The Promises That Dreamers Keep
Author's Note: This is in the same universe as End of the Bargain, which a lot of people wanted a continuation of. And to tell the truth, I was so intrigued that I myself wanted to continue it. Because as interesting as Hohenheim is, he isn't exactly the father figure that looked over Ed and Al for four odd years, and wouldn't it be interesting to see that person's reaction to all that was going on? Plus, rereading the manga I found this juicy little Ed/Roy interaction that had my fingers itching for a pen. Or a keyboard, whatever. So it's kind of a blend of the two.
I hope it's not too long and tedious... and I feel like Ed and Roy are terribly out of character, but you'll be the judges of that.
Note: it's kind of important to have read chapter 63 in the manga to understand this, but if you haven't just know that 520 cenz holds some significance.
One hour left, one hour left...
The receptionist at Central Headquarters was staring vacantly at the clock and looking forward to the end of the day as usual when a quiet click made her start and almost spill her coffee. Irritated, she spun her chair around to find a man – kid really, he couldn't be older than twenty – hovering awkwardly in front of her desk.
He looked a bit lost, and so she asked, rather impatiently, "Can I help you, sir?"
He shook his head, as if clearing it, and then smiled at her ruefully. "Yeah. I want to see the Furher, if you don't mind."
She had the temptation to laugh, or else gape at him in utter disbelief, but she stifled it and instead stared blankly at him. "The leader of our country is at an appointment at the moment."
"That's okay," he said quickly. "I could wait for him in his office. He knows me, it's all right."
Is he serious? She eyed him flatly. "I'm sorry sir, I'm afraid that's just not done."
"Oh." His eyes fell a little, and she started to feel a little sorry for him. He had the scatterbrained head-in-the-clouds charm down pat, not that that worked on her. "I can wait for him here, then, if it won't take too long."
"He's a very busy man," she responded, slightly more kindly. "I can't promise you anything."
"Oh well," he said lightly, though she thought it sounded a bit forced. "Guess I'll try another time." He smiled at her and turned to leave, his heavy nondescript coat swishing behind him as he strode to the exit…
Was that a limp?
Curious despite herself, she found herself calling out before he got to the door, "What did you want with the Furher, anyway?"
He shot her a wry smirk over his shoulder.
"I just owe him some money, that's all."
Five minutes proved to be enough time to forget about the strange man and go back to staring at the clock. One hour left, one hour left…
"Now that was hugely unproductive." Her boss entered the lobby in a brisk walk, removing his hat and shrugging off his jacket as he stopped to a standstill by her desk. "I feel entirely unfulfilled."
She raised her eyes to glance at the man, dark and handsome and all too impatient. "You're early. Did you cut that meeting short again, sir?" she asked reproachfully.
He made a short dismissive gesture with his hand. "They were all grateful, trust me. Any messages?" he asked, resuming his walk towards the elevators behind her desk. He wasn't expecting a yes (or at least, not a yes of import) because after all, those who mattered knew to contact him through his closer staff – Lieutenant Fury, for example, or Major Farman – rather than the Central front desk.
Still, just in case.
"No," she said automatically. Then, barely two seconds later, she said as an afterthought, "…Except someone did come here looking for you."
He stopped and turned. "Oh? Who?" he inquired, slightly surprised.
She shrugged helplessly, wincing inwardly that she'd forgotten to take down the kid's name – that careless blunder was enough grounds for dismissal.
But he'd been so ridiculous…
"What did they want, then?"
She looked down, a bit flustered despite her age, cursing the boy for getting her to make a fool of herself in front of the Furher. Ridiculous. "…He said he owes you money, sir."
"…Money?" Furher Roy Mustang asked perplexedly, after a long moment. He had never been a gambling man – unless toying with alchemy counted – and he wasn't big on lending money, either. Though come to think of it, no one really asked him for money anymore now that he was Furher (except for Havoc, and Havoc never counts). Mustang supposed it wasn't exactly proper to ask the most powerful man in the country for a loan, though to tell the truth, after two months as Furher Mustang (and damn, but that never got old) propriety could take a hike as far as he was concerned. It was a good thing his old friends and subordinates had stuck around – not that he would have given them a choice otherwise – because together they were just improper enough to keep him sane.
It helped him not miss the old days, when he had just been an ambitious, idealistic Colonel, when he'd had to compromise, to manipulate bureaucracy to get what he wanted, when he was threatened with a gun to get his paperwork done (his bodyguards had conniptions whenever Riza aimed at his head. She settled for just getting her gun out for her threats, but it still wasn't the same), when he was yelled at and questioned by subordinates instead of quietly obeyed –
...Wait. "What did he look like?"
The receptionist looked a bit at a loss. "Skinny… blonde… long hair?"
She looked on bewilderedly as the Furher tore out of the room, as if chasing a long gone specter.
The door opened after several knocks. A young man appeared at the entryway, groggily rubbing at his eyes and his hair disheveled as if he'd just woken up from a nap. "Eh?"
Mustang's gaze pierced the younger man as best it could. His voice was smooth and unhesitant, slipping back into old habit. "Should I come back at a better time?"
The yellow eyes cleared. "Took you long enough, bastard," Edward Elric said rather too cheerfully, leaving the door open behind him as he turned and walked inside.
Mustang accepted the unspoken invitation and strode across the doorstep to find what one could expect in cheap hotel lodging – a small bed, two chairs, small wooden table, and barely anything that could be called a closet. "Give me a break. I had to call almost every hotel in Central to find out where you were."
"How'd you know I wasn't staying at Gracia's or Dr. Knox's?" Elric asked as he put in water for coffee. "Or with anyone else, for that matter. I'd be crazy to turn down a free room."
"You're not one to be in someone's debt." He hesitated for a moment, then continued casually, "Especially if you don't want them to know you're here."
Edward didn't look his way. "Nah, I think I'll stop by and say hi at the very least. Feel free to sit."
Mustang grudgingly sat down in one of the chairs, eyes never leaving Elric as the latter waited for the coffee to be ready. Perhaps it was per Elric's intention, but the atmosphere, while easy, was also strangely forbidding.
Mustang let it be, however, and instead used the opportunity to observe his former subordinate closely. He was taller – not by much, but he could pass for average now – and his shoulders were broader, although on the whole his body was lean, grown out of the muscled boy he had been. His hair was as yellow and long as ever, tied messily into a ponytail, and his eyes were alert and conveyed an inner strength that surpassed men twice his age.
Was he too pale, too thin? The white rumpled shirt he wore hung loosely on his frame, and Mustang wondered whether it was too much so... but maybe it was simply nerves that made him try to find cause to worry when there really was nothing there. Edward had always had that effect on him, getting into one scrape after another and finding out state secrets like seashells on a beach, making Roy constantly wonder what he'd get himself and Al into next.
...It was strange to think that he hadn't seen the kid in three years. They'd kept in touch, indirectly – Alphonse and Winry had no problem picking up the phone and calling the Central office from time to time to say hi and catch up on things, but Alphonse's older brother had been much more reclusive, even despite attempts on everyone's part to get a hold of him. It really shouldn't have been so difficult, considering that he was living with Alphonse and the Rockbells in Rizenbul, yet for some reason Elric was never near the phone when they called. Although Roy hadn't made as much of an effort as the others, admittedly; he and Ed had not exactly parted on good terms.
But Central had also kept them busy, and what with the upheavals in the upper ranks and taking down Bradley, nobody had had much time to visit anyone. They had had to make do with Winry and Al's reports that the elder Elric was doing well – and not just well, but happy.
Watching Ed shuffle around the tiny room looking for cups, his bare automail foot making a soft metallic thud every time it hit the floor, Mustang could believe it. Ed did look happy. He had a content, peaceful expression on his face that was peculiar to find on the hot-tempered boy he knew so well.
Yet it made sense. Al was back in his body.
It had been three years.
And Mustang couldn't help but wonder if that instinctive dread he'd felt when he heard the former alchemist was in town wasn't mistaken, if it was nothing more than left over instinct from a bygone era. As he listened to Ed whistle idly while pouring coffee for two (he couldn't remember ever coming across a stranger scene for the life of him), he really could believe that it was over - that both their dreams were realized, that all the efforts they made and sacrificed had finally paid off.
"Coffee?" Elric asked, mug already in hand, and Mustang replied with a silent nod.
And now here they were, the two dreamers, their dearest and fondest wishes achieved… drinking coffee as equals, as if that last argument had never happened.
"What's with you?! I thought you'd be happy for Al, you fucking bastard!"
"Sure I am, but you expect me to believe you got your brother back without using a Philosopher's Stone, without exchanging anything? Kid, I don't know who you think you're fooling."
"You're just sorry you lost your chess piece, aren't you? Go to hell, asshole, I'm not your puppet anymore."
"Don't try to deflect, Fullmetal. Answer the damn question."
"...Leave me alone."
"What's your real reason for leaving?"
"Maybe I didn't want to see your stupid face anymore, ever think of that?!"
"What about your responsibilities, Hero of the People? You're needed here. Al might be back, but there are still homunculi. There is still corruption in the military. The danger isn't over yet."
Pause. "That's your problem now."
"I'm disappointed to hear it, Fullmetal. I truly expected better from you."
"…Like I care. Fuck off."
It was surreal.
Roy cautiously tasted the coffee, wincing inwardly when it was stronger than he'd expected - but he would rather die than ask Elric for sugar. "How is Alphonse?" he asked carefully, testing the waters. Edward seemed to be acting as if the last argument had never happened, but there was no telling when he might suddenly snap back into it; Fullmetal hadn't been exactly known for his even temper.
Better tread cautiously.
The boy leaned back against the tiny counter, holding and staring at his own mug, still not taking a sip. "He's good," he replied with a relaxed sigh. "Busy studying and pestering our father with alchemy questions, probably."
He stared off into the window as he finally drank a bit. "He comes by every now and then. He was supposed to arrive in Rizenbul yesterday."
And Edward just coincidentally came to Central the day of his visit, Mustang was sure. He raised his eyebrows. "Making up for lost time, is he?"
"I guess," Elric said shortly.
He didn't press, knowing a touchy subject when he heard one. "And you, Full- Mr. Elric?" he stumbled over the name, remembering suddenly that Fullmetal wasn't Fullmetal anymore.
Ed's amber eyes laughed at him. "Geeze, Mustang, don't force yourself. Just Edward's fine."
"Edward, then," Mustang decided. "How have you been?"
The kid smiled into his coffee. "Fine," he answered brightly. "I've been fine."
...Roy didn't question it. Alphonse and Winry had reported to him and his staff enough over the years, telling them just that. Mustang and Alphonse found it more than bewildering, but apparently Edward was more than content to just stay at Rizenbul, working odd jobs and not once leaving his hometown - or cracking open an alchemy book, according to his brother.
And that's why Mustang didn't feel bitter. The Fullmetal Alchemist may have abandoned his post, but he didn't just leave Mustang behind. He'd left everything. Everyone. It wasn't like Edward was using his skills to fix barns instead of save people.
...He wasn't using them at all.
Soon after their argument, Roy had developed his own suspicions as to why Ed had retired and stopped using alchemy. He'd begun to wonder whether it wasn't that Ed couldn't use it at all to begin with, rather than any lack of desire. Perhaps that was the missing exchange Roy was looking for – the ability to use alchemy.
It would certainly explain a lot, and not just their argument back then - Fullmetal was a proud creature, it must have galled him beyond anything to not be able to help the way he knew best. It had shocked them all when Fullmetal had declared his resignation in the middle of the homunculi war; not that they weren't happy to see the boy accomplish his goal and stay out of danger for once, but for some reason it was just unthinkable to face homunculi without him.
It had taken many good men to defeat King Bradley and remove the corrupted higher-ups, and some homunculi were still on the loose somewhere... but for now, Amestris was safe. It would have been easier with Fullmetal there, true, but now Roy was glad the boy had kept himself out of it. Especially if it was true he couldn't use alchemy.
Mustang broke out of his reverie when several coins were stuck out in front of his face.
...Somehow he knew, without even counting, that they would be no more and no less than 520 cenz.
After a moment, Roy looked up to see Ed give him a lopsided grin.
"I promised you I'd give it back when you made it to the top," Edward explained easily. "And you did. Congratulations."
He stared at Ed intently, not speaking.
"I'll let you keep borrowing the money. You absolutely have to return it to me."
"Then, when that time comes, I'll borrow change again. I'll say 'I'll return it when Amestris becomes a democracy.' And when I return that too, I'll borrow it again and put in another promise."
"...In other words, that means I'll have to live quite a long life."
"Right. Don't be worrying the Lieutenant and the others."
Edward frowned as the Furher made no move to take the money, but his hand stayed stubbornly where it was. "Well? You planning on making me wait all day?"
He remained silent. Patient.
Wait for it.
Scowl. "What are you playing at? Take it." Beat. "Take it, damn you!"
Roy's ears picked up on the slight tremble in Ed's voice, and he couldn't explain away the feeling of dread that suddenly found a home in his stomach.
"Is that it?" he asked finally.
Ed looked away uncomfortably. "What, you want more? Fat chance," he replied lightly. "Come on, take it and get out of here, I don't like being in debt to a bastard like you."
Edward Elric happened to be one of the most expressive people Roy had ever met. When he was smug you'd know, when he was pissed it showed. When he was happy, too, his eyes would practically glue shut as his easy grin practically took over his face. When his world turned upside down, when he got upset - he made absolutely no effort to hide his reactions; they proudly blazed across his face as if to force the world to deal and change itself for the better. And Edward knew it, too, which was why he was such a believable actor, because he had such a diverse vocabulary of emotions that he knew exactly what expression to use so that it never felt unnatural.
But when he tried to hide something, to fool a person who knew him… that's when Edward could fail. Because he knew that the best way to do it was to act as normal and himself as possible… and that would often make him overdo it, make his act ring false.
"…Is that it?" Mustang repeated, louder. "Aren't you forgetting something?"
Ed avoided his eyes, letting his hand fall to his side. "I don't know what you're talking about. Just take it, okay?"
Roy put down his coffee and glared at him flatly. "I refuse."
"I refuse. I know what you're trying to do, and it's not going to work."
Ed frowned at him. "The only thing I'm trying to do is give you your money back, you asshole. Don't make such a big deal out of it."
He crossed his arms and leaned back on his chair. "If it isn't a big deal, then why did you come all the way to my office in Central – after three years of nothing, might I add – when you could have just as easily sent it by mail?"
Ed flushed darkly. "Don't try to analyze this. I don't like breaking a promise, that's all."
Mustang's eyes narrowed. "If I recall correctly, you kept the money to make sure I'd keep mine. And then you promised you were going to extract another one from me once that was done."
He could practically see Ed deciding whether or not to play dumb. "...You mean the democracy thing?" Ed asked casually as he finally decided, setting his cup on the table and leaning against the counter again. "I trust you to get it done at some point. You don't need monetary incentive after all, do you? Or do you want me to tell Hawkeye that her Furher is taking blackmail?"
"Enough with the bullshit," he snapped. "What's the real reason? And stop making excuses."
Ed shrugged, evading the Furher's piercing black eyes. "I'm not coming back to Central, and I don't like making promises I can't keep. That's it. Really."
'Can't keep'? Roy frowned. What does that mean?
The promise they had made had never really been about achieving something in particular. Yes, it was about the achievement of Mustang's goals... but it was really more about ensuring their own survival, so Ed could keep obtaining promises and Mustang could keep striving to keep them.
Nothing had changed on Roy's part. So if Edward wanted to break it, it had to mean -
Roy's eyes widened, and he looked Ed over with new understanding in his eyes. The pallor of the boy's skin, the sharpness of his cheekbones, the clothes that definitely hung too loose on his frame…
…And suddenly, Roy very much doubted that Alphonse knew what his brother was up to.
"You're… you're ill," he said slowly, disbelievingly, horror in his dark eyes. It had to be serious, otherwise Edward would have spent his years searched for a cure instead of lazing around in Rizenbul. Giving up was simply not in the Elric's dictionary.
Ed froze, then laughed uneasily. "Where'd you get that, Mustang? I'm perfectly fine."
The Furher leaned forward on his chair, resting his elbows on his knees, his hands entwined into a steeple and supporting his chin. He sighed slowly, closing his eyes. "How bad is it?" he asked evenly.
"I'm fine," Ed protested, "I-"
"How bad is it, Edward?" he hissed, eyes still shut.
It was as good as a confession.
He lowered his head into his hands, feeling the beginnings of a headache. "Does anyone know?" he asked wearily, suddenly feeling old.
Low voice. "Hohenheim. He found out while Al was still in the hospital."
"I see," he said quietly, heart clenching. Perhaps it was petty of him, but it seemed wrong to him that someone who saw his children once a decade knew more than the man who cared for them for five years.
But maybe that was the reason he hadn't found out. He'd been too close. "I should have been more persistent," he muttered, half to himself.
...It wasn't like Edward was his son.
"You were fine," he heard suddenly, the vehement words surprising Roy into lifting his head, but if there was anything to see on Ed's face it had gone too quickly for him to interpret. The blond was now looking out the window to the blue skies beyond, his expression unreadable. "I didn't want anyone to know. He just... knew enough about alchemy to guess, and... it's not like he was around much to tell anybody I cared about."
Roy heard what was left unsaid. There was a reason Ed had avoided Mustang, after all.
And besides, he hadn't wanted to face the pity, the sorrow, the change in people's behavior towards him. He knew that if he'd stayed, someone was bound to find out. He hadn't want them to worry. To grieve before the symptoms even showed.
So Edward did what Edward did best - avoided, deceived, pushed everyone away. And if they just so happened to care less about him in the process, to give up on him entirely... well, so much the better.
Roy could understand his view; to tell the truth, he would likely have done the same in his position.
…That didn't make it any less retarded.
"So it was the transmutation after all?" he asked, moving on nonetheless. It was far too late to be angry.
That explained why Al didn't know, not that it wasn't obvious already. If the boy discovered that he was in effect the cause of his brother's… illness…
He would be destroyed with guilt.
"He will find out eventually, you know," Roy said, watching the kid play with his mug while avoiding his gaze. "And he will hate himself. And you."
Ed didn't ask who he was talking about. "When the time comes, I'll pass it off for what Mom had. He'll believe me – he thinks I gave the Gate my alchemy as equivalent exchange, so he won't suspect that it might be something else."
Roy straightened in his seat in surprise. "You can still do alchemy?"
Ed glanced at him. "So you thought so too?" He snorted softly. "How many times do I have to tell people? Alchemy is science, not magic. It's impossible to take away the ability to use alchemy as long as you have the knowledge."
"Then…?" Roy didn't understand. If that wasn't true, why…?
Ed smiled painfully. "Using the Gate, using alchemy… it accelerates the life transfer process. I can't transmute without passing out anymore."
Meaning he's tried. "I see," Mustang replied thoughtfully.
In a way, it was almost a relief. Fullmetal hadn't left them out of choice. He was still the boy they'd always known. He hadn't just suddenly decided to ditch them.
It was absurd, but... he could feel that small part of him, the one that had held on to that sense of betrayal for three years, abruptly shrink and disappear into nothing.
After a moment of weighing whether or not he wanted the answer, Roy asked, simply, "When?"
Ed held up his mug to his lips, and didn't meet his eyes. "There's a reason I'm not returning to Central."
His heart skipped. "That soon?" he blurted.
The kid looked into his coffee, ignoring the question for both their sakes. "I'm not sorry, and I don't regret a thing," he said fiercely, answering a different query. The gold eyes were practically aflame with conviction. "Al's worth it."
Roy's mouth twisted. "Of course," he replied.
They stayed like that for a long minute, and then Ed took the cenz out of his pocket, wordlessly holding them out again. The orbs of gold were large and pleading, reminding Mustang of the child the boy hadn't had time to be.
Roy stood from his chair, sent the money a passing glance, and looked down at Ed, unnamed sorrow filling him to the brim.
"Keep it," he said, gently closing Edward's hand over the coins. "I'll take it back next time I see you."
Ed's eyes went wide. "But-"
"Amestris will be a democracy. I promise."
Their gazes held for a long moment.
Finally Ed smiled, relenting. "I'll hold you to it."
Roy's return smile was painful. But it was there.
...Time was passing. Roy had work to do, soldiers to command...
And Edward had people to see.
There was no reason to dance around it anymore. "It was good seeing you again, Edward," Mustang said honestly, and held out his hand. Equals.
After a second of hesitation, Ed took it. "…Same here, Roy."
They released each other's hands quickly.
"Goodbye, Furher. Take care."
As Roy left the hotel, he thought it odd that it was raining, because the sky was perfectly blue.
A/N: Like End of the Bargain, this was another case of a story that I had absolutely no clue how/when it would end. The ending practically wrote itself... and I'm not quite sure whether it was for the best. I thought it was interesting how it turned out though - in EotB, Ed tells Hohenheim to take care of Al, and here he tells Roy to take care of himself.
Ah, whatever. Analyzing your own fics is probably a little pretentious. Though I really feel as if the stories took on a life of their own...
I wonder which is better, EotB or this one...?