still called, nearly every day. Roy was spending later and later nights at the office just trying to keep up. Nevermind that his popular approval was suffering, and nevermind that Riza needed him at home, the nurses needed Roy at the hospital so that he could attempt to spoon-feed Edward carrots. Damn it all, he loved the boy, but there just wasn't enough time in the day for all this.
Roy strode briskly up the walk and through the double doors, nodding hurriedly to several military officers in the hall when they saluted. He knew where Edward's ward was – he would be able to find it blind by now, if only because he could usually hear the chaos that ensued there from across the building. When he reached the room, nodded to the orderlies outside, and flung open the door, he saw that the nursing staff hadn't been exaggerating.
There were arrays, hundreds and hundreds of arrays, lining every accessible inch of the blank, hospital-stark walls. Some were large, some were small, some were chiseled in and some were drawn with a pen. The hurried notes of a madman lined the outer rims of each circle, and Roy knew he couldn't have interpreted them even if he could have read the handwriting. Around the bed were piles of blank papers with the starts of sloppy arrays on them, scribbled out and crossed through. Finally, Roy raised his eyes to the bed itself, where Edward sat looking defiant and broken in a pale green hospital smock. Roy sighed.
Enough was enough.
"Edward. We can't keep doing this." And the boy had the decency to lower his eyes a little, looking vaguely embarrassed. "You're not a child." He allowed his tone to go slightly harsh, the steely chill of a commanding officer creeping in above the warm tones of a concerned father. "This," he waved a hand at the mess on the walls, "is inexcusable." Edward's hand tightened in the sheets. "Do you have anything to say for yourself?"
Roy had known it would be harsh before he sad it, but it sounded downright cruel coming out of his mouth.
Thinking that the reprimand had fallen on deaf ears, he turned away to seek out a doctor in order to apologize, but just as his hand fell on the doorknob, Edward, wonder of all wonders, spoke up.
"I...don't know what I did wrong," he murmured, soft and sad.
"The array was...I thought...I spent months – " He looked up at Roy, eyes imploring. "I did everything right. I swear I did."
Roy turned to glance at the array-lined walls, making a slow circle around the room and running his fingers over the low grooves they had created. All of the circles, he noticed now, seemed to be variations of the one that Edward had shown him nearly two weeks previously. (Had it only been two weeks? It felt like years, now.) Each was fundamentally similar, but with tiny little differences between them that anyone who wasn't an alchemist wouldn't have noticed.
"The paper... I. I only have one hand, and the paper kept moving around! But I needed to see! I've been trying to remember what might have happened. It." He drew in a careful breath. "It always brings me to the same place."
Roy turned from his careful study of the wall and focused on Edward's face.
"What?" He said gently.
"It wasn't the technique," he said, voice wavering. "It was the power source."
I found a way to utilize...to utilize emotional energy!
"Surely you aren't suggesting...?" Roy said, brow furrowing.
"He hates me. Well," Edward said, voice filled with dark mirth, "hated me." Roy could only look at him for a moment, eyes wide as saucers and mind trying to comprehend what he'd just heard. Then, placid as you please, Roy crossed the room and punched him in the face. Edward 1just touched the side of his head where Roy had made impact and spit out a mouthful of blood right onto one of the scribbled out arrays at his bedside.
I love him.
…tell him that?
Thus far into Edward's hospital stay, Roy hadn't been able bring himself to tell Edward the truth about his brother's death. And still. Even as he was faced with this, he couldn't tell Edward that Alphonse had died by his hand. How selfish was he to allow Edward to hate himself but not his commanding officer?
"How could you even say something like that!? It's an insult to your brother's memory!"
"Then why wasn't it enough! Why is nothing I do ever enough!? He had reason to hate me, I don't blame him, I don't mind!"
Again, for a moment Roy just stared. His mind was seething and roiling, but in his chest his heart broke for the boy. He shouldn't have been surprised that this was the conclusion Edward had reached. It made perfect sense to Edward, unmitigated guilt machine that he was, that he had done something so despicable as to merit his younger brother's loathing.
"Edward, your brother didn't hate you."
Edward didn't even know that it had been Roy to carry him away from the smoldering rubble of that warehouse. Edward wasn't even aware that it had burned to the ground, yet.
"How the hell would you know, bastard? Like you know shit about me." Better not to tell him. Better not to let him know –
Maybe. Maybe I'd rather not go back to that life.
"Looking at you two, watching the both of you for as long as I did, how could I not know!?"
Edward stayed stubbornly silent, and then. "I killed my little brother. I'm the worst…the worst person there is."
No you didn't. I did. I am.
"Will you stop – "
"I said get the fuck out! I don't wanna see you back here!"
Some frustrated chord in Roy's heart twanged at that, and whatever dam had been keeping Roy's anger at bay snapped like a brittle rubber band.
"Do you think I want to be here? Do you honestly think I enjoy spending my afternoons here with an unresponsive little brat who scribbles on the wall like an infant with a crayon!?"
Stop, Roy, he said to himself. Stop. Edward doesn't need this now –
"Th-then go home b-bastard! If you don't want to be here then g-go find something b-better to do with your fucking time!"
Stop before you say something stupid.
"I think I will! I do have a family waiting for me at home, after all," Roy snarled, and as soon as he'd said it, Ed's face just shattered.
Shit. Riza always said he had a temper like a time bomb.
"I FUCKING HATE YOU!" And then Edward was up and swinging wildly at Roy with a singular arm, backing Roy toward the closed door. Roy knew he'd said something beyond cruel when warm tears of anger started falling down Edward's face. He knew it wasn't sadness there, because that was smoldering and temporarily forgotten behind the rage that Edward seemed to need to focus on.
"You're a goddamn bastard! You're fucking scum, you asshole, do you hear me?!" Roy wrenched the door open and slammed it behind him, and Edward's muffled screeches scratched their way past the heavy wood. Roy slumped against the hallway's opposite wall and panted, hand over his eyes. The orderlies, who appeared to have taken a brief break with Roy inside, jumped into action and disappeared into the room. Edward's cries turned indignant then, and soon after, they were silenced completely.
When the doctor approached Roy a few minutes later, all he managed to get out through the shaking in his voice was, "…Well, that could have gone better."
The diagnosis came a little while later. Edward had ripped every last one of his stitches, raised his blood pressure to new and startling heights, and restarted the rampant bleeding at his shoulder.
They all agreed it would be better if Roy was not called on again.
He had several witnesses tell him the same thing.
A fisherman who would live and die at Central's wharf recalled him.
"The old warehouse that burned, down by river – he was there, he was. I saw him."
An attractive women showing far too much skin considering the draft on her street corner had seen him stagger by.
"Oh yeah I saw him. Little pipsqueak," she'd made a gesture just above her ample breasts then. "Yea tall? Big golden doe eyes? Poor little guy limped by here a few times. Hobbled like a soldier-boy and rattled like pots and pans."
A ticket salesman at the train station had seen him huddled up on a bench in the lobby.
"That kid twern't no trouble. I's seen teens wi' attitudes but he twern't one o' them. Po' chil' looked mighty cold. I let 'im stay the nigh'. Gave 'im a blanket too. I don' thin' he was sleepin' too good though."
All accounts pointed to the same area. Everyone he'd asked had similar stories.
So where the hell was the little brat?
He'd checked the area three times. He'd driven by the barren patch of black earth three times. He hadn't seen Edward there three times.
But…once more couldn't possibly hurt. Roy hated to admit it, but it was the only lead he had.
The area where the warehouse had been was still framed by fraying yellow police tape even though investigators had determined the fire an accidental occurrence sometime earlier. Roy often wondered how they had ever reached that conclusion, because looking at that familiar rectangular patch of black, he thought that it looked far too clean to be a natural disaster. Roy knew fire, and he knew that a gas or electrical accident couldn't create a spark so intense that it took down the whole building before the fire department took care of it. (Of course, he also knew that he had been the one to start it, so his opinion mattered very little.) He could only assume that Alex's department had investigated the case, and damn, that man was good at covering up Roy's tracks.
He slowly eased his car past the area and scanned each patch of black and snow-whitened soot thoroughly. A new, light, feathery snow had begun to fall around noon, gently covering the wet, heavy layer they had received on the night of Alphonse's shower. And it wasn't until then, the fourth time around, against the backdrop of white, that he spotted something in the very center of the rectangle (right where the circle would have been, had the warehouse still been standing). A shivering lump of gray made rich by patches of shimmering silver and gold.
(Gray? That was why he hadn't found him sooner. All this time, he'd been looking for red.)
Roy's heart stopped. He was out of the car and running faster than he had ever known his legs could carry him, hoping against all hope that Edward hadn't just fallen there to die.
Feeling his way up the body was hauntingly familiar. Only this time, there were no abrasions or missing limbs, just the same unnatural hardness on both the left and right sides and far less body heat than the fever-ridden near-corpse of last time. When Roy's hands reached the summit of Ed's face and found tears there, he let out a little noise on the edge of an oddly gulped breath – remorse, and with Ed finally here, diluted ecstasy at the chance of a desperately needed catharsis.
Ed's eyes fluttered open and focused fuzzily on him, and Roy only had time to think 'Wait…is that my coat?' before a cold, unfeeling fist thudded dully against his jaw.
Roy Mustang was asleep when his son was born. He honestly hadn't meant to be – he'd been preparing for the day for weeks, for fuck's sake, he'd been excited and supportive throughout the entire pregnancy and he'd held his wife's hand through the first sixteen hours of labor. But for God's sake, he was but a man, and after night after sleepless night of worrying and nightmares (truncated limbs and piles of flesh and Alphonse's voice), after long, long days in the Fuhrer's office, after tiring escapades with a very pregnant woman, all he wanted was fifteen goddamn minutes on the couch in the lobby.
But apparently, fifteen minutes had turned into four hours, and before he knew it he was awake with crying in his ear and a tiny baby boy, all bundled in blue, under his nose. It only took him a moment of blinking and wondering where the hell the baby had come from before something in his muddled brain said that's Riza's nose, and his insides went to goo.
When the baby landed in his arms, he smiled like he hadn't in years. He could feel his heart fluttering as he lowered the downy baby blanket to get a better look at the closed eyes and the pudgy face, and he rocked the boy against his chest to soothe the tears like he'd been born for it. The baby cooed softly as the crying died out, and Roy held a tiny little hand between two massive fingers as he drifted softly to sleep.
Beautiful, beautiful boy, he marveled.
Behind his heart, there was a warm, fluttering, concerned sort of feeling, that beat and beat, and that intensified when Roy looked at his son. What was that…what was that feeling, precisely?
He could feel his soft, mellow grin crinkle at his eyes, and a sudden overwhelming euphoria hit him when he looked under the tiny blue hat and saw his own stark black hair peeking out at him. He looked up for the first time and announced, "That's my hair!" to the owner of the hands that had provided the baby.
Winry Rockbell, arm entwined with a handsome young man who was hefting a garish red toolbox, smiled down at him.
"Congratulations, Fuhrer Mustang." The young man nodded and smiled politely along with her. Roy rubbed a thumb along the dozing baby's face and then planted a tender kiss on his forehead before climbing stiffly to his feet.
"Ms. Rockbell," he said, and when he nodded a greeting his neck popped audibly. "You were the last person I expected to be handing me my son."
My son. My son!
"I was in the hospital working on Edward's port when I saw that you and Riza were here. I was happy to hold her hand since you were…er…indisposed."
Roy's fluttering heart plummeted, and his face fell. As if sensing his distress, the baby in his arms warbled out a sad little noise.
"Ah…h-how is Edward doing?" He said, throat dry.
They won't let me see him anymore.
He swallowed hard.
Winry's smile faltered. "He's…better." She said, strained. Next to her, the young man spoke up.
"He's not ready for automail, yet. Maybe you can talk some sense into her." Winry whipped around to face him, and her ponytail whizzed through the air like a lethal weapon. Roy looked very pointedly at his baby boy.
"I know he's not, but he can't stay in this hospital much longer, it's driving him crazy. Did you want me to just tell him no? He needs to move on and this is the only way he knows how!" Winry's voice was dissolving rapidly into tears as she spoke, gradually wobbling more and more until she was wiping frantically at her eyes.
"We're hurting him more than we need to, Win," the young man said genially. "You shouldn't let your feelings get involved with your work."
"My feelings got involved with my work the moment you walked into my shop!" She punctuated her words with one-fingered jabs at his chest.
"You could kill him, Winry!"
"I'm keeping him alive!" She screeched, and Roy's shoulders slumped, and his baby, already a genius and master manipulator at the tender age of thirty minutes, burst into miserable tears.
Winry stopped crying.
The young man stopped shouting.
Roy stopped moving.
In his arms, the baby stopped crying and peeked open bleary brown eyes.
All of Roy's air left him in one harsh gust.
Roy's cheek pulsed in time with his heartbeat. It didn't stop him from dragging Edward into his arms and just holding him. The boy squirmed but stayed miraculously quiet as Roy closed his eyes and rocked a little to either side. Doing that always put Alphonse to sleep, he knew, and even if it didn't have quite such a soporific effect on Edward, it was enough to keep him quiet for a moment, if only because he was too stunned to say much.
And then, Edward seemed to come back to his senses, and he bristled like an indignant cat. He pushed hard against Roy's chest and used the leverage of two super-human automail arms to free himself. Roy just flopped back onto the ashes of the warehouse, and looked him straight in the eye.
"What the fuck, asshole?" Edward demanded. "What g-gives you the right?"
"I haven't treated you well lately, Edward."
"N-now's a f-f-fucking fantastic time to make amends, alright! You c-could have done that before I – "
"You're freezing. Come to the car." He got to his feet and put a gentle hand on one of Ed's arms. Ed looked at it dubiously for a moment before shoving it to the side and jumping to his feet as well. Roy's hand stung like crazy.
"Go away! Why don't you just let me f-f-freeze to death!"
"No, Ed, I – "
"S'not like you give a damn!"
"Will you li –"
"Pushed me into the fucking water before, shithead, what's changed since then?!"
"You scared me, Edward, I wasn't thin –"
"I scared you?! How scared do you think I was when I woke up without an arm and without a brother and without a hope, bastard! And where the hell were you?!"
"I…I fuckin' had no clue how I'd even got to the hospital… I did'n…I did'n know what had happened, all that I remembered was – " He let out a tiny little sob. "All I 'membered was Al telling me he wanted to…to…"
"Come to the car," Roy said, and Ed stuffed a metal fist to his lips hard enough to leave bruises.
After a moment, he turned away, seemed to steel himself. "Why the hell sh-should I?"
"Because you look like hell, and I know you haven't eaten in days," Roy responded truthfully.
Edward started off in another direction. Roy sighed and tried again.
"Because there are things I haven't told you that you deserve to know."
The boy stopped walking then looked back at him with helplessly wide eyes. "Where did it all g-go?"
"In time," Roy said, and turned for the car.
"Where did Al go?" came a shout from behind him.
Roy just kept walking. When he heard hurried crunching behind him, he allowed himself a smirk. Edward had gotten infinitely smarter in the years since they'd met, but good old-fashioned manipulation always got him in the end.
"I'd like to name him Alphonse." Riza peered at him from heavy lidded eyes.
"Alphonse?" She croaked.
"It's a heavy name now, but Riza he'll grow into it, and Edward will be –"
"Edward will be furious."
"Edward will be honored."
Riza just tipped her head back against the bed, exhausted. "You hadn't considered it before. What brought it on?"
Strong brown eye through layers of smoke –
His wife's brown eyes from the folds of a blanket –
For a moment, the two images had meshed with one another, and Alphonse was his child and his child was Alphonse, and wasn't that the way it had always been anyway?"He just…looked at me." Roy said helplessly. Riza gazed steadily at him then, baby in her arms, and oh he loved her, he loved him, he loved them.
"Alphonse." She tested. "Alphonse." She looked down at the boy in her arms.
"Alphonse." She christened him.
Edward held himself stiffly against the passenger window. He rattled his knee and hugged the coat tight around himself. Roy drove as if nothing were wrong, as if nothing had changed, as if Alphonse were crunched up in the back seat and apologizing because he blocked Roy's view of the road.
Roy glanced into the rearview mirror and saw, quite clearly, a tire-tracked trail marked deep in the snowy path. He sighed.
"Not until you've had something to eat."
"But you –"
"I promise. We'll talk.""I –"
"Edward, you look half dead. I want to make sure there's something in your stomach before you feel the need to go gallivanting off in your pajamas again."
Edward huffed and crossed his arms. After a pause, Roy couldn't resist asking, "Are you wearing my coat?"
Without missing a beat, a stubborn, familiar Edward retorted, "I'm not giving it back," and Roy hid a chuckle behind his hand.
This quiet, pale Edward standing tight and drawn by the window was something new. When he'd first arrived with Winry, her hovering at his shoulder and watching him like a hawk, Roy had been able to see, really, for the first time, that things would never be the same. It came as something of a shock, and again, he struggled to interpret the warm pulsing in his chest behind his heart that stuttered a bit at the realization.
The scowl on Ed's face was withdrawn, bitter, unfamiliar. His eyes took things in with a muted sort of interest rather than the all-devouring intensity that had burned behind his irises before. He looked – defeated. He looked like a boy who had been beaten and slashed and bruised too many times and had finally lost the will to get up.
Roy's spine chilled. He had watched Edward's expression carefully from the moment he arrived, and more often than not, he saw a mild sense of disdain there. At one point, he'd run an automail finger along the crystal window of the grandfather clock in the entryway, and Roy had seen his lip just absolutely curl. It wasn't until later that Roy realized, perhaps, it was the extravagance that the Fuhrer's mansion afforded.
You have so much. I have so little. What makes that fair?
Nothing. Life dealt you a fucking lousy hand, kid.
His first encounter with the baby had been similarly disastrous. Winry had shoved the boy forward enough to see Alphonse's brilliant little brown eyes, framed by his cherubic little face. He'd even kicked a bit in Riza's arms, stretching and clutching his hands into loose fists in way that Roy had come, over the month, to interpret as a pleased gesture. Roy had smiled. He couldn't help it. Every time he looked at his son, his heart clenched with love. And to see Edward and Alphonse together again –
"Oh." Edward had said mildly, cocking his head to the side and moving to grasp his own left arm with a faint, upsetting clack. "That's nice." And then he'd wandered off to stand by the window, face distant and eyes searching for something, someone that wasn't there.
Roy wasn't sure how he'd expected the boy to react. He really shouldn't have been expecting anything more. But his expression must of said that he had been, because Winry gave him a helpless little shrug and a reassuring smile and Riza rubbed her hand along his forearm gently.
And then he had mingled. He spoke with his other guests, most with much more enthusiastic responses to his baby than Edward, but he always kept one eye on the boy, despite how constant and uninteresting his silent vigil at the window was. Roy thought again, for the thousandth time, that he was the worst sort of coward there was. He couldn't even speak to the poor boy, but it looked like he was among friends in that aspect, because everyone chatting warmly at the shower gave a wide berth to the silent guest at the window.
"I told him I was engaged today," Winry was suddenly there behind him. She must have seen his blatant staring from across the room. It was a small blessing that Edward had been too engrossed in his study of the landscaping to notice. Roy turned to look at her. "He asked if we were going back home to stay with Granny, and…and what could I say, Fuhrer?"
"He wouldn't have wanted to be lied to, regardless of the situation. It is an insult, he thinks, to his intelligence."
"I said…I said I'm not going back. I can't, really, everything for me is in Rush Valley. But Fuhrer, his face just –" Winry bit back a sob and her eyes went bright. Roy knew exactly what she was talking about. He'd seen that broken face in a hospital room before, a horrifying sort of betrayed expression that melted your heart and made you feel like the most awful person in existence. It was far, far worse than his shouting and ranting had ever been.
Roy held up a hand. He didn't need one of Winry's emotional outbursts now. Not with a fragile and prone Edward halfway across the room and probably listening. "Shh. It's fine. I understand," he said, and tilted an eyebrow pointedly toward the window.
Winry bit her lip, nodded, and spoke quietly. "I didn't even accept Evan's proposal until Ed had called me and assured me he'd found a way, because I – I don't know why. But. I can't go back now, because I'm happy, even if he's not. Oh shit. Oh. I'm sorry, that sounds so selfish. I – "
"You don't have to justify yourself. The world doesn't stop because –"
"Please, don't say it," she pleaded, and fervently shook her head. "I don't think I could take it if you said it out loud like that."
"You're going to have to come to terms with it. Everyone is."
Winry narrowed her eyes. "You're a hypocrite."
"I –" The niche in his chest went to daggers.
"Alphonse was a part of my family. My parents died when I was a child, and I still feel ill when I think of them." Her eyes went piercing suddenly, cutting right into Roy's, and that was a can of worms that Roy did not want to open this evening.
Have I not suffered enough!?
So he stealthily changed the subject.
"I'm afraid I can't release him to you anyway, Ms. Rockbell." Her eyes went from piercing to puzzled and Roy breathed a silent sigh of relief.
"No, don't get me wrong, he has a place to go! Granny wants him home, she says he's welcome to come, but she – she might be selling the house soon, because it really is too much for her to take care of – "
Roy interjected carefully, "That's not what I mean."
"Well what do you mean?"
"This isn't something that I've been able to discuss with him, considering that he's been…slightly off recently. But he can't leave the military now."
"Why the hell can't he?" She hissed through her teeth.
"His contract clearly states that –"
"Bullshit! He was twelve when he signed that!"
"Ms. Rockbell, I'm afraid his age means very little to –"
"You're the Fuhrer!"
"And I must obey the laws of my country."
Winry fumed, nostrils flaring and hands clenching furiously at her sides. Then, through furiously grinding teeth she managed, "I'm going to go speak to your wife before I give the leader of our nation a concussion."
"Enjoy the party," Roy quipped as she walked away.
He turned his eyes to Edward again, that bit behind his heart snarling defensively, and Winry could never know that Roy could sever the contract any time he damn well pleased. It was just so much easier to keep Edward close to him when there was a court martial hanging over his head.
Roy pointed Edward in the direction of the icebox and left him to his own devices. He knew that Edward, prideful creature that he was, wouldn't touch a crumb if Roy were hovering at his shoulder and waiting for him to take a bite. But he stayed close, just in the next room, and there was only one way out of the kitchen. Roy was guarding the only logical exit, considering Edward probably wasn't capable of much alchemy given how tired and hungry he had to be. Roy had thought that he had made a good choice until he heard a startled yelp, a loud crash, and a string of swears. He was willing to ignore the first four shattered dishes, but when the same sequence occurred for the fifth time and he heard a plaintive little moan from behind the closed door, he stopped pacing and strode purposefully into the kitchen.
Edward sat, head in automail hands, in front of five shattered glass and ceramic bowls and five perfectly good meals gone to waste. There was a chunk of some edible something on the table, but the thick plastic wrap it was housed in was unbroken, just stretched loose in countless directions. The handle to his icebox was bent out of shape, and there was a hole in one of his overhead cabinets about the size of a fist.
For God's sake, he had only been in the kitchen for fifteen minutes!
"I realize I'm not your favorite person in the world right now, Edward, but –"
"It's my fucking hands, asshole!"
Edward wiggled his ten slick, smooth, shiny automail fingers at Roy. "It's like picking up bowls with a pair of…of metal lab tongs for all that I can feel with them!" One of Roy's black floor tiles cracked into pieces as Edward slammed a fist hard into the floor. Then he absently stuck his left hand into his mouth and bit down on it in what seemed to be a downright painful way before he swore again and shouted, "I don't even have any fucking nails to bite anymore! Shit!"
"Let's pick up a pizza then, shall we?" Roy said, voice level and firm, rising above Edward's panic. Edward just looked up with damp eyes.
"…Pepperoni?" He sniffled.
The moment was far from what he had imagined.
Edward had that look again. Eyes stricken and mouth working and eyebrows furrowed and all of the color gone from his face. Roy just kept smiling, uncertain. His eyes wavered between Edward and his son and Riza.
"Edward?" He said, but the boy didn't seem to comprehend. Roy's mind grasped desperately for something better to say. All that came to mind was 'Their eyes, Edward, if you had seen their eyes, if any of you had seen those eyes, you wouldn't blame me, you would know, oh Edward – '
Edward's eyes glowed and flickered with the fire in the hearth.
Alphonse looked up, grabbed at Riza's blouse.
Not brothers, but couldn't you just pretend for me? Just for a moment?
Riza looked up at him and hissed, "I told you we should have asked him first!"
And Roy was wearing his new uniform jacket and there were countless eyes of people who respected him there and waiting, so he couldn't very well say, 'I was too afraid he would say no, because Riza, if you had seen his eyes –!'
Instead, there was a bravado he didn't feel in his voice as he all but shouted, "Nonsense!" which seemed to be the final straw for Edward, who congratulated them hurriedly as he turned to run out the door.
Several people moved to follow him. Winry was off the couch and sprinting, Alex was fitting on his gloves, Havoc and Breda had parted with the bar for the first time that evening, and the whole room erupted into chaos. The boom of Roy's voice roared above it though, and he was moving faster than the others toward the hall closet.
"Stay here! I'll bring him back. I need to talk to him. I'll bring him back." Winry was the only one who protested, because she was the only one who had not seen Roy's dyed brown shirt or his daily excursions to the hospital or his face on the day after the warehouse at the wharf had mysteriously burned to the ground. None of them had heard the story, but they all knew, in essence, what had taken place. It seemed common sense to anyone close to Roy, what he would do for his subordinates. What he would do for the Elrics.
Riza silenced Winry with a firm hand on her biceps.
"He's only gone to the dorms," Roy assured the group of waiting people. "I'll retrieve him and be back shortly," he bundled up and went out the door.
Edward sat calmly on Roy's couch (the ground floor sitting room one – it was a lovely, thick sort of berry red, and it really clashed with the boy's eyes fantastically), curled around a nearly empty pizza box and smelling fresh and fruity from the shower. Every so often, he would waver a bit to the side, eyelids drooping in such a tenderly familiar way (so much like Alphonse – so much like his son and so very, very different). The niche glowed warmly, and he wanted so badly to wrap him in his arms and make everything go away – cradle Edward like he did his baby, and just let him sleep there.
Alphonse, Alphonse, Alphonse.
Edward. Edward. Edward.
Edward lapped at the grease on his automail fingers when he'd polished off his pizza. He'd been so pleased when he plucked the first piece out and had actually been able to hold it without his gloves, and he'd finished off every successive piece with similar relish. But now, licking his fingers, he seemed contemplative of his new hand again, confused that he couldn't feel the wetness of that flickering pink tongue wash over it.
"When I was little," he said suddenly, bending his fingers slightly and studying his hand, "I was right-handed. Then when I lost it, I learned to use my left, and I sorta got used to it. And now…now I don't know what to do. I'm out of hands." He looked up and gave a faltering smile.
"You'll manage, I'm certain."
"M'tired of managing," he said, and all the strength seemed to leave him with his next exhale and he flumped sideways onto the couch cushion. The pizza box fell to the floor and he curled into a tighter little ball.
It was so strange that Edward was being so cooperative with him. As he'd walked out the door to find him earlier, Riza had told him horror stories of the days before Edward had left in which he slept fitfully most of the time and refused human contact entirely.
He wouldn't eat, Roy, and I…he's very thin.
Looking at the empty pizza box on the floor, he found he couldn't imagine an Edward Elric without his appetite, either.
And really, the surprise of all surprises was that he was putting up a genuinely good front with Roy. They'd been on such terrible terms when he'd left, and Roy knew how bone-deep his depression ran, so upon his return, he'd been expecting either a horribly morose Edward or a dead one. What he got was this one, a vague silhouette of the Edward he remembered – his Fullmetal, but in muted tones and gray hues. Forced smiles had been common in the days of old, but at least there had been real ones then to compare them to.
But the strangest part was, Edward didn't feel the need to deign anyone else with this (if somewhat falsely) pleasant demeanor. Everyone they had encountered from the time Roy had picked him up got the same stony exterior.
Roy's mind boggled. Honestly, why him of all people?
I'm scum. I don't deserve you.
"You should go to bed."
Don't make me tell you this.
Instantly, Edward perked up. "No way you're worming your way out of it now, bastard! You promised!"
"You're very tired."
"Don't patronize me!"
"When was the last time you slept?"
His eyes went imploring then, round and bright and desperate. "You promised."
"…We'll keep it short, then." Damn, Roy could never deny the Elrics anything.
The snow was getting too thick to see through by the time that Roy had reached Central City's bridge. The fact that Edward had this much gain on him was a testament to how very slowly modern cars warmed in cold weather and how impossible it was to get anywhere quickly when his engine sounded rather like an angry chimera in weather below zero. He probably could have caught the boy easier on foot, but he figured that Edward would be cold when he did finally fish him out of the storm, and if he was to take him anywhere, it wouldn't be on foot. Poor kid had enough pains working against him already, he didn't need the added pang of the cold.
He slowed toward the center of the bridge. The ice was deadly slick – he'd heard there had been cold rain only a few nights previously, and now it had frozen over. And it always was ten times worse on a bridge, anyway.
He concentrated hard on the road ahead of him.
Just past the final column of the bridge, the sputtering of his car culminated in a glorious deafening wail and a magnificent cloud of white steam billowed up from his engine, into the chill.
He hadn't traveled all that far from the Fuhrer's home in one of the posh riverside neighborhoods, but the last thing he wanted to do was open the door and flood his toasty warm car (the heater, which had been on full blast, was most likely what had caused the breakdown in the first place) with the cold outside. He didn't know the first thing about fixing a car. Maybe he should have allowed Winry along.
He heaved a sigh into the steering wheel, tried starting the car several times (only to be met with more dying animal calls), and eventually decided walking was probably the best plan. He had another car at the house, anyway – and it, he decided, as he climbed slowly out of the car and into the frigid lane, was probably better than this piece of shit anyway.
As he passed, he kicked the back wheel just to spite it.
He gathered his coat tight around him as he made is way back across the bridge – it was a gray tweed sort of greatcoat – warm and down on the inside. One of his favorites, but still not quite thick enough to keep out the biting chill of the winter evening. He couldn't hear much for the loud buffeting of the wind in his ears and he couldn't see much for the impermeable quality that the slanted snow had suddenly taken, so it came as a surprise when he heard a loud, defeated cry through the howl of the storm, and saw a figure filter through the snow just ahead of him.
He smiled, even as he wondered how he had possibly missed this the first time around – perhaps his car going down had been a blessing in disguise. He started toward the boy, his name on his lips, when Edward abruptly scrambled up another guardrail and leaned dangerously over the edge of the bridge.
Roy could feel his heart beating faster, could feel that niche going cold, and for a moment, he couldn't even understand why. The quickening, unsteady tattoo in his chest only served to give him a sickening reminder of the night Edward had bled his life away on his shirtfront for a moment, before Roy realized just exactly what Edward was planning to do.
Then, it all seemed to connect, snap together like Elysia's building blocks. Bridge, water, automail, climbing, looking over.
He was going to jump.
The realization hit him like a physical blow. He staggered backwards under the force of it, and with the last of his strength, rent the air with a haggard "Edward," that barely sounded above the storm. For the second time in too short a time, he felt his heart rip free of his chest. He'd lost it first to Alphonse, moaning softly in that warehouse. He'd regained it with twice its strength when his son fell into his arms. And now it was gone again, torn free and bloodying the ground before him.
"Edward," he said again, stronger this time, refusing to acknowledge the hollowness of his chest, and the echo that the shout provided. The boy didn't seem to notice, though he did pause in his watchful survey of the surging water beneath them.
Finally, desperately, his voice returned to him full power, because he was the Fuhrer damnit, and he had faced worse (truncated limbs and howling in pain and blood on the floor). "Edward!" He let fly, and the boy definitely heard him that time, as his head jerked upward, startled. He didn't, however, look back at Roy. His mind was elsewhere, probably so entirely dedicated to the task at hand, that he didn't deign outward stimuli worth his response.
Roy could recall that. Roy knew what it was like to be so far gone that eating was inconsequential, that breathing was trivial, that all that mattered was the gun at your throat, and the buckets of blood around you, and the chalk dust that would let fly, certainly, when you pulled the trigger –
– Or the steel rail complaining loudly beneath your fists, and the roar of the water beneath you, which sounded strong even above the whirring rush of the winter storm.
Then Roy remembered what exactly had dragged him back to the world of the living, and wished to hell that his best friend were here now. But there was just Roy. Roy and Edward, alone on the bridge.
His voice took on a firmness that he didn't feel, suddenly inspired by a remembrance of his best friend's firm hand on his shirtfront. "Edward Elric, you get down from there this instant!" He itched to go forward and just yank him off the guardrail, but who knew what such sudden movements would do to a desperately volatile boy teetering, literally, on the ice-slicked brink of death.
Abruptly, the boy turned to look at him and though that distraction was what Roy had been seeking, he really wished he hadn't. His eyes were half-wild and desperate; his mouth was a tight, thin, twitching line; his cheeks were pale and bloodless. He looked half-frozen, and all Roy wanted to do was yank him down and hug him.
Different tactic. "Edward. Please, come here. Talk to me." That, too, merited an entirely undesired response as Edward violently shook his head (and good lord, had he just dislodged frost from his braid?) and turned again to contemplate his watery grave.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.
Get him down, get him down, what the hell are you waiting for!?
"Please." Roy suddenly, reflexively breathed, almost groaned. That seemed to gain more attention than any of the other attempts at least, which, Roy thought, may or may not have been a good thing, as the metal guardrail let out a miserable dying wail and gave way.
Fuck propriety, fuck scaring the brat, Roy wasn't going to let him die. He surged forward, adrenaline pumping madly somewhere in his gut, and for a moment, he didn't even realize that he wasn't in control of his movements, that his feet were slipping out from under him as he ran. So intent upon reaching the boy in time was he that all that he saw, all that he noticed, was Edward toppling from the precarious rail the moment that he reached it.
"EDWARD!" He shouted, because maybe if he yelled loud enough and reached far enough, he would catch the end of Edward's fluttering red coat before he hit the water.
It was not to be.
Roy's hand was still outstretched and straining when a tiny dot of a splash broke the water far below. He barely even heard it above the din of his blood in his ears. Gradually, as he realized precisely what had just taken place, his eyes slowly followed the trajectory Edward had taken to the river, and his hand fell back to his side.
"By the time I got there, Edward, you were already unconscious," he started unsteadily.
"I carried you out."
"Why did you…what exactly…"
"Made me come? I don't know," he lied, because he knew very well why he couldn't sleep that night, why he'd braved the dark and the unknown and the uncertainty. "But I suppose you're lucky I had the whim," he concluded casually. Lucky, he thought afterwards, was an entirely loose term, there. The stunted sort of bitterness in Ed's eyes and cold little humorless laugh told Roy he thought the same.
"I suppose it was the shock and the blood loss that got to you. When I got to the hospital, doctor said that you had taken one hell of a shock to your system." He was reminded briefly of the ragged, exposed nerves dragging the ground as he picked him up and then pressing hard against his torso.
"Yeah it…it did seem like the gate did a cleaner job last time," Edward mumbled, and Roy puzzled over that for a moment before deeming it unimportant and continuing.
"At first I wondered why you hadn't gone to him, why I found you at the edge of the circle – but it made sense after the doctor explained it. You must have passed out immediately."
"…Not immediately," Edward whispered, metal hands clasping on his borrowed, too-big pajama bottoms, and Roy's heart clenched for him in his chest.
"You saw, then," he said, a statement, not a question, because while he had hoped that this wasn't the case, he had known all along that it was probably the memory leading the offensive charge on Ed's will to live.
"Yeah. I saw."
"That…saves me some explaining, then," he said dismally. "You heard –"
"'Kill me. I want to die.'"
"He was in…a considerable amount of pain –"
"Pleading with me from a few feet away, and I couldn't even work up the strength to tell him that I was there for him!" Ed said in a sob. This seemed to be deteriorating faster than Roy could control. From the beginning, he had planned the conversation and how Edward would take it. He had mentally coordinated his information and gauged Edward's reaction to it, had taken the course that would cause him the least pain. Revealing, simultaneously, as little and as much information as he could. He had known the boy would hate him in the end, but maybe, this way, he wouldn't hate him quite so much…? But now things were spiraling out of control, and how silly Roy had been to underestimate power and depth of the emotions Ed had invested in this.
"It was hardly your fault that you lost consciousness Edward. You had no weakness of heart or mind, it was merely your body failing you, which was, due to the circumstances, unavoidable," Roy reassured gently, but Edward was shaking his head halfway through.
"No! My heart and my head were gone too, one look at him. I couldn't see at first, just hear, just hear and think I could fix it, whatever pain he was in. But then there was the…the lightning, and I saw him, and it."
He inhaled deeply.
"It was what I had been afraid of all along."
Roy moved surreptitiously closer, creeping onto the opposite end of the berry red sofa as quietly as possible. Just when he thought that the squeaking of unsteady springs, sounding above Ed's increasingly ragged breathes, had given him away, had ruined his chances of being close, he saw the boy's metal hand inch toward him across the wide expanse of deep red cushion.
"He was just like my mother had been. Except this time his…his soul was in it! There was a soul in it! And he could feel…he could feel everything.
"I killed him. In the worst way possible, I couldn't even find it in me to grant him some mercy and finish it quick, I just –"
Roy shook him by the shoulder, and knew that it was time for this to come forward.
I could have saved him. You're a murderer.
He inhaled sharply, and his throat clogged with what he was about to say.
"I did. I killed him."
Ed stopped, mid-sentence, to look up at him with bright eyes.
He thought for a brief moment of how he had pictured himself explaining, composed, detached, and lofty, 'I set fire to the warehouse with him inside. He was in pain. It was necessary.'
"He was begging, and you were dying, and I'm weak, I know I am. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he said instead, petulant and sullen. And how pathetic they were. A man and a teenage boy sulking together, stubbornly clinging to their own guilt and wishing that a third boy would appear to make everything alright again.
"It…you…was it fast? Did it hurt him?" Edward said, and unexpectedly, some of the heaviness had gone from his tone.
"No. He didn't feel it. I set fire to the entire warehouse. He was at the center of the explosion."
"So he didn't just…burn to death on top of it?"
…Did Edward just want him to come out and say that he had blown his precious little brother apart from the inside? That the heat had been intense enough to vaporize whatever brain he had left before the already strained nerves could even detect it?
Maybe he did. Maybe that was exactly what he wanted.
Roy obliged, and Edward, wonder of all wonders, let his lips to curve up in the starts of a tearful, shaky smile. Roy's mind boggled, but he allowed his to do the same.
"He wasn't alone?"
"No. Not until the very end."
"You spoke to him?"
"I did my all to comfort him."
Edward looked down at the ground for a moment and Roy knew it was time to drop another bombshell. "He refused a chance to rebind his soul."
"I couldn't have," he replied promptly, pained again
"It was too unstable. His…his soul. I had known it when I started the transmutation. It would have fallen to pieces. It would have been rejected piece by piece. And that would have been more painful than anything. Watching him deteriorate. Al knew, too. He wouldn't have wanted that at all."
Besides. Maybe. Maybe I'd rather not go back to that life.
Al's final words suddenly took on an ulterior meaning, and Roy felt his heart simply lift with it. As if there had been a weight there instead. Relief flooded him like an antidote to a poison that had been slowly chipping away at his innards – piece by piece he felt them grow back, and piece by piece he felt like a whole man again.
The room felt brighter, suddenly, and Roy wondered vaguely why he hadn't just done this sooner. Edward's hand crept along the cushions toward him still, inching ever closer, but Roy had one more thing to say.
"He loves you, you know. I know he loves you. So much. It was one of the last things he said."
Edward gasped (as if something this mind-numbingly apparent was surprising?), and raised the hand that wasn't making its way across the cushions to his chest, as if his heart was paining him. "He…?"
"'I love him.' He said. 'Tell him that,'" he quoted. "At the time I deemed it unnecessary, I had thought you already knew, but –"
And then, suddenly, there were two metal arms hooked around his back, ten metal fingers crinkling his uniform, and two sodden eyes buried in his shoulder.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you," he whispered like a mantra, over and over, and Roy said his own silent thanks in return.
"I love him," Edward squeaked after a moment, sprawled ridiculously across the cushions to grasp at Roy as he had, as if he would have changed his mind about it in the time it took to move across the cushions; scarred, bare back peeking out from under the stretched pajama top; hair obscuring what little Roy could see of his blotchy face.
"Yeah," Roy returned. "I love him, too."
Roy patted his back, and that was as close as they would ever get to 'I love yous' of their own.
Panic was a white-hot poker in Roy's chest. It took a moment for it to settle in, which had been, in hindsight, far, far too long for him to be contemplating things under the time constraints he'd been dealt. Initially, he'd felt the same sort of resignation that he had when Al had argued for the end of his life in that foggy warehouse. His throat clenched and his bloody heart still lay on the ground behind him, but if he just accepted what had happened, it would be easier. If he just allowed the idea that Ed was going to die into the undeniable truths of his life, he would be able to face it faster. He would be able to get over it.
A full thirty seconds of absolute despair had passed before the idea of a rescue even passed through Roy's mind. He glanced up at the dull yellow light of the lamps on the bridge, and then followed their light as it filtered through the storm and onto the steely water beneath. He had a few minutes. He had time. Granted, with the temperature and current of the water taken into account, he probably had very, very little, but it wasn't as if Ed's heart had stopped beating before he even jumped.
What the hell are you waiting for?
The bridge itself was made of steel and cement. It rose in a grandiose sort of arch on top toward the middle, and on the bottom, it was planted firmly into the sloping, grassy ground on either side of the river with cement, as well as supported by several giant steel beams that extended from the underbelly of the bridge and disappeared into the murky water below. There was little doubt in Roy's mind that Edward had sunken straight to the bottom. With three steel limbs, he was too heavy not to. However, there was very little chance that he would fail to go anywhere at all with the wind whipping the water as it was and the current pushing so.
Edward had fallen nearer to the left side of the bridge, closer to the Fuhrer's mansion than the city's cultural district. Roy careened at full speed down the remainder of the sidewalk and then over the end of the guardrail and onto the grassy incline to the side. From there it was a steep slope to the river's edge, and Roy slid down it easily, snow and sleet making his descent a fast one and an utter lack of friction on his boots almost leading to his own untimely demise in the river. He managed to stop, though, in a patch of dirt on the river's edge, but failed to consider for a moment how he would get back up again (which was also, in hindsight, a stupid thing to do).
Then, with his ass in the snow and facing an angry river (all hail the mighty Fuhrer of Amestris), Roy wondered what to do next. He didn't know where Ed was. He didn't know how to get to him if he did. He couldn't very well raise the bottom of the river like Edward, couldn't very well dam it or block it or create a fucking hand to bring the boy to him. Edward was a master of all things alchemical, but Roy was a one-trick pony. He dealt with the atmosphere. Manipulating the air and the water in it and the elemental contents of it, he could do. But the earth was such a tricky thing to deal with. The air was so set in its composition, but metals and dirt and rocks changed in theirs so often. He wasn't a genius. He couldn't just assess these things from touching them, and so he'd never really tried. Roy liked air, and Roy liked fire. That was all there was to it.
But damnit, at times like this, the ability to bend the earth to his whim sounded handy.
Just then, Roy caught sight of something at the base of one of the supports.
Just a flash of it. And oh fuck, maybe he was crazy and maybe he was just imagining things, but if he didn't work fast he'd have a dead body on his hands instead of a living, breathing boy.
He had a crazy thought.
The air wasn't totally useless. The air was all around him, ample and endless and waiting – and Roy sketched a circle in the snow so fast, it was a wonder it didn't rebound. When he was finished, he slammed his hand to it, and maybe the determination gave him power, because his reaction cut through the water like butter. Air broke the water like a knife, a great downward gust of it, and before the water filled in the gap again, he saw a sopping boy who had come to rest not on the bottom of the river, but who had been pushed onto the great bolted base of the steel support beam and who remained pinned there by the current.
Roy's adrenaline pounded, and that tiny niche behind his heart burned.
Again, he drew out a circle. It was a bit slower this time, because he was aware that both of their lives were dependent on this being perfect, on everything being perfect. A perfect circle like there was a compass in his head, crossing lines. He inverted his triangles to be water rather than fire – a wrong line there, he needed that line fifteen degrees to the left, he added more snow from outside the pile – and there. He took a moment to look at it before freezing, numb fingers set it off.
The heat it produced was minimal, which was good. Roy had filtered a lot of the unnecessary light and heat into drawing the moisture from the air. There was plenty to be had, but it was a difficult process, and he clenched his hand on the circle and concentrated.
Come on, come on, come on –
He urged it forward, mentally concentrating on freezing and solidifying the water he had accumulated, packing water molecules densely together, but he was out of practice and this was simply taking too long. He slammed his other hand onto the circle in frustration, and as if it sensed his sudden fit, the tip of his ice bridge broke and toppled into the water.
Calm down. Lay off. Slow down.
He tried again, moving slower and keeping up the thickness of it. He was lucky that Edward had fallen so far to the side, he wouldn't have been able to make this kind of structure reach to the middle. It would have collapsed under its own weight toward the center.
When he was finished and the circle went dark, he looked at his dully gleaming ice bridge in pleasure and thought he knew what it felt like to pull an array out of his ass, now. He envied the Fullmetal Alchemist for doing it so often and for being able to reproduce the things after the fact – this one had taken so much out of him, and he knew for a fact that he wouldn't remember what he did to make the thing tomorrow.
Now that he had made it, though, did he trust his skills enough to use the thing?
Now or never.
He took off his jacket, got onto his belly, felt rather silly (then felt rather silly for feeling rather silly when someone's life was at stake) and slid forward onto his bridge, making sure to distribute his weight evenly, going as fast as he could without going so fast that it cracked in two. He kept inching, and marveled at the fact that he couldn't feel it, not really. It was probably the adrenaline talking. No doubt his stomach would feel bitterly burned in the morning, but now, he felt insulated and warm and fluttering despite the moisture and the chill all around him.
He reached the end of the bridge. It connected to the support near where it entered the water and Roy looked frantically down into the dark waters, which were no less intimidating from the closer distance. Icy water lapped onto the bridge in great waves, and as one washed over Roy, he could almost hear his adrenaline shivering and shrinking away.
You're on your own with this one, pal.
Roy sneered at his own body, knew what had to be done, and without further ado, plunged a hand into the freezing depths, searching for the slimy slide of the red coat beneath his fingers. It was no good though, they were too cold. He grasped around aimlessly for a moment and came up again empty-handed.
Well. Nothing else could be done.
Roy exhaled harshly in a thick cloud of white, then inhaled a sharp, deep prickle of cold air, and let his head go under. His torso and head descended into water so cold his lungs clenched, looking frantically, and he kept his feet hooked firmly around the other end of the bridge. Just when he thought that it was too dark, that the pathetic light of the street lamp issuing from above was too weak to catch that glimmer of red again, he saw it, in sharp relief against the dull gray of the beam, reached for it, and pulled with everything he had left in him.
He let Edward fall asleep on the couch. He covered him with the quilt they kept slung over the back of it, tucked the edges around the curves of his exhaustion-slumped form, and thought tenderly that maybe this is what it means to be a father. This warm fluttering feeling in the back of his chest, just behind his heart, as this child who had no reason to trust in the world anymore trusted him enough to fall asleep in his presence, to let him tuck him in, to share the burdens that he faced.
He wasn't Edward's father. He could never hope to fill that void. But this, just this, had to mean something, didn't it? Roy picked up the empty pizza box and put it on the table to take care of tomorrow. Then, before he could persuade himself to stop, he swooped down to lay a feather-light kiss on his forehead.
Then he stood back to look. Edward was such a handsome boy, and it made Roy so very proud. In his sleep, his golden hair, made darker, almost brown, by the water from the shower, fell over his face and fluttered against his mouth when he took a breath (and he was breathing!). His eyelashes curved gently against his cheek. He looked so calm and quiet, his face free of the tension and the worry-lines that his life had put there. In front of him, two hands, two powerful hands that could bring the world down around his ears, lax and curled slightly, thumb inching toward his mouth in a shadow of a childhood habit that might have never been broken. The rest of his body was relaxed under the blanket – too thin, though, Roy thought and furrowed his brow, and knew something had to be done about that.
He had saved this boy twice. Maybe three times. He had known before that he loved him, known as he held him tight against his chest, as he pumped life into his failing lungs, as he'd hugged him over the charred remains of a futile hope, but it wasn't until now, in the calm of his own living room, that he allowed himself to fully realize just what all that meant to him.
He wasn't Edward's father. Edward wasn't Roy's son. But looking at him now he was able to fully realize why he had risked his life, what he had risked his life for, what exactly he would have lost if he had failed. And despite everything, Roy let himself cry. He sobbed like he hadn't since Alphonse had died, like he hadn't since Maes' funeral, like he hadn't since Ishbal. And it didn't make any fucking sense.
Everything was alright, now. Everything was fine, he thought, as he just crumpled into a chair opposite the couch and stifled sobs into his hand. Everything was far from perfect, but at least it was fine for now.
Another choked out sob, his eyes never leaving Edward. Why was he crying now? What the hell reason could he have? Another few minutes passed of nothing but choked crying before it evolved into a strangled sort of giggle that crinkled his wet cheeks and finally gave him the power to take his eyes off the boy as he cupped his face with his hands to muffle it.
What the hell was wrong with him?
He rose stiffly from the chair and made his way to the door, flicking off the light as he left, and only when he reached the hallway was he able to make his laughs and his sobs die out.
And was that what it meant to be a father? Letting his emotions govern his life as he never had, feeling simultaneously so giddy and so crushed that he couldn't quite discern the two, looking at this boy and not being able to look away for all that was beautiful and perfect about him, blaming himself for anything that had ever happened, would ever happen?
Was it? Was this what it meant to be a father? Being someone he had never known, doing things he never would have done, feeling so full and so empty, knowing that his life as a bachelor was but a shadow of what it could have been now that he had fully claimed the love and responsibility for three boys?
He stared blankly into the long, dark hallway, and the laughter came again.
Well. Yes. I suppose it is.
Fatherhood had snuck up to bite him in the ass, and now that he could see it, now that he could acknowledge it, now that he could give that burning place behind his heart a name, he didn't at all begrudge it for doing so. Roy felt successively giddy then exhausted from his epiphany.
It was getting on toward midnight, and Roy hadn't slept properly in ages, so he allowed himself one last peek into the room (just to make sure) before he was able to drag himself up the stairs, past the doorway where his other little boy slept soundly in a yellow-painted crib, stuffed bear clenched resolutely in his chubby little fist.
He slid softly between the sheets beside Riza and spread flush against her back, his hand reaching to settle over her stomach. She pretended to be sleeping, but he knew that she would not, could not have gone to sleep, too concerned for him, exhausted, downstairs, for their little boy in the next room over, and for Edward, sleeping soundly a floor below them. She broke the charade by raising her own hand to lay over his.
"Is he alright?" she said softly to the dark wall opposite them.
He breathed into her back, snuggled closer. "He's fine. He's not going anywhere. He's fine." He said it with confidence, and at the back of his chest, that paternal-something burned. She hesitated for a moment, humming softly, and he could feel the vibration of it through her back.
"What about you?" she asked finally. "Are you alright?" even more quietly than before.
Roy hoped that she could feel his smile against her neck when he breathed a gentle, "I am. I will be." He squeezed her hand and laid a kiss to the base of her neck.
She laughed next to him and settled down to sleep, and his son lay asleep a room over, and Edward was quiet and peaceful below them, and it was alright, then, so Roy let sleep take him, too.
That night he dreamt of Alphonse (but not the truncated limbs and the grasping hands and the blood on the floor), a human boy that he didn't know but recognized immediately. He didn't speak in his own words though, just Edward's mantra of thankyouthankyouthankyou, and the place that lay behind Roy's heart grew and spread and turned the whole thing a most spectacular shade of gold.
When Edward came out of the water, he wasn't breathing, and Roy's fingers were too numb to seek out a heartbeat. The thought was the most terrifying thing in the world. At least when Edward had come out of the warehouse, Roy could feel steady puffs of breath at his lips, feel a slow, steady pulse at his throat. Not knowing whether he was dragging a corpse or not was decidedly disconcerting.
Roy set about the slow task of taking him back across his ice bridge, which was taking a beating from the relentless current of water. Turning around on such a narrow bridge with a limp boy under his arms was a monumental task in and of itself, nevermind that he was fatigued from his first trip, freezing from the water, and relying almost solely on one arm to propel himself.
When he was safe on the snowy, grassy slope, he was never quite sure how exactly he made it there. His trip back was a vague haze of cracking noises beneath him and his own desperate pleading too loud in his ears. The bridge threatened to collapse all the way back, complaining loudly at the added weight and the push on it from either side. More than once, the water almost took him overboard – and once, it did take Edward over, which wasn't a terrible setback, seeing as he still had a (steel) grip on Edward's coat, the boy couldn't have gotten much more saturated than he already was, and he was a hell of a lot lighter in the water.
Roy didn't have that much upper body strength – certainly not as much as Edward did. Years at a desk at made him hopelessly rusty. So, he was almost surprised when he found himself pulling Edward onto the rocky shore and away from the lethal tug of the river's flow. He panted hard from the struggle, but Edward was still limp and waterlogged in front of him, and there was an utter stillness to his chest that Roy didn't like at all. His shoes were gone, lost to the current and fuck if it wasn't ten times colder now that he was wet.
Roy's teeth chattered. The fact that Edward's didn't made him even colder.
He took up his coat from where he'd thrown it beside the river and forced limp arms into the sleeves, struggled with Edward, who was heavy with water now, until he was situated and warm inside. Then, hands sufficiently warmed, he dried Edward's throat with his own limp arm, and he jammed his fingers there to find the pulse.
Slow and unpredictable, faint and fading – but undeniably, utterly there.
Fuck, Roy had never imagined himself lucky before, anything but really, but for the second time in as many months, that life-giving thrum beneath his fingers made him believe in four leaf clovers and luck-giving rabbits' feet. But it was still fading fast. The small matter of making Ed breathe again was still at hand, and Roy really had no idea how to go about making that happen.
He'd seen it in the movie houses. Was he meant to just hit his chest and give him a kiss, then...? Roy slapped gently at Edward's face and wondered where exactly to hit on his chest and how exactly to pry open his seemingly frozen-closed mouth when Edward gave a weak, shaky little jerk beneath him.
"Breathe for me Edward," he urged suddenly, as if that would help. "You can't give up now." Inspired, Roy laid his palm flat over the hard, wet planes of Edward's chest and gave a tentative yet firm press.
"Breathe, goddammit!" He shouted, and the raging river couldn't hold a candle to the power in Roy's voice. "Come on, Fullmetal! Are you going to let a little water kill you?!"
Edward's mouth dropped open and his lips were absolutely white. Roy waited for breath to come, but his head just flopped to the side, and when Roy found Ed's pulse again, it was practically non-existent. He gave a few more harsh pushes to the boy's chest, too far gone to worry about propriety now, and then lowered his face to the boy's, close enough that he could count his eyelashes, that he could see minute spasms of facial muscles struggling for air, that he could feel whatever warmth was left in him radiating from his bloodless face, and then he covered his mouth with his own and exhaled. Edward's response was immediate. There was some life in him, there was some blood flowing, there was some piece of him that knew it was dying and that knew it needed air. Roy pressed and exhaled again.
"Please breathe for me Edward, please, just breathe and I swear to God –"
Water sputtered into his lips from Edward's mouth in great, gasping coughs, and then they most beautiful, most desperate inhale sucked the air straight out of his own lungs and left Roy breathless himself. He backed up and spent the next few moments watching Edward's chest struggling to rise and fall as more water gradually dripped from his lips. Eventually, it fell into a smooth, easy rhythm. Unfortunately, as soon as the breathing evened, the shivering started, and Roy turned attention to the slippery slope before him. Another pressing matter, so close on the heels of the first. He'd barely even had time for relief.
He knew he should be panicked, knew his adrenaline should have been pumping as it had when Edward was in the river, because frostbite and hypothermia were very real dangers at that point. But fuck, he was just exhausted and absolutely freezing.
Edward shivered harder, panted white clouds. Roy sighed (anything for the Elrics) and made to gather the strength he had left to pull another miracle out of his ass before Edward froze to death, when there was suddenly more light on them from above – two twin beams of it – and another shout.
"Fuhrer Roy Mustang!"
Armstrong. Roy could have cried.
Moving seemed out of the question at that point, Roy's extremities having frozen over completely at the appearance of help and the adrenaline-sapping powers that had, but shouting he could do, and did do, at the top of his lungs.
"We're down here, Alex!" Roy was proud that he didn't stutter. A shining head, obscured by harsh snow, poked over the bridge railing and reflected the lamplight above them.
"However in the world did you get down there? Are you both alright?" He boomed above them.
"Long story. We'll be fine if I can get him warm and safe at home," Roy assured him loudly, goosebumps straining on his arms.
"I shall assist you post-haste!" He disappeared for a moment, and Roy swore he saw the bridge thundering with his footsteps, then appeared again at the top of the slope, slamming his iron-gloved hand into the ground. Roy felt the earth shifting and moving around him (he thought wistfully, that if only he'd had this five minutes ago…) and put a steadying hand to Edward's chest as the ground beneath them lifted, climbing to level out with the top rail of the bridge.
Alex blundered around the corner to retrieve them, and Roy passed what little time he spent waiting looking down, down, down to the warped earth beneath them, and up, up, up the pillar to Ed's gently rising chest.
Roy allowed himself to breathe as well.
Roy woke to the sun on his face. Riza was still beneath his arm too, breathing the deep and heavy rhythm of exhausted sleep. He could feel her hand over his, just as it had been the night before. Overall, it was a pleasant way to start the day, and he thought as much as he yawned sleepily into the back of her neck. He had half a mind to simply let himself drift again after a languid stretch, but it was at that point that he realized the enormity of what waking to the sun on his face implied.
Newborn babies and their eating habits were not often conducive to full nights of sleep. It was something that he and Riza had discovered (the hard way) during the first month of their ignorant endeavor into parenthood. Riza took care of most of it a majority of the time, but it was unfair for Roy to expect her to fit to the purely maternal mold she clearly hadn't been cast in. Riza was an extraordinary mother, but she was no military wife, and she would never be content to sit at home and dote on her children for the rest of her life. Thus it was Roy's duty as a good husband and as a good father to play his part sometimes, regardless of exactly how tired running the country left him. As such, Roy knew how early one had to wake to adhere to the strict feeding schedule that newborns set for themselves. In the winter, it was well before dawn when the morning alarm sounded. Sleeping to daylight, sleeping the whole night through was virtually unheard of, even though one of their servants had been known to take care of the earliest feeds once in a while.
Roy slid out of bed as quietly as he had slipped in the night before a mere – he glanced at the clock – God, nine hours ago? How long had it been since he'd gotten that much sleep?
Two months, he thought as he threw on his dressing gown. It had been two months, because the last decent night had been the one before Ed's failed transmutation (and damn but he had slept well that night, just enough vodka to get himself buzzed and no baby in the room adjacent to wake him).
From there it was an easy task to tiptoe out of the room without waking Riza. She had been just as exhausted as him, after all. He hoped against all hope that one of the butlers had heated some of Riza's milk, that Alphonse would be well fed and in good humor when he got there.
The door was ajar when he reached it, and Roy cautiously looked through the gap and into the nursery, almost as if his very eyes would set his baby into frantic tears and –
His mouth fell open, his heart burst back into its rightful place, and if anyone had told him five years ago that this would be the most important thing in his life, he never would have believed them.
"Hey, kid," Edward said softly, bending over the crib. Roy's newly restored heart clenched.
And then Edward, long hair loose from sleep and still wearing over-large pajamas, was leaning down to pick up his baby boy, his pride and joy, his Alphonse, and Roy remembered somewhat nervously the state those hands had left his kitchen in the night before. Roy bit his lip and held his tongue, resisting his paternal impulse, because really, he couldn't be expected to interrupt this unless the worst happened.
But Edward was heart-wrenchingly gentle with his hands as he brought a groggy looking little boy out of the crib and nestled him into the crook of his elbow. If Alphonse minded the cold, hard metal he didn't show it, he merely looked on with those intelligent brown eyes, and Edward looked down with his stunning gold eyes, and Roy put a hand to his lips to keep from letting out the impulsive, "support his head, for God's sake."
"Hey, kid," Edward said again, but this time his throat seemed clogged.
A silent moment passed, and he vaguely realized the Riza had appeared with a soft gasp behind him, bringing her hands around his waist, but his eyes were on his boys, his mind was on how very tenderly Edward handled the child in his arms (ever a big brother) and how much Alphonse seemed to be enjoying it. Edward lifted one arm like a living mechanical mobile and Alphonse laughed and reached tiny little fists at him, blinking against the morning sun.
"Y'know…" Edward said, and Roy didn't dare to breathe. "Your eyes…your eyes remind me of someone really special to me." Roy gasped a laugh and blinked back tears. Alphonse caught one of Edward's fingers, giggled a bubble of a laugh, and quirked his expressive little head to the side.
Roy had murmured, "Get me the camera," to Riza before he'd realized he'd even thought it, but Riza released him after a breathy little laugh into his shoulder, sweet and melodic to his ears, to comply.
She returned quickly with a loaded camera in hand, padding silently down the hall, but Edward was too involved in his own little world to hear, to involved in the world that now revolved around the little bundle in his arms – who he seemed to think, suddenly, needed to know about his namesake.
"My little brother. You never knew him. He – died before you were born, but he was…he was…"
Edward didn't even hear the click of the camera from the hallway when Roy took the first shot, nor did he hear the second click of the shutter when Roy took a second photograph, a purely golden Edward framed in the sunlight of the nursery's window – just for good measure.
He didn't hear the laughter that followed either, from somewhere far off, even though this time, Roy swore he could distinguish two distinctly different sets.
Thanks for sticking with me, folks! I know this arc took forever, but I hope you're happy with it.
Special thanks go out to my lovely Feyrae again, as well as to TangerineVampire and Child of a Pineapple (lulz...fruits XD)who read through this chapter for me and are loved forever for enduring my pestering. I dearly appreciated their input. Thanks as well for all my readers who offered to beta -- I'm sorry I didn't get back to you guys! I promise I'll take advantage of your offers in the future. X3 (You can count on it! I'm never one to pass up the opportunity to get second opinions.)
Also, special thanks to Jaya Mitai who left me such really, really, really in depth suggestions, which I am going to take for sure! Your input was such help in creating this chapter as well, and I'm going to go back and edit that chapter. I love you for taking the time to write such an in depth review, darling. X3 It really helped. And thanks to Sonnengott who took the time to leave lovely in depth reviews from the very start of Shattered. I enjoyed those immensely.
BUT NOT JUST THOSE TWO. THANKS TO ALL MY REVIEWERS! T.T I COULDN'T HAVE FINISHED THIS ARC WITHOUT YOU, AND I LOVE YOU ALL TO PIECES.♥
Alright, and another reminder for reader request! Last chance!
Give me some characters and a prompt (no yaoi/yuri/shoujo-ai/shounen-ai) and be specific! I'll write a 500-1000 word (give or take a few) drabble-thing for you.
Some of you said you weren't requesting because of my warning in the last chapter, but please, don't be intimidated by that -- if you want something, just ask! I've only gotten a few requests so far! I am really eager to start these; this was a really fun project last time, and I want even more to write this time around. So give me your requests!
Reviews for this section especially would be so much love. ♥