Warnings: Ed's language

Author's notes: Un-beta'd speed-fic written in about half an hour. Let me know if you see any obvious typos! Also, Happy Labour Day to those who are lucky enough to have it!


Ashes

Ed rested his forehead against the windowpane and stared out into the rain. It was not a leaden downpour; no storm thrashed the land. Water fell in a soft pitter-patter, smearing the view and carving jagged paths across his vision. It collected in gutters and pooled down the drains outside, quiet, soothing and endless.

For the third day in a row, the sky wept. Liquid darts fell through the night, turned to molten gold by the circles of the streetlamps. A whispering wind stirred the trees, and the moon hid its face behind cloudy mourning veils.

Perhaps it was only his frame of mind that made him think like this, but when September slipped into October and the days marched on, the grief returned.

Don't Forget.

A grimace twisted his lip as he thought of the pocket-watch, now long gone. At the time, he'd thought that he would need the reminder, but these days he knew otherwise. It had taken him years to realise that, no matter what he did, no matter who he fought, his sin would always be with him. He had done everything in his power to put things right, but the memories still dogged his footsteps, neither bleached nor faded by the time that had passed.

Every year, every autumn, every time this day crept up on him again, Al would utter the same few words:

You can let it go now, Brother.

His voice no longer rang in tinny tones, but it was still rich with the kind of love that nothing could destroy. It was enough to bring a smile to Ed's face, but it wasn't an order that he could obey. The guilt lingered on, murmuring the same old accusations.

Ed shook his head, closing his eyes in disbelief. He'd been such an idiot – such a kid – but that wasn't any kind of excuse. Not then, and not now. He had honestly believed that he would succeed where others had failed. He would bring their mother back, and nothing would stand in his way.

Yet neither pride nor good intentions had changed the outcome. He'd almost lost everything, almost lost Al, and that was something that Ed could never forgive himself for.

A shiver twitched across his skin, raising goosebumps in its wake. Ed's breath stuttered between his lips, and something whispered behind him. Cotton and feathers breathed softly as a sleep-warm presence pressed itself to Ed's back, and strong arms wrapped the quilt around them both.

For a brief second, Ed almost resented the intrusion. For one day of the year, he let himself succumb to all the fear and worry of what could have been. For twenty-four hours, he faced the horrors of the past. After all, he knew it was the only way he could carry on into his future unafraid. Couldn't he fight his demons in peace?

His hair was nuzzled aside, and a warm kiss brushed against the side of his neck, right over the steady beat of his pulse. Just lips, no teeth, and Ed knew it wasn't about sex or possession. It was about love, hot and tender, perfect and unfailing.

It was about having someone by his side who could see everything in a glance, even if Ed couldn't find the words to explain.

Roy knew that this the sadness, the self-loathing, the pain was just another part of who Ed was. The hurt that sat within Ed's core might stifle every breath, but Roy could draw air for both of them. He would live with a whole heart beating blood while Ed's broke itself apart all over again, and afterwards he would help Ed put the pieces back together again.

On the first October they had shared, when Ed had stood in this same spot and lost himself in shadows, Roy had told him an ancient story.

The firebird's flight filled the sky with beauty and strength, bringing good fortune to all who saw it. However, for that power to endure through the ages, there had to be a day in every year where no phoenix sang and no burning feathers glowed in the night. The creature had to perish in its own flames to be born again, as bright and bold as ever: a symbol of eternal hope.

Ed had said it was only a story and that he wasn't some stupid flaming chicken anyway, but the words lingered on in the back of his mind, an anchor to the man who met his sadness with nothing but understanding.

In all their years together, for all the times Roy had watched this day dawn again, he had never once told Ed it was something he should not feel. He had his own darkness, and he understood that there was strength to be found in the shadows of the past. Roy was the only person in the world who could look upon Ed's guilt with acceptance, and never question its purpose.

'I'm here, Ed.'

Warm arms tightened over Ed's chest as he leaned back into the embrace, never taking his eyes from the weeping world.

Roy would hold him up and carry him through his day of ashes. He would keep Ed safe so that, tomorrow, his flames could dance anew.

End