Warnings: Language, threat.
A/N: The feedback I have had for part one of this story has been absolutely mind-blowing. Thank you, guys. The only way I could think of to repy you was to get the second part out for the weekend. Thanks to Kay for a great beta job, and to you for reading!
Going Under: Part Two
Light seared across Roy's eyes as the shadows of unconsciousness were ripped away. His chest heaved, filled with a burning, fiery cold, and he tried desperately to breathe. Something caught in his throat, sending stabs of pain down between his ribs, and a spasming, agonising cough tore through him as he struggled weakly against gentle hands.
Someone was rolling him over onto his front and urging him up onto his knees as they rubbed his back. The voice was dimly familiar, but Roy's brain was too full of survival to place it. His stomach contracted sharply, and he retched on what seemed to be nothing but water. The taste on his tongue was bland, and he screwed his eyes up as his stomach ached and his body shook itself apart in the simple quest for air.
Finally, he managed to suck in one breath, and it felt like the first that he had ever taken. It stabbed at his lungs and scraped across his tongue as he panted like a dog. Blinking drunkenly at the packed snow between his splayed fingers, he tried to work out where he was and what had happened, but his mind was uncooperative, bleak with shock and slow with the chill.
Roy's arms shook, and he collapsed onto his side, too weak to support his own weight. His heart was slamming against his chest with every beat, and each breath felt too fast and shallow to sustain him. Shudders ripped at his spine as cramps sank their jaws into his flesh, making him curl into a ball on his bed of ice, teeth gritted against the giddy agony.
'Fuck, Mustang, you scared the crap out of me!' The voice wasn't angry, despite its choice of words, and hands as cold as bone cuffed Roy's hair back from his face. 'Don't ever do that again!'
Roy hacked out another stunted breath, trying to focus on Ed as the shudders jolted his vision. He didn't understand what had happened, but it had to be bad to make Ed look like that – worried and vulnerable, like the world had just pulled the rug out from under his feet. He was as pale as the snow that was hurling itself down from the clouds, and his gold eyes seemed bright against the pallor of his skin. He was sitting back on his heels like a puppet with its strings cut, and it was his stillness more than anything that added fear to the tightness clutching at Roy's chest.
He tried to say something, but all that came out was a croaking groan, shattered apart as another, stronger shiver clawed its way through him. It was pitiful but, for once, his dignity was the least of his concerns. It felt like ice, rather than blood that crawled through his veins, and every beat of his heart only froze him more.
Ed jerked to life, snapped back into action by Roy's feeble attempts to speak, and he staggered gracelessly to his feet. 'Come on, we need to get you somewhere warm. I didn't haul you out of the river just so you could freeze to death.'
His words were the only jolt Roy's memory needed, and he flinched as recollection sped across his mind. Greene, the array – and freezing black water closing over his head and dragging him away from the living world. As soon as the river had taken him, Roy had realised he was going to die. He had fought, of course, but all the while he had known it was futile, so how was he still alive?
'Up,' Ed ordered, grabbing Roy's wrists and bracing his boots against the slippery ground. He grunted with the effort of hauling Roy to his feet, bitching under his breath as Roy struggled to obey. His feet felt clumsy and his legs were too heavy. Nothing was working as it should, and he slumped forward into Ed's arms, simply too drained to stand.
Another coughing fit hunched him double, and he barely heard Ed's quiet, worried curse over the hacking sound. Something grabbed Roy's arm, and he felt the ridge of Ed's automail shoulder through the wet thickness of his sleeve. His flesh arm looped around Roy's waist, steel strong and firm as Ed took his weight, supporting him as best he could until the moment passed.
Roy swayed, leaning against Ed's side. If he weren't so cold he knew that he'd be red with embarrassment at his weakness, but such things were beyond him. All he could do was let Ed lead him cautiously over sighing ice to the distant haze of street-lamps and civilisation. It felt like the longest walk of his life but, with shaking knees and unsteady strides, he managed to drag himself forward, trying all the while to kick his stunned brain into action.
A blast of wind slammed into him, and Ed curled him protectively closer, shielding Roy with his smaller frame, head bent against the gale and shoulders rounded. The cold still cut through Roy like a sword, and he clenched his teeth against the pain as the blizzard intensified.
'Got to get inside,' Ed gasped, and Roy realised that he was shivering hard, his tremors synchronised with the judders of Roy's own body. 'Both of us are soaked to the fucking skin, and –' He bit off whatever he had been about to say, shooting a quick, unreadable look in Roy's direction before tugging at him again. 'Keep going. I don't even have a clue where we are, but there's got to be some buildings around somewhere.'
The quality of the ground beneath Roy's boots changed, and they stumbled up the shallow, sloping riverbank with snow churning around their knees. By the time they got to the pavement, Roy felt like his legs were going to give way. He desperately wanted to lie down, and part of him didn't care if he died in a nest of snow. He just needed to rest.
'There,' Ed said, relief turning his voice light as he pointed across the deserted street. Amidst the dancing snowflakes was a vague, dark shape. It didn't look like much more than a shed, but it had four walls and a roof, and Roy had enough sense to know that they needed its shelter.
At its back a tall wall rose up like a mountain range, and part of Roy's mind sparked into action. It was one of the old military stores, abandoned now and sealed off for demolition in the spring. The shed was probably a guard station, but it could have been a latrine for all Roy cared. It felt like he was dying on his feet, and only Ed's presence at his side stopped him from dropping where he stood.
They staggered across the street, and Ed reached out with a shaking hand to try the handle. It didn't open, and Roy felt a frizzle of worry as the obstacle was met, not with Ed's usual ire, but a deep, tired sigh. With a soft nudge, Ed propped Roy against the wall, tucking him under the eaves and out of the wind's grasp before he returned his attention to the lock.
The flash of alchemy wasn't as bright as usual, but Roy heard the metal parts of the lock explode onto the floor inside. The second time Ed tried to push his way inside, the door opened with ease.
Roy followed him like a grateful puppy, his hands out to steady himself as he wobbled his way inside. It was a sparse little room, with a desk, some cupboards, and a pot-bellied stove in one corner. It looked like the place had simply been forgotten. Cobwebs smeared the frost-ferned windows, and dust lay thick on the floor. Still, it was five-star accommodation compared to the storm outside, and Roy gave a weak sigh as he sank to the floor in front of the stove, eyelids already dropping.
'Hey, don't go to sleep,' Ed said, nudging him with the toe of his boot as he glared around.
'Tired,' Roy croaked, hugging his arms around his knees and resting his forehead on them. He was drenched through to the skin, and part of him knew he should probably try and dry himself off somehow, but he couldn't find the energy. He was spent, that was all there was to it, and maybe he would survive the night and maybe he wouldn't, but at least he could sleep.
'Yeah, well you're not the only one,' Ed snapped, making enough noise to wake the dead as he stamped over to the door and tried the light switch. Roy heard it "snick", but no light flooded through the room. The power would have been turned off months ago. Besides, it would be a miracle if the weight of the snow hadn't pulled down the city's power-lines.
More noise. Cracking wood and clanging metal, slamming cupboard doors... Was Ed just trying to keep him awake or was he actually doing something useful?
A low, roaring "whoomph" answered his question, and Roy looked up blearily as gold light flooded the room. The stove door was open, and vermilion flames leapt within the small metal chamber, nibbling voraciously through a hasty nest of kindling. Ed was feeding the fire with what looked like bits of a broken chair, and Roy shuffled closer, drawn in by the lure of the fledgling heat.
Ed looked up at him with sharp eyes, and his lips were pressed into a hard line as he muttered, 'At least you can talk. I was beginning to think your brain had turned to sludge – not that anyone would notice.'
There was some kind of smart response to that, Roy was sure, but his mind came up empty-handed. 'Just cold,' he managed, teeth chattering around the words as he shivered again. He was aware of Ed looking at him, could feel the heavy gold weight of his gaze, but it wasn't until two hands grabbed at his collar and began to pull his coat off his shoulders that he made a rough sound of complaint.
'Mustang,' Ed growled, 'you're fucking soaked. I can have your clothes dry in a few minutes and you can put them back on, but you can't sit there like that.'
It was perfectly logical, but nothing was less appealing than losing even one layer of clothing, let alone everything. He wanted to know why Ed couldn't dry them while they were still wrapped around Roy's body, but Ed must have read the question in his eyes, because he didn't need to voice the words to get an answer.
'Can't do it while they're still on you without burning your skin. Take them off.' He reached out to his side, scooping up a handful of blankets and thrusting them in Roy's direction. 'Those'll keep you warm enough for a little while.' When Roy still didn't move, he closed his eyes impatiently, face screwed up tight as he muttered, 'It's not like I'm gonna peek. Just do it. I'm as wet as you are, and every minute you fuck about I'm getting colder.'
It was that, more than any other argument Ed could have given, that made up Roy's mind. He could threaten his own welfare with his stubbornness, but not Ed's. Fullmetal spent so much time ricocheting from one disaster to another, being hurt by all and sundry, and Roy wasn't about to add his name to the list of people who had brought Ed to harm. He felt bad enough for dragging him out in the cold when it caused him such obvious discomfort. He wasn't about to add to his guilt.
Slowly, he peeled off his coat, thrusting the wet wool into Ed's outstretched hand before reaching for the blankets. He wrapped them around himself for warmth, rather than modesty. Without his coat, he felt a step closer to the blood turning solid in his veins, and no amount of determination could stop his teeth clacking like castanets as he tried to work out how to strip without losing any more heat.
The flash of a transmutation made him look up. The light glimmered like the snow falling outside and, before Roy had finished unbuttoning his shirt, steam was rising from the coat's fabric. It danced around Ed's fingers and ghosted upwards, caressing his pale face and catching in the wet ponytail that stuck to his neck. Before Roy knew it, Ed was holding out his coat for him again.
'Told you it wouldn't take long,' he said with a shrug, snatching Roy's shirt and trousers and repeating the process. 'Can't do your jacket,' he added with a frown. 'The brocade messes up the transmutation, and there's no way in hell I'm touching your underwear. There. At least now you probably won't freeze to death.'
He shut his eyes again, holding out Roy's uniform impatiently. At any other time his expression would have been funny, but Roy could only muster the faintest twitch of a smile as he took his clothes back. They were warm to the touch, and it was easy enough to pull his trousers on without losing the blankets. They weren't exactly comfortable without any underwear, but Roy would rather be scratched by itchy cotton than lose important parts of his anatomy to frostbite because of wet boxers.
The shirt and coat were another matter, and he realised he was going to have to drop the blankets to get them on properly. Clenching his teeth, he got as close to the stove as he could before getting to work. Even so close to the fire, the air was painfully cool, and his breath hissed in through his teeth as he shoved his arms into the shirt and coat sleeves. His fingers were clumsy on the buttons, big and useless even without his gloves but, eventually, he got his shirt done up.
Warm fabric lingered next to his skin, but somehow it only highlighted the difference between his cool flesh and the hot weave, and his shivers came back full-force, robbing him of the little energy he had left. Weakly, he slumped to the floor, sitting on hard wooden boards and letting out a tired sigh.
Instantly, Ed was at his side, pitching the blankets back around his shoulders and shoving more wood on the fire. For once there was no sarcastic remark, and when he spoke his voice was soft with concern. 'Is there anything you need? Food? A drink? Anything?'
Slowly, Roy shook his head, hunching tighter as he shut his eyes. 'Just tired,' he rasped. 'Feel like I've been awake for years.'
He could practically feel Ed's uncertainty coming off of him in waves, but gentle hands pressed at his shoulders, nudging him back so that he was lying on his side facing the glowing warmth of the stove. 'Sleep for a bit,' Ed said, arranging the blankets over Roy's frame and tucking in the edges.
'What about you? Where are you going?' Roy asked, not caring that his words were edged with fear and slurred with exhaustion. He could feel the shifting heat wash over his face, stroking away the glassy chill that encased him. It was a tenuous connection to the waking world, and reality was blurring as exhaustion rose up to meet him. Just before he drifted off, he heard Ed's quiet, confident answer.
'I'll be right here, Roy. I'm not going anywhere.'
Sharp, cheerful crackles intruded on the haze of Roy's slumber, reaching in and dragging him up towards the light. It was a gentle awakening, made more soothing by the familiar sounds of a fire burning in his bedroom grate and the warm weight of someone next to him. Something must have gone right last night, because it wasn't often he deigned to actually sleep in his bed with a lover... .
Except that he didn't recall his mattress being this hard, or his blankets this uncomfortable. Also, he seemed to be wearing too many clothes, and the aches in his body had nothing to do with sex. They were too bruising and all-encompassing – every part of him ached as if he had been hit by a truck. His ribs were agonising; it felt like they were wrapped in iron bands, and a particularly solid weight rested over his heart.
Opening his eyes, he stared at the cobwebs festooning the ceiling, and his brain burst into life. Gone was the creaking glacial flow of his thoughts. Now memories washed over him like tropical waves. He was in the guard's shed of one of the old military stores, sleeping on the unforgiving floor because he had been too tired to care whether he lived or died, let alone whether or not he was comfortable. The reason he was here, rather than back in the perfect, familiar warmth of his home was because he'd fallen into the river only to be hauled out again, half frozen and almost drowned, by Edward.
The weight over his heart twitched, and he realised that it was a hand. Flesh, not automail, and it had slipped under his coat to press against the thin cotton of his shirt. Glancing sideways at the figure next to him, Roy blinked. He had thought Ed was sleeping, but drowsy gold eyes were watching the fire over Roy's chest.
His head was pillowed on his arm, and the flickering amber hues of the firelight only served to gild him. It was enough to halt the breath in Roy's chest for a different reason, and he couldn't help but stare.
Ed really had become a stunning young man. He'd been an aesthetically attractive boy, too, but adulthood had changed sparkling innocence into something else – something not just eye-catching, but tempting and sexual.
Roy had experienced this revelation several times over the past year. He tried to ignore it,of course, and he almost succeeded. It was just that, once in a while, in some unguarded moment, he would look up and be struck speechless by Ed's brightness all over again – not just the aureate gleam of hair and eyes like flames gone wild, but the glow of what lay beneath softly tanned skin and silver steel. It was what Ed did – his actions and reactions, the lines he drew and never crossed, the sacrifices he made – that caught Roy's eye as much as his outward appearance.
Like today. What had Ed done to save him? The details were warped in Roy's mind. In places there was perfect clarity – hunting for Greene, the bite of the cold and the snap of his own bad mood – but in others the darkness of his subconscious was already drawing its veil across events and shielding them from his view. Automatically, he looked to Ed for clues, and he didn't like the little, darker details he could see.
Roy had been gazing at him like an idiot for more than a minute, but Ed hadn't so much as blinked. Violet smudges rested under dark lashes, and Roy slowly realised that his face was still pale. His clothes were dry, but no blankets covered his body, and Roy could almost feel the chill radiating off of him.
'Ed?' Roy shifted, struggling to turn on his side as his body bitched and whimpered with pain. 'Are you all right?' He reached out to place a hand against Ed's cheek, hissing in surprise when he felt the cold clamminess of Ed's skin. 'Idiot!' he bit out as a surge of panic shot through him, shaking cramped muscles into some kind of life. 'What the hell were you thinking? Why didn't you warm yourself up?'
Ed stared at him, his dazed expression slowly finding its focus and clouding with annoyance. 'You're back to your usual self then,' he rasped, the tone of his voice suggesting he wasn't completely sure that was a good thing. 'Should've known you wouldn't stay so fucking meek for long.'
Roy scowled, trying not to shiver as he pulled at the blankets, unravelling his cocoon so that he could drag Ed into its confines. Fullmetal resisted, but it was a token protest. Whatever he said to the contrary, Ed needed the heat. The stove had only done so much to ward off the ravages of the chill beyond the walls, and Roy stifled a whimper as Ed's automail leg brushed against his own. The cold burned through his trousers, and he fought against the urge to arch away as Ed reluctantly sagged against him like he didn't have the energy to fight.
'Why didn't you sit near the fire?' Roy demanded, wrapping one arm around Ed's body to hold him in place. His head fit perfectly under Roy's chin, hair tickling his skin intimately as he rubbed a hand briskly back and forth across Ed's back. 'Why didn't you sleep? Did you even think of yourself for once second?'
'You needed the heat more!' Ed snapped, tangibly bristling, 'and if I had thought of myself then there's no way in hell I would have jumped in to a freezing river to fish you out!'
Roy's mind went blank, wiped clean as he stared over Ed's head at the dingy doorway that closed out the night. His hand had stopped moving, frozen in place and splayed over Ed's shoulder-blades, and there was an ache in his chest that had nothing to do with his near-death experience.
'You jumped in?' he whispered, shaking his head as he realised that there had been proof of Ed's actions from the beginning. He'd been soaked from head to foot, shaking with the cold and that strange surge of adrenaline that comes from gambling with death. Roy had just been too focused on his own problems to notice.
'How else was I meant to get you out?' Ed asked. 'Couldn't reach you from the surface and couldn't have done the alchemy right to get you out unless I was next to you so -'
'You could have died.' Roy shut his eyes tightly, glad that Ed wasn't looking up at him and wouldn't see the crippling expression of hurt/fear/guilt/loss that he knew was stamping itself across his features. The idea of Ed being gone was toomuch to bear. It encased his heart in lead, dragging it down and stifling it, choking out the real world so that he barely heard Ed's quiet response.
'You almost did. You weren't conscious – you weren't even breathing.' Ed's shoulders shifted in a shrug, and he shivered like someone waking up from a nightmare. 'What would you rather I'd done, left you there? You don't care about me doing dangerous assignments, so why's this any different?'
'It just is.' Roy sighed, feeling both physically and emotionally shaken. 'You would never do something as stupid as die in the line of duty, Ed. Assignments are professional and this –' Roy stopped, realising that he had almost said "was personal" out loud. He must be in a worse state than he thought to be so unguarded. '– wasn't,' he finished lamely. 'You could have drowned along with me. You can't even swim!'
'It's the automail,' Ed retorted, and there was a hint of his usual fire in those words. 'I was fine – better than you, anyway.'
Roy wanted to grab Ed by the shoulders and shake him, because sometimes he wondered if Ed even knew what being dead meant. He acted like risking his own life was meaningless, as if he honestly believed his own existence held no worth. Didn't he know how many people he would hurt if he died in some stupid act of bravery-come-stupidity?
Yet, if it weren't for that act, Roy wouldn't be here now. When taken down to the simplest denominator, one truth stood firm. Ed had single-handedly saved his life.
How could he even begin to repay that?
'Are you okay?' Ed asked, and Roy looked straight down into honey-coloured eyes, seeing the kind of concern there that Ed normally reserved for Alphonse. 'You look kind of weird.'
'I'm all right,' Roy replied, resuming the slow back and forth of his hand over Ed's back. He seemed to be shivering in earnest now as his body temperature began to pick up, exceeding the delicate shudders that still danced over Roy's skin every few minutes. 'I've been better, but I could be a lot worse. Thank you.'
He didn't specify what his gratitude was for, and Ed didn't ask for clarification. He just shrugged like it didn't matter and rested his forehead on Roy's chest. It was a surprisingly trusting gesture, and one Ed would never willingly make under normal circumstances. He had to be too tired and drained to worry about personal space, because Roy was almost certain that Ed would not usually shuffle closer under his own steam. He might allow someone to drag and bully him into accepting their support, but he never asked for it, verbally or otherwise.
Yet here he was, not pushing Roy away or snarking and shouting. He was letting Roy keep him warm, and that passive action, when it came from Ed, was as good as any request for help.
'Why don't you try and get some sleep?' Roy asked. 'It must be the middle of the night. I don't understand why you didn't get some rest while I was out of it.'
The hand against his heart curled meaningfully, and Ed's answer was an embarrassed mutter. 'Was worried you were still going to die. I had to stay awake and make sure you didn't.'
And suddenly, Ed's palm on his chest took on a whole new meaning. Roy had thought it was just a comfortable position in which to rest, but now he realised that Ed had been waiting for every beat of his heart, keeping vigil while he slept as if death was some shadow he could chase off with bared teeth and burning light... .
'Besides,' Ed continued, 'my head's still a bit weird from hitting it on the bridge. Al's always banging on about how you shouldn't sleep right after a head injury.'
That, Roy thought silently, was because Alphonse was the sensible one. 'Weird how?' he asked suspiciously, his stomach clenching as he cursed his own forgetfulness. He should have checked Ed over as soon as he was able.
He'd seen Ed standing in front of his desk, blood dripping onto the rug because he'd rather deliver a report than see a doctor. At the time, Roy had thought it was some kind of childish show of strength, but now he knew better. Ed would go to extraordinary lengths to protect others from physical harm, but he never gave himself that same luxury.
'Weird how?' he repeated more forcefully when Ed didn't answer. Head injuries were tricky. They could be quick, fast, brutal things that left your skull aching for days, or they could be silent killers, ticking away like an undiscovered bomb until time ran out and the world went black.
'Dizzy when I turn my head,' Ed said, looking over his shoulder experimentally and pulling a face, 'that's all.'
'We need to get you to a doctor.' Roy shifted, wincing as his body protested and a whisper of cooler air seeped in under the blankets. 'We at least need to get an x-ray and make sure you've not cracked anything important.' Taking a deep breath, he struggled to his feet, forcing himself to keep moving because if he stopped, he wouldn't start again.
Surprisingly, he didn't feel too bad. His body ached and his chest felt tight, and he would rather be in bed than up and about, but he felt a hundred times better than he had the first time he'd opened his eyes out there on the ice. His body was still unsure of the correct temperature, and every movement brought another wave of shivers, but he would be all right once he got going.
'Mustang,' Ed said, his voice slow and patient, like he was talking to an idiot. 'Look out of the window.'
Automatically, Roy did as he was told and, for an instant, the view left him puzzled. It was dark. Snow fell like a million shooting stars, glistening in the light that bled out from the windowpanes but, beyond that brief frontier, there was nothing. No moon, no stars, and no street lamps. 'The power's out?'
'It happened a while ago. If we go out there, we'll end up lost and dead. You think I'd have kept you here if I could have got you to a hospital? I even tried calling the office, but the phone-lines are down.' He gestured to a telephone over on the desk, struggling to sit up and dragging the blankets around his shoulders as he turned to face the fire fully. 'We can't go anywhere until dawn.'
Worry must have made itself clear on Roy's face, because Ed gave him a faint, tired smile. 'Look, if I've not keeled over by now then I'm probably not going to. Like I'm going to suffer because that fucker Greene got a lucky kick.' He held out one arm, wool-winged by the blanket as he beckoned. 'Get back here, you're still shivering.'
Reluctantly, Roy did as he was told, moving until he could sit behind Ed, his knees bent and his back leant against a study chair that had not yet fallen victim to Ed's quest for firewood. He plucked at the blankets, ignoring Ed's yelp at the sudden loss of his warm layers. Without a word, Roy pitched them around his own shoulders and pulled Ed back against his chest before folding them both back up in a fusty shield.
Ed had gone still, and Roy could practically feel the tension singing through his body. If it hadn't been for his firm arm across Ed's stomach, he was almost certain the younger man would have shuffled away rather than stay seated where he was. Of course, in this position Ed was planted firmly on the floor between Roy's legs. If he hadn't been so drained by the night's horrors, that could have caused physical embarrassment, but right now all Roy cared about was keeping them both alive until morning.
'What,' Ed asked in a voice edged with menace, 'are you doing?'
'Staying warm,' Roy replied. 'This way we can both benefit from the stove without losing any more heat. This shack isn't exactly well-insulated.'
As if to emphasise his words, the wind shrieked under the door and rattled the windows in their frames. Beyond the glass, the snow gave another giddy waltz, and the fire in the stove stuttered before recovering again.
He could almost hear Ed thinking over his reasons, weighing them for worth before he eased back, resting his full weight against Roy's body. 'This sucks,' he said quietly, bowing his head. 'Stupid fucking Greene.'
Roy licked his lips, staring at the back of Ed's head. His hair had shifted forward in accordance to the rules of gravity, leaving his nape exposed, and the smooth flesh was strangely tantalising. All Roy would have to do was bend a fraction to brush a kiss there... .
He blinked, almost shocked by the urge. This close, all Roy could breathe was Ed's faint shampoo and leather scent, tainted now by something colder, and all he could feel was the warm, natural press of Ed's back against his chest and stomach. Maybe sitting like this was a bad idea after all.
Hastily, he cleared his throat. 'Stay still,' Roy ordered, smiling weakly as Ed froze in suspicion. 'I'm just checking over your head. Tell me when it hurts.' He brushed his fingers lightly over Ed's scalp, gently searching through his hair for any damage. 'What happened to Greene, anyway? Do you know?'
'With any luck he's still in the river,' Ed hissed. 'It's what he fucking deserves – Ow!'
'Sorry,' Roy said, lifting his fingers back. 'You've got a lump the size of an egg, but it's clean at least. What happened?'
Ed shrugged, scrubbing at his eyes and making a tight noise. 'He just kept messing about with the ice and every time I tried to fix the damage he was doing, he would lash out. He got lucky, that's all. Didn't you see any of it?'
'All I saw was him trying to crush the life out of you.' Roy's arm tightened around Ed as he felt the dimming echo of his cold, hard anger at the sight. The expression on Greene's face had been not only cruel, but proprietary, as if he thought Ed was his. It had taken all of his strength not to simple burn the man to ash there and then.
Another guilty memory crept across his mind. The strange thing about weather like this was that, while the world turned paper white, sound remained. It travelled between the snow flakes like arrows, straight and true, and Roy had heard Greene's taunts long before he'd seen him and Ed fighting under the arch.
"I suppose a cripple like you wouldn't have anyone to keep his bed warm."
Perhaps it had been that which had fed the spark of his annoyance into something more like rage. Maybe the sight of Greene and Ed struggling had simply added fuel to a fire that already burned, because how could anyone look at Ed and reach such a stupid conclusion?
Ed shifted, turning so that he was sitting sideways to Roy with his legs tucked up under him. He was still within the wrap of the blankets, side and flesh shoulder pressed lightly against Roy's chest, but now he could see Ed's thoughtful profile. His expression was one of grudging concern as he nudged Roy in the stomach with his elbow. 'Can you talk or something?' he asked. 'It's creepy when you're quiet.'
'You don't believe what Greene said, do you?' The question sprang from Roy's lips before he could stop it, and he saw the flicker of Ed's expression, as if he were already regretting urging Roy to speak. He didn't ask which particular bit Roy was referring to, no doubt he already knew, and the shadow in Ed's eyes was all the answer he needed. Maybe Ed didn't believe him word for word, but that didn't mean that Green hadn't struck a nerve.
Ed's lips twitched into a smile that didn't reach his eyes. 'He's not the only one to say things like that. Automail's not exactly attractive.'
'Nor is it ugly,' Roy pointed out. 'It's just part of who you are, like scars or glasses.'
'It's all most people see,' Ed said, and there was just an edge of well-hidden hurt to that statement.
Roy's heart ached.
'Then they're fools!' he hissed angrily, glaring into the fire that nibbled away in the belly of the stove. There was so much he could snarl about the idiocy of people, but the words would be saying too much. As it was, Ed was giving him the kind of look that Roy could feel – too aware and too intelligent, looking right through Roy's skull like he could pick the thoughts out of his brain. 'People who only look at what's on the surface are the ugliest sort,' he finished quietly.
Roy glanced sideways at Ed, who was still watching him like a hawk. His right hand was above the blankets, gleaming in the trembling firelight. He moved his fingers, and Roy watched the fluid shift of joints and the shimmer of steel. It was a work of art, really, a masterpiece of engineering, but Roy had to admit that he wouldn't have given it a second glance if it hadn't been Ed's arm.
'It makes people hesitate,' Ed said quietly. 'Almost every fight I've been in the other guy's hesitated because he's thought he can't fight a kid with only one real arm.' This time his grin reached his eyes, wicked and lethal. 'They always regret that.' He rolled his shoulder, tucking the automail away out of sight again. 'Most of the time I don't care about it one way or the other. If people don't like it then that's their fucking problem, but sometimes a metal arm is more trouble than it's worth.'
'Like tonight?' Roy watched Ed nod his head, and thought again of how slow Ed's movements had been even before he had jumped through the ice. The problem was that Ed was normally so stubbornly strong that Roy simply forgot that the automail could ever be a hindrance. Then, when Ed had been so obviously suffering, Roy's guilt had only served to sharpen the edge of his temper.
Ed jerked his head up, staring at Roy in something like surprise. 'What for?'
'Suggesting that it was your fault that Greene escaped again and dragging you out to deal with him. That was – unnecessary.'
It was the perfect opportunity for Ed to say something scathing, but he didn't. He just shook his head and wrinkled his nose up. 'Yeah, well, it's not like it matters. I've had worse days.'
So had Roy, but not many, and he shared Ed's rueful smile as he reached around to throw another shattered piece of wood on the fire. Ed settled against him, his head leaning comfortably on Roy's shoulder in a way that was almost enough to make him forget about Greene and the river, the chill in his bones and the deadly winter outside. It almost felt normal, natural, right.
It was surprisingly simple to talk to Ed, and Roy was unaware of the passage of time as they spoke about whatever crossed their minds. It was easier, like this, with no desk between them and no military heavy above their heads, to focus on the little things. There wasn't duty, here. There were no assignments or annoying higher-ups or endless reports to sign. There was just the two of them, the fire and, outside, the ceaseless fall of snow.
Roy had never realised that Ed actually listened to what he said. Normally their conversations consisted of two sides in a war, each determined to have their say and refusing to hear the other party's words. Now, though, there was none of that, and Roy found himself smiling and laughing at Ed's stories and sharing his own in turn. They talked about life and the future, the mundane and the extraordinary, and all the while Roy found himself growing more and more at ease with Ed's company.
He didn't even realise that the sky outside had lightened to a pearly grey until Ed looked out of the window and said, 'Hey, the snow's stopped. About fucking time.'
Roy followed his gaze, seeing the world beyond the grubby glass. The eaves were toothed with icicles, and snow clumped on every possible surface, but it was calm out there and peaceful in the wind's absence.
Gently, he nudged Ed away, watching him stumble to his feet and stretch out aching limbs. 'How's your head?' he asked, watching Ed closely for any sign of a lie.
'Aching, but better than it was.' He stuck out a hand, wrapping warm flesh fingers around Roy's wrist and pulling him upright. 'You going to be okay?'
Roy waited a few moments before answering, testing his legs cautiously and dragging in a deep breath to see how much his lungs would take. His body wasn't exactly pleased with him right now, but at least it was alive. Hunger was closing its jaws over his stomach, and he still felt shaky with the cold, but he would live. 'I'll manage,' he replied, watching Ed shut the door on the stove and close the vents to starve it of oxygen. 'Do you think we can walk to the hospital?'
He braced himself for a "You can't get me to see a doctor" argument, but Ed held his tongue as he walked over to the window and peered at the world beyond. 'We might not have to,' he said, grinning over his shoulder as Roy approached. 'It looks like the cavalry is here.'
Roy blinked, looking across the street at the sloping riverbank. It had seemed so much further away last night, but now he could see several large military trucks parked on the verge, snowplough blades lashed to their bumpers and chains wrapped around their tires. A generator was coughing smoke into the air, and he could just see some wires trailing down to the river.
'Come on. It's probably us they're looking for.'
'Ed, wait.' Roy reached out and pulled him up short, feeling his mouth run dry as Ed turned to look at him, tired but inquisitive. He had to say this before they ended up back in the office and the real world barged its way back in. He had to get the words out, because otherwise it would always linger between them and never be resolved.
'Thank you.' Roy took a deep breath, absently tightening his fingers around cool automail in emphasis. 'You risked your life to get me out of that river, and you saved mine in the process.' He swallowed, thinking how insufficient his gratitude sounded. 'I owe you something – a favour or – or something – anything.'
He sounded like an idiot, and Roy knew that the price of salvation was something that could never really be met, but it was all he could do. So he watched and waited as Ed looked at him like he was trying to figure out what went on inside his head.
Roy nodded, not sure what he was expecting. Perhaps Ed would want a raise, or an early release from his contract, but no such demand was forthcoming. Instead, he saw a brief flicker in Ed's eyes before he turned away and waved a hand dismissively.
'I'll think about it. Come on, Mustang. Let's get out of here.'
He put his shoulder to the door, shoving aside the drift of snow that had piled up against it. Every footstep was heralded by a crisp, clear crunch, and Roy gasped as the cold air slapped him in the face. Quickly, he reached into his pocket, feeling around for the fabric of his gloves. There was something damp in one, and he remembered his wet boxer shorts. Well, at least he'd not left them behind to be found by the demolition crew.
Finally, he tugged his gloves free and slipped them on his hands. They didn't make a huge difference, but it drew a line. Before, he had just been Roy, nothing more. Now he was the Flame Alchemist, strong and certain, even if he was shivering.
Crossing the road, they crested the top of the bank and looked down onto the scene a short distance below. Military police were bustling about, chipping a body out from the river's icy grasp. The corpse was too still to be alive, and Roy grimaced as he saw Greene's face. It was white and bloodless, crystallized by the freezing waters. Yet his eyes were closed as if he slept, and a strangely happy smile curved his lips, as if he had found some kind of joy in his demise.
'Freak,' Ed muttered, no doubt having noticed the same thing. 'We'd better tell them we're here. Armstrong looks like he's about to cry.'
Roy blinked, realising that his men and Alex were huddled near the river bank, staring in horror either at the body or the smooth stretch of river. The storm had hid any sign of the struggle the previous night, and there was no evidence of life on or underneath the slick surface.
'Lieutenant!' he called out, and he had to admit he had never seen Hawkeye jolt in such surprise before. She spun around, hand already on the butt of her gun and a look in her eye that suggested she would gladly shoot them both for the worry they had caused.
'Sir, where have you been?' she shouted as the rest of his command all looked around and sagged in united relief.
'We thought you'd fallen through the ice along with him!' Havoc added, jerking his thumb towards Greene. 'What happened?'
With a gesture of his hand, Roy waved them up the slope, too weary to shout down the details of his ordeal. Ed stayed at his side as he explained, pulling an embarrassed face when Roy told them who had jumped in to haul him out.
'I'm beginning to wish I hadn't,' he mumbled, but the tilt of a smile at the corner of his mouth belied his sentiment. 'Can we get out of here? I'm freezing.'
'I'll get you both to a doctor,' Hawkeye said smoothly, ushering them purposefully towards the truck. 'I'm sure that Major Armstrong can finish things up here.' She looked at Roy for confirmation, and he nodded to Alex, whose blue eyes were bright with tears of relief.
'It would be an honour, Brigadier-General Mustang,' he boomed, turning to issue orders to the men below.
'Hey,' Ed called out to the military police, his voice thick with sarcasm as they hauled Greene's corpse free of its icy casket. 'Try not to let the fucker get away again!'
Roy stifled a laugh as he climbed into the back seat of the truck and did up his seatbelt. A few moments later, Ed settled next to him, a frown on his face as he noticed Roy's smirk and demanded, 'What?'
Shaking his head, Roy looked out of the window . It seemed that, no matter what, Ed would always be the same: fierce, loyal, compassionate, aggravating and breath-taking, and Roy wouldn't have it any other way.
One day, Ed would ask Roy to repay the debt of a life saved, and he couldn't help but wonder what price Ed would ask. Only time would tell and, for the first time in years, Roy found himself impatient for what the future might hold.
Roy, summoned from a relaxing Sunday afternoon by the loud, demanding knocking at his door, stood on the threshold and looked down at Ed in surprise. It had been months since Ed had risked his own life to drag Roy out of the clutches of the frozen river. Yet, in that instant, Roy knew that he was here to call in his debt.
He wasn't sure what brought him to that conclusion but, in all the time that had passed, Ed had never turned up at his house before. Things had changed between them, of course. That was unstoppable. Tender respect and wary companionship had flourished into trust and more, built on the foundation of those icy hours. Now they were friends and, in the air between them, more tangible than ever before, there was the thick static of something more.
'Can I come in, or are you just going to stand there all day?' Ed demanded. Just because he was a friend didn't make him any more polite.
Roy stood to one side, motioning him through into the hall. He shut the door, but it was the first warm day of Spring, and a gentle breeze scented with cherry blossom drifted through the rooms from the open windows. 'I wasn't expecting you,' he said by way of explanation. 'Are you all right?'
Ed had been looking around his hall as if he didn't think he would ever see it again. Now, he glanced up at Roy, eyes widening a little as his tongue darted out to wet dry lips. For a minute, Roy thought he wasn't going to answer, but Ed had never been one to back away from anything, and now his voice shook a little as he said, 'I thought of a way you can return the favour.'
He sounded half-scared, half-angry, and Roy saw Ed's hands clench into fists as he swallowed tightly. He looked like a man standing on the edge of a precipice, eyeing the drop and making the final choice. What the hell could have put that expression on Ed's face? What could Roy do to make it better?
'What is it, Ed?' Roy stepped forward, taking his shoulders gently and looking into his eyes. 'I'll do anything. All you've got to do is ask.'
He heard the deep breath whisper into Ed's chest and saw, drowning out his uncertainty like a tidal wave, the flare of his determination. 'Just stay still,' he ordered, giving Roy a faintly critical look as if he wasn't sure he was capable of such a thing, 'and don't ask questions.'
Before Roy could so much as raise an eyebrow at the strange orders, Ed leaned in and brushed a kiss lightly against his mouth. It was tentative, as if he thought that Roy would shove him back and cast him out, but, gradually, he grew more bold. The wet flash of his tongue swept shyly across Roy's bottom lip, requesting entrance and, as stunned and doubting and hopeful as he was, Roy obliged.
A groan escaped Ed's throat, and he kissed Roy like the only thing he needed in the world was Roy to return it. He stood there with his heart full of hope and each breath brimming with need, offering everything, and Roy was helpless to deny him. He closed his eyes, tongue sliding over Ed's in the oldest kind of dance, teasing with the perfect balance of give and take as Ed relaxed into his embrace, fingers tangling in his shirt and lips laying claim to Roy's mouth.
Finally, Ed drew back, looking like he couldn't quite believe what he had just done. He looked at Roy like he was expecting – what? Some kind of reprimand? Roy couldn't remember the last time he'd seen Ed look so unsure, and he shifted his hand to cup Ed's jaw, dragging his thumb over Ed's swollen bottom lip as he husked, 'That's all you want? One kiss?'
'I can have more?'
It was such an innocent question, but the crooked tilt of Ed's grin was pure wickedness, and Roy realised that he could drown all over again in Ed's unhidden happiness.
Roy nodded, dropping his hands to circle Ed's waist and lowering his head as he whispered against Ed's upturned mouth.
'Anything you want.'