Warnings: Language. Mention of Dark Themes.
Tears and Rain: Part Twenty-Two
The antiseptic scent of the hospital stung Roy's nose, coating his tongue and making his stomach churn. Worry thrashed: a frightened animal in his chest that couldn't be calmed, and he crossed his arms as he hovered anxiously next to the bed. It was hard not to reach out and touch the hunched figure on top of the sheets, but he was afraid that even the lightest caress might give nothing but pain.
Ed's eyes were closed and his body lax in an unnatural kind of sleep. He had drifted off a mile from the infirmary, curled up against Roy's chest as if he were the only safe harbour in a stormy world. It was only to be expected, Roy told himself. Ed was exhausted from fighting Kerr and using his alchemy to protect them from Bertrand and Grange. Yet it wasn't the slumber that made Roy breathless with anxiety.
Ever since being carried over the fallen bodies of the assassins and out into the fresh, clean dawn, Ed hadn't said a word. They had asked him quiet questions in the truck, but the answers were non-verbal: a nod or shake of the head, a shrug or silence. Perhaps he was simply too far gone with the drug to vocalise his responses, but it could be that Kerr had inflicted wounds they couldn't see – injuries that didn't bleed but hurt all the same.
Rape was about more than penetration, and Roy had no doubt that Kerr had pushed himself upon Ed in every way possible. If it hadn't been for their timely arrival, it was very likely he would have seen his abuse through to its conclusion. As it was, he had inflicted plenty of pain.
Roy stared at the broken, bloody line around Ed's throat, the bruise and gash on his cheek and, peeking out from under the military police jacket, a dark bite on his collarbone. He wished he could wipe the marks away, clear their stains from Ed's skin, but nothing he could do would heal him.
There were more injuries. Havoc had listed everything he'd found as they climbed the steps towards the ward, drawing on his training as a field medic to get a bland-faced doctor up to speed. With every new wound added to the inventory, Roy had felt his anger grow. Part of him longed to find Kerr again, to reignite the flames and drag his life from that wrecked body in a blaze of retribution, but he couldn't bear the thought of leaving Ed alone to do so.
He looked so vulnerable, lying with his knees almost up to his chest and the tangled twists of his hair scribbling over the pillow: gold ink on blank cotton. Never before, even when he had lost his arm and leg, even broken down and torn apart in his hunt for the stone, had Ed looked as if he needed protecting.
Now, all Roy wanted to do was lie down next to him and shield him from the jagged edges of the world, but it wasn't possible. Back in those first tempestuous moments of the aftermath, he had been allowed to hold Ed close without judgement. There had been no risk of being seen by anyone that mattered, but now the spectre of the military haunted his footsteps. He couldn't risk his and Ed's relationship being dragged out in the open by some unscrupulous officer, no matter how much he longed to reach out.
Abruptly, a man in a white coat pushed his way through the door. He was carrying a tray of bandages and other paraphernalia in his hands, and his gaze swept over Roy, Hughes and Hawkeye in surprise. 'Unless any of you are next of kin, I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to leave,' the doctor said, firm but kind. His face seemed familiar, and Roy recognised him as the same man who had been in charge of Ed's recovery after the incident on the roof.
'I'm his commanding officer,' he replied, keeping his tone hard and unyielding as the man raised an eyebrow. 'I won't be going anywhere.'
Hughes took a few steps towards the door, waiting for Riza to fall in behind him as he said, 'We'll get out of your way, doctor -?'
'Miller,' the man replied calmly, pulling up a table and frowning down at Ed with genuine concern. 'One of my colleagues said he had been drugged. Do you happen to know what with?'
Wordlessly, Maes handed over the bottle he had picked up in the prison-like bedroom before glancing at Roy. 'I'll see if I can find out what's happening at Central Command. You know they're going to request your presence – they'll have questions.'
Roy nodded, breathing out a sigh as he rubbed his hand over his eyes. Whatever he had said to Ed, this was far from over. Perhaps the battle was finished, laid to rest in a mess of rubble, but the long process of healing had yet to begin. The military needed to pick itself up and carry on, to count their losses and their blessings all in the same breath, and hope that they had the power to emerge from this mess stronger than before.
If this had happened a few months ago, he would have been in the thick of it, offering his support and putting forth strategies, but now – Ed was more important, that's all there was to it.
'Let me know what you find out,' he said hoarsely. 'Riza, tell Havoc and Breda to keep guarding the door. Devone's men will keep them company, and can you check on Al and Winry? Falman and Fuery should still be with them, but Ed's going to be asking for them as soon as he wakes up.'
The doctor was examining the bottle thoughtfully, and he didn't even look up as the door swung shut behind Maes and Hawkeye. 'Do you know how much he was dosed with?' he asked, glancing at the clock as Roy shook his head. 'Where did the needle go in?'
'His leg – his left thigh, I think.'
Miller nodded, his lips moving silently as he did a few quick calculations. 'It was probably injected into the muscle, rather than directly into the blood stream. That means it metabolises more slowly, so the effects take longer to reach their peak and fade away.' He reached into his pocket, pulling out a small torch before gently peeling back Ed's eyelids and shining it into the glazed, gold depths.
'Do you have any idea when he'll wake up?' Roy forced himself not to dwell on the possibility that Ed might not regain consciousness, that by some cruel fluke Kerr had given him too much and exiled him to a slow, quiet death. 'Hours – days?'
'More like minutes.' The doctor smiled gently, no doubt reading the relief that Roy couldn't keep off his face. 'If what was in the bottle corresponds to the label, this is a very dilute mixture, commonly used in interrogations. He'll feel lethargic and won't be able to move very well for a while, but it should be possible to rouse him within ten to fifteen minutes.' He glanced down at Ed again, and his lined face fell. 'I have to admit, some of these wounds are disturbingly familiar.'
He reached for some cotton wool, soaking it in antiseptic before he set to work. Gradually, he wiped away the blood from Ed's face, revealing straight, shallow cuts. When he tipped Ed's chin and began on the mess around his throat, his gestures were tentative, and more than once he picked up tweezers and pulled free a wicked, curved barb from the tender flesh.
'Were you on the medical staff in Ishbal?' Roy asked quietly, keeping well back as the doctor continued his meticulous work. 'You don't seem surprised by his injuries.'
For a minute Miller didn't reply, but eventually he said, 'I have had the sad duty of performing autopsies on certain prisoners of the military during the reign of Bradley. They had been interrogated and this -' He gestured to the marks the choke-chain had left in its wake. '- this was present on almost all of them. I recognise the handiwork.' He spat the last word as if it repulsed him, but his hands never wavered as he rolled Ed onto his side and brushed his hair away to clean the shallower, smaller wounds on his nape.
'Would you help me remove the jacket?' he asked eventually, placing the rust coloured swabs in the bin. 'I would rather finish treating him while he is still unconscious, if possible. I think he has suffered too much pain today as it is. I certainly don't want to add to it.'
Roy did as he was asked, shifting the jacket down Ed's shoulders and wincing as more bruises revealed themselves. All of them were deep blue-black, like ink blots on his skin, and Roy stomach trembled and churned as he stared at them.
He should have been there to stop this, should have been there to save him – Instead it had been Ed who pulled himself free from danger, the same as always.
Quickly, he tried to think of something to say – anything to distract his mind from the gnawing, useless guilt that ate at his core. 'He was exhausted mentally and physically before this happened. There's a chance he might sleep for longer than we think,' he whispered, staring at the bloody skin and thudding bruise that marred the golden tan of his arm.
Miller shook his head. 'The human body is not programmed to sleep through pain, Brigadier-General, not without chemical assistance. I would give him something to ease his discomfort, but I don't want to risk the potential side-effects when they mingle with the drug already in his system.' He handed over some cotton wool and a spare bottle of antiseptic. 'Clean that, if you please,' he said, pointing to Ed's bloodied wrist. 'I'll check for breaks in a minute.' The doctor sighed, eyeing the damage before turning his attention to Ed's ribs. 'He fought hard.'
'He always does,' Roy replied softly. Beneath his fingertips, he could feel the steady thrum of Ed's pulse. It was a reassuring rhythm, and he found himself counting out the beats as he wiped away blood and flecks of metal. He was so intent on what he was doing that he didn't notice the doctor had taped a dressing pad to Ed's sliced side and moved on to look at the sole of his foot.
An angry hiss took him by surprise, and he jerked his head up to stare at the doctor's face. The man looked sickened by what he saw, and Roy felt an echo of the first wrathful twist of horror he had experienced when he had first seen the burn. It was a monstrous injury, made worse by the fact that he knew Ed would have been chained and helpless when Kerr jabbed the brand into his flesh. His only faint consolation was that Ed had taken his revenge. There was no mistaking the matching mark that had been seared over Kerr's eye, and Roy prayed that it had hurt the sick bastard twice as much.
'Is this – lettering?'
Roy frowned, moving down the bed and forcing himself to take a good look at the brand. When he had first seen it, all he had noticed was the charred flesh and blood – all he had felt was nausea because he knew how agonising it must have been, but now that feeling increased ten-fold. At first what had looked like a painful burn was now clearly two letters overlaid on top of each other.
'D.K.?' the doctor murmured.
'Dominic Kerr.' Roy's voice was beautifully calm, but he couldn't hide the fact that his hands were shaking with fury. Wasn't it bad enough that Kerr had deliberately branded Ed, but he had to write his name on him, as if he were nothing more than property? 'Will it scar?' he asked through gritted teeth, voicing the question even though he already knew the answer.
Miller nodded. 'This is a third degree burn, small but deep, and he's walked on it, hasn't he?' He sighed, cuffing absently at his forehead as Roy confirmed his suspicions. Moving quickly, the doctor strode towards the top end of the bed, grasping Ed's wrist and measuring his pulse. 'I would have expected shock to strike shortly after the incident, if at all. At least that's one complication we don't have to worry about.' He put Ed's arm back on the mattress before turning away. 'I'll be back in a moment. I need to get some cold water and try to draw the heat out. I'll also get some pain medication to give him as soon as I feel it's safe.'
Roy listened to the squeak of the man's shoes on the linoleum, forcing himself to take deep, steady breaths and bind his temper in iron-strong chains. He wanted to touch Ed, but he couldn't while his wrath at Kerr still hummed in his veins, hot and volatile.
Eventually, he reached out, allowing himself to brush a lock of blonde hair back from his forehead. He wasn't used to seeing him this quiet – this still – and Roy swept his thumb absently along the back of Ed's hand, counting the fluttering breaths in the hollow of his throat.
It took him a moment to realise he was being watched. Dark gold, rich and mesmerising, gleamed from beneath Ed's lashes. Roy twitched his lips into a half smile. It felt uncomfortable and stiff on his face, but Ed answered it with a tiny curve of his own mouth, gradually blinking himself back to wakefulness.
'How do you feel?' Roy asked, unwilling to lift his voice much beyond a whisper. It was so peaceful and calm within the four walls of the room, and he didn't want to break the illusion of solitude.
Ed licked his dry lips, his brow wrinkling as he slowly curled his fingers around Roy's hand. His grasp was horribly weak. If he wanted to, Roy could have pulled free without any effort, but instead he clutched at Ed's hand, trying to imbue him with some of his own strength. 'Ed?'
'Tired,' he rasped eventually, his voice reflecting his uncertainty. That lightning fast mind had slowed to a crawl and, even as Roy watched, Ed's eyelids started to flicker again. 'Al?'
'He's all right,' Roy replied, perching on the edge of the bed. 'A bit bruised, and they'll keep him in for observation, but he's been asking for you.' He sighed, trying to guess all of Ed's worries and concerns so that Ed didn't have to waste precious energy asking questions. 'Miss Rockbell is stable, but she did lose a fair amount of blood. They think she'll regain conciousness soon.'
Ed sighed, turning over so that he could curl up closer to Roy, his head almost in his lap as he mumbled, 'You okay? Not hurt?'
Roy closed his eyes for a moment, cupping his hand around Ed's head as he murmured his reassurances. Physically, he was fine. None of the bullets had found their mark, and he had suffered little more than one or two scratches during the battle at the Armstrong estate. Compared to Ed, he was in an excellent state.
Emotionally, he was wrecked – teetering between relief and fury, guilt and gratitude. The result was a conflicted mass of feelings that his heart could barely contain.
Roy swallowed against a lump in his throat, looking blankly at the floor as the silence stretched between them. Guilt swam through his stomach: Ed should be the most important thing in his life, should be his top priority, but the military stole that honour. If it came to it, he couldn't throw aside duty just because his lover was in danger. The promise to keep Ed safe had been worthless, however well-intentioned. In the end, he hadn't been able to protect him.
Ed's apology made him jerk his head up in shock, and he blinked stupidly down at him. 'What – what have you got to be sorry for? How is any of this your fault? I'm the one who should have stopped you from being taken. I'm the one who should have found you more quickly rather than dealing with the damn police and bloody Bertrand!'
His voice had become louder as he went on, tightening with anger, but Ed didn't flinch. Instead, his eyes found their focus, sharp and unwavering as he shook his head slowly against the pillow. 'Idiot,' he managed, clearing his throat and screwing up his face as if the words were a struggle. 'Such an idiot. You did your job. I didn't 'n' I got caught -'
Roy shifted his hand, putting a finger over Ed's lips and stemming the staggered flow of words. At any other time Ed would probably have broken his arm, but there was nothing more than a subdued flicker of annoyance across his features. In an instant, that changed to a weary smirk, and Ed pressed a kiss to Roy's skin.
'Wasn't your fault, Roy,' he said, and there was more strength in that single sentence than Ed should have been able to find. In his conviction there was some kind of comfort. Roy might blame himself, but Ed didn't. There was not even a trace of accusation or disappointment in his eyes, just the familiar edge of anger that suggested he'd be arguing Roy down if he weren't too exhausted. 'Okay?'
Before Roy had the chance to respond, someone cleared their throat from the doorway. Instantly, he pulled his hand away from Ed's mouth, frowning at where Doctor Miller stood with a bowl of water balanced in his palms. His hazel eyes were amused, but he said nothing as he approached the bed. 'Awake then, Major Elric. How do you feel?'
'Like crap,' Ed mumbled, struggling to prop himself up on his elbows and failing miserably. 'Arms don't work.'
'No, you'll probably find that most of your body is rather slow to respond right now. It should wear off over the next hour.' He pursed his lips as he frowned at the sole of Ed's foot again, looking doubtful. 'I'd hoped to treat this before you regained conciousness, but I think I need to see your reactions anyway.' He took out what looked like a pen with no nib and pulled up a chair, grasping Ed's heel before touching the cool metal very gently to the burned flesh. 'Can you feel this?'
Ed shook his head. His left hand was still wrapped in Roy's palm, slick with nervous sweat, and Roy remembered how much he distrusted hospitals and medical professionals. Ed glanced up at him dubiously as the doctor continued to touch different areas, repeating the same question each time and receiving the same negative answer.
Finally, Ed gave an involuntary hiss of discomfort, his toes twitching as he fought against the grasp of the drug and tried to pull his leg away. His hand tightened on Roy's. If he had been at full-strength, Roy would have been nursing broken fingers and suffering Hawkeye's glares for not being able to do his paperwork. As it was, he just got badly pinched.
'Ow, ow, ow that hurts! Stop it!' Ed snapped, scowling as the doctor nodded and set the implement aside before dunking clean bandages in the cool water at his side and wrapping them over the burn. Judging from the tightness of Ed's jaw and the pallor of his face, even the touch of the light cotton was almost too much to bear.
'There's a region about two inches across that has lost sensation. The charring goes through the skin and nerves. It's the area around it that's so painful. The first thing is to make sure there's no abnormal heat left in the skin, then we start you on painkillers and antibiotics to reduce the chances of infection.' The doctor looked at him sharply, his face serious as he added, 'You'll need to come in and have this looked at every day. I don't care how much you dislike it or how inconvenient it is, Major Elric. An infection could kill you, or at least lose you your foot.'
'Can get an automail one,' Ed mumbled, but a hard look from Roy was enough to settle him into silence. He leaned back into the pillows, blowing out a tight sigh as if he didn't have the strength to fight the agony any more.
'Will it heal?' Roy asked.
'It's small enough that it should regenerate if given the right care. However, he's to keep it clean and not walk on it. Crutches or a wheelchair – that's his choice.' Miller ignored Ed's groan at that. 'However, if I find out he's been disobeying my orders I'll have him admitted until it's healed. Six weeks, maybe more. No books. No visitors. Nothing.'
He probably wasn't serious. Roy could just about make out a gleam of amusement in the doctor's eyes, but he knew the most likely way to make Ed cooperate was to make those who cared about him aware of the seriousness of the situation. If nothing else, they would do their best to keep the difficult patient in line.
A tap on the door made him look up, and his heart sank as he saw Hughes and Riza standing on the threshold. The lieutenant had a clean jacket in her arms; the stars on the shoulder gleamed in the weak light. Without a word she handed it over before perching in a chair at Ed's bedside,
'They're asking for you,' Hughes said apologetically. 'I put them off as long as I could, but -' He shrugged as he watched Roy put on the jacket and do up the buttons, hiding the creased and tattered mess of his shirt. 'Other missing generals are coming out of the woodwork. Avron's been calling them cowards for lying low and ignoring our requests for help, but they're determined to talk to you. Cosco and Knox are also there. They'll take a quick statement. It'll save you having to run all over the city answering other people's beck and call.'
Maes held out something white, a clean pair of gloves, and Roy stared at them for a moment before looking back at Ed. He didn't want to do this – didn't want to don all the signs of his office and walk out of that door, but he already knew he didn't have a choice. It was one of the sacrifices he had to make.
'I'll be fine,' Ed said quietly, giving him a tiny, warm smile, 'and I'll probably still be here when you get back.'
'Knowing the military, it could be hours,' Roy replied, giving in and tugging on his gloves. 'Do what the doctor tells you to, and Riza?' He smiled as she glanced his way. 'Take care of him for me.'
'Yes, sir,' she replied, her brown eyes softening as she started telling Ed about Al and Winry. Her voice was smoothly reassuring as she explained every nuance of their injuries, knowing Ed would take more solace in facts than platitudes.
Roy followed Hughes out of the door, ignoring the urge to glance over his shoulder and trying to turn a deaf ear to the silent whimpers that shivered through his muscles and darkened his core. Small fears darted across his mind, a shoal of tiny fish in the waters above a leviathan of deeper dread. Before all this had happened, he had been so certain of his future. The centre of his universe had been the ambition to become Fuhrer but, in a matter of days, his orbit had changed.
Ed was his everything now, Roy had no doubt about that. If something happened to him – if he was taken away, then Roy knew he would crumble. How could he take steps towards becoming Fuhrer when he knew that, eventually, someone would realise how Ed was as much his weakness as he was his strength? If someone took Ed hostage, then Roy would be expected to stand resolute as his lover's life was forfeit.
When he had no one to care for, the thought of someone else being used as a means to get to him hadn't bothered Roy in the slightest. Now, he wasn't sure he would be able to pay the price that the power of the Fuhrership might demand.
'You look like you're going to be sick,' Hughes murmured, slowing down so that he could walk at Roy's side through the brightly lit corridors. 'I doubt you've suddenly found a crippling respect for the military brass, so what's wrong?'
Roy almost shook his head in dismissal before he noticed the look in his friend's eyes. It was hard and piercing, as if Maes was disappointed by some kind of horribly irresponsible behaviour. His gaze swept over Roy's face and, even though he kept his expression as bland and uninformative as possible, he still seemed to find out what he needed to know.
Hughes' shoulders slumped as he blew out a steady sigh and scratched a hand through his hair. 'It's normal, you know. You think other people don't feel it?'
'What?' Roy asked bluntly, trying to cut off this conversation before it even began.
Maes raised an eyebrow and pushed his way outside, trotting down the steps and slipping into the driver's seat of the waiting car. 'Afraid. You're worrying something like this might happen again, aren't you? A situation where you have to be a soldier first and foremost.'
When he didn't answer, simply climbed into the passenger seat and sat there in silence, Hughes made a tutting sound. He turned the key in the ignition and steered the car smoothly away from the hospital, away from Ed, and towards the white tower of Central Command.
'It's something everyone has to face, Roy, the knowledge that their families can be used against them, but it's -' He laughed. '-It's equivalent exchange. You risk those you care for, but at least you've got them there at your side. I know I would never have got this far up the ranks without my Gracia, just as I don't think you'll make it all the way to Fuhrer without Ed to turn to.'
Roy crossed his arms and slumped in his seat. He didn't want to deal with this. He wanted to grab Ed and find somewhere warm and safe, somewhere where they could both hide and ignore the rest of the world. 'I have managed so far, Hughes.'
'"Managed" is exactly it. It's not what happened today, with Kerr, that's made you rethink your priorities, it's Ed. Finally, someone has come into your life who is so important that they're making you question what you want from your future.' Maes tapped the palm of his hand idly on the steering wheel as he navigated the streets. 'A Fuhrer who doesn't want the job is no good to anyone.'
'Of course I want the job. It's what I've been working towards for years.' Roy winced at the flatness of his voice. He couldn't have sounded less convincing if he tried, and Hughes' snort of laughter made him frown. 'What exactly is your point, Maes?'
Hughes stopped at the bristling perimeter of the command compound, showing his identification to the man on the gate and waiting to be let through before he continued. 'Ever since you came back from Ishbal, becoming Fuhrer is something that you have had to do. It's always been a duty, and now you're wondering if it's become a burden.'
He parked the car outside the steps and turned in his seat, meeting Roy's dark gaze. 'You need to recover from everything that's happened out these past few weeks – you need time to re-evaluate where you're heading and how quick you want to get there. I'm just saying, don't make any hasty decisions, Roy. I don't know who's going to come out of this at the top, but -'
'It won't be me.'
He said it so decisively that Maes blinked in surprise, a frown creasing his brow. 'What did I just say about making hasty decisions?'
For the first time since he'd left the hospital, Roy felt a smile curve his lips. Maes was right in so many ways. He was confused, needed the space to think and relax and simply get his life back in order, but that didn't mean that his sense of strategy had dulled in the slightest. 'This isn't about me, Hughes. The last thing the military needs right now is the youngest Fuhrer in history. They need something concrete and stable, something they can rely on.'
The smile became a grin as he got out of the car, straightening his jacket before closing the door. 'If I become Fuhrer, I need a military that's strong and confident enough to make a difference, not a dissolute force who don't even know what they're doing any more. I can think of better people to rebuild this mess than me.'
Hughes looked at him over the roof of the car, his teeth flashing white in the morning sunlight. 'Talk to Ed. I bet by the time he's done with you, that "if" will be a "when".' He jerked his head at the sentries standing on either side of the doorway. 'You'd better get in there, before they start frothing at the mouth or something.'
'Aren't you coming?'
'Top brass only. If you can't find me when you're done, come by my office. Intelligence is up to its neck in trying to work out who are innocent and guilty, and I've got military police crawling all over the place.' Maes hesitated, his face turning serious as he added, 'Watch your back, Roy. We're still trying to sort things out, so be careful who you trust.'
With a quick nod, Roy climbed up the steps, waving aside the sentry's salute as the young man said, 'They're waiting for you in the War Room, sir.' Without another word he held the door open, letting Roy stride past.
It was eerily quiet in the corridor. Normally the place was bustling, but now it seemed like the city was shell-shocked in the aftermath of all that had taken place. Only a few pale-faced secretaries crossed his path, and they hurried on their way with no more than a brief smile in his direction. Roy was willing to be that the lower ranks were charged with taking down the barricade and patrolling the streets, offering reassurance where they could. The civilians needed to see that normalcy was returning to the city, even if it wasn't technically true.
He took the stairs two at a time, hurrying towards the upper levels of the tower. As soon as he got to the right floor, he saw the police. They were everywhere, lining the hallway and sitting at hastily erected desks, sorting through paperwork. Officers were carrying boxes of files down from the treasury rooms, and people were looking in various ledgers as they tried to make sense of the addled finances.
Commander Knox and a silver-haired, moustached man who Roy recognised as Chief Cosco stood near the door to the War Room, heads bent together in deep conference. The three books Ed and Jean had found were clutched in Knox's hands, and she was speaking in urgent, hissed tones. 'They're faking it. Some of the men in there are clearly involved in this scheme. They think they can just slip back in during the chaos and get away with it!'
'All we know is what Grange has written down. He could be falsifying evidence,' Cosco pointed out smoothly. It wasn't condescending or suspicious, simply a statement of fact, as if he was waiting to see what his second would do.
'We at least need to get them into custody while we investigate,' she replied. 'This is an opportunity to weed out every bad apple in the bunch.' She tapped the ledgers against the palm of her hand, looking up as Roy drew near. The hardness of her features instantly softened into something more approachable as she asked, 'Brigadier-General, how is the Major?'
'Wounded, but still alive. He's being tended at the hospital,' Roy said with a brief smile of thanks. 'I take it Devone briefed you on what happened at the town house?'
'Indeed,' Cosco replied, reaching into his pocket for a cigarette and rolling it between his fingers. 'He was very complimentary of the skill you and your men demonstrated. I understand that your presence has been requested in the War Room, but could you spare a few moments? I need to ask a few simple questions.'
Roy glanced towards the broad double doors before giving a nod. 'They've waited this long. Five minutes won't hurt. What do you need to know?'
He answered the police chief's queries as fully as he could, explaining Bertrand's acts at the Armstrong estate, as well as what had taken place at the town-house. He did everything in his power to keep his voice emotionless, but when Cosco asked about Ed's injuries, his jaw tightened, and his next words were clipped and hard.
'He was restrained and tortured by General Kerr. If you must, you can read the doctor's medical report, but I would rather you left Major Elric out of this.' He knew his eyes had taken on a hard edge, but he didn't soften his expression as he asked, 'Is there anything else?'
'Thank you, sir, that's all for now.' Cosco checked over his notes before giving a quick nod. 'The evidence we have is enough to press charges against Generals Kerr and Grange. We believe a few more of the officers who are returning to the fold might also have had some involvement, but we've yet to make any arrests.'
Roy swallowed, pushing aside his more volatile emotions as he forced himself to think. He was trying to remember the ledgers and the names within their pages, but he hadn't had a chance to spare them more than a glance. 'Are these men aware they are under suspicion?'
'I don't believe so. We would put them into custody now, but we're barred from the room.' Knox's voice dripped with annoyance as she glared at the soldiers standing guard. 'We can only enter if we believe a crime is in progress.'
'Or if your presence is requested by the Fuhrer or equivalent,' Roy murmured thoughtfully. 'Can I see the ledgers?'
Cosco's eyes narrowed, and he tapped the cigarette back and forth between his fingers. 'Thinking of helping the police with their enquiries, Brigadier-General?' He nodded to Knox, who passed the books over, watching him sharply as he skimmed through the pages. Grange, Kerr, Patton, Bertrand and Hakuro were the main offenders, but there were three other people who had received smaller payments on a regular basis: Blunt, Carlton and Stall.
He pointed to the names. 'Are they all in there?'
'No,' Knox replied, reading over his shoulder. 'Blunt and Carlton are, but Major-General Stall turned up in the morgue this morning. He hung himself. We don't suspect foul play.'
'He could see which way the wind was blowing.' Roy closed the ledger and handed it back before he made his decision. 'I don't have the authority to summon you, but I'll try and convince someone who can that your presence is necessary.'
He nodded respectfully before walking towards the door, waiting for one of the soldiers to open it before he stepped across the threshold and surveyed the room.
The massive table at its centre looked sparse, and several seats stood significantly empty. Sunlight streamed in through the large windows, shining off of the guns piled in the middle of the desk; the officer's personal revolvers which were always left in plain sight – a gesture of trust. A quick glance told Roy that they were all accounted for, and he moved aside his jacket so that everyone could see the empty holster on his hip.
Silently, he prayed that no one would demand he removed his gloves. More than anything right now, he felt the need to be armed and prepared for any kind of danger, and relief flickered in his chest when no one forced the issue.
He could smell the tension and the nervous sweat that tainted the air. Confusion was written on the face of every man who looked his way. The world as they knew it had been torn apart, and now they were left staring hopelessly at the pieces. Good, their helplessness was exactly what he needed.
'What took you so long, Mustang?' someone snapped. Lieutenant-General Carlton was glaring at him dispassionately from where he stood in front of the window, and Roy narrowed his eyes before offering a salute.
'My apologies, sir. I had to see to one of my men.'
'I bet you did,' Carlton murmured, not bothering to keep the censure out of his voice. 'Responsibility seems to be a word you no longer comprehend. We asked for your presence almost an hour ago. Who are you to keep your superiors waiting? I had hoped that these events would weed out some of the more unsavoury elements of the military.'
'Watch your mouth, Carlton,' Avron snapped. 'If it weren't for Mustang, you'd still be hiding – beneath a rock, probably,' he added in a disgusted mutter. 'The upper ranks have been reduced to this.' A waved hand indicated the ten men within the room. 'No Fuhrer, no generals who aren't dead or under arrest and a half complement of the other ranks.'
'So what's he doing here?' Blunt asked lazily, wiggling a pen back and forth between his thumb and forefinger as he stared at Roy. 'Why him and not the other Brigadier-Generals?'
'Because the others of Mustang's rank have not been involved in this situation. Their names have already been cleared and their presence isn't needed. Mustang, on the other hand, is the most informed man we have. It was his command who uncovered this plot and risked their lives to bring the men involved to justice. He knows everything about what has happened.'
'Not everything surely?' Blunt murmured, the smirk on his face loosing some of its strength when Roy looked at him implacably.
'Everything, sir,' he confirmed, noticing the first glimmer of perspiration on the man's brow and the quick, nervous glance he exchanged with Carlton. 'The military is in chaos and the nation is ill-at-ease.' He turned towards Avron and Mackenzie, seeking them out and addressing them directly. 'Strong leadership is the key to moving forward. The position of Fuhrer can't still be vacant when the prime minister demands a meeting, which should be within the next few hours. If it is -'
'Good grief, man. You can't be suggesting we hurry this through just to appease government?'
Roy looked towards the man who had spoken, keeping his expression clear and calm as he took in Major-General Guye. The once portly man had lost a great deal of weight; he looked haggard and tired, as if he had barely slept, and Roy's body panged with sympathy. Guye was not a born leader. He was strong and dependable, but now he looked like a shell of his former-self. 'If we don't, sir, the parliament might try to take the decision away from us. I'm sure we can all agree that's not what we would want.'
'Putting yourself forward for the job, Mustang?' Carlton sneered, moving forward like a tiger pacing in its cage. 'Should have known that was the real reason you torched Kerr – to remove the competition.'
Roy took a deep breath, ignoring the jibe as he answered, 'No, sir. I recommend Lieutenant-General Mackenzie.'
'What?' Mackenzie choked, glaring sideways as Avron gave a rather undignified guffaw at his shock. 'You better have a very good reason for that, Mustang.'
The slam of a fist into the tabletop made everyone jump, and Roy raised an eyebrow when he saw Blunt leaning forward in his seat, his expression darkening with anger. 'Who the hell is he to be making recommendations to us? You think too much of yourself, Mustang. For all we know this is just another of your manipulations - paving the way for your promotion in future!'
'The army needs someone in charge who sees the men, rather than the machine. This isn't a time to soldier on, it's a time to recover and rebuild, to make ourselves stronger. The men need a supporting hand from their leader, not an iron fist.' Roy straightened his shoulders, feeling a flicker of triumph as he added, 'Besides, sir. I would think a promotion is inevitable. With so many vacancies in the higher ranks that need filling, it's not exactly like you have much choice.'
'Who the hell do you think you are?' Carlton snarled. 'I should -'
'I think I'm the man without a guilty conscience. Tell me, Lieutenant-General, how do you plan to explain the large payments into your accounts made over the past few years?' He took a deep breath, lowering his voice to something dark and threatening as he continued to bluff. 'How do you plan to explain the military bullion you used to buy that nice home in the country for your wife, and a cottage for your mistress?'
From red to white in the space of a second, and Roy knew the face of a man whose world was falling apart around him. Blunt had also gone a sickly shade, and Roy didn't miss his beady eyes flicker towards the guns that lay innocently in the middle of the table. 'How dare – I don't know what you're implying! There must be some mistake!'
'Then I'm sure the police can clear those that Grange has accused. They're waiting outside to take two men from this room into custody.' He looked pointedly between Carlton and Blunt, sensing the tense, held breaths of the other officers as the clock over the fireplace ticked out a steady beat.
He didn't have to wait long for them to crack. Simultaneously, they lunged, fingers outstretched to grasp at their revolvers. The silver weapons scattered, darting like fish as they scrabbled madly to arm themselves. It was a desperate, deadly move, and Roy shook his head as he raised his hand. The white gloves signified anything but surrender, and he just had time to see the glint of a gun muzzle before the snap of his fingers echoed through the room.
Flames roared down the centre of the table, blistering the varnish and charring the wood as it tore towards Carlton and Blunt. A hair's breadth from their faces, he pulled the wall of the inferno up short, letting it snap and snarl like a dog on the end of its leash. It was enough to dazzle them, and gave every other officer in the room the moment they needed to find their weapons and take aim.
In that one gesture, the remaining officers showed their allegiance the military and the next Fuhrer, pointing their guns without hesitation at Carlton and Blunt. Mackenzie nodded wordlessly at Roy, who let the flames dwindle away as Avron edged towards the door, roaring for the police.
The two lieutenant-generals were singed and dishevelled, their eyes streaming from the brightness of the flame. Both had their hands in the air, and their breathing ragged with fear and fury.
'There are worse things than stealing gold, Mustang,' Carlton spat. 'How long have you been pushing yourself on that boy under your command? How long has he been getting on his knees for you when you ordered him to?'
'If you had any experience of Fullmetal, in any capacity, you would know that he never obeys orders.' Roy rubbed his thumb and forefinger together, keeping his anger held strictly in check. Blunt was edging away from his accomplice, and, at any other time his fear would have been comical, but now it made Roy feel sick with disgust. 'Only weak men believe in rumours, Carlton. Every one else has the sense to judge others on evidence, rather than gossip.' He smiled coldly. 'Speaking of proof, if I find anything to suggest that you knew about Kerr's plans for Major Elric and did nothing to stop it, you'll wish you were only facing a firing squad.'
He watched as the military police subdued the two men, cuffing their hands behind their back and leading them away. Neither went quietly. They struggled and cursed, shouting abuse at the top of their lungs as the remaining soldiers looked on, disinterested and barely bothering to hide their loathing of the snakes in their midst.
Knox and Cosco stood at the doorway, and Roy didn't miss the Chief's approving nod before he saluted the room at large and said, 'The prime minister has stated that he will be arriving within the hour, and he expects to meet with the Fuhrer. Do you have any message to pass on?'
Roy took a deep breath, not caring if he was overstepping his bounds as he spoke in a strong, clear voice. 'You can tell him that Fuhrer Mackenzie will meet with him – unless anyone has any objections?'
No one said a word, and he saw more than one amused smile at his daring. At any other time, he would have been lucky not to be thrown in jail for insubordination, but in the icy shock of disaster, a voice of authority was essential. They had to take strides back towards normality, or they would lose themselves in the devastation.
Finally, Roy let his gaze rest on Mackenzie, waiting for the older man to give a brief grimace before nodding his acceptance of the role. Avron looked intolerably smug, and he sat back in his chair, his arms behind his head as Mackenzie began to speak.
'I'll meet with the Prime Minister in here, since we still need to get the blood out of the carpet in the Fuhrer's – my – office. I need all of you to do a full head count all the way down your lines of command. We need to know how much damage the events of the past few weeks have caused.' Mackenzie pinched the bridge of his nose as he tried to think. 'There might be deserters and trouble-makers, but bring their names to me before you act. We don't need to be hasty when it comes to punishing those who have simply been led astray. We must also to confirm how many of the high-ranking officers who are still missing have lost their lives.'
'Intelligence is already working on that, sir,' Roy said quietly. 'I'll make sure it's their highest priority and leave the police to deal with the convictions.'
Mackenzie nodded. 'Let the men know that this debacle is officially over. They're all to report in as soon as possible to get their orders: we need to recruit, train and refortify.' He braced his palms on the charred table, staring at its black face before he looked up, his eyes strong and determined. 'Dismissed. No one is to work later than five this evening. We can't be telling our subordinates to rest and heal if we all look like hell ourselves. Report back to me at midday tomorrow.'
One by one the men took their leave, shaking Mackenzie's hand and moving with renewed vigour. Now they had a purpose and something familiar to cling to, and suddenly the darkness didn't seem so absolute: hope had found its place within the walls of the command compound.
'Not you, Mustang,' Mackenzie growled, making Roy hesitate on the threshold. 'Shut the door.'
Doing as he was told, he stood to attention, waiting patiently as he watched the new Fuhrer scrub a hand over his eyes. 'I don't know whether to curse you or thank you. Why on earth did you recommend me?'
'Because he's not an idiot, Scott,' Avron replied. 'You're the one the men know and trust. For god's sake they fight to be in your command. They need to know their Fuhrer cares two Cens about them.'
'But -' Mackenzie made a tight, irritated noise before he grabbed a piece of paper and scribbling on it. 'Fine, but I'm not clearing up this mess on my own. Take this to the quartermaster. He'll give you your stars.' He glared at Avron. 'Same goes for you, old man.'
Roy took the piece of paper and stared down at the request, feeling his heart jump in his chest. 'You're promoting me to General?'
'You'll be based in Central, of course. I need you here.' Mackenzie took a moment to look smug, putting the cap back on the pen with a decisive snick. 'I know the next Fuhrer when I see him. I'll build this derelict wreck back into a working machine, if you swear to me you'll put it to good use when the time comes for you to take charge. Agreed?'
Roy looked up at Mackenzie as his stomach fluttered with conflicting emotions. He had been working towards the Fuhrership for so long, and now it was in his reach. Perhaps not in one year or five, but sooner than he had ever really believed possible. A month ago he would have accepted without hesitation, but now there was someone else involved in his life – someone with a stake in the choices he made. He and Ed both needed to think it over.
Taking a deep breath, Roy folded up the paper, slipping it into his pocket as he met Mackenzie's eyes. 'I'll be your general, sir, but I need time to think about the second part.' He swallowed, pursing his lips. 'These past few weeks have been -'
'Hell,' Mackenzie finished for him, giving an understanding nod. 'You've got plenty of time, Mustang. I'm not going to turn my back on you just because you didn't leap at the chance. In fact, I respect you far more for considering it so seriously.' His lips curved into a smile. 'Now, for god's sake, go and get some rest. I don't want to set eyes on you again until tomorrow at the earliest.' He waved towards the door. 'Give our regards to Major Elric, won't you?'
Roy hesitated with his hand on the door handle, looking over his shoulder. There was something about the way Mackenzie had said "our", easy and familiar, that pulled him up short. Now he raised a thoughtful eyebrow at the two men, wondering how he could have missed it. The closeness between them was more than just friendship. There was a loving edge to their teasing, and the way they worked together, each supporting the other's flaws, spoke of a deeper level of intimacy than Roy had realised.
'Was there something else, Mustang?' Avron asked, the tiniest edge of protectiveness in his voice.
He almost shook his head, but a flicker of memory unfurled in the back of his mind, urging him to speak. 'Actually, sir, there is. When Major Elric and I were hiding in the East, a lieutenant called Kess Jennings deliberately misled General Kerr and made it possible for us to get away. I believe she's under your command?'
The older man's eyes took on a knowing gleam. 'Trying to think of a way to show your gratitude? I'll let her know that her promotion is courtesy of General Mustang. Should have known she'd have the sense to ignore Kerr's tripe. Now be off with you. You've got better places to be than here.'
With one more quick salute, Roy slipped out of the doors and closed them behind him before leaning back on the wood. He slipped his hand in his pocket, feeling ing the paper crackle against his fingers. He hadn't quite believed that his manipulation of the senior staff would work. It could have all ended very differently – gone so wrong. If he misjudged the balance of power in the slightest... .Roy shook the thoughts away, forcing his shoulders to relax from their military posture. It was over. What was done, was done.
There would be time to collect his stars later, time to take stock and get down to business, but right now he had been released of his duties. He'd paid the price, and now he could claim his reward.
A quick glance at a clock on the wall told him that it had been a little over two hours since he had left Ed behind. If he had his way, he wouldn't leave his side again until Mackenzie called for him.
The tide of exhaustion that he had been holding at bay was slowly starting to breach his defences, washing over him in waves, but it was impossible to keep the lightness out of his step as he clattered down the stairs. Hughes had said to find him in the Intelligence office, and now Roy headed unerringly towards Maes' domain, his mind full of getting back to Ed's side.
Maes looked up as he knocked on the open door, eyebrows raised and his lips twitching into a grin as he finished his conversation. ' - and bring the body back. Might as well take it off their hands.' The receiver clattered in its cradle, and Hughes beamed at him as he said, 'Congratulations, General Mustang. A three rank leap is a serious promotion.'
'I only found out myself five minutes ago. How can you possibly -' Roy shook his head. 'Forget I asked. You're in Intelligence, you know everything.'
'Naturally, and Mackenzie's a good choice for Fuhrer. I heard what you did, and I have to say that I'm pretty impressed. It showed a lot of -' He waved vaguely, trying to find the right word.
'I was going to say "maturity", actually.' Hughes grabbed his jacket and issued quick orders to his men. 'The police have all this under control for today. Finish what you're doing and go home. Get some rest – you've all earned it.'
'What was that about a body?' Roy asked, falling into step beside his friend as they walked out into the corridor. 'Anyone we know?'
'Just a loose end.' Maes grinned. ' Patton, if you must know. They found him in a hotel near Creta. Want to guess how he died?'
'Poison?' He frowned as Hughes shook his head, still smiling. 'Suicide? Murder?'
'Accident, he choked on a fish-bone.' Maes tried to keep a straight face, but failed miserably as Roy rolled his eyes in disbelief. 'I've also got some messages in from the police. They've checked the vault: Ed was right. There's not much gold left.'
Roy swore, his expression becoming serious once more. He hadn't expected Ed to be wrong, but the confirmation made a bad situation worse. The military needed that bullion to function, and he doubted that parliament was in the right frame of mind to give them any more funds. 'How long will that keep us going?'
'A while. The police are already out trying to reclaim the missing gold, and the legal team are looking into seizing property from the accused to pay off the deficit. We won't get it all back, but I think we can pull through.' Maes rubbed a hand through his stubble. 'Grange is keeping quiet, but it won't do him any good. He'll be executed before the month is out.'
'That's not surprising. It's no more than he deserves.' Roy rubbed a hand against his temple. 'If it weren't for Grange's ideas, none of this would have happened. He was the one who organised the assassins and broke the military apart. We can't move on from that until he's gone.'
Hughes gripped his shoulder, giving him a gentle shake as he said, 'For god's sake, Roy, let someone else deal with this. You've more than earned your rest. Come on, let's get you back to Ed.'
Roy turned towards the front door, frowning in confusion when Maes simply kept walking, heading off down another corridor. 'Where are you going?' he called after him.
'The dormitories!' his friend replied, pausing to smile at Roy's puzzlement. 'I made sure a suite was prepared for you, since you have nowhere to live. Kitchen, living room, bathroom, a double bed,' he added meaningfully. 'Eminently suitable for a general.' Hughes held up a pair of keys, waving aside Roy's stuttered protest about getting to the hospital. 'You honestly think Ed would spend any longer in the doctor's clutches than he had to?' He lowered his voice, and his smile took on a softer, knowing edge. 'He's waiting for you, tired and a bit woozy from the pain medication, but otherwise as Ed-like as ever.'
Roy's lips slipped into a grin, and he strode forward before tugging the keys from Hughes' fingers. 'Thank you.'
'What are friends for?' Maes asked, patting him on the shoulder before turning towards the exit. 'You can find your own way. I'm off to hold my wife and daughter, and get some sleep. Something tells me tomorrow is going to be a long day.'
Roy waved farewell, watching his friend walk out of sight before he turned and strode along the corridor, not caring if his pace was too fast to be seemly for a general. He could feel Ed's pull on him like North tugged on a compass needle, pointing him home, and he was helpless to resist the call.
He read the number on the key ring, and soon enough saw the right door. Two soldiers flanked it, nodding their silent greeting to him. No doubt Hughes had put them there for his and Ed's protection, and Roy felt a flicker of relief at his friend's foresight. His mind was too full of everything – evidence, alliances, the future and Ed – to concentrate on the details any more.
Quickly, he undid the lock and stepped inside, shutting the door and sliding the bolt back in place. His boots hardly made any noise on the thick carpet, and he glanced around, smiling as he noticed abandoned crutches and what looked like about six bottles of tablets on the table. No doubt Maes had already come up with something to excuse Ed's presence in Roy's suite, but right now he couldn't care who said what about either of them. All he wanted was to hold Ed in his arms and never let him go.
Mellow lamplight from one of the rooms called to him, and Roy peered around the door and took in the scene. Ed's clothes were abandoned on the floor next to the pack they had carried halfway across the county. The curtains were drawn to block out the daylight, and the thick, white quilt on the bed rose and fell like snow drifts over Ed's body, trailing away near his bare shoulders. Silver metal and golden flesh shifted in an embarrassed shuffle, and Roy grinned as he met Ed's open, knowing gaze.
'How do you feel?' he asked softly, walking to the bedside and weaving his fingers between Ed's before he let himself be tugged down to sit on the mattress. He looked – Roy's heart clenched with gratitude – a hundred times better than he had back at the town house. He could feel the strength in Ed's grip, and his skin was no longer clouded by blood or bleached out by the hospital lights. He looked bronzed in this light, warm like the sun and healthy despite the bruises that wrote their story on the pages of his body.
'Tired, but all right,' Ed replied, shifting beneath the quilt so he could press himself against Roy's hip, nuzzling against his warmth as Roy undid the buttons on his uniform jacket and pitched it aside. 'Doctor ordered me stuff to take, told me to go to bed and stay there. Saw Al and Winry first, though.'
'How are they?' he asked quietly, knowing that if Ed had any doubts nothing would have dragged him away from his brother's bedside.
'Not too bad. Al's head hurts and he's worried about Winry, but she's okay. Should give her drugs more often, they make her shout less.'
He made a rough, happy sound as Roy stroked his hair absently. It was damp and loose around his shoulders, and Roy could smell the soap on Ed's skin. He'd probably gone in the shower as soon as he'd walked through the door, washing away the last traces of Kerr's touch and the lingering scent of the hospital. Now there were only the marks that couldn't be banished by scrubbing: the bruises, the strange tattered line around his neck and, hidden but not forgotten, the looping brand that carved through Ed's skin.
Something must have shown on his face, because Ed propped himself up on his elbows with a wince, brow crumpled with a worried frown as he asked, 'What's wrong?'
Roy let out a shuddering sigh, grimacing as he shook his head. 'I'm sorry I let him hurt you.'
'For fuck's sake, Roy.' Ed reached out, bunching the cotton of the white shirt in his grip and pulling Roy down on top of him, butting at him none-to-gently. 'You didn't "let" him do anything. You didn't stand there and do nothing to help me. You were – you had stuff to deal with. You trusted me to take care of myself and I didn't.' He shrugged. 'I used too much alchemy, got exhausted and then ran right into a trap. It wasn't your fault. Besides, they'll stand his sorry arse up against a wall and blow his brains eventually – he'll get punished for it.'
'That's not the point, Ed.' Roy rested his hands on either side of Ed's head, brushing his thumb over the unbruised cheekbone as he felt uncertainty coil and shiver in the pit of his stomach. 'Besides, if they want to shoot him they better hurry up about it,' he said quietly, taking a deep breath as Ed looked confused. 'I know you asked me to stop so that justice could be done but I – I couldn't risk them taking forever in getting through the case, or some idiot deciding Kerr was more use to the military alive than dead.'
'What did you do?' Ed asked, voice edged with doubt. 'You didn't go back, did you?'
He shook his head, nuzzling at Ed's nose as he swallowed tightly. 'When you told me to stop I hesitated just long enough to make sure he wouldn't recover from his burns. They'll kill him if the military doesn't get there first.'
Roy expected anger or disbelief. Ed had asked him to spare Kerr, had told him to stop before it was too late, and, rather than complying, Roy had reached a compromise. Still, if there was one thing he should have known, it was that he could never predict how Ed would react.
Beneath him, tense muscles slowly relaxed as Ed nodded his head. 'Thanks,' he said roughly, giving a wobbling smile, 'for making sure he can't come back.' He cleared his throat, adding in an embarrassed mumble. 'You showed up exactly when I needed you.'
Roy bowed his head, pressing his brow to Ed's and closing his eyes as fear thundered under his ribs, choking his words. 'If I hadn't? If I don't next time? It was so close, Ed. If I become Fuhrer one day, in five years, or ten, you could get hurt or worse because of your connection to me.' Roy's hands tightened into fists on either side of Ed's head. 'I – I don't know if I can stand that thought.'
Warm and cool fingers, flesh and automail, curled in his hair, urging Roy down to Ed's chest and holding him there. Roy could hear the pitter-patter of his heart and the growl of his voice thrumming through his skin as he said, 'And I could get hit by a car crossing the road tomorrow. You can't freak out about everything that might happen, or you'll never get anywhere,' Ed's finger caught under Roy's chin, lifting his head and making him look up into his face. 'Besides, what do you mean "if"? The whole point of all the paperwork and the power play and shit is to get you to the top.'
Roy didn't reply as he rolled to the side, pulling Ed with him until he was sprawled half across Roy's chest, hair mussed and the quilt bundled around him. Bright eyes looked down at him intently, searching his face for any clues as Ed tried to unravel the puzzle he was presented with. He was biting his lip, a small frown wrinkling his brow as he tried to understand, and the expression didn't fade as Roy murmured, 'It was. I'm just not sure I can do it any more.'
He expected Ed to tell him he was being stupid or ask questions, but instead he narrowed his eyes thoughtfully, letting their breathing measure out the seconds before he lowered his head and brushed a light, tender kiss to Roy's lips. 'I am,' he murmured against his mouth before pulling back. 'You could probably rule the world if you wanted to, and you'd be good at it. Not because you're perfect or incorruptible, but because you know what rules can be broken and which ones have to stand, no matter what.'
'Are you saying you want me to keep going?' Roy asked quietly, reaching up to cup Ed's cheek. 'Even if it puts you in danger?'
'Not helpless,' he growled in response. 'Been in danger most of my life, Mustang, and that's not going to change even if you decide to leave the military.' Ed sat back, his hands splayed across Roy's chest. 'I'm saying that you shouldn't make this decision just because you're afraid of what might happen to me.' Ed's jaw tightened, and he took a deep breath as he added, 'I'm not going to be the one who gets in the way of you becoming Fuhrer, Mustang. If you've got another reason, then fine, but it should be about you, not me.'
Roy opened his mouth to argue, but the words caught on his tongue, remaining unsaid as he tugged Ed back down into his arms, holding him heart to thudding heart as he tried to get his head around the mess of confusion that occupied his thoughts.
The truth was, it felt as if he had been struggling for the Fuhrership all his life, but why? He had been so desperate to find a way to absolve the sins of Ishbal and put right the wrongs of the past, but even the Fuhrer didn't have that kind of power.
The only thing he could change was the future, and, until now, that had stretched before him, lonely and bleak, Now, it included Ed, and that – that was something worth striving for. He didn't have to build a better world for the ungrateful multitude, but maybe he did have to do it for Ed, for them.
'Okay?' Ed asked again, jabbing him in the ribs.
'Okay.' He looked down into doubtful amber eyes, noticing the violet shadows that underscored their depths. 'Whatever I decide, it can wait, can't it?' he asked. 'We've got time.' Lightly, he brushed a fingertip along the top of Ed's cheek, wishing he could rub away every little hurt and weakness with his touch. 'You should get some sleep. You look exhausted.'
'I'm not the only one,' Ed muttered, meeting Roy's gaze pointedly. 'You don't exactly look brilliant yourself.' He pulled at the quilt, spreading it out again and holding it back a little way. 'Come to bed,' he said gruffly. 'Not like I can sleep without you any more.'
Without another word, Roy reached down to tug off his boots. He abandoned them on the floor as Ed's fingers plucked absently at his shirt, pulling it out of his pants and splaying his left hand over Roy's stomach. It was a possessive touch, and Roy relished the contact before Ed looped his arm around his waist and tugging him down to the mattress.
Roy shuffled closer until he could finally curl his arm around Ed's bare waist and hold him close, feeling some of his jagged edges lose their bite as Ed's body pressed to his: a matching puzzle piece.
' You're overdressed,' Ed grumbled sleepily, burying his face in the crook of Roy's neck and draping one leg over his to hold him in place. His left hand stroked lazily up and down Roy's back beneath the shirt, charting every ridge of his spine as if he was fascinated by it.
'You're hardly dressed at all.' The smirk curved his lips unbidden as he trailed a fingertip around the low slung waistband of Ed's boxer shorts. They were all he was wearing. Not much more than a handful of cotton stood between him and Ed in all his glory. 'Not that I'm complaining.'
'Pervert,' Ed mumbled affectionately. 'At least take the fucking shirt off.' He watched through barely open eyes as Roy did as he was told, tugging open buttons and shrugging out of the fabric before pitching it aside. As soon as Roy lay back down Ed nestled close again with a drowsy sound of content.
His fingers stroked over bare skin, sending ribbons of sleepy desire winding along Roy's nerves. They ignited sparks in their wake, but the heavy blanket of exhaustion stopped them from becoming wildfires, banking them into something that glowed in the pit of Roy's stomach.
Gently, he tipped Ed's head up, pressing a slow, steady, deep kiss to his willingly parted lips as he folded Ed's hand in his, holding it over his heart. 'Later, Ed. I don't think my ego can cope if you fall asleep halfway through.'
Roy smiled as Ed's husky, disappointed growl dissolved into a yawn, and tucked Ed's head under his chin, feeling the feather-light flutter of his breath against his skin. Slowly, Ed's body relaxed against his, sleep-heavy, and Roy brushed a kiss to the top of Ed's head, briefly tightening his arms around him as he let his eyes drift closed.
Out there, beyond the door, there was a world of questions and uncertainty, but here, in the warm nest of the bed, there was nothing but peace.
After weeks of jumping at shadows and running for their lives, they were finally safe: to sleep, to live – to love.
A/N: There is an epilogue in the works, but due to its sexually explicit nature, it's not suitable for this site. If you want to read it, then a link will go in my profile once it's posted. You can always bookmark my writing LJ, (link also in profile) and then you'll be guaranteed to see all the new Roy/Ed fanfiction I post.
As always, I thank you from the absolute bottom of my heart for reading. Whether you've commented every chapter or have been a ilent witness to this story, I'm grateful to you. Without you, this whole story is nothing but me talking to myself. There probably won't be a sequel to Tears and Rain, but there are always more stories to tell. Hopefully I'll see you all again soon.