"The Look in His Eyes"
By Venus Smurf
He thinks I don't see it, that look he gets in his eyes now and then. He thinks I've never noticed the guilt in his gaze when we're about to be intimate, or the hunger as he watches me afterwards. He's so intense in those moments, so beautiful, so alive…and it's in those moments, when he has that look in his eyes, that I know he's not seeing me at all.
It's not that he doesn't love me. The love is there every time he whispers my name, every time he gets jealous when pretty girls try to flirt with me. It's in his face when he curls up next to me at night, but then that look will come back, and I know it's not me he's thinking about. He may be looking right at me, but he's seeing someone else in my face.
There's so much about Ed that I don't know. He doesn't like to talk about himself, or about his past. Oh, he'll tell me the little things, his likes or dislikes, funny, usually embarrassing stories about Al, but nothing truly important. He never talks about his childhood or his parents, never talks about the accident that took his limbs. I don't know why he's so passionate one moment and then completely closed off the next, and for the longest time, I certainly didn't know what broke him.
Alphonse told me, once, that Ed wasn't always like this, that he wasn't always so…detached, so careful. There was a time when those glimpses of Ed's fire weren't so rare, when the man was infamous for his temper and his impulsiveness. He's anything but impulsive now. Everything he does is carefully thought out, and it's almost unusual to see any emotion in him at all, at least when Al and I aren't involved. Ed was broken before I ever met him, and while I don't think Ed and Al talk about it even with each other and so certainly wouldn't talk about it with me, I know it has something to do with him.
The other Roy.
I used to think I was imagining things. After all, what are the odds that Ed's past lover and I would share a name, or that we'd look enough like each other for Ed to see him when he's looking at me? It's completely ridiculous…but I'm convinced it's also completely true. There's no other explanation for the guilt, or for why, after more than two full years of being together, I can still surprise him with the things I do or say. I think he sometimes forgets that I'm not the other Roy, and it's only when I do something the other Roy wouldn't necessarily do that he remembers…remembers and gets that look again.
It comes out when he's angry, too. In the beginning, before we'd even gotten together and I was still trying to hide my attraction to a man over a decade younger than myself, I'd taken an almost sadistic pleasure in teasing Edward. It amused me to watch him lose control so quickly, and it didn't hurt that pushing him over the edge would almost always lead to some kind of physical contact—even if it was just Ed's hands around my throat as he tried to choke me for it. He'd get so angry, start calling me "General Bastard" or something far less flattering. He'd rail that I was obviously going senile since I've already used this or that joke before, or accuse me of being a pervert who'd been trying to seduce him since he was twelve years old.
I never repeat jokes, and I didn't meet Edward until he was nineteen.
Sometimes, in those early days, Edward wouldn't realize that he'd said anything unusual, but most of the time he did, and that's when the guilt would come out. He'd clam up, the color in his face draining along with the anger, and he'd take off. I never understood it, didn't really try. I just assumed Ed had a few screws loose, or that he'd been fantasizing so much about me that he'd lost track of reality. I was fine with either scenario, honestly—the one granted my own wishes and the other at least made him interesting. It wasn't until after we were official that I realized just what those comments meant.
We'd gotten into another fight shortly after we'd become lovers, but by then I no longer needed an excuse to chase after Edward. When he'd run out on me again, I'd followed. Ed had always been absurdly fast, though, and by the time I'd caught up with him, he'd already been halfway across the city. I'd found him slumped against a wall, head down and Al beside him, already deep in conversation with his brother. Some instinct had me hanging back, far enough that they wouldn't notice but close enough to eavesdrop. That was my chance to finally learn something about Ed, and I hadn't wasted it.
Maybe I should have.
"He's still Roy, Ed. It's not the same, I know, but it's better than being alone, isn't it?"
Ed's voice was harsh, uncontrolled. "He's not my Roy."
Al didn't seem to know what to say to that, and they were both quiet for several long moments. Then, long after the silence had become oppressive, Ed finally spoke again. His voice was lower, this time, almost defeated. "I'm not afraid to be alone," he muttered, "and I do love Roy, but…it's not...he's not…I miss him, Al." He gave what might almost have been a sob had it come from anyone but Ed, finally lifted his head to look at his brother. His face was angled so Roy couldn't really see his eyes, but the older man suspected he should be grateful for that.
Edward had paused again, clearly trying to find the words for what he felt. Finally, though, he sighed and pushed on. "I never had to hide anything from the General," he said. "I never had to pretend to be something I wasn't. He already knew the worst about me, and he didn't even care. He stood by us, even after all we'd done, risked himself to help us. I can't ask that of this Roy."
Alphonse considered that, then shook his head. "Roy loves you, brother. If it ever comes to that, he'll stand by us just like the General did."
Edward's lips lifted in a bitter mockery of a smile. "Yeah," he agreed softly, "but that's not what I want from him, Al." He laughed, and the laughter was just as bitter as the smile had been. "It's weird," he said, "but even when I hated Roy, even when he was sending us on those stupid missions or making fun of me, I still trusted him more than I've ever trusted anyone but you and Mom. I know it's crazy, but I can't help feeling that if I give that same trust to this Roy…if I give him what I wanted to give the General…I'd be betraying the bastard." His face hardened, cynicism twisting his perfect features. "Crazy, isn't it? I'm afraid of betraying a man who isn't even around anymore."
Al looked like he wanted to cry. "It's not crazy, brother," he whispered. "You loved him."
Ed was making an obvious attempt to get himself back together, but he only seemed to be making himself angry again. "Fat lot of good that did either of us," he growled. "He's gone, and I'm here, and nothing can change that now." He looked down. "I don't deserve Roy, and he definitely doesn't deserve this."
Al was staring intently at Ed, tawny eyes far too bright. "Are you going to leave him?"
Roy was extremely glad, now, that he couldn't see Ed's eyes. The pain in his chest was already too strong, and it just might have killed him to see the hurt in Ed's eyes, as well.
Edward was silent, and for a moment, Roy feared he wouldn't answer. Then, with another twist of his lips, he shook his head. "No," he answered softly, "but sometimes I wish I could."
Ed had come home to a very quiet Roy that night, but he'd also come home to a Roy who'd had time to think, to make decisions. I'd had time to wonder if the future I'd pictured with Ed was still possible, or if I even wanted that future at all now. Did I want to stay with a man who would always be thinking of someone else? I'd spend the rest of my life wondering who Ed was dreaming about when he was with me, always fearing the moment when Ed would finally succumb to the guilt and leave. Could I handle that?
I didn't know then, and sometimes I don't think I do now. I care for Ed, always have. I'd been drawn to the man from the day we'd met, had dreamed about him and ached for him, but was that enough to get me through those moments of uncertainty?
Did I…do I…love Ed that much?
I'm in love with Edward Elric, and I'll take him any way I can. If this means spending my life wondering whose face Ed saw, then so be it. I'd decided that it doesn't matter if he never trusts me completely, if he can't give me all that he is, because I needed him too much to let him go without a fight. I decided that night that I'll simply do my best to make him forget his guilt, and in the meantime, I'll be grateful for each moment that he's mine.
And so, when Ed cries my name in his sleep and I'm absolutely convinced it's not my name he's calling, I only hold him tighter. When the guilt surfaces and he tries to close himself off, I shut out my own pain and let him see only the love I have for him. It doesn't always work, sometimes even makes things worse, but it's all I can do for now.
It's gotten better, I think, though we stopped fighting long ago. Fighting with Edward used to be one of my favorite pastimes, but it brings back too many memories for both of us—memories of the other Roy for Ed, memories of the way Ed used to be for me. I fell in love with a beautiful, passionate young man, one who would argue with me just for the sake of it, one of the few with enough wit to keep up with me in the first place. I would have loved Edward for that alone, and sometimes, on those rare occasions when we're snarking at each other and Ed forgets to feel guilty, he becomes that man again.
And that hurts. In so many ways, it's worse than not having the old Ed back at all, because it's then, when Ed is back to his old self and the other Roy isn't between us, that I remember what I'm missing. It's then that I remember what the other Roy took from me when he broke Ed by leaving or whatever it is he did.
I used to think it must have been death. As determined as Ed is, I couldn't see him walking away for any other reason, not if he loved him. And whatever Al or Ed himself might say, Ed is clearly mourning. There's too much grief in his eyes for anything less final than death. I can't see Ed losing to anyone else, either, and I definitely can't see Roy walking away from Ed. If I can't leave Ed when I know he's in love with someone else, how could that someone else leave? It's not possible to walk away from Edward Elric and still be whole, and the other Roy must have been just as aware of that as I am.
Then again, for countless months afterwards, I couldn't help thinking back on that fragmented conversation between Ed and Al. I already knew how similar we are, this other Roy and I, but what could the other Roy have known that I didn't? What secret had he been protecting? It earned Ed's trust, whatever it was, possibly earned more than that. It might even be the secret to Ed himself, and that's something I desperately needed. I'd spent the greater part of two years wondering about it, trying to piece together what little I knew of Ed's past, hoping I could learn something more about the strange man I'd fallen for so long ago.
I'd known there was some kind of accident, and their mother died. I'd known Ed blamed himself, and that he and Al did something they shouldn't have. I couldn't imagine what that might be—surely they didn't kill their own mother?—but whatever it was also took Ed's limbs. I also knew there was more to it than that. There had to be, because there was far too much guilt in both of them for one simple death. Perhaps that death led to more?
I think Al would have told me long ago, but he was so afraid of hurting his brother that he's stayed just as silent as Ed had chosen to be. I could understand that, would probably have done the same in his place…but I wasn't in his place, and I'd refused to sit back and watch as Ed's guilt destroyed him. I'd decided it was time they shared this burden—which was why, over two full years after the day I'd finally surrendered to my feelings and took Edward Elric for my own, I'd found myself sitting beside Al on our small porch, waiting for an answer I wasn't sure I really wanted.
It was obvious that Al was upset; he'd never been any good at hiding his feelings, but we'd been around each other for so long that I would have been able to read him anyway. I'd seen how torn he'd been between wanting to tell me everything, and thus maybe eliminating some of the tension in our home, and wanting to run away before Ed knew I'd even asked. I hadn't blamed him—the only thing worse than an angry Ed is a depressed Ed, and this question had the potential to make him both.
I wasn't going to back down, though, and Al must have known that, as well. He'd stared out into the rain, absently petted the inevitable kitten in his lap, but I'd felt that he was only trying to put his thoughts together. Whatever happened to them was just as hard on Al as it was on Edward, and neither of us could forget that.
Al grimaced. "Ed's probably going to kill me for telling you anything," he began in that soft voice of his. "He's tried so hard to put it behind him."
Roy snorted, the concern in his voice just enough to take the harshness from the sound. "He obviously isn't putting it behind him, though, is he? I can see it in his eyes, Al. He's thinking about it nearly every moment of every day, and it's destroying him." His voice softened, the words becoming a plea. "Let me help, Alphonse."
Al shook his head, his bangs falling into his eyes. His hair is growing out again, Roy noticed absently. It'll be as long as Ed's, soon.
Alphonse was quiet for so long that Roy started to wonder if he'd even heard the question. He opened his mouth to say something, closed it before a word came out, tried again. "I don't know where to start."
Roy sighed, wondering why this had to be so hard. "Where are you from?"
Even this question, it seemed, wasn't simple. "Not from here," Al told his taller companion, and while it was obvious he was still holding back, Roy let it slide. He'd wanted to know as much about the Elric brothers as possible, but they hadn't gotten to the important questions yet.
Roy only nodded. "What happened to your mother?"
From the way Al winced, he'd definitely found one of those hard questions. There was an old hurt in Al's eyes, and he'd gone silent again. That silence stretched out, awkward and painful, and then Al forced himself to break it. "She…died."
They weren't getting anywhere. "How?"
Al took a shaky breath, let it out again. "She got sick," he eventually confessed. "She'd been sick for a long time, but she never told us. She hadn't wanted us to worry." He shook his head. "We never even found out what was wrong with her. Cancer? Poison? We never knew."
Poison? Why would anyone want to poison their mother? "And?"
Al seemed lost in his thoughts, in his memories, but some part of him must still have been listening. "We missed her. Dad left when we were babies, and she was all we'd ever had. We couldn't let her go without a fight." His voice cracked, dropped down to a whisper. "We were just kids. We didn't know what we were doing, not really. We didn't know it was wrong."
Al stopped speaking, tawny eyes glassy with unshed tears. If there'd been anything less than Ed's sanity on the line, Roy would have stopped him. As it was, he could only swallow his own feelings and push on. "What did you do, Alphonse?"
Al wasn't the one who answered.
"We tried to bring her back." Ed's laughter was a little wild and very bitter. "We tried to bring back our dead mother. Is that what you wanted to hear, Roy?"
Roy hadn't even heard him approach. Ed moved so silently for someone with a metal leg, and Roy was cursing that fact right now. He pushed himself to his feet and spun to face the younger man, forcing himself to keep his hands at his sides. He didn't dare touch Ed, not now, not when he had that look in his golden eyes.
What is he talking about? Bring back the dead? How could he even try? "How?" Roy demanded again, no longer even knowing what other question to ask.
Ed gave a weary sigh, moved around Roy to perch at Al's side. He pulled one leg against his chest, let the other dangle off the edge of the porch. "Alchemy."
And so began the strangest story Roy had ever heard.
I'd wanted to learn more about Edward and Alphonse Elric, had wanted to understand them and know their secrets, and I'd certainly gotten my wish. It'd taken me two years to get them to speak to me, took a little longer before I believed the things they'd confessed, but it still wasn't enough. Edward had told me so much that I hadn't known, but I hadn't missed the gaps in his story, either. He hadn't told me what had happened to their father, for one thing, and he hadn't mentioned the role he'd played in the tragedy with their mother.
Far more importantly, he hadn't told me about the General.
I cornered Al only once more, after that.
Several months after learning about alchemy and parallel worlds, I'd found Al sitting on the porch again, a different kitten burrowing under his chest. I'd done Al the courtesy of not noticing the kitten, but from the look on his face, he'd obviously known I'd planned another one of those conversations. He'd swallowed a little nervously, glanced back into the house to make certain Ed was still out visiting Hughes and Gracia and wouldn't join us, that time.
Al kept his eyes turned away from Roy's, knowing how perceptive the older man could be. He didn't want Roy to see the expression on his face, and he certainly didn't want him to look in his eyes long enough to know when he was lying. "Was there something you wanted, Roy?" he asked, his voice cracking just a little.
"Yes." Roy wasn't going to waste time. He didn't want to risk having Ed come back early and overhearing any more than Al did. "Al…who was he?"
Al finally lifted his head and glanced at the taller man's face, something tightening in his expression as he saw the pain in Roy's. "Who was who, Roy?" His voice wasn't nearly as innocent as it usually was, though Roy gave him points for trying.
swallowed, surprised that he had to force the words out. Part of him
would never want the answer to this question, and it was getting
harder to suppress that part. "The man Edward is pining after,"
he answered softly. "The…the other Roy."
Al closed his eyes. He'd been right to dread this conversation, it seemed. "I don't know what you're talking about." His voice no longer carried any innocence at all. Instead, he sounded…sad. Tired.
Roy's eyes narrowed into slits, his own voice becoming significantly harsher. "Don't lie to me, Al," he ground out. "I've heard you two talking about him, and you were far too careful to leave out his name when you were telling me about your past. Who was he? What happened to him?"
Al was watching him, now, something like dread darkening his eyes. "He…he was our commanding officer," Al finally answered, his words a little too cautious. "He was the one who brought us into the military after Mom died, and he was the one who kept our secret so we could look for the Philosopher's Stone."
Roy nodded absently. He'd already guessed as much, though that still didn't explain the relationship between this other Roy and Edward. "What happened to him?" he asked again.
The haunted look in Al's eyes didn't match the dismissive shrug. "As far as we know, he's still on the other side of the Gate."
Not dead, then. That changed things.
Roy was silent again, though something unpleasant lingered in his eyes. "Why isn't Ed with him, then? They were in love, weren't they?"
Al blinked, startled and more than a little nervous, now. "He was our commanding officer," Al slowly repeated. "That's all. He and Ed were never…together, in that way."
Roy rolled his eyes, though Al's hesitation told him more than Al probably intended. "Don't give me that, Al," he murmured, shaking his head. "I know there was something going on between Ed and this general of yours. Maybe they weren't "together," but that doesn't mean they weren't in love. Why isn't Ed with him?"
Al bit his lip. "It's…complicated."
Roy's eyes hardened. "Al…"
The younger Elric only shook his head, his own expression stiffening. "I'm not trying to get out of telling you, Roy," he interrupted, a slight hitch in his voice. "I just don't know how to explain it. It's not like Ed ever talks about any of this. I'm only guessing, really."
Roy sighed and bit off his words.
Al had paused, frowning, thinking. "Yes," he finally admitted, "brother was in love with the Roy from Central. I think Roy felt the same way, though neither of them ever said anything. Maybe the timing was never right—there was always some kind of life-or-death problem going on, back then, and we never had time for anything but survival. Or maybe they just didn't know how to say it. Those two have never trusted easily, and love takes a lot of trust, doesn't it?"
Roy didn't comment.
Al was quiet for another moment, but now that he'd started speaking, this didn't seem to be as hard as he'd feared. "I don't know why Ed came back," he continued softly. "He told me that someone had to shut the Gate down from this side, but that's not completely true. Ed's smart. If he'd wanted to stay, he would have managed it somehow."
"Then why did he go? If he was in love with this man, why would he leave?"
Al's eyes were darker now, full of pain. "Fear. Guilt."
A strange look crossed Roy's face. "Explain."
It was a command, and Al responded to it. "I think…I think he was afraid to stay," he finally said. "Ed blamed himself for what happened with Mom, and I can understand that, but he…I think he just got in the habit of blaming himself for everything that went wrong. Nina, Hughes, that mess with the Sins…everything that happened was his fault, even though there was nothing he could have done about any of it." He sighed. "He blamed himself, and he blamed his alchemy, and I think he was afraid that if he stayed in a place where he could keep using alchemy, he'd only end up hurting more people."
Roy nodded yet again, comprehension dawning in his dark eyes. "I see." It certainly fit what he knew of Ed. Still… "I'm sure that's true, Al, but I think this must also have been Ed's way of punishing himself. Alchemy was his life, and by coming here and giving that up, he was merely paying the price for his sins." He glanced at Al. "Equivalent Exchange, right?"
Al didn't exactly look startled by the possibility, but he only shook his head. "Maybe," he answered gently, "but if you look at it that way, where do you fit in? If Ed is so determined to deny himself, why would he allow himself to be happy with you?"
Something shuttered in Roy's eyes. His face became every bit as hard as his gaze, and Al instantly knew he'd said the wrong thing. "Roy?"
Roy's voice was soft, deadly. "What makes you think we're happy?"
Al did look shocked, now. "What?"
"We haven't been happy in a very long time, Al," the taller man said. "Haven't you realized who Ed thinks about when he's with me? I'm just a replacement, a…copy of the one Ed really wants. How can he be happy when he feels that he's betraying the other Roy by being with me?" He snorted. "You said that love can't exist without trust. I trust Ed, but he doesn't trust himself when he's with me. We're not happy."
Al winced. "It's not what you think," he muttered. "Ed loves you. He always has, always will. You're Roy."
"I'm not his Roy."
I didn't try to talk to Al again, after that. I had my hard truths, now, and while this decision hadn't exactly been hard to make, the heart can only take so much. Still, it's a difficult thing to accept, this knowledge that I'd been lying to myself for the past two years. I'd been pretending that we'd get through this, that it was something we'd laugh over years from now, when we were old and grey and possibly senile but still together. I'd told myself that as long as I loved Ed enough, we'd find a way to be happy.
I should have known that nothing with Edward Elric could ever be that easy.
Once upon a time, I'd vowed to stay with Ed, to love him as he dreamed of another, to remain by his side in spite of both our doubts. Problem was, I'd made that vow still believing the other Roy was dead. I'm not ashamed to admit that I wish he was, but I can't do this to Ed. I can't be with him, try to hold him, when I'm not the one he needs. I want Ed to stay sane, and simply put, he won't unless I'm gone. He'll keep torturing himself with his guilt, keep questioning and doubting. He's already broken; how much more can he take, really?
And as long as I'm here, he won't even try to get back to that other Roy. He won't go home, won't go after the one he really wants. He'll stay here with me, the guilt slowly destroying him, and he'll obviously never be happy. I may be every bit the selfish bastard Ed is always telling me I am, but…I can't. No matter how much I love him, no matter how much I need him, I know when it's time to walk away.
I'm in love with Edward Elric, and I'll take him any way I can…except like this.