The Lives we Choose
Part One: The Fire Gem of the North
Chapter One: Forgetful
Summary: In a world not ready for them, are they ready for each other?
Warnings/Spoilers: Spoilers for the end of Brotherhood, though only in some of the small details, as this tends to borrow from both series. This story will contain angst, graphic violence, sex, and death.
You have been warned.
Notes: This chapter has only been edited for grammar by a friend of mine who knows nothing of FMA. If you enjoy it and would like to help out, I am in the desperate search for a dedicated beta!
Bright red lights flashed through the darkness, rebounding from wall to wall, cracking and popping hot in the cold air. The alchemist watched, eyes full of wonder and excitement, as the array came alive, pulling and tearing at the bodies before her. They jumped and convulsed, faces contorted in excruciating agony, and her smile simply grew wider in anticipation.
Color began to fade from their faces as their souls were ripped from their bodies. The bright grey swirls of their very life collided above the center of the room, spinning and sparking out of control, bright in protest. The alchemist spoke quickly, begging the life to enter their new owners, to accept the inevitable change.
The woman's body at her right hand lifted from the ground towards its intended new soul, but as it came closer to the light the body recoiled, resuming its convulsions and falling to the floor. The center of the room exploded in a blaze of red and blue, souls returning hard and fast to their original owners. The force of their rebound knocked both bodies from the array, causing the alchemist to cry out in ferocious anger.
She examined both bodies once the room had once again been flooded in darkness. Cursing and kicking the still breathing test subjects, she dragged them up the stairs. Their souls had been fairly strong to withstand so much.
They would live, for a while longer anyway.
Warmth flooded the General's office. The air was warm, the floor was warm, and as he sank into it, Ed was grateful the couch was just as warm. Mustang was off in some early morning meeting, and the young man was going to just relax in front of the fire as long as possible while waiting for him. It had been several weeks since they'd spoken, and while he wouldn't admit it even to a fly, Edward missed Roy while he was away.
Fire blazing, the warmth pouring over his bare arms, and couch sucking him deeper and deeper into the cushions, Ed began to drift off. He really couldn't avoid it, he was entirely too comfortable.
Shortly after he had fallen asleep, a quiet click echoed in the large office, and the door swung open. General Roy Mustang slid in and leaned against the heavy wood, shutting it with a deep sigh. These meetings were turning his hair grey, and that was enough to infuriate him, let alone the fact that for every step forward they took they seemed to take three steps back. Things were getting better, but they still had a long way to go. Roy raised his fists to slam down against the door, but slowed them mid swing when he saw a crimson coat lying across the back of his couch. It was his favorite sight to see. This made him smile, and his day was already looking up, despite the heavy guilt poking at the back of his mind.
He walked around to the edge of the couch and sat gently against the arm, watching Ed sleep soundlessly. The light of the flames danced across the young man's tanned flesh, and cast flickering shadows across his face from the mess of hair that fell in front of it. Ed's right hand had, at some point during his slumber, slid beneath his own shirt, resting on his chest and revealing his incredibly well defined abdomen. Roy wanted nothing more at that moment than to lean in, run his fingers up Ed's chest, feeling his skin beneath his hands, and kiss those soft, slightly parted pink lips.
He probably would have been punched in the face.
Roy and Ed had been flirting around in a circle for over three years now. It began the first time they were able to have a conversation where Roy hadn't made any quips about Ed's size, and Ed in turn hadn't cursed the then Brigadier-General down the street and back. As the younger man had walked away that day, he looked over his shoulder with a smile, "Let's do that again sometime Mustang." And they had; the conversations and feelings becoming more and more intimate as time passed. Slowly.
A smile crept across his face as he watched the sleeping figure stretch and begin to wake. He slid down, picking Ed's sock covered feet up to place across his legs; the automail one incredibly heavy, but bearable. "Good morning Shorty, and happy birthday!"
Ed lifted his foot and slammed his heel into the General's leg. He was kind enough to use the right one at least. "I haven't been short for years, and my birthday was yesterday."
The guilt that had been poking him was now beating him over the head. He tried to gloss over it with a jab at his friend, "I'd hardly call that growth spurt you had 14 months ago 'years'".
"Well it was more than one year ago! So, years, multiple, end of argument."
The blond was refusing to open his eyes and his words were groggy and mumbled. Moving his right leg so that he could wiggle his toes under Roy's warm body, he readjusted, now even more content to remain there as relaxed as possible, for a moment anyway.
His demeanor soured though, and his voice quieted, speaking quite clear and sharply, "I figured you had forgotten when you missed dinner last night." He did open his eyes this time, and they were hurt. He tried to hide it, but Roy had learned long ago how to see through Ed's masks. Not waiting for Roy's perfectly valid excuse of important meetings lasting entirely too long, he quickly jumped up off the couch, tugging his shirt back down, sliding his boots back on, and heading towards the large desk in the middle of the office.
Plopping down on one of the rather ostentatious chairs, he waited in silence for Mustang to join him.
The older man pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. Officially, and even to each other outwardly, they were nothing more than close friends. Yet they both knew they cared deeply for one another. There was really no way to deny it completely. So many moments had passed where they had come so close, so close to admitting it out loud (they'd long ago admitted to themselves), so close to falling down the rabbit hole together.
No matter how much Ed understood the reasons, or how Roy thought he would be okay after a couple of days, he had hurt him. He hadn't shown up to the big birthday dinner Ed had been looking forward to for almost a year.
"No one will be able to call me kid anymore! Twenty years old, finally. Thought this day would never come." He had propped his crossed feet on Roy's desk, leaning back with his head leaned back into his hands.
Roy had laughed loud and long, "You're only 19 today Fullmetal. Little premature celebration there don't you think?"
"Oh come on General! It just means now I get a countdown, a day to look forward to! We'll have a big dinner with all my friends. Maybe I'll even get the old bat, Granny out here for it!" His laughter was interrupted by Mustang leaning close, lowering his voice to a husky tone that Ed hated just as much as he cherished.
"You sure you don't want me to take you out, you know, just the two of us?" His voice was like honey on the younger man's skin, and made every inch of his flesh twitch.
Edward's eyes had opened wide, his breath caught in his throat. He thought for a moment of how much he wanted just that. But he knew better. He knew the two of them were just a half a step away from disaster, from the world falling down around them, the lives they had created being destroyed by a single kiss. "You'd probably just stand me up." He had grinned his biggest, cheesiest, toothiest grin. "This way, I get to at least be assured that SOMEone will be there to celebrate with me!" When Roy hadn't moved away, his smile disappeared, and the blond brought his hands to the older man's face, running his thumbs across his cheeks.
They remained in silence, inches from one another. Their breath made the air between them warm and inviting. Roy was patient, waiting for the younger man to move first, pleading with him to move up and kiss him, to take his lips and claim his mouth as his own. The younger man moved closer, daring to let his lips just brush against Mustang's, before Ed quietly pleaded with the man above him, "Please Roy, don't do this."
Mustang had thought for a moment, thought of ignoring him, of closing the millimeter gap and taking what they both so desperately wanted, and needed from one another. But he was right, every time. He'd said it before, and didn't need to this time. If they gave in to one another, they would never be able to hide it from those around them. Their closest friends would understand, but the world around them never would. Most likely, they would lose everything they had worked so hard for, and so would those close to them.
Sighing and enjoying Edward's touch before standing, he turned away. "One day the world will change Ed."
This had made Edward let out a low, soft laugh. "Well, at least I know you never will General Bastard."
He really hadn't. Deep down, he knew that. Roy reluctantly pushed himself off the couch and headed towards his own seat behind the desk. Ed had propped himself up in his usual position, leaned back in the chair, feet on Roy's mahogany desk. Once, he had knocked Fullmetal's boots back to the ground, and the younger man had retaliated by putting his artificial foot back up on the desk so hard it had cracked the wood. He hadn't bothered removing them since.
They remained there in a heavy silence, Roy still standing in front of his seat, leaning over his desk watching Edward avoid his gaze. "Ed, I'm so sorry. Please…"
"Forget it, General." His curt words and choice of formal address pushed Mustang backwards, falling into his chair. "How did the meeting go anyway?"
Regaining his composure enough to look gruff once again, he became all business. "We finally set a date for the elections." Roy tried to smile as they both settled into their usual, 'ignore the angry/frustrated/disappointed/hurt/sexual tension between them' façade. They were getting used to this routine. "Unfortunately, it's almost two years away, and that means all manner of ridiculous nonsense could happen between now and then." He sighed and let his head fall with a thick thud against his desk. Nothing was going right today.
"Come on now general, you plan on running for Prime Minister I'm sure!" The sarcasm in his voice was not lost on Roy.
"No, Fuehrer may be off the list, but I can still be the commanding general of the Amestrian army. A worthy goal, and still just as achievable. Probably less assassination attempts as well." His words were muffled against the desk, his face squished in an odd shape as he refused to sit up.
"No one would come anywhere near knocking you off with Hawkeye around. Besides, I'd probably try and get to you first at some point." The general looked up at him, trying to figure out if Ed was speaking out of anger or attempting to make a joke. He crossed his fingers it was the latter.
Ed fell silent, trying to figure it out himself. While he was furious at Mustang for doing exactly what he knew he would, he was feeling the pain of his absence the evening before weighing heavier on his shoulders. In order to try and forget it completely, he turned to the purpose he was even here that early in the morning. He had a report to give of his two months spent in Xing.
He started talking, popping the bubble of apprehension floating between them.
Focusing on Edward's recount of his time spent in the East, both men were able to calm down. The elder sat back up, taking in each of his words, repeating them to himself and trying to understand just how they all really fit together. He was trying to listen not only to what was being said, but also, to what Ed wasn't saying, to what hadn't happened that probably should have. This was how Roy's brain worked.
Edward loved watching Roy slip into his tactician mode. With everything he said he watched the cogs turning behind his eyes, plotting, planning. The look on the flame alchemist's face, the fire in his eyes, so sure of himself, so damned cocky… he wished he'd had more to say to draw out more of the passion from Mustang. As he ended the report with boarding the train back to Central however, he was brought back to yesterday, and his anger came creeping back.
Roy had swiveled his chair to the side and leaned back, fingertips pressed together in a steeple just in front of his face, oblivious to the sudden change in the younger man's expression. Although he was now angry again, Ed knew better than to interrupt Roy when he looked like that. He may have been feeling like a betrayed lover, but he wasn't. He wasn't his lover, Roy owed him nothing, and Amestris always came first. Somehow, even though every ounce of logic he had was screaming that he was thinking like a child, this made him feel even angrier. He was jealous of an entire country!
As his fists were clinched, knuckles beginning to turn white, he stood in order to not start lashing out and breaking things. By the time he had reached the door Roy seemed to finally notice. "You haven't been dismissed." His tone was deep and commanding; he actually said it as if Edward would care.
There was a huff of extreme annoyance before he answered, "And when exactly did you think I started giving a shit?" Nearly pulling the door off the hinges, he left the office, slamming the heavy wood behind him hard enough that several frames fell from their homes on the wall.
In the outer office, General Mustang's staff was so accustomed to this behavior between the two of them, that none of them even looked up from their work. "FULLMETAL!" Roy had appeared in his doorway, enraged.
Ed halted at the outer exit, hand on the latch, but he didn't respond, and he didn't look at his superior.
"You will report back here at 1600, ready to leave for your next mission." The slight shake of his subordinate's head told the General he had rolled his eyes. He waited while Ed stood there, undoubtedly trying to decide what smart ass comment to reply back with.
Instead, he simply left, glancing back at Roy for only a moment, fury dancing across his face.
The thirty minute walk back to his home was more than enough time to let him cool down and let off some steam, ranting at the world and no one in particular. He took the slightly longer route that did not pass by the market, so that he was less likely to be stared at for talking to himself, which he did a lot of when he was angry.
Roy was infuriating. Everything about their relationship, and lack thereof especially, drove Edward crazy. He was his commanding officer, so he was ordered around constantly. Not that he chose to obey those orders most of the time. He was his best and most trusted friend, right after Al. He told Alphonse everything; he wanted to tell Roy everything and more. But that was the problem. He couldn't. Ed trusted Roy with his life. He didn't trust the world. There may have been a general sense of understanding amongst the people about gay men and women, 'leave it at home'. That was the popular phrase. But a gay public figure? Unheard of, and Ed knew it. When he was younger, there had been an occurrence that had been impossible to miss in the news. The extremely popular and wealthy business man that had fallen from grace and lost everything, because someone found out he'd had a boyfriend. It had been an awful fiasco, and still left a nasty taste in Ed's mouth.
Yet, Roy kept trying; constantly touching Edward, making dirty comments, inviting him home, licking his lips in just the right way, looking at him hungrily, having an ass that Ed really couldn't help but stare at, the way he slept that made him want to nuzzle next to him forever, and just how damned fuckable he was no matter what he was doing, wearing, or saying. Ok, so those last few weren't active attempts on Roy's part, but he was still blamed for it.
And to top it all off, the General was still a damned controlling, manipulative, egotistical, self-righteous bastard.
Ed started to let himself get angry again, but was tempered by the smell of Winry's cooking hitting him as he rounded the corner to his street. Stomach rumbling, he ran the last bit, almost sliding on the icy steps up to his front door.
He found in his kitchen, three of his favorite people, two of whom he hadn't expected to see. Winry was leaning over the stove, pouring ladles of something into bowls, Granny and Al sat at the island bar laughing about something.
"I thought you were leaving this morning Granny. And shouldn't you be in class Al?" He tussled his little brothers hair, heading around to where Winry was to see what was for lunch. Before either could answer, she turned around to face Ed, who jumped back and whistled, impressed. "I don't believe it; you look fatter today than you did yesterday!"
She promptly attacked his head with the wooden spoon, but he was still grinning.
"Brother! That's an awful thing to say!" Al hopped off his stool and went to take the weapon from her hand. Once he had removed the bludgeoning object, he kissed her cheek and wrapped his arms around her waist, resting his hands on her protruding belly. "Don't listen to Ed, he's an idiot. You look beautiful."
Their child seemed to agree as they both jumped and started giggling like mad when Winry's belly moved.
Ed, perfectly content to sit and watch them act like complete saps, walked around to steal the seat next to Granny. "Ok, so maybe my choice of words was a little off, but you do look different today."
Al had refused to let go and now had his chin propped on his wife's shoulder, staring down at her belly waiting for it to move again. Winry had to lean her head forward to talk to Ed, "It's just because she's changed positions. I even FEEL bigger today, not that I wanted you to point it out to me or anything jerk." Even though she was trying to scowl at him, concern slowly crossed her face. "Ed, where's your coat? I know you walked back here from the office, you have to be freezing?"
"Huh?" He looked at her and Al, who was now staring at him concerned as well, not entirely sure what she had meant. When he looked down, he realized that he had left his coat in the bastard's office, and had been so angry on the way home that he hadn't even noticed he was walking out in the snow.
Granny only tsk'd, and Ed tried to just shrug it off. "I'm alright, no need to worry! Say, I thought you were headed home this morning, and aren't you usually in class right about now Al?" The others watched him attempt to drop the subject and didn't answer at first, so he asked again. "Someone? Anyone? Tell me what's up?"
Winry broke first, grinning, "Granny decided to just stick around till the baby gets here, rather than travelling home then having to come back in just a couple of weeks." Any talk of their child of course caused Al to continue rubbing her belly. She batted his hand away so she could prepare the bowls of soup and hand them out to each member of her family.
"And you Alphonse, you aren't usually one to play hooky." Ed took the bowl happily, ignoring the spoon entirely and choosing to start by drinking several deep swigs of the savory broth. The warmth of the fresh meal made him realize just how cold he really was, sending a silent curse out to the General.
Al was mirroring his brother, not even bothering with a spoon. When he put his bowl back to the counter, he answered, "Had an exam this morning…"
"Aced it of course." Winry interrupted with a proud smile.
Her husband nodded, "I did rather well, but only because I studied my ass off. It wasn't easy. Anyway. Since I had that exam this morning at the University, and I'm guest lecturing at the Academy's battle alchemy class this evening, I asked my afternoon professor if I could have this class off, you know, so I could see my family for the first time in weeks!" Ed knew Al was tired; he was in the Universities Medical program, and taking a double load each term to finish as fast as possible. The military academy was constantly asking both of them to come and talk in their alchemy classes. Ed usually refused, but Al loved the opportunity to share his knowledge with others.
Having the two of them stay with him while Al was finishing school, was not only logical, but made Ed happy. It was nice to have a family to come home to. He didn't look forward to the day when Al became a doctor, and Winry followed him all over helping people just like her parents had done. His home would feel so empty. Ed really didn't need any more thoughts bringing down his mood.
"Well I'm glad you did skip class Al! Otherwise you probably would have missed me entirely. General Bastard has me leaving again this evening." He grumbled the last sentence.
Al and Winry dropped their spoons. "WHAT?"
Granny hmphed, "Dog of the military. Sit, stay, fetch." She finished her lunch and thanked Winry. "I think I'm going to go take a nap for a while." She stopped at the beginning on the stairs and looked back at Ed. "I hated it when you were younger, but I understood your reasoning Ed. Now though, there's no point to it. You made this bed; you have to lie in it." With that she turned and stomped up the steps.
Edward watched her, knowing she was completely right. He was staring at the empty spot where she had stood, reminding him that this was the life he had chosen. Looking back at Al, he shook his head. "What am I doing?" There was a lump in his throat, watching Al and Winry, the only thing that made this building feel remotely like a home, was them. One day they would be off on their own, and Ed would be stuck with an empty house, and no one to share it with.
The morning with Mustang had greatly reinforced that.
Winry decided to let the brothers talk, and excused herself for a nap as well, asking them ever so firmly to do the cleaning up. It was more like a command, but at eight months pregnant, there wasn't anything she said that Al didn't bend over backwards to do for her.
The brothers cleaned up quickly, Edward even helping with the dishes, which he really hated doing. Once the kitchen was clean enough for their standards (Winry would probably have something to say about it later) they retreated to the living room, both men falling exhausted onto either end of Ed's over-sized sofa.
"So," Al looked at his brother, who had pulled his feet up to curl underneath him, his elbow perched on the armrest, and his face buried in his palm. "What excuse did Roy give you?"
Soft, low laughter was the immediate answer, followed with a quiet, "nothing." Ed shook his head, remembering his curt conversations with the General that morning. He hadn't even offered up one single excuse. He tried to say he was sorry once, but when Ed cut him off, he dropped it all together.
"That doesn't sound like him. Roy usually does whatever he can to make it up to you when he does something stupid like that. And he's got plenty of practice making it up to you."
Ed nodded. Despite the public façade, Roy was a deeply emotional man, who did everything he could to take care of those he cared for. When he messed up, he fixed it; never mind the fact that he tended to mess up a lot lately. This time though, he had barely tried. No excuses, only a single attempt at an apology. The last time Roy had to apologize, he actually forced Ed to sit down and listen while he explained his actions. It had been a rather intense situation, and afterwards the young man had had to excuse himself as fast as possible in order to not let Roy see just how turned on he had been.
Though at the time he was pretty sure the General had been worse off.
"It seems like he doesn't care as much as he used to. I was gone for two months, maybe he…" Ed stopped himself and bit his bottom lip. "Al, do you think he met someone else? I mean, I keep sending him away, telling him no. Maybe he found someone who would say yes?" That idea almost brought tears to his eyes. He thought they had agreed that it was better to be friends, not able to be together, but still able to be around each other, that that was much better than never seeing one another again.
Maybe he had changed his mind. Maybe Ed had said, "No," one too many times. Of course, that didn't change Ed's resolve to keep saying no… but…
He threw his hands in the air in defeat and fell to the couch, letting his head rest on his little brother's leg. "I hate this Al; I don't know what to do. I hate not knowing what to do."
The baby brother pulled his older brother's hair out of its tie and ran his fingers through it. "You never were able to figure out how to really deal with other people Ed."
"That's what I have you for though Al. I mess it up and you fix it, say it right, say it better. How many times have you had to apologize for me because I said something with complete and, well, rather brutal honesty?"
Al chuckled. "I can help you with most people, but I can't run interference in your relationships, especially your boyfriend. I can give you advice, but you have to play this on your own."
Anger, frustration, and disappointment mingled in Ed's answer. "He's not my boyfriend Al."
"I know Ed, I'm sorry. Tell you what, when you go get your next assignment this afternoon; don't be an ass. Give him another chance to apologize. If this morning was so out of the ordinary for him, maybe something really odd is up. There are any countless things that could have happened this morning that would put him off his game."
"He doesn't owe me an apology. He doesn't owe me anything Al." He turned his head away, staring out the window at the quiet street. Al didn't answer right away, and Ed let himself settle into the silence.
He had zoned out when Al finally flicked him on the ear, causing him to jolt, spinning around to glare at his little brother. "What the hell?" When he saw the disappointed look on the face staring down at him, he knew exactly which three words were coming next.
"You're an idiot." Al sighed and went back to playing with the long blond hair. "You two may not have a title for each other, but you have something. You've got this weird, complicated, strange relationship with each other. Even if you were just friends, he would owe you an apology for not coming to your birthday. But you're not just friends."
Ed sighed. "When we were younger, and had such a focused goal, nothing mattered but getting our bodies back to normal. There was none of this stupid, relationship stuff. I could deal with the danger and the constant changes, the crazy people were EASY to deal with compared to this!"
This made the younger man chuckle. "Just take a deep breath, brother. Try not to act like you and go all ballistic on him. Give him a chance to apologize. And please, for all of our sanity, reconsider this whole situation." When this got him a confused look he elaborated, "Give it a shot brother. Throw all your misgivings out of the window and try it. Keep it quiet sure, I understand why you're so dead set against it…" he paused and took a deep breath, carefully selecting his words. "Your friends and family will always have a safe place for the two of you."
Slowly sitting up, Ed gave his little brother a soft smile. "Thank you Al. That means a lot to me. It doesn't change anything, but it means a lot." He stretched and moved forward ready to stand, and spoke, not looking back at Al. "It doesn't really matter if we have a safe place though. If anyone besides our friends found out, everything Roy has been working for will fall apart. Not only could he be completely stalled from moving any further in his career, but he's the one spearheading the democracy talks alongside Fuehrer Grunman. They could use me and our relationship against him. Those that want things to keep going as they have been, don't like the change he's bringing about, would happily defame him for being gay, and easily get their way. I can't take that away from him just because of silly little fantasies." Falling silent, he stood and walked towards the stairs, "I'm gonna take a shower before I head back to command."
As he made it to the third and fourth step, he paused when Al spoke up again, voice soft and concerned, "Love is never silly brother."
General Mustang signed off on one last damned piece of paperwork. His eyes were growing heavy, and he was fairly certain he hadn't actually read what he just signed off on, even though he had been staring at it for the better part of half an hour. Of course, it didn't help that he had been at Command for over 32 hours straight, without sleep. There were only two hours left before Ed would be back, and that was nowhere near enough time to make it home for a decent nap. So couch it was then.
After informing his team that under no circumstances were they to come within two feet of his door, up to and including the apocalypse, he tossed his jacket onto his desk and threw himself onto the couch. He was practically out before his head fell all the way back, but something fell into his face, demanding his attention.
A red wool sleeve brushed against his skin.
He looked at the coat with a sorrowful smile, bringing the fabric down to him and pulling it up to take a deep breath. Edward was all over this coat. Roy felt his lip begin to quiver and tears welled up in his eyes. His chest was heavy, not just from exhaustion, but because he needed Ed and the younger man did nothing but push him away. Heaviness settled over him as he yearned to be held and to hold him in turn, to kiss his skin and protect him from the world. Taking another deep breath he smelled the mixture of Ed's choice of soap and sweat mingled together. Roy's body reacted, muscles twitching under his imagination. He grabbed the coat by the collar and threw the heavy fabric over his own body, pulling it up past his shoulders so as he breathed in the scent, he could pretend it was Edward keeping him warm.
Between the weight of the changes he was bringing to his beloved country, his extreme exhaustion, terrible guilt, and ache for Edward, for the first time since he was a very small child, Roy Mustang cried as he fell fast asleep.