Prompt #64 – Day
Title: Monday's Child
Rating: PG-13 for the swearing!
Summary: "There was a rhyme: some silly children's song about destiny based on the day of their birth."
Relationship: Roy/Ed slant if you squint.
Warnings: Angst and marginal spoilers for the anime.
Length: 7057 words
Author's Notes: A random piece to tide people over until the next Babylon update, which is hopefully coming soon.
Monday's child is fair of face.
Tuesday's child is full of grace.
Wednesday's child is full of woe.
Thursday's child has far to go.
Friday's child is loving and giving.
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day
Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.
Roy tapped his pen idly on the desk, his chin propped on his palm as he stared blankly at nothing, rapping out a meaningless rhythm against the wood. The office was quiet. On a beautiful summer's evening like this it was hard for anyone to work long hours, and even Hawkeye had finally gone home. Not, unfortunately, without her usual meaningful look at the piles of paperwork awaiting his signature. Remarkable, really, how she could convey so much with only a flicker of a glance.
With a sigh he leant back in his chair, twisting to look out of the window. Central was bathed in the mellow light of a dying summer day. It was like syrup, so sluggish and thick that he almost imagined he could reach out and touch it, curl it around his fingers or swim in its mellow depths. It was the kind of day for lazing around, for drinking wine in the garden or taking a walk by the river. It was not the time to be reading more meaningless drivel about recruits or supplies or whatever they were bothering him with these days.
It was tempting to slip out, to dwell in the heady, childish thrill of disobedience and leave this dross until tomorrow. Surely it could wait that long?
His sense of self-preservation answered, reminding him that Hawkeye's look had been all business. She was not an expert marksman for nothing. Besides, she did not need to use her gun as a form of punishment. There were other methods, more subtle and twice as bad as the sharp stab of a flesh wound.
He would have to be blind not to notice how she carefully monitored the work that came his way, delegating with practised ease to others and leaving only the important or necessary documents for him. Without Hawkeye the office would not be the well-oiled, if marginally dysfunctional, machine he needed. She kept everyone in line with just enough steel, forceful, yet flexible. No one could say that the first-lieutenant did not work hard for her living.
A smile crossed his lips, and he curved his neat signature where it was required as he let his mind wander. There was a rhyme about that, some silly children's song about destiny based on the day of their birth. It ran through his mind unbidden; he knew it by rote, after all. It was one of those things that got passed from one generation to the next. Maybe it was meaningless, but then maybe not. After all, how did such things survive if there was not a grain of truth behind them? Either way he would bet that Lieutenant Hawkeye was born on a Saturday, probably with a gun already in her infant hands.
Hughes, born on a Tuesday, was meant to be full of grace. The image of his friend in a leotard and tutu was enough to bring a smile to his lips – completely ridiculous. Yet that wasn't really what grace was about, was it? Everyone associated it with the economy and beauty of form, but the description could apply to anything. Perhaps Maes wasn't particularly fluid in his movements, although he could tread as lightly as a ghost when he wanted to, but in every one of Hughes' interactions there was a certain plain elegance, stunningly beautiful but, oh, so very subtle.
Roy narrowed his eye at the opposite wall, brushing his fingertips absently across the eyepatch as he took his time to think about it. Perhaps Maes was graceful in the forthright honesty of his diplomacy, and in the way he communicated. Every word, every moment was carefully chosen for maximum impact. People thought Roy was manipulative, but that was a reputation he had nurtured from the beginning. He liked people to be on guard, second-guessing him and themselves in every conversation. In contrast Maes was so beautifully tactful, so frighteningly sharp beneath that dopey exterior that only those who knew him best could see and appreciate it. There was grace there, true enough, but not the kind that most people would expect.
Then there was his own day of birth, a Thursday. More than once he had wondered exactly how the line of the rhyme had applied to him. "Thursday's child has far to go." What did that mean, exactly?
When he was younger, a newly enlisted teenager who believed himself wise in the ways of the world, he had assumed it meant travel. True enough, he'd seen his fair share of places on his tour of duty, had been assigned to both the beautiful and the banal, but Ishbal had changed that. He learnt more in that short time than he could believe. Until those sharp days and weeks, as bitter as the sand in his mouth, he had never realised the limits of his knowledge or seen the flaw of his selfishness. Ishbal had changed him; it had given him a direction to go. Up.
The army was a blunt and ruthless killing machine in the hands of the wrong man, but under the control of someone who cared, of someone who thought of the consequences, it could become something more precise. It could be wielded like a surgeon's needle, delicately stitching closed the wounds of the country. There was more to the army than war. It should be about having the strength to back up diplomatic endeavours; the unspoken threat behind every negotiation. Power was like a sword on the wall. It could be an ornament, something to be looked at and admired, but ultimately it was still a weapon, sharp and keen. When he was Fuhrer that was how the army would be: a tool laid to rest, but always prepared.
Perhaps he was arrogant to think that he was the man who could change the world, but it did happen. Once in a while someone would step forth from obscurity, and they would have the courage to do what had to be done. Roy was not foolish enough to think he could do it alone, but it would be possible with the help of those he trusted.
He was a Brigadier-General now, and it really was still a long way to go to the Fuhrership. Perhaps that's what the rhyme had meant: he had great ambitions, but they would not be easily attained. That was true enough. How long had he been making his slow, steady way up the ranks? It felt like all his life, as if every second was devoted to the steady crawl to the top. There was time for little diversions: the warm companionship of a temporary lover or the hot burn of a good glass of whisky, but in the end it always came back here, to this office and this life.
At first it had been simple. Do the paperwork, build a team and keep an ear open for any promotion opportunities. Then he had brought the Elrics into his life. Even Hughes had doubted that move, trying to see sense in what most people perceived as an abrupt departure of sanity. After all, how could a child be a state alchemist? How could anyone of barely a decade of life have that kind of control and knowledge?
Still, children were not meant to perform human transmutations either. The Elrics never conformed to any mould. They were both dazzlingly unique. Once that had been because of armour and automail. Not any more. It had been almost a year to the day since Edward and Al had walked back into the office. They had always been brothers; no one who knew them could doubt that, but for the first time they looked it. Two blonde haired boys – young men, really – different but somehow similar. Ed had not regained his arm and leg, but Roy knew, deep down, that had never been part of the plan. It had always been a platitude for Al. In the end the only thing that mattered to Ed was his little brother. To have him happy and whole was all Ed wished for.
As if Al could ever be anything but happy and kind. He had to be a Friday's child: loving and giving and never ashamed to show it. Even if they had never got his body back, he would still have been caring and generous. A lot of people took Al's nature as a sign of weakness. They thought it was evidence that they could walk all over him, but there was a sharp bite of intelligence behind that calm face, and a ruthless streak that rarely showed itself unless Ed was in danger.
In contrast no one dared to use Ed as a doormat, although – Roy's lips twitched with amusement – he was short enough to be one. Where Al was patient and thoughtful Edward was volatile and passionate. He was blazing day to Al's quiet night, and it showed in everything he did.
A frown wrinkled Roy's brow as he wondered which line could possibly apply to Fullmetal. He definitely could not be a Friday's child. Ed was defensive, spiky and unapproachable. Perhaps his generosity and self-sacrifice were unlimited where Al was concerned. He would –had – given his right arm to help his brother, but he had very little compassion left to spare for anyone else. As he had grown up it became apparent that Ed had no time for idiots, and, most days, couldn't even be bothered with the common niceties.
Perhaps Tuesday? After all, no one who had seen Ed fight could deny he had grace, but it was the kind of fluidity of movement that came with practice. He had trained for years under that terrifying woman Izumi, and the demands of his automail ensured that the body he had honed to physical perfection stayed that way. The way he performed alchemy was a beautiful thing to see. He made it look easy - putting the knowledge he had accumulated into use with a clap of his hands, but again that was something that came with intense study and from contact with the gate. No, maybe not Tuesday.
There was no doubting that Ed worked hard. Failure was not an option in anything. If he gave Ed an assignment it would be dealt with. Admittedly not necessarily in a way the army would approve of, and God forbid Ed ever followed orders, but he never gave up. Roy supposed that was a good quality, but he had come up against Ed's stubbornness too often to appreciate the young man's determination. Besides, he never kept it secret how much he hated the army. He would rather be following his own research than earning a fair Cen. Somehow Roy doubted that Saturday's adage could really be applied.
Travel was an essential part of the state alchemist's life, and Ed had been all over the place on the trail of the Stone. Whatever Thursday's vague statement really meant it could, possibly, apply to him, but somehow it didn't fit. Ed's life was always about the events, not the scenery. Whether he was in Drachman ice or on the coasts of Creta the chances were he would have his nose stuck in a book. Maybe, Roy realised, he did have far to go, but maybe it was in his eternal quest for knowledge. Perhaps he had a direction, but the only goal in Ed's mind seemed to be to know everything. Of all the days so far Thursday had the most potential, but it didn't seem quite right. What about Ed's intensity, his strength, his passion?
Roy tapped his pen on the next report, staring unseeingly at the words on the page as his thoughts continued to ramble.
Monday was all about looks, and Roy was not very good at self-deception. It would be stupid to pretend that he had not noticed how attractive Ed had become over the years. Vivid blonde hair and unusually stunning eyes were the first thing anyone noticed, but when coupled with a strong, young body a frankly incredible bone structure the result was disconcertingly fascinating. He knew Ed had caught him staring once or twice, and he really hoped that Fullmetal hadn't worked out why. It was completely inappropriate, but some parts of him really didn't care if it broke every rule in the book... Besides, it didn't hurt to look, and looking was as far as it would ever go – as far as it could evergo – he reminded himself firmly.
Finally there was Sunday, the day that somehow made the child every parent's dream: beautiful and happy, compassionate and carefree. Of course these days the "gay" portion was often sniggered at, but the wording endured. Either way Ed could not really be described as happy or carefree. People saw the youngest-ever state alchemist and concentrated on his age, rather than his qualification. Soon they realised that, while there was some element of vulnerability there, Fullmetal lived up to his name. There was a core of steel to him, strong and enduring. He did not compromise on what he believed in. It didn't seem to matter how many horrors of the world he saw, he remained above and beyond them, untainted.
So many men when gifted with a similar level of aptitude at alchemy gave in to a god complex and became slaves to their power. Morals went out of the window, and then they were lost. Ed was different. He had learned from his mistakes and had drawn an invisible line that he would never cross. Perhaps in that respect Ed was a good person. He had the power, the temptation, the potential to be someone truly devastating, but Roy knew without asking that he never would. Perhaps the possibility had never crossed Edward's mind.
A noise from the outer office penetrated his musings, and he blinked at his door as if he had never seen it before. Had Hawkeye come back to check up on him? He hoped not. It was undignified, and besides, he did not want to be in pistol range when she found out his progress had been minimal at best. Getting stiffly to his feet he squared his shoulders. If it was Riza then perhaps he could head her off with excuses. The fact he was still here, trapped inside four walls on a truly beautiful evening should be all the proof of his dedication that she needed, surely?
Opening his door in one brisk movement he stopped, unable to hide the brief flicker of surprise across his features. Ed had just dumped what looked like a very crumpled and grubby report on Hawkeye's desk. He had been on assignment somewhere in East city, and Roy had been reliably informed that he wouldn't be back for days. Still, it wasn't the state of the paperwork or even the sudden presence of one of the youngest members of his team that had him tongue-tied. It was his appearance.
He had been on enough bad assignments himself to recognise their touch. This one must have been appalling. The strain was branded across Ed's features, from the dullness of his eyes to the tense lines bracketing his mouth. A dark bruise smudged under one eye, and a large gash ran across his right temple. It should have been stitched, anyone could see that, but from the looks of it the wound was several days old, and it was doubtful if Ed had even cleaned it.
'What happened?' he demanded, wincing inwardly at the snap in his voice. He hated surprises of any kind, and Ed appearing as if summoned by his thoughts was disturbing enough. To have him exhausted and bloodied was even worse. Hell, he knew how often Ed put his personal safety last. He had seen the often reckless actions Fullmetal took to complete a job, but the result had never been like this: Bleeding wounds and bruises, yes, but never defeated.
Ed closed his eyes, turning his head away a fraction. 'Can't you just read the report?' he asked, his voice rough with exhaustion and a weariness that had nothing to do with body and everything to do with spirit.
'Your reports leave a lot to be desired,' Roy pointed out, taking a few paces forward without taking his eye off of Ed's face. He didn't even spare the ratty paper on Hawkeye's desk a glance. 'You tend to leave out important parts, like the truth. Now, what happened?'
Normally Fullmetal's glares were as intense as a blowtorch, conveying with ease every ounce of fury. He hated orders, loathed authority, and Roy knew that the supercilious tone he so often employed was the perfect thing to goad a rise from the young alchemist. He was confident in its efficacy, but this time there was nothing. A flicker of lifeless eyes up and back again, and a tiny, one-shouldered shrug was his only response.
Roy resisted the urge to throw his hands in the air, contenting himself with a tight, irritated sigh as he looked around the office. Ed rarely responded well to direct challenges, and he knew him enough to know genuine distress from simple stubborn silences. He would answer eventually, and in the meantime Roy thought he could at least try and clean him up a bit.
Falman was the first-aid officer, and the meticulous man always had a medical kit to hand. A quick rummage disturbed the ordered contents of the box, but revealed some antiseptic and cotton wool which could at least clean some of the grime from the cut on Ed's forehead. When he turned back Ed was watching him, distrust giving at least a fraction of emotion to his gaze. 'What are you doing?'
'That needs cleaning. It's a miracle it's not infected. Stay still.'
He gripped Ed's jaw in his left hand, tipping his face up and waiting for the spitting, angry retort. Normally Ed would have fussed and whinged, would have declared he was perfectly capable of taking care of himself and didn't need a fucking nursemaid, but he simply gave a sharp hiss of pain as Roy brushed blonde hair out of the way and pressed the soaked material to the wound.
Roy tried to concentrate on what he was doing, tried to ignore the rapid pulse beneath the gloved fingertips of his left hand and the flutter of Ed's breath across his skin. This was dangerously intimate. If someone walked in now it would be hard to explain away the tenderness of his touch or Ed's unexpected cooperation. He was a commander, and that meant he ordered people to see a doctor. He wasn't supposed to treat them himself. He wasn't supposed to give a damn.
Except that he couldn't remember a time, now, that he had not cared about Ed in some way or another. At first it had been a vague, sick concern that he was overestimating the boy. No matter what he told himself he could not escape the truth that children did not belong in the army, regardless of how brilliant they were. Grown men were torn apart by assignments, so how could a kid even begin to cope?
Yet Ed survived. He came back time and again, stubborn and fierce and, every day it seemed, stronger. The slender childish lines of his body hardened with a strength that Roy doubted he could match, and over the years the naivety and idealism was polished away to reveal a gilded core of determination. Ed knew the world was bad, but he was damned if he was going to let himself sink as low as those around him. Was it any wonder that, every time that Edward was near him, Roy found himself transfixed by the man that the boy had become?
Glancing down Roy swallowed tightly. Ed was looking away, his eyes shielded by the dark line of his lashes. There was no scowl or grimace on his face. It was a blank canvas, and Roy recognised the lingering traces of horror by the absence of emotion. He had been there himself, locked in a shell of icy shock so dense that even his skin didn't feel like his own.
Unaccustomed fear made his chest tight, and his hand shook as he cleaned away the last of the blood and dirt, revealing bruised skin and the straight edges of the wound. He could clean and bandage all he liked, but it wouldn't make Ed better. Roy needed to get a reaction; a punch, a curse, anything to show him that the Edward he knew hadn't finally been broken beyond repair.
Pitching the cotton wool into the nearby bin, Roy concentrated, noticing everything from the slight shake in Ed's breathing to the click of his automail hand as he curled it into a fist at his side. He looked horribly fragile, as if one sharp word or sudden movement would shatter him, but there were still faint traces of strength. His jaw was clenched as if he was trying to hold in too many emotions to contain, and his shoulders were stiff and tense, as defensive as ever.
'Can I go now?' Ed demanded, half turning to leave.
As he did Roy noticed a long slash in the fabric of his coat, cutting from ribs to Ed's right hip. Around the rip there was a darker stain on the crimson, and his stomach clenched hard. Reaching out he grabbed Ed's arm, stopping him from striding away and yanking him close. 'You're not going anywhere. Not until you tell me why you didn't see a doctor back in the East.'
'It's only a scrape on my head,' Ed murmured. 'I didn't need to see anyone.'
'Not for that. For this.' He held onto Ed's shoulder with one hand and pressed his other palm to the lean line of Ed's waist, watching the harsh flinch of pain tear its way across hiss face.
In a second Ed whacked his hand away, his teeth bared in a snarl as he spat, 'I wanted to get out of there. I wanted to get home!'
Roy's surprise must have shown on his face, because Ed bit his lip, frowning as if he wished he could call the words back. Ed always went out of his way to remind Al that they did not have a home, as if any kind of tie to one place was a sign of weakness.
'Why?' he demanded, narrowing his eyes as he tried to read Ed's expression. 'You were sent to find a lost alchemist. What the hell happened to make you run away?'
'I did not fucking run!'
Roy held in a sigh of relief, thinking fast. Anger was good. Anything was better than silence. Most people would have backed away from the source of their pain, but Ed lashed out instead, giving like for like if he could. Now he stood in front of Roy almost toe to toe, fierce and furious. 'It looks that way to me,' he said smoothly, letting his lips curve into a faintly derisive smile. He had known Ed too long, knew precisely what to say to get the desired response. It wouldn't work forever. Ed was already learning his tricks, but right now he was too highly strung, too lost in what he was feeling to notice Roy's tactics.
'I don't give a fuck what it looks like,' Ed hissed. 'You shit. You knew all along that he wasn't lost. He was hiding from the state, and you knew why before you even sent me out there.'
Roy blinked, an honest frown on his brow as his heart sank. 'What are you talking about? The Living Earth alchemist has always been absent-minded. I sent you because it was a straight-forward assignment that wouldn't keep you away from either your research or your brother for too long.' He took a deep breath, chilled by the disbelief on Ed's face. 'Why was he hiding?'
Ed glared as if he thought he could tell whether Roy's confusion was a deception simply by staring at him. Both of his hands were clenched into fists, and, for a moment, Roy thought he would forget everything but his anger and just punch.
Thesilence stretched between them, punctuated only by Ed's sharp breaths. For a moment Roy thought he would not reply. There was only a certain distance Ed could be pushed, after that he would simply turn and storm away.
Eventually Ed pulled back, clenching his jaw tight and crossing his arms as he struggled to find the right words. 'He lost his little girl not long ago. A car accident or something.' He shifted his weight, looking everywhere in the room by but at Roy's face. 'He was trying to bring her back; I found his notes. There's no way I couldn't recognise what he was doing. By the time I found him the array had already been drawn.'
'How did you get hurt?' Roy asked quietly, not wanting to interrupt in case Ed clammed up and refused to say any more, but needing to know the details.
Ed shrugged, dismissing his injuries as irrelevant. 'He had a knife; I couldn't reason with him, couldn't make him see that it wouldn't work. He activated the array before I could stop him.'
Roy was cold through and through. It felt as if someone had doused him with ice water. His instincts told him that this wasn't all of it. There was something Ed was holding back. He didn't want to know, but nothing could have stopped him asking the hushed, horrified question: 'Did it work?'
Ed closed his eyes for a second, shaking his head. 'It never works. At least, not the way you expect it to. You could offer everything in the world for equivalent exchange, and you would still never get back what you lost.' He looked sick, chalky pale in the soft sunlight. 'When the transmutation cleared the alchemist was gone, dead, I guess, and what was in the array... .' Turning away he stared out of the window as if he was looking for the strength to carry on.
'A homunculus?' Roy asked quietly, dreading the answer.
'No.' Ed squared his shoulders, taking refuge in the wealth of his knowledge. 'It doesn't work like that. You need red stones to make a homunculus. Without that they're just...' he hunched, wrapping his arms around himself as his voice fell to a whisper, 'broken bones and blood and skin. Alive somehow, but already dying all over again.'
It was obvious that Ed wasn't only recalling recent events. Roy knew, in a detached, clinical way what the Elrics had done, but it had never crossed his mind to wonder what had happened in that exact moment; he had never stopped to consider the horror of what they must have seen.
'Your mother -' Roy began, but he couldn't think of how to finish the question. He knew how desperate someone had to be to try and bring back the dead. They were so sunk into grief or, like he had been, guilt, that there was no thought of cause and effect. Human transmutation was banned for a reason, but by the time the array is activated the rules don't matter any more. 'You and Al saw her -'
'Al was already gone,' Ed interrupted, his voice riddled with a sad kind of gratitude for that small blessing. 'He never saw what we made. The array we used was better than most.' There was no pride in his voice; it was a statement of fact, nothing more. 'What we created had the strength to move. By the time Al woke up in the armour it was gone; he must have thought all the blood was mine. He doesn't know any different.' Ed looked sharply over his shoulder at Roy, a warning in his narrowed eyes. 'He never needs to know any different.'
A nod of understanding. It was the only reply Roy could manage. His voice had died in his throat, stifled by the wretched weight dragging at his heart and clutching at his stomach. Why? Why did Ed always seem to go full circle straight back to the worst moments in his life? After that whole thing with Tucker the best thing would have been to make sure Ed never had to deal with another chimera. He may be made of steel, but there were weaknesses and flaws. For a while it seemed as if every assignment would lead to another chimera; a stark reminder of the child who had been violated by her father's alchemy. Now this. It seemed that, no matter how far Ed went, he could not escape what he had done. It was as if life conspired to remind him of his failures – to make him recall all that he should and should not have done.
Finally Roy managed to find his voice. He had come this far, teased the answers from Ed like pulling a thorn from a wound. It couldn't be left like this: a half answer that spawned nothing but dread. He had to know it all, or he would spend too many sleepless nights wondering the extent of what Ed had been through.
'What about the girl?'
Ed turned his back to the window, leaning against the wall and staring at the floor. He was trying to control his emotions, to push it all back and down until it was lost amidst the rest of the darkness that he bottled up inside, but his body was betraying him. There was too much tension pulling at his muscles and too many shivers dancing across his skin to be hidden.
'She wasn't strong enough to move,' he whispered. 'What there was could barely even breathe. She was sobbing - crying out. That was the only part of her that seemed human: her voice... .' Ed uncrossed his arms, tunnelling his fingers through his dishevelled braid as he began to pace, too tightly wound to stay still any longer. 'She was just a baby, and she was dying.'
'You stayed with her?' The question was hushed, and Roy wished he could believe that the answer was yes, but something in him had already guessed what Ed had been forced to do. The right thing, of course, but something most adults would never, ever have the strength to carry out.
An almost-sob escaped Ed's lips, shuddering and painfully tight as he tried to keep it inside. He shook his head wretchedly, clenching his hands into fists even though there was nothing he could hit that would take this away. 'It could have taken days, and she was in so much pain.' He shut his eyes, too far lost in his own despair to be embarrassed by the tears that spilled over and trailed down his cheeks. 'I – I killed her.'
Anyone else – anyone – would have made some excuse. They would have said it had to be done; it was a mercy, but Ed didn't bother. To him it was murder, no matter how necessary, and nothing anyone said would change that belief.
Roy took a step towards him, his arms aching with the need to reach out and hang on, as if he could somehow hold Ed's pieces together in his arms, could keep him whole even as he threatened to fall apart. Of course, Ed would never stand for it. He could not bear to be pitied, and even if someone honestly wanted to offer comfort they were more likely to be injured than thanked for their efforts.
The last time he had seen Ed even close to this distressed was surrounding the whole incident with Nina Tucker, and he couldn't miss the parallels. At least this time he had not fooled himself into believing that the girl could be cured. He had done the only thing possible. Surely he knew that?
He couldn't simply stand here while Fullmetal was in this much pain. Roy closed the last of the distance between them, tugging Ed into his arms and holding on tight, not caring if Ed fought him. At least that would be better than the raw, bitter tears.
'Get off!' Ed hissed, writhing like cat as he struggled to escape. 'I don't need this – don't need you to feel fucking sorry for me!'
'You don't know what you need,' Roy retorted, wincing as an automail fist whacked into his chest with bruising force. Still he held on, grimly determined. He was supposed to keep his distance, but the time of being nothing more than Ed's superior officer had passed years ago. Now he did not know how to term this relationship. It did not fit neatly into any category, but it was more than purely professional.
Ed was like a plucked harp string, shaking with a cocktail of hard fury and devastating hurt in the circle of his arms. He tried very hard not to think of how well the younger man fitted against him, tucking neatly under his chin and pressing against his body like a matching puzzle piece. Instead he concentrated on the trembling of Ed's shoulders and the sharp, ragged edge of his breathing, waiting for the moment when Ed's fight finally left him. Inch by inch, he relaxed against Roy's chest, his fingers clutching at the cloth of his shirt as he surrendered.
'I wouldn't have sent you,' Roy murmured, bowing his head so that his cheek was resting on the top of Ed's head. 'I swear if I'd known I wouldn't have given you that assignment. Please,' He tightened his arms in silent emphasis, 'believe me. This wasn't deliberate.'
In the past he had thought that what didn't kill a person made them stronger, but Ed was as strong as he would ever need to be, bold and bright and constant. He did not need to be any tougher or face his harsh past. Right now all that mattered to Roy was what Ed thought of him,. He had to know that this was an accident of fate, rather than the betrayal Ed had first accused him of.
'Idiot,' Ed mumbled, his voice muffled by Roy's uniform. 'Who else would have recognised the array?' He pulled back a little, not breaking the circle of Roy's arms but lifting his head so that he could meet his gaze with over-bright eyes. 'Anyone else who saw that happen would have done the sensible thing: they would have run.'
With a sigh he stepped back, breaking free of Roy's grip and hastily scrubbing his eyes with a gloved palm as he turned away. 'You could have just read the fucking report,' he pointed out, the annoyance in his voice a weak shield for his embarrassment.
'Somehow I doubt it would have told me what I needed to know.' Roy's response was soft; there was not a trace of anger or recrimination. The report, even in the unlikely event that it was accurately detailed, would not have shown him Ed's emotional state. He had caught Ed at a vulnerable time, before he had time to push his emotions away and collect together the fragments of the walls he built between himself and the world. For once there had been no guard up in those amber eyes, but that was already changing. Ed was already finding a way to step back from this moment, to put some distance between himself and the pain that Roy had witnessed so plainly.
'Al'll be waiting,' Ed said quietly. 'Can I go?'
Roy hesitated, knowing that this wasn't over: the hurt had not even begun to heal. Ed never asked permission; he came and went as he pleased. The fact that he was waiting to be allowed to leave rather than simply walking away was far too telling. Even when Roy had first asked for an explanation, when Ed had obviously wanted to just get away, he had asked if he could leave, and the change in behaviour struck an anxious, clashing chord in Roy's mind.
He wanted to say no – to demand that Ed behaved like his usual insubordinate self and carry on as if nothing had changed – but how could he? It was impossible to force what had happened in East city from Ed's mind. He could not pretend it had never occurred, and nothing Roy could do or say would remove the stain of it from Ed's memory. Keeping him here was useless.
Finally he nodded, closing his eyes as he heard the door shut in Ed's wake. There were no thanks, but he had not expected any. After all, what had he done to help? Nothing. He had forced Ed to relive what probably consisted of two of the worst events in his life: the failed transmutation of his mother and this more recent echo of the same kind of tragedy. His selfish need to know why Ed was so upset and so unable to hide his distress had probably done more harm than good.
Tunnelling his hands through his hair he glanced back through the door at the inner sanctum of his office and the paperwork still waiting for him. It seemed like a different day entirely to when he had sat there procrastinating, wishing he could be out in the summer sun rather than cooped up inside. Now the glorious sunset beyond the windowpanes might as well have been in black and white for all the impact it had on him.
He stared sightlessly across the city, ignoring the play of the breeze across his face. He was tempted to go after Ed, to track him down and make sure he at least got home without losing himself to another pointless distraction. He needed to be around people, to have the companionship there if he wanted to reach for it.
Roy grimaced as his fears took a darker turn: just having someone to keep an eye on him would be an advantage. Ed was the kind of person to whom self-loathing came naturally. He may not harm himself in a manner as blatant and crude as a knife to his skin, but he was a master at punishing his body through neglect.
His hand was already reaching out for his jacket when he stopped himself. This was ridiculous. Did he think Ed would thank him for his interference? He would see Roy's concern as an invasion of his privacy, and besides, Roy knew too well that any sudden deviation from his normal, aloof behaviour would not be ignored. Ed would demand to know why he cared, and what could he say to that? He didn't even know the reasons himself.
No, better to keep his distance. Better not to give Ed the opportunity to demand answers that Roy didn't have. He was Fullmetal's superior officer, and he had to remember that. Perhaps he could not help on a personal level, but professionally he would do what he could to make Ed's life easier. Assignments, workload – they were both under his purview. Perhaps with a bit of time Ed would forget what had happened; maybe it would fade to nothing but a half-remembered nightmare and Edward would return to his usual self, unchanged.
If that was untrue then it was entirely possible that when Ed had left for this assignment it had been the last time Roy would see him so easy and confident with himself. Maybe this latest wound, which could not bleed but hurt all the same, would never heal.
Damn it. He didn't care what questions Ed asked. He didn't care what truths he was forced to face. Roy would not be satisfied with a platitude of an explanation. He was not going to stand idly by, a distant commander when what Edward needed was someone who could force him to admit something was wrong. Who else could do that? Al might have some luck, but would Ed even bother to tell him, or would he just lock it away and pretend to the world it had not happened while it ate away at him inside?
Snatching his jacket Roy walked towards the door. The paperwork could wait. Hawkeye would understand. She appreciated rank, if nothing else, and he wasn't afraid to remind her of his status if necessary.
His hand was on the door handle when he remembered the rhyme and the pointless meanderings of his earliest thoughts. He had analysed and dismissed every single line, deeming each day to be an unsuitable description of Ed, but there was one he had forgotten.
Wednesday's child was full of woe.
He slammed the door behind him, hearing the rattle of picture frames on the office wall as the sound echoed and bounced back at him along the corridor. As if anyone could be described by just one line; as if life was really that simple.
It was a stupid rhyme anyway.
Author's Notes: They have changed Wednesday's version in the modern day rhyme to: "Wednesday's child will know no foe" but the original Is permanently engrained in the human psyche. So this is for all the Wednesday's children, with love from someone with "far to go".