A/N: This oneshot is inspired by the quite lovely poem "Sorting Laundry" by Elisavietta Ritchie, as printed in the eighth edition of Sound and Sense. Jane Austen Girl and I tend to get bored during English Lit when discussing poetry, so we start flipping through our poetry book to find and read other good poems (we are very good lit students, just easily distracted). I read this poem on Thursday and instantly had the idea for this story, although it came out much more angsty then originally intended. And on the random tangent angle, I like doing laundry. I think this is because I learned how to do my own laundry in China, which involved carrying a duffle bag full of clothes and an empty water bottle of detergent from our hotel to the International building (about a five minute walk up a very steep hill), washing the clothes in a machine whose instructions were all in Chinese, and then carrying the wet clothes back to the hotel, because China doesn't believe in dryers, so that you could hang it to dry in the window for three days. Compared to that, anything is easy! And we (being me, Hana, Elizabeth, Sara, Erin, and Michelle, since I don't think the guys cared) were so happy to have dryers again when we got back that we were in the dorm laundry room doing laundry at three in the morning, after 20 hours on a plane. Okay, I'm done. On with the flangst!
Disclaimer: I do not own FMA, although I do own the mental picture of Ed and Roy doing laundry...among other things (down, Maude!).
Laundry is one of the only chores Ed and Roy do together. Roy does most of the cleaning, because the blond is hasty and impatient; he misses spots, ignores stains, and gets distracted easily. Ed does all of the cooking; although his cooking is nothing exceptional, he doesn't set the kitchen on fire trying to boil water, like Roy does. They have divided responsibility, their house even, into two separate, private worlds; laundry provides a link between them.
It is a ritual, albeit a strange one. It is Ed's job to find their clothes, which tend to get left scattered throughout the house, to strip the sheets, to decide if the towels can last another week. Roy loads the clothes into the machine, measures out soap and bleach, closes the lid. It is after the clothes leave the dryer, though, that the ritual begins, once the clothes have been spilled in a massive pile across Roy and Ed's bed to be sorted and folded.
As Ed sorts the laundry into uniforms and civilian clothes, sleeping clothes and underwear, towels and sheets and dress shirts, as Roy takes each piece and folds it neatly (because Ed cannot fold to save his life), they talk. Some days they talk about nothing – books Ed has been reading, who Havoc is going out with and whether Fuery is ever going to do anything about it, why the Fuhrer thinks he can make Roy march in a parade. Other days their topics are more serious – they talk about a nightmare Roy had about Ishbal going up in flames, or something Ed was forced to do on his most recent mission.
And some days it takes much longer than usual for the crumpled heaps to vanish. Halfway through, Ed and Roy will be collapsed with laughter after a particularly amusing story about seeing someone attacked by Hughes, armed with photographs. Or Ed will dissolve suddenly into tears, and Roy will walk around the bed and hold him silently until they stop and he returns to the laundry.
Sometimes Ed will start eying him oddly across the bed, and before he knows it, the blond will leap over the bed and tackle him to the ground. Some days Roy smirks and throws him off, and some days it turns into a wrestling match. Some days Roy is pinned to the floor and he leans up and kisses a startled Ed, who kisses him back, and then…and it is not until they are out of the shower and dressed again that they remember the laundry which lies abandoned on the bed.
Nothing is allowed to interfere with the laundry; everyone who knows the two men knows that fact intimately. Riza will accept without complaint or threats a stack of unfinished paperwork when Roy tells her he wants to get home early because they haven't had a chance to do laundry yet this week. Havoc remembers very well the sight of Roy in too-tight, badly wrinkled clothes he hadn't worn since basic training, because he ran out of clean laundry before Ed came back from a mission. Al recalls the time his brother wore the same three outfits for two weeks, because he refused to do any laundry until Roy was released from the hospital and could do it with him; he also recalls Roy sitting on the bed, plaster-wrapped leg stretched out before him, folding laundry, less than six hours after Riza had driven him home from the hospital.
If they look at the big picture, Ed and Roy know, doing laundry doesn't matter all that much; they probably take it more seriously than it needs or deserves to be taken. But in the sort of lives they live, looking at the big picture is overwhelming; the only way to stay sane is to keep their eyes firmly on the tiny details. The idea of the kind of relationship that lasts for years is terrifying; they are both content to think only from laundry day to laundry day.
Three days ago, Roy and Ed had a fight, though Roy doesn't remember what it was about anymore. Three days ago, Ed stood in the living room screaming at him and calling him a liar and a soulless creep. Three days ago, Roy told him that if he felt that way, there was nothing stopping him from leaving. Three days ago, Ed took him seriously. Three days ago, Ed looked back at him from the doorway with tears running down his face, as if he were begging Roy to stop him. Three days ago, Roy stood there and didn't say a word as Ed walked away. Somehow, Roy doesn't think that he's coming back. So when he woke up and realized he was out of clean clothes, there only seemed one option open to him.
It is the first time in three years that Roy has done laundry alone, and it seems strangely difficult, and completely wrong. He knows he did it by himself without trouble for years before he met Ed, but since then something has changed.
He tries to tell himself at first that it's only physical; Ed is always there to help him carry the bulging bag that holds all the laundry they own, and he's gotten too weak to carry it alone. But he knows it isn't true; he's no weaker or stronger than he was before, though the laundry might be heavier. And he tries to tell himself that it's just practical. Ed had a system for sorting the laundry, some complicated, complex pattern only an alchemist, and maybe only Ed, could ever think of or understand, and the chaotic piles left in Ed's absence confuse him because he doesn't know where to start. But this is a lie as well; he doesn't need a system, it doesn't matter that much, he wouldn't really care if his clothes formed one massive stack as long as they were folded.
When he starts, he has some vague idea of sorting the clothes into his and Ed's, because the blond is probably never coming back, and wherever he is now, probably with his brother but Roy can't be sure, he will probably want his clothes back. But it is impossible, as Roy quickly realizes. Ed's clothes look like Roy's and Roy's look like Ed's, and even if the sizes are different he'll never be able to sort out all the socks. And what about the clothing they both share, and the shirts that Ed decided he liked too much to let Roy keep for himself, and the clothing he can't remember or recognize anymore so that it could belong to either or neither of them? And what about the clothes that Roy bought for Ed and Ed bought for Roy – who do those belong to, the wearer or the giver? Can he take back everything he's given Ed, give back everything he took?
It's impossible. He can't separate himself from Ed. In three years, their lives have woven together, and he couldn't detangle them if he tried. Three years ago, the lines between the two of them were clear and distinct; three years ago, if Ed wanted to leave, Roy would have known exactly how to write him out of his life. But somewhere in those three years, the lines started to blur and the colors started to bleed, and now Roy doesn't know how to divide the two of them up so that he's left with two whole people.
It isn't until he's halfway through the stack and starting to find clothes from the second load that he loses it, though. He picks up a sleeveless plain undershirt, the sort that every man owns by dozens so that no thought has to go into picking one out in the morning, and it looks odd. After a moment he realizes that the shirt is a pale and delicate pink, so light as to be almost imperceptible at first glance, but very obvious when he looks at it closer. The next shirt he pulls out is one of his uniform shirts, and it too is pink, as are the socks he finds underneath it and the boxers below those. Several minutes of digging produce many more pink clothes and the likely culprit: a scarlet hair tie that could only belong to Ed, left tucked into a pants pocket.
Roy stands there and stares at the hair tie lying in the palm of his hand until his shoulders begin to shake, and suddenly he cannot hold it anymore and a soft chuckle becomes peals of loud, aching, half-hysterical laughter because he's never seen the Gods of Timely Symbolism try so hard. But even though it's obvious, he's weak, and he can't help but think it anyway.
Three years ago, he could have let Ed walk away because he would have been the same person once he left. Three years ago, he thought that being with Ed wouldn't be that different from not being with him, just happier; he thought he'd stay exactly the same. Now it's three years later and he barely recognizes himself; he's changed so much, and it's all because of Ed. Ed's presence has colored him in ways he never thought, a thousand tiny gestures he never made and inflections he never had and ideas that never would have occurred to him before Ed.
And there is nowhere he can go to escape it, nowhere to go to be the Roy he had been when he was the sum of his parts, because Ed has touched every part of his life, has filled his house and his head until he is a part of Roy. And he knows he has shaped the blond too; Ed is not the young man he was and never will be again. But that is a small comfort when Roy realizes that if he tried to erase Ed from his life he would end up broken and incomplete.
With this thought comes a moment when Roy's shoulders still shake, and he still laughs, but now there are tears running down his face, and it is impossible to say the exact instant when laughter turns to sobs, but it is there. Roy sits on the floor amidst a mountain of clean and folded laundry and sobs silently until the clothes around him are damp with tears. He cries because Ed is gone and he knows it is his fault. He could have stopped him, but he didn't, and now he's not coming back. It is the first time in three days that Roy has been sorry for what he did.
(Warning: all those lovers of pure angst, stop here!! Read no further! Those who want angst redeemed by fluff, please continue)
He doesn't hear the door open, or see the person standing there. He doesn't even know that someone is in the room until he feels a warm weight pressed against his back and arms wrapped around his chest, and even if he could have gotten himself under control enough to turn his head and look, he wouldn't have. He is too afraid it would vanish if he did.
Roy only starts to believe that it is real, that it is really Ed, when the warmth and the weight disappear, to be replaced by a pair of hands, which run gently over his face before pressing a shirt to his chest and telling him to fold the damn laundry already.
A/N: That was fun. I'm mean to my characters. I hope you enjoyed that!