Author's Notes: This fic is written for radcat38, who won my services at the Sweet Charity Auction. Along with everyone else in fandom everywhere, we contributed towards a huge donation of more than £10,000 ($13,000) for a great cause! Thanks for bidding, everyone, and I hope you all like it!
Under The Influence
Darkness consumed him. It seeped into Ed's nose and mouth, pressing down on him until he couldn't breathe, couldn't scream, couldn't even move. Part of his mind knew that this was normal; it happened every night, but sleep's soft touch had become a shroud, dragging him further and further away from the warm haze of existence.
Only the heat next to him kept him grounded. It reminded him that this was not the dead, vacuous plane of the gate. This was not endless oblivion. It would pass. Something brushed over his hair, soft and soothing, but it was not a parental touch. It was stronger than that, more possessive, as if whoever eased him through the valley of sleep did not do so out of obligation, but had made the choice to stay with him until the end.
Thoughts flitted across his mind, forming the shapes of dreams and nightmares, but both slipped through his fingers like desert sand. He wasn't asleep, but he wasn't awake, either. He hovered somewhere in between, walking the knife-edge of conciousness. The faint thrills that buzzed across his skin grew teeth and sank them into muscles and flesh, sparking aches that thrummed down to his bones.
He flinched, cringing away and scrabbling at the heaviness all around him. Instantly there were hot hands on his face, his shoulders, his arms – their touch drove away the things that hurt him, but they left their fangs in his skin and the pain continued. He wanted to cry out or fight back, but his body wasn't responding. It slumped, lax and doll-like, only held up by the arms around him.
Soft words murmured in his ear, shaping promises that Ed couldn't understand. They sounded desperate and he focussed on the voice. He knew it, had heard it before, but the picture of its owner was a smear of white and dark, blurred beyond recognition by his murky mind. In the end, that didn't matter. He trusted them, whoever it was. Even now, as nervous and unsure as they sounded, the rasping pleas were lulling him into a deeper sleep, safe in the knowledge that there was someone to watch over him and shelter him from all the ills the world held in store.
Time passed, measured out by the steady rise and fall of the chest beneath his cheek and the beat of another heart. They were his anchor, those sounds, his only tether to the world outside his head, and they guided him back to wakefulness.
Pain pounced, striking before he'd even opened his eyes, and Ed gave a faint groan as every muscle and joint was seized by fierce discomfort. Shivers tore along his spine, and he huddled deeper in the warm cocoon of the quilt. Maybe if he went back to sleep it would go away. At least he was in the comfort of his own bed... .
Belatedly, other senses woke up, chiming in to contradict that belief. His bed wasn't this big, and his sheets didn't carry the faint scent of clean sparks and spice. Opening gritty eyes, he froze, staring at the man who lay next to him. Roy's forehead was close enough to be pressed against Ed's own, and his lashes formed dark fans against his cheeks. Stubble shadowed his jaw, but there were no lines of tension or stress on his face. He was completely relaxed, lost in slumber.
Frantically, Ed searched his memory, trying to understand how he had ended up here, but he came up blank. He could remember the stake-out at the warehouse, could recall it all going to shit and then, like a broken mirror, the images shattered, no longer making sense. He could grasp glimpses of things, but they were like tatters of a dream: senseless.
Somehow, he'd ended up in Roy's bed – naked in Roy's bed. The blush slammed into Ed's cheeks as he clutched the covers like a shield. Panic clawed at him as he tried to think, but the near past was a mystery to him. All he had was the evidence of the present, and he concentrated as he tried to deduce what had happened.
They hadn't had sex. His body might ache, but it was the kind of pain received after a long, bruising fight, not a night of bedroom fun. There'd be stickiness and mess, but his skin felt clean. Besides, Ed realised, Roy was clothed. A white t-shirt was stretched tight over muscled shoulders, and there was another set of blankets pulled up over Roy's body. He was lying on top of the quilt, and the weight of one arm was curled possessively around Ed's waist as if he was trying to hold him in place.
Miserably, Ed shuffled further down the bed until the top of the duvet was on level with his eyes, leaving him peering warily over its edge. Something had happened, something not right. He felt – he felt – Ed winced, swallowing tightly against the frightened sob that wanted to catch in the back of his throat. He felt fucking awful, not just in pain but... .
The darkness hadn't gone. He remembered it from his dreams, closing in on him from all sides. Now it sat like rotten blood at his core, tainting every lungful of air and sucking away his heat. Ed ground the heels of his hands against his eyelids, trying to get control of his breathing.
He knew this. He'd felt it before and hoped, fucking prayed, that he wouldn't come across it again. After losing Al's body, after failing to bring back his mother, after screwing everything up in the worst way possible, the blackness had arrived. It wasn't anger, it wasn't loathing, both of those required a passion that he couldn't grasp. It was apathy.
Nothing mattered. Nothing. Not living, not breathing, not eating... He remembered lying in the Rockbell's house, a half person, a nothing-boy, and wishing he had the energy to reach for a scalpel and stick it in his chest. Of course, he couldn't. Back then he'd had things to do: he'd had to get the automail, get Al's body back, and, little-by-little, day-by-day, the shadows had ebbed. Years later, when he'd dragged his brother back from the gate and realised that a long life still waited for them both, the sun had finally come out in his chest.
Yet this didn't feel like clouds or an eclipse, it felt like a gaping hole in his guts, sick and dying. What had he done to end up back here? What had he done to open up the old, black wound?
'Ed?' Roy's voice was rough with sleep, more a hoarse growl than anything else ,and a few prickles of heat sparked down Ed's spine. In a second, the shadows snuffed them out like a tidal wave over candle flames, swamping through his chest and rising in his throat. It must have shown on his face, because Roy propped himself up on his elbows, one hand reaching out to hover helplessly over Ed's hair. 'What's wrong?'
He could feel the heat of him, vivid and alive and within arm's reach, but Ed's limbs were like lead. He couldn't reach out, couldn't even lift his head that fractional distance to press against Roy's smooth palm. It felt like he was encased in ice, and he wasn't even sure if Roy's flames could melt away the chilly casket that locked his skin in its grip.
'Ed, please say something?' Roy looked, not confident or smug, but nervous and afraid. His movements were cautious, like he was frightened that his presence would do Ed more harm than good, but he gradually let his hand rest on Ed's head, stroking a thumb over tangled hair as he leant back into the pillows, eye-to-eye and waiting.
'Feel like shit.' The words sounded wrecked, dead and muffled by the quilt that Ed still had pressed against his lips. He almost asked what had happened, but the question turned to ash in his mouth. What did it matter? Knowing wasn't going to make this better, wasn't going to make it go away, so why bother?
He felt blank, washed out and wiped through. The only sensations were the sick pulse of his heart and the sweep of Roy's thumb against his temple. He wondered when that had happened – when the boundary of his personal space had receded far enough to let Roy get this close. Wasn't he meant to push him away or pull him near? Shouldn't he be feeling something? Anger, excitement, happiness?
There was nothing. Roy could do what he wanted: hit him, kiss him, yell at him, fuck him. The truth was, Ed didn't care. His body wasn't his. It was a vacant shell, and even the warmth of Roy's hand on his crown was like a distant star, nothing but a dot of light on his physical horizons.
'Do you remember what happened at the warehouse?' Roy asked quietly, carrying on to fill the silence when Ed didn't answer. 'You were chasing one of the thieves. He was an alchemist. You got him, punched him in the face from the looks of it, but he threw some powder in your face. Do you remember that?'
A nod, it was all he could manage. He remembered dusty ground, the clatter of gunfire, stacked crates falling every which way as he tore after the man, focussed one-hundred percent on bringing him down. It had worked, too, but not before a handful of dusty sand-like stuff smacked him in the face, kissing across his skin and coating the inside of his mouth as he gasped in surprise. He'd broken the alchemist's nose for that.
'It was a drug called Euphoria,' Roy explained, his fingers falling still as he looked down at Ed's face. He could feel the weight of that bottomless gaze, but he didn't look up. It was easier to stare at the changeable topography of the quilt and pillows and the wall of Roy's cotton-clad chest, letting the whiteness drown him.
'You were covered in it, and it started to affect you within minutes. You were high for most of the night.' A deep breath hissed between Roy's lips, and when he spoke again Ed didn't quite understand the emotion in his words: hope, dread, or a mixture of the two? 'Do you remember anything after the warehouse?'
Ed closed his eyes, his lips twisting in a grimace as he shook his head once. There were things there, hovering in the black vault of his mind, but the images were interrupted and disjointed. They could have been dreams or reality, truth or lie, and he couldn't tell one from the other. For all he knew they were all figments of his imagination, fantasies built to fill the void.
A shiver raced through him, shaking alive the pain in his muscles, and he blinked as Roy moved, fanning the blankets out over on top of the quilt. Dimly, he could sense Roy's confusion and uncertainty; Al and Winry had been the same, all those years ago, torn between sympathy and anger. His brother had wanted to protect him from everything while Winry had longed to shake him out of it. Neither did him any good.
'You're scaring me.' It was a quiet confession, whispered against his brow. 'I can't help you if you won't tell me what's wrong, Ed. Are you still hallucinating? Are you in pain? Thirsty? Hungry? Do you need anything?'
Wearily, he shook his head again, taking a deep breath and summoning up the fragile, dwindled reserves of his strength as he said, 'Leave me alone.'
It sounded harsh, brutal and pitiful all at once, and he felt Roy tense as if he'd lashed out at him. Guilt was a brief bloom in his chest, crushed to a pulp before it could flourish. It was the only way to stop them worrying, then and now. He needed to hide, like an injured animal dragging itself back to its den to lick its wounds. He needed to get away.
A voice in his mind snapped that this was Roy's bed, Roy's house, that if anyone was going to leave it should be him. It growled about ingratitude and selfishness, and Ed cringed away from the inner reprimand, closing his eyes and clenching his teeth as Roy slipped out from under the blankets.
He was waiting for icy disdain, for the same kind of tone Roy employed when he did something stupid and disappointing on his latest assignment, but it never came. Instead, he sounded as if he understood as he murmured, 'If you need anything, just tell me. Try and get some more sleep. It might help you feel better.'
Ed closed his eyes as the bedroom door closed quietly behind Roy's back, wishing he could bury himself in the bed and never, ever emerge again. The disjointed, protective cloak of indifference was fading away, leaving him exposed to the maiming grasp of blacker things. He felt too ruined, scarred, ugly to belong here, too hideous to be worthy of light and air and life, but too dead to do anything about it.
He drew his knees up to his chest, trying to block out the endless litany of disgust in his mind as he fought against the sting of tears in his eyes. Grown men didn't cry, even if the damp pillow beneath his cheek told him otherwise.
Time passed. Maybe he slept, or maybe he simply stared at nothing, it was impossible to tell. Only a quiet tapping made him lift his gaze and see more than white and black. A pine door with a brass handle, which turned before someone nudged their way into the room, a plate in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other.
Not Roy, but Hughes, and Ed blinked at him as a fragment of memory stirred. He'd promised that he would come and check on them. They'd been in a car: dark all round and skimming street lights – doodles on a foggy window pane – Roy's arms around his waist, scooping him up like he weighed nothing and a cartwheel of sky and brickwork before he was staring at the paving and clutching rough wool in his palm.
The clarity faded, leaving Ed with a ruddy feeling of embarrassment at his core and no reason for its presence. He welcomed the heat even as he tried to understand it and bring the night back into focus, but it was like trying to catch steam. Images fluttered beyond his reach, leaving him with nothing.
Hughes gave him a faint smile before he sat down on the floor, putting the mug down on the carpet as he leaned back against the bed. The plate was balanced on his fingertips, and Ed realised he was holding it at just the right height for him to see the food: fried breakfast. Normally he would have been wolfing it down, but the smell turned his stomach, making him bury his nose in the quilt as he fought not gag.
Maes was watching him out of the corner of his eye, and he lowered the plate to the floor before reaching for his coffee. He took a sip, cradling the cup in his palms and tipping his head back so he was staring up at the ceiling. 'It's the after-effect of the drug,' he said eventually. 'What you're feeling: the depression, loss of appetite, all that. It's why we didn't put you in the hospital. As hard as I'm sure it was to keep you safe last night, I think suffering this in a clinical room would have been too much for you.'
He clinked his wedding ring against the mug in his lap, and Ed wondered if he was meant to answer. He knew he should thank Hughes for that consideration, because the thought of hospital, doctors, starched sheets and cool, uncaring walls while he felt like this was almost too much to bear. The words rose in his throat and lodged there, making every breath painful, and Ed gritted his teeth, hating himself for his weaknesses.
'I left you with Roy because I knew he'd be the best person to take care of you. He's good at this kind of thing, at helping people without expecting anything in return.' Hughes shifted his weight, moving so that Ed could see his thoughtful profile. 'If you did anything embarrassing he wouldn't tease you about it later. If you told him anything you'd rather you hadn't, then he'd keep it quiet.' Maes shrugged. 'He hasn't even said anything to me, just that he's worried about you.' Green eyes looked at him, as astute as ever. 'So am I, for that matter. I'd ask if you were all right, but I can see it would be a stupid question.'
He ran his hand through his short hair, his spectacles gleaming as he sighed heavily. 'I spent a few hours this morning researching all I could about Euphoria. How you feel right now - it'll pass. I know it doesn't feel like it, but it will fade away, probably sooner than you think. You just need to give it time. I'm talking hours, a couple of days at most, Ed, nothing more.'
Hughes' voice became hard, and he turned around on the floor so he was facing the bed fully. 'You're not stupid, I know that, but a lot of people who take Euphoria once think that the only way to get back to normality is to take it again. They don't get through the low and let their mood balance out, and they get stuck in a cycle.' He gave a worried frown when Ed stayed silent. 'Another high won't make this go away; it'll just make things worse in the long-run, understand?'
Ed tried to find his voice. Hughes was right: he wasn't stupid. He'd seen what drugs did to people, how it took their future and obliterated it in a haze of addiction, reducing every ambition down to nothing but the next fix. Before, he'd thought they were stupid. How could anything be good enough for that? How could their lives be equivalent exchange for a few hours of not caring about anything, but now he knew. It wasn't cravings that sent them back, it was dread. They feared the low – this darkness, this cold, this hopelessness – and some small part of him understood that.
If someone offered him a pill, a smoke, a drink, and told him it would make him feel more like himself, he'd take it in a second. It would be the quick way out, he knew that, but he'd fought so long and hard to do what was right, rather than what was easy. Couldn't he take a short-cut, just this once?
No. Ed closed his eyes, dragging in a deep, shivering breath as he crushed the temptation. Even if he cracked right through with misery, he couldn't do that to Al, to Roy, to himself. He was stronger than that; he had to be. The alternative was unthinkable. He had been through these shadows before, had fought his way through and out the other side. He would do it again.
'Ed, if you say nothing else all day, I need you to promise me you won't try and self-medicate with anything.' Maes' words were quiet, and Ed knew he spoke as both a friend and the closest thing he had to a father. 'Please?'
He huddled into a tighter ball on the mattress, letting his eyes flutter in a slow blink as he murmured, 'I promise.' Gritting his teeth, he dragged the words out of himself by force. 'I'm too fucked up to even get out of bed, let alone go looking for anything to make this go away.'
Maes looked down at the floor, his expression pensive before he met Ed's eyes again. 'It'll get better by itself, and all you can do in the meantime is work out what you need -' He reached out, tapping the back of Ed's hand to get his attention as Ed looked away. 'You spend most of your life pushing yourself to keep going: another step, another array, another assignment. It's all right to stop once in a while. Don't worry about what anyone else thinks, you don't have that luxury. You know what to do to get yourself through this, and no one will think any less of you for asking for it.'
Ed curled his automail fingers, listening to the plates rasp over each other and watching them sparkle and gleam. 'I kicked Mustang out of his own bed,' he confessed quietly. 'Don't want to be seen like this.'
It was quiet and curious, and at another time Ed would have been impressed by Maes' ability to make others trust him so easily, but he was too weary to do more than sigh. It wasn't an easy thing to explain without sounding deranged. How could he tell a man who was always happy and smiling that sometimes every emotion became an oil-slick? In the end he could only shrug, worthless and broken in the nest of the quilt and blankets.
'On the outside, you don't look any different,' Hughes said softly, 'but I know what you mean: It's hard to believe you can appear normal when there's nothing inside you but rot.' It sounded as if he spoke from experience, and a glimmer of curiosity broke through the murk of Ed's mind. 'It happens to everyone at some point or another. Some people go through their whole lives with a certain darkness to their smile, others are more extreme.'
Maes shifted, leaning back on his hands and tipping his head to one side as he examined Ed's face. 'It's not the depression that makes people think better or worse of you, it's how you handle it that counts. You might think you're being strong by hiding how you feel but, in the end, your friends end up hurt because you didn't let them help you.'
Ed watched as Hughes got to his feet, looking idly around the room before he spotted a run down alarm clock. With swift movements he grabbed it and wound it up, talking all the while.
'There aren't many soldiers who make it through a war without suffering something for it. They might not be bruised or bleeding, but they hurt all the same. When I think of things that I've done, think of how the world's never going to be good enough for my perfect daughter -' He shrugged, his lips twisting into a rueful smile. 'I'm telling you this because I do exactly what you're doing now.' He looked at Ed over the top of his glasses. 'I hide until either I manage to drag myself back out into the light or someone else does it for me: Gracia or Roy, normally.'
He twisted the clock's hands so they told the right time and put the small contraption on the bedside table as he murmured, 'You're stronger than me, Ed. Wait a few more hours and you'll start to feel more like yourself, okay?' Bending down to pick up the plate and cup, he balanced them neatly in his hands before turning away. Reaching out for the door, he murmured, 'Get some rest, and remember that people want to help you. You don't have to suffer in silence if you don't want to.'
Quietly, he stepped out into the hallway, closing Ed in with the peace. The clock on the bedside table ticked out a comforting rhythm, and chinks of sunlight crept around the curtains. Dimly, the sounds of Central's Sunday reached Ed's ears. There were cars out there, people going about their business and hurrying on through their lives, but they could have been in another universe.
Hughes' presence had brought a glimmer of warmth, but it was already ebbing away. Ed needed human contact; he knew that in the same way a sick man acknowledged the need for medicine. He needed to feel the undeniable pulse of life beneath someone else's skin – a constant reminder of what he was striving to reclaim. He couldn't even feel the throb of his own heart any more. It was still there, beating beneath his ribs, but it felt wooden and sharp.
Stiffly, he reached out, pulling at the pillow on which Roy had slept and dragging it down the mattress until he could wrap his arms around it. The feathers inside shifted and sighed, denting easily beneath Ed's strength: something to hang onto.
If Al had been here, Ed knew his brother would have stubbornly wrapped his arms around him. Even if Ed pushed him away he'd cling on, because he knew what Ed needed even when Ed himself couldn't work it out. He wouldn't ask questions, wouldn't even say a word unless Ed spoke to him, he'd just be there, strong and reliable, a physical reminder of all the things worth carrying on for.
But Al was in Risembool with Winry, and Ed wouldn't wish him back for the world. Al was looking to the future, looking to the girl he wanted to spend his life with, and Ed didn't want to make him worry. One of them, at least, should have a shot at normality.
Besides, it wasn't like Ed was going to do the whole "wife and kids" thing, not when his preferences lay in other directions. He gritted his teeth as another litany of shame and disgust began in his mind, trying desperately to stifle the harsh words with his arguments.
So he didn't like girls, so what? It wasn't like he was the only man in the world that felt that way. People might think it was weird, wrong, some kind of sickness or perversion, but he knew better, and that was all that mattered. That and Al, who'd just smiled and said "okay" like he'd known it all along.
Knows you spread your legs for men? Knows what you let them do?
Ed sighed, clenching his hand into a fist as his doubts reared up once more. He'd tried to think of women like that, as more than walking, talking others and as something he'd want to touch and hold and take to bed, but it didn't work. Some of them were interesting and some of them were pretty in a purely aesthetic sense, but none of them lit a fire beneath his skin. Not like men – not like Roy.
Think your mother would be proud?
His words hissed furiously in the silence of the room, and he dragged the quilt up over his head to stare into the gloom. The pillow was a warm weight against his chest, and he buried his face in it and took a deep breath. It smelled of spice with the faintest suggestion of wood smoke; Ed curled around it pathetically.
Picking at the cotton pillow-case, he closed his eyes, wishing it was as easy to stop the dizzy accusations in his mind. At first he'd thought the thing he felt for Mustang was a crush: embarrassing and inconvenient, but he'd get over it. There were others, now and then, some lasted a night while others stuck around for a couple of months, but it was always superficial. The burn of lust fizzled and faded, leaving nothing in its wake. They weren't alchemists or soldiers – they didn't understand. They didn't look at him with dark, knowing eyesand listen to everything he said as if his opinion was important.
They didn't make his heart clench when they said his name, and couldn't fill his stomach with hot, thrashing butterflies of nerves and excitement with nothing more than a glance. He might have wanted those others for a while, but he'd never needed them like he needed Roy. He'd never given them all of himself, and yet, even though he'd never shared more than the occasional hot look with Roy, he still trusted him more than the rest put together. Shouldn't that mean that Ed could rely on him for anything, no matter what?
With a sigh, Ed realised that he had to take things into his own hands if he was going to get through this, and lying in bed feeling sorry for himself wasn't the way forward. He needed help, and the only way he was going to get that was if he asked for it.
Determination was a glowing coal in his chest, but the ruddy warmth mottled with black as soon as he began to move. Chills seized him, wrapping like chains around his body as every muscle, bone and joint quivered with pain. He felt as if he'd been fighting a running battle all night, living on a wire of adrenaline that had drained to leave him battered and weak.
With a groan, he shifted beneath the covers, reaching over the edge of the bed and groping for something to wear. All he found were some pyjama pants, and he dragged them on. They draped over his feet, freakishly long, but at least he was half-decent. He didn't know where his clothes were, and he wasn't sure he even wanted to find out. The memories of the night remained frustratingly elusive, shifting like veils in his mind. He kept catching fragments, nothing more, and he couldn't tell what was real and what had been nothing but a dream.
Dredging up what felt like the last of his strength, he climbed to his feet, wrapping the heavy quilt around his shoulders to keep some of its feeble warmth next to his skin. The mirror in the corner reflected his image, and he grimaced at the mess. His hair was everywhere, and his face looked pale and wrung out. He didn't dare meet his eyes in the glass, knowing what he would see. They would be lifeless, and he didn't need reminding of the blackness at his heart.
The bed beckoned to him, a rumpled mess of sheets and promises, but Ed made himself turn away, brushing back the curtain to peer outside at the world he was meant to be a part of. It looked cold and clear. Weak sunlight poured down from the rooftops and gleamed off of the cars, and Ed pressed his palm to the window, feeling the icy bite of the glass against his skin as he watched a couple hurry along outside, their coats flapping in the wind that blustered down the pavement.
Behind him, the door swung open, and he looked over his shoulder to see Roy pad into the room with a tall glass of water in his hands. He was still wearing the white t-shirt and a pair of faded pyjama pants similar to the ones slung low over Ed's hips. He was unshaven, and his hair was a tousled mess; it was a far cry from the calm, professional image he portrayed in the office. Did he always look like this at home: open and relaxed?
Dark eyes found him in an instant, and a faint smile curved Roy's lips as if he was pleased to see that Ed had got out of bed on his own accord. He shifted closer, holding out the glass and waiting as Ed took it in his automail hand. 'You need to drink it all, even if you don't feel like it,' he explained softly. 'You spent most of last night demanding water, but you might still be dehydrated. How do you feel?'
He grimaced and shrugged, keeping the quilt clutched around his shoulders with his left hand as he took a sip of water. Its coolness trailed down his chest and pooled in his stomach, making him shiver, but he drank it all anyway. When he was done, Roy tugged the glass from his grasp and put it on the bedside table before turning back and looking at him closely.
Ed thought he would feel nothing under the scrutiny, thought any desire would be too smothered to come to life, but faint sparks shot through him, leaving his chest that little bit lighter and driving back some of the clutching chill. It wasn't much, but it was better than the hollow, sucking emptiness, and he let himself cherish the flicker of sensation.
'You're still shivering,' Roy murmured, hesitating before holding out his hand. 'There's a fire lit downstairs. You can curl up on the couch and sleep down there if you want.'
'Thanks,' Ed managed, wincing at the roughness of his voice. 'Sorry that I told you to leave. I should have been the one to get out, not you.'
Before he had even finished speaking, Roy was shaking his head. 'Don't mention it. I would have slept in the spare room, but I was worried that your hallucinations were going to get worse.' He paused, glancing away before adding, 'I didn't want to leave you on your own.'
That was the second time he'd mentioned hallucinations, and Ed wondered what he'd done to startle the unshakable Mustang. They seemed to be plaguing him, and Ed felt a prickle of unease as he thought of all the shadows in his subconscious that might have taken shape. 'Thanks,' he said again, feeling stupid for repeating himself. 'Hughes said that you took care of me. You didn't have to do that. You could have just dumped me back at the flat. I'd have been all right.'
Doubt was thick on Roy's features, and Ed winced, wishing he knew why. He didn't ask, and Roy didn't offer the information. Instead he pulled the quilt up further around Ed's shoulders and nudged him gently across the room, matching him step for step as if he thought it was unwise to leave Ed's side, even for a few seconds.
'It was here or the hospital. None of us were going to leave you on your own, Ed.' Roy paused at the top of the stairs, hesitating before he added in a quiet voice, 'You almost stuck your left hand in the fire – said you were catching fireflies. If I hadn't stopped you.... ' He didn't need to finish that sentence, and Ed felt the blood drain from his face as he worked out what could have happened.
He remembered that, now that Roy mentioned it: glowing stars of light against the blackness of the chimney. They had looked like the fireflies across the fields back in Risembool. Part of him had warned him about the heat, had told him insects didn't burn, but he'd ignored it. Would he have drawn away when it started to hurt? Would he even have felt it?
'Sorry,' he whispered again, looking down at his feet. Roy hadn't sounded accusing or angry; his words were tight with concern and the sharper edges of fear. It sounded like he had spent the whole night worrying while Ed had been doing fuck knew what in some kind of trippy daze. Where was the equivalent exchange in that? He owed Roy; that much was clear. Even if he never asked for repayment, Ed would still feel indebted to him for all that he had done.
Closing his eyes, he summoned up his courage. Ignorance might be bliss, but he couldn't hide from this. That would be taking the easy way out. 'Was that the only hallucination,' he asked, 'or were there others?'
Roy bit his lip, and Ed knew from his reluctance that there had been other delusions haunting the night. Turning around, Roy lead the way down the stairs as he asked, 'Is it important? It might be best that you can't remember them. '
Ed reacted too quickly to think about it, snagging his wrist and pulling him up short. Part of him was surprised at his own familiarity, shocked that he felt as if he had the right to reach out like this, but he pushed it aside. 'I need to know. I – it's -' He shrugged as he stammered, trying to find a way to explain. In the end, he couldn't. 'Please? Is there a reason you don't want to tell me?'
Turning on the step, Roy moved his arm, shifting Ed's grip around his wrist until he could wrap his hand around Ed's palm and twine their fingers together. He skimmed his thumb over Ed's skin thoughtfully before urging him down the stairs and pulling him across the hall, not meeting his eyes as he began to speak.
'You thought my bathroom was covered in blood and that there was a desert of some kind. You saw a boy by the door, but you didn't seem to recognise him.' Roy grimaced as Ed scowled towards the threshold. 'You didn't seem frightened by any of that, but -'
'The thing in the living room,' Ed whispered, staring unseeingly as the memory began to untangle itself, no longer knotted skeins of thought and emotion but a smooth, gruesome tapestry. 'I was drawing an array by the fire, and it was in the corner.' Bile stung the back of his throat and nausea churned in his empty stomach.
His emotions must have been stamped all over his face, because Roy reached out, grasping Ed's shoulders as if he was afraid that he would crumple where he stood. Ed shuddered. He was being stupid and weak. It wasn't even real, not any more. It wasn't more than a nightmare given shape, and yet he was acting like a little kid. Roy might have respected him before, but after this?
Ed gulped in a breath, trying frantically to pull himself together, but it was useless. His feelings were too raw, sharp-edged and bitter. He couldn't push them aside or hide them behind blustering anger. They wouldn't be denied, no matter what his whimpering pride wanted.
'It terrified you,' Roy explained softly. 'You didn't lash out at it or run away, you just tried not to look at it. That was what scared me the most, seeing you unable to defend yourself against something that, normally, you'd have tried to fight.' His deep breath stirred the air, and when he spoke again it was pained. 'I couldn't even help you. I didn't know what to say or how to make it stop, so I pulled you away from it. Took you upstairs and made you go to sleep.'
He'd held him, Ed remembered. All night long there had been someone there, soothing away the jagged edges of his restless slumber. Even in his dreams he thought he'd recognised the voice, and now he knew why. Roy hadn't left him alone, probably hadn't slept himself until Ed had finally succumbed to oblivion and sunk beyond the reach of the horrors in his mind. He'd protected Ed from things he couldn't see or sense as earnestly as if they had been real monsters, and Ed swallowed a lump in his throat as he tried to speak.
Roy might not have asked what that last hallucination was, but he deserved to know all the same. He owed him that much. 'It was the thing Al and I made when we tried to get our mother back,' he confessed quietly, 'but worse. That – that was just blood and bone and a few breaths, nothing else. What I saw had a voice, enough of one to scream and shout.'
He closed his eyes, shuddering again as Roy's grip tightened in sympathy. When he carried on, his voice grated on every word. 'She was furious, in pain. Said I'd made her and she was my responsibility. Said I had to find a stone and make her whole. I'd done it for Al so I could do it for her, too.'
Shame rose up, clawing at his throat and making his eyes sting with tears that he refused to let fall, 'But I couldn't. Sometimes I don't even know how I did it for Al without killing myself in the process. I couldn't fight my way through all that again.' Something close to a sob hitched in his chest, and he bit his lip hard enough to draw blood.
Warm fingers hooked under his chin, making him lift his head to meet Roy's gaze with overly-bright eyes. 'Ed, what you saw might have been a memory of what was in that array, but it wasn't real. It wasn't your mother.' He made a small, sad noise in his throat as he swept away a falling tear with his thumb, and Ed closed his eyes, trying to stop any more from spilling over his lashes, humiliated and hurting. 'Your mother would never ask that from you. All she'd want is for you to be happy.'
He frowned with concern as Ed gulped in another shuddering breath, rubbing his hands over Ed's quilt-clad shoulders as if he was trying to instil some warmth in him. When Ed managed to stutter an apology, wiping furiously at his eyes, he shook his head. 'Stop it, Ed. I think it's the after-effects of the drugs making you this emotional, and even if it's not, you don't have to hide how you feel from me.' Roy motioned towards the living room door. 'Come on. Let's get you in by the fire. Unless you'd rather stay out of that room?'
Ed jerked his head from side to side. He hadn't run away from anything since he joined the army, and he wasn't about to change that now. 'There's nothing in there to be scared of, any more.' His voice wobbled as he said it, but Roy said nothing, giving him a gentle smile as he took his hand and led him into the living room.
Automatically, Ed's eyes sought out the corner where the creature had been lying. There was nothing there but painted walls and soft shadows, not even a blood stain on the carpet, and he let out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding. He couldn't blame that hallucination solely on the drugs, he'd dreamt it enough in the past, but never before had it seemed so tangible and real.
The fire crackled hungrily in the grate, filling the room with firelight. Drawn curtains blocked out the world, making the room seem snug and intimate despite its size. He sat down, hearing the feather-stuffed sofa cushions sigh beneath his weight as he curled up in the corner, leaving room for Roy. He'd already stolen the man's bed for hours; he wasn't about to make him sit on the floor.
'Why don't you lie down and try and get some more sleep?' Roy asked quietly. 'You still look exhausted.'
'So do you,' Ed pointed out quietly, taking in the shadows beneath Roy's eyes. 'You must have been awake for most of the night.'
Roy couldn't argue with that, and Ed took a deep breath as anxiety thrashed in his chest. The boundaries between them seemed to have blurred to almost nothing, but that didn't make asking Roy for his help any easier. Whenever Roy touched him, the darkness receded, burned off by his presence, but Ed didn't know how to explain what he wanted. Something had happened between them, something had changed, but Ed didn't remember the details. Did he really have any right to demand more from Roy than he'd already given?
'I'll sleep if you will,' Roy promised eventually, waiting for Ed to nod in agreement before turning away. 'I'll just get some blankets. The floor's not exactly comfortable.'
Maes' words echoed in Ed's head; for all his goofy smiles, the man knew what he was talking about, and Ed realised that he was right. He couldn't think about anyone else right now, he needed to concentrate on looking after himself and trust that Roy wouldn't judge him for it. He couldn't shut out the people who cared for him. He needed their help – Roy's help.
'Wait.' Ed bit his lip, as his stomach twisted itself in nervous knots. 'You don't have to take the floor. There's room on here for both of us.' His voice dropped to a murmur as he added, 'Please? I don't want to be on my own.'
He tried desperately to understand Roy's expression, looking for any sign of unwillingness or hesitance, but all he could see was a quiet understanding and, beneath that, a faint flutter of something like happiness.
'All you have to do is ask,' he replied, turning back to the couch and nudging him gently towards the edge so that he could lie between Ed's body and the back of the couch, chest to chest. His presence was a wall of warmth, and Ed tried not to press himself too close, still not sure of how much he was allowed. Roy's tentative arm around his waist tugged him nearer, and his voice rumbled in Ed's ear. 'I'm here for as long as you need me.'
'Thank you.' Ed let his breath out in a sigh as he let himself relax. Sometimes it seemed like he spent his life telling everyone that he could look after himself, but sometimes it simply became too much. Somehow, he had never thought that Roy would be one of the people who caught him when he fell, and yet... .
This felt like the most natural thing in the world.
Aches and pains receded, pushed back by the soft cocoon of comfort all around him, and sounds took on a tinny, distant quality. The darkness was still there, cold and absolute, but it was hemmed in on all sides. It no longer dragged at his limbs and clutched at his chest and, with each beat of Roy's heart beneath Ed's ear, it faded further, dwindling into something Ed knew he could control.
It was too much effort to keep his eyes open, and he made a sleepy sound of contentment as Roy's hand shifted, brushing a strand of hair out of his face and tucking it out of the way. He thought Roy said something, some quiet little murmur, but his mind was too tired to understand, and finally, he slipped into a peaceful sleep, safe and whole in Roy's arms.
The chime of the clock on the mantelpiece penetrated Ed's dreams. They were innocuous, harmless things about arrays not behaving the way they should, and Ed wrinkled his nose as he tried to ignore the interruption. He was comfortable and tired, and he'd give anything to be able to stay right where he was for the rest of his life.
It didn't work. In the moment that his mind had roused itself, his body had started making demands. Hunger gnawed at his stomach like a dog on a bone. It felt like he hadn't eaten all day, and it took him a few moments to realise that was exactly what had happened. The last time he'd been fed was before the stake-out, before the chase, before having drugs thrown in his face, before –
Ed opened his eyes as the torrid blush exploded across his cheekbones, feeling like an inferno in his face. His memory, while still a little hazy in places, seemed to have recovered. A nice, neat time-line of humiliation was unwinding in his head; the warehouse, the car, the hall, the living room, the shower... .
No, he couldn't have done that, could he? It had to be a hallucination or a dream. It had to be. There was no way he could have had the balls to do that: to tell Roy out loud how sexy he was - to show him how much he wanted him. He couldn't possibly have stood just over there and clung to Roy's body as if they were stuck together with glue, licked at his neck and made it blatantly obvious what he wanted to do, could he?
Cautiously, he wriggled back far enough so that he could look into Roy's sleeping face. Earlier, he had wondered what had happened to reduce the distance between them to practically nothing, turning friendship and respect into something more intimate. Now he knew. He had basically thrown himself at Roy, open and trusting and brimming with the familiar desire he could no longer control.
He could blame the drugs, but it would be a lie. The chemicals hadn't created his need, they had simply cracked the dam that held back the flood-waters. In the past, Ed had thought of the dangers and risks, had considered how vulnerable he would be if he let Roy realise how much of an effect he had on Ed's body and mind, but that had meant nothing last night. He'd ignored all of it, and his actions spoke for themselves.
Thrills shot over his skin, sending darts of heat across his chest to pool in his stomach. He remembered the cool wall of tiles at his back and Roy's weight against him. Lingering tendrils of depression reached out to choke the sparks, but they were smoke-like and weak, and their hold on Ed's body was rapidly fading to nothing as the memories stirred his blood and turned his mouth dry.
They hadn't had sex, and Ed frowned as he tried to remember why. He could recall the intensity of humming passion in his body, knew at that point that if his choices were his next breath or Roy, he'd have chosen to suffocate for another touch, so what had happened?
His stomach twisted in knots as the most obvious answer sprung to mind: Roy didn't feel the same way – didn't want him like that. He closed his eyes in disbelief, wishing that the ground would open and swallow him. Maybe Hughes was right and Roy wouldn't tell anyone about what had happened, but that wasn't the point. Every time he stood in that office Roy would look at him and have yet another weapon to hold over his head, another way to manipulate him and tighten his leash.
Could this get any more humiliating?
Something else stirred in his mind, and Ed almost swore out loud. They'd both been in the shower; Roy had been washing the last of the drug off or something, and all of Ed's attention had been caught by the way his wet shirt stuck to his chest. He could remember staring at the lines of Roy's chest and wanting nothing more than to peel away the slick cotton and lick the water from his skin. He'd undone one button, then another, before Roy had grabbed his wrist.
'Please, Ed, I can't -'
Ed stifled a miserable groan. He'd kissed him, stifling his protests because all that had mattered was his own feelings, needs and desires. What Roy wanted hadn't even been close to the top of Ed's priorities. He'd ignored everything, every muted alarm bell in his mind, every flicker of emotion in Roy's expression and acted on impulse.
Adrenaline flooded through his weary body as he thought about getting out of here. He could grab his clothes and run, go back to the flat he shared with Al and hide in the hot flush of his mortification. How was he ever meant to look Mustang in the eye again? How was he meant to stand there and take orders from him when he'd always remember that?
Not that it was that simple. Even if he fled now, he'd still have to go back to work eventually. Maybe he could plead off sick for a couple of days, but after that he would have to return to the office. He and Al needed the money, and there was no getting out of that stupid contract.
Besides, he didn't run away from his problems. He'd just have to bear it. Maybe it wasn't something that Ed would forget in a hurry, but, to Roy, it was just one kiss among the many: nothing special, nothing different. He hadn't even wanted it. He'd told Ed to stop.
Ed's breath caught in his throat as another cool tide of memory broke over him, wiping out the heat of his humiliation and leaving him blank with surprise. Roy had told Ed to stop, but nothing else. He hadn't pushed him away or tried to put any distance between them.
Quicksilver pleasure flowed over Ed's skin as his lips tingled with recollection. Roy had pulled him closer, tangling his fingers in Ed's hair, pressing him back against the wall and sweeping his tongue into Ed's mouth as if he needed his taste. Ragged gasps of steamy air and the aching, desperate grind of their hips – so close and so hot and there was no way that Roy could have faked any of that.
It had been real, and Ed could barely breathe as he realised the truth. Roy hadn't been trying to push him away, he'd been afraid that Ed would think it was a mistake once dawn broke. Roy had been protecting him, but that didn't mean he hadn't wanted everything that Ed was offering. He had touched him like he was something to be worshipped, and even when he'd stepped away his voice had been husky and deep.
'If you asked me for this tomorrow, I wouldn't even hesitate.'
The heat of embarrassment was fading, changing into something softer but no less fierce as it dipped lower through Ed's body, making his heart race and his stomach flutter. It was his choice. If he never said anything about it, if he pretended it had never happened, then Roy would follow his lead and things would go back to normal: steady understanding and hidden heat. There was safety in that familiarity, something secure that he could rely on.
But was that really what he wanted?
Roy stirred next to him, nuzzling at Ed's hairline with a sleepy murmur. His arms tightened, pulling him near as his thumb skimmed the bare skin at Ed's waist. Roy's body was warm and relaxed, and Ed let his head rest on his shoulder as his thoughts raced.
He could have this, have Roy, if he had the courage to ask for it. Last night the drug had stripped away all of his reservations, had let him show the truth without worrying about the consequences, but now that reckless abandon was gone, and he was left embarrassed and uncertain in the aftermath.
'You're thinking so loud that you woke me up,' Roy murmured, smiling sleepily when Ed looked up at him. 'How do you feel?'
Better, Ed realised. The depression had lifted, and while his mood was still clouded, it was no longer painted in colours of slate and pitch. 'More like normal,' he replied quietly. 'Thanks.'
Roy narrowed his eyes, serious and thoughtful as he tried to read Ed's expression. 'Are you just saying that?' he asked, looking doubtful when Ed shook his head. 'You look worried about something,' he said by way of explanation, 'like you've got something on your mind.'
Ducking his head, Ed picked at the quilt as he tried to work out what to say. Butterflies thrashed in his stomach as his determination faltered. What if Roy hadn't meant it? What if he'd been telling Ed what he wanted to hear so he could put some distance between them? He hadn't mentioned anything about kisses or touches or murmured, heavy words before they'd fallen asleep in front of the fire. Maybe he regretted it – saw it as a moment of weakness and something never to be repeated.
Gritting his teeth, Ed shook his head, hating himself for being such a coward. When it came down to it, he wanted Roy enough to risk almost anything except being rejected by him. He would rather never ask and always wonder than have his timid hopes crushed: he wasn't strong enough for that, especially now. 'It's nothing,' he replied eventually. 'I'm fine, really. I – I should probably get home.'
Throwing the quilt back, Ed got to his feet, practically scrambling to get away. It was only Roy's hand around his wrist that stopped him from going any further, and he turned back to look down at him as his skin sparked with awareness.
'Wait, Ed.' Roy licked his lips, and Ed fought against the urge to do the same. He sounded breathless and nervous, but he propped himself up on his elbow. 'I think we need to talk. Do you remember any of what happened last night?'
He wished he could say no, but the look in Roy's eyes told him he would see through the lie in an instant. Slowly, he nodded his head, wincing as Roy asked, 'How much of it?'
'A few things are still blurry but I remember most of it: the guy I was chasing, how I got here -' He lifted his chin defiantly, forcing his voice steady as he met Roy's gaze. '- kissing you.'
He didn't think it was possible for Roy's eyes to get any darker, but they did, gleaming with a mixture of intense emotions that Ed couldn't decipher. His grip changed, sliding down Ed's hand and tangling their fingers together as he murmured, 'You remember what happened in the shower, all of it?'
Every last sound, word and movement was burned into his mind forever; it was something Ed suspected would torment his dreams for weeks. Rubbing his hand over his forehead, he sat on the floor, not letting go of Roy's hand as he nodded. He hadn't wanted to talk about this, hadn't wanted to put it all on the line, but it seemed Roy had other ideas. 'Yeah, it's all pretty clear.'
Ed expected Roy to demand why he'd tried to ignore it, but when he spoke his voice was strained, as if he was fighting against his own fears. 'I told you why we couldn't have sex, said that if you asked me another day I wouldn't think twice, but you said "tomorrow will be too late."' He swallowed, looking down at their joined hands and back up to Ed's face. 'What did you mean?'
He hadn't remembered that part, but now his cryptic statement seemed painfully obvious. Even in the midst of the drug's haze, he had known himself too well. Ed had known he wouldn't be brave enough to ask Roy for what he wanted, even then. Grimacing, he rubbed his right hand over the back of his neck and huffed out a sigh, his voice rough as he replied, 'I knew I wouldn't have the balls to do anything about this – whatever "this" is.
Roy paused, his gaze down-cast and his shoulders tense, but, after a few moments, he seemed to reach some kind of decision/ He shifted, slipping off the couch to kneel in front of Ed, his hand cupping his jaw and tilting his chin up so he could look into his eyes. 'What do you want it to be?' he murmured, his brow creased with confusion. 'Before last night, I thought –' He shrugged, a far cry from the smooth, confident man Ed saw in the office. 'I don't know what I thought. All I know is that I hoped I wasn't the only one feeling something new between us.'
He swept his thumb over Ed's bottom lip, his expression one of fearful hope. His voice shook a little, but he carried on regardless, never taking his eyes off of Ed's. 'I want to spend time with you – to see where this could go, but if last night was the drugs and not you -' Roy cleared his throat and drew a heavy breath. 'If that's not what you want then say so, and I won't bring it up again.'
Before, Ed had only seen glimpses of Roy's humanity. It was easy to forget that he was more than a soldier behind a desk, and Ed's heart tripped into a racing beat as he realised what was on offer: a chance to find out if the two of them could have more than unspoken attraction and silent need. A chance to make something of it.
The words caught in his throat, blocked in by his shock, and he saw shadows of disappointment in Roy's face as he sighed, reading Ed's silence as rejection. He almost let his hand fall, but Ed caught his wrist, tugging him closer and catching his lips in a kiss, letting his body speak for him where his voice had failed.
For a few heartbeats, Roy didn't move, but finally a muffled groan rumbled through his chest. One hand slipped up into Ed's hair while the other curved around his waist, pulling him almost into his lap as he tipped his head to the side and traced his tongue over Ed's lips before dipping inside.
This was better than any drug. Ed was dizzy with it, drunk with it, and his arms wrapped around Roy's neck, holding him captive as his head spun and his blood thundered along his veins. He felt hot all the way through, burning up and breaking down. His thoughts had scattered like leaves on the wind, and all that was left to fill his mind was this.
They broke apart with a wet sound that sent fire shooting down Ed's spine, and he blinked at Roy, taking in his flushed cheeks and eyes so deep that he could lose himself in them and never once regret it. 'Course I want you - want that,' he panted, his voice gravel rough and low. 'I thought I made that kind of obvious last night.'
Roy grinned, nuzzling his nose against Ed's. 'I needed to hear it,' he murmured. 'I needed to make sure it was what you'd choose when your head was clear.' His hands moved to stroke at the nape of Ed's neck, his voice no more than a thrilling growl as he said, 'You were so happy last night, at least at the beginning. I kept wondering if there was any way I could make you smile like that – like you didn't have a care in the world, and I realised how much I wanted to have the opportunity to try.'
Ed's heart twisted in his chest, his cheeks flushing as the grin pulled at his lips. 'So try.' He leaned in, sweeping his tongue into Roy's mouth and losing himself in the kiss.
There was no telling what the future held, but right here, right now, he knew he had never felt so good. Maybe they wouldn't last, perhaps the odds were stacked against them, but he was willing to risk it all for a shot at happiness.
It had been seven months since Roy had helped Ed through the dizzying high of the Euphoria, had stood in the shower and kissed him under the thrumming cascade, and it was still just as new and thrilling as the first time.
Warm water shimmered down around him, filling the air with coils of mist that dampened every panting breath. Cool tiles pressed against Ed's back, and he arched away, tipping his head back in delight as he pressed himself down to meet Roy's thrusts. Good, good, so much good and he should have known that if kissing Roy broke his brain then this would take him apart and put him back together better than before. He scrabbled at Roy's slippery shoulders, muscles flexing as he held up his own weight, legs wrapped tight around Roy's waist.
It had taken practice to get the position right, to find out the best way to do this without slipping and banging their heads on the taps, but oh it was worth it. Ed's skin danced, tortured with pleasure by the slick water and the band of Roy's arm across his back. Roy's right hand was splayed on the tiles, keeping their balance as his tongue lapped along Ed's collarbone and up his throat, a flash of burning heat amidst the downpour.
Something sparked in the pit of Ed's stomach, blooming upwards and wiping everything out in a buzz of sensation. He could barely breathe, blind and deaf to everything except the thunder that rolled through his body, shaking him with its force. His drawn out moan echoed around the bathroom as Roy's rhythm changed, becoming more ragged as he reached his climax, and Ed growled in appreciation as Roy buried his face in the crook of his neck, shaking through and through.
'God, I love you,' he gasped, nuzzling at the thrumming pulse in Ed's neck, almost purring in the aftermath of their pleasure.
'I love you, too,' Ed replied, feeling the familiar, undying rush of happiness at the confession. He gave a pant of laughter, letting the tremors fade from his body as he clung to Roy, weak and sated. There were so many ways to get high, so many things a person could inhale or consume, but Ed would bet his life's wages that none of them were as potent as the simple joy of being wanted.
Roy was his drug, and Ed was perfectly addicted.