- mirage –
At nearly three in the morning the white glow from the open refrigerator door held the effect of a flashlight on Ed's disheveled pajama dressed form, and made him look like a corpse. Standing in front of it in the perfectly still and silent kitchen Ed flinched back when a dark shadow appeared in the doorway before whispering, "You scared the shit out of me."
Roy was half asleep. Wearing his new wool socks and plaid pajama pants, he had bundled for the winter weather. Earlier that evening he had peeled the Christmas tag off both of them and was especially pleased to have the socks because the Hughes's house had mercilessly cold floors. Now standing in Hughes's kitchen doorway looking at his young lover he was thinking only one thing.
"Let's go to bed."
Ed had gone a bit comatose when Roy arrived, and he grunted and bent down to look into the fridge. "Go ahead, I'll be right back."
Roy yawned, and hit the kitchen light. Ed covered his eyes with a silent look of discomfort. He ignored Roy who padded in and took a seat at Gracia's neatly kept kitchen table. "Why are you up?" Roy asked, propping his head in his hands. "That's not like you." Ed slept like a rock. When they started dating seven months ago Ed had told him so and Alphonse had confirmed. Since that day Roy had seen this with his own eyes as Ed slept through ringing phones, human chatter, honking cars, and gunfire. Ed's commitment to sleep, once given, commenced with or without the rest of the world.
"I don't feel that good," Ed said, pulling the milk out of the fridge so he could reach Gracia's pitcher of orange juice. "You feel okay, right?"
"Think it was the beef?" Roy asked, not inclined to think it was. Gracia had made them Christmas stakes, and she was a wonderful cook. Ed had eaten like a monster, and she had laughed and swooned with all his compliments. Ed put the milk back in the refrigerator and shut the door with juice in hand. "I feel okay," Roy said dryly, closing his eyes.
Ed began opening the cabinets in search of a cup. "I can't believe you slept through me getting up," Ed said. He found a glass wearing a wide smile. "I stepped on wrapping paper and it stuck to me. I think I hopped out three steps whispering curses and crushing it into the floor trying to get it off."
Roy laughed, he could envision it now. Alicia had strewn it all over the house. They had enjoyed sticking their present bows and ribbons to her, and she had loved the paper colors and patterns. With most presents still under the tree it looked more as if someone had fired a missile into what was a collection of presents with everything half-opened and crammed back under.
Roy watched Ed begin to fill his glass and said, "If it's your stomach, you shouldn't drink orange juice."
Ed stopped pouring and looked over. "Why?"
Roy yawned heavily. "It's got a lot of acids in it. Drink some water." He gestured to the sink, but Ed immediately shook his head. "Why?" Roy asked, feeling puzzled before a bit of concern came to him. "Are you nauseous?"
Ed gave an apologetic exaggerated wince with just his mouth, gritting his teeth and pulling his lips back. "…Just a bit," Ed said, sounding guilty.
"Ed, god dammit," Roy said, sitting up and rubbing his hand across his face. "You're going to get us all sick during the holidays. What did I say? I said, highly contagious. The flu is highly contagious, stay away from Havoc."
Havoc had started looking under the weather three days before the office was closing for Christmas. By the third day he was home with the flu and Hawkeye was rapidly disinfecting every available surface. 'I am not getting sick for Christmas,' she had said, scrubbing and looking thoroughly pissed. She had called Havoc inconsiderate for continuing to come in while he knew he was coming down with something, and now here they were, spending Christmas with the Hughes family so along with the three pies they had brought they could also spread the flu.
"I did stay away from him! I just dropped by for five minutes," Ed snapped, yanking the partially filled glass off the table and extending it to Roy in a quick outward thrust. "Five minutes isn't enough to get you sick! Here."
"What?" Roy asked, looking at the glass.
"Drink it!" Ed gave the glass a tiny wiggle. "I don't want to throw it out, that's wasteful, drink it!" Roy took the glass and tossed back the juice. "What do I drink if I don't feel well?"
Roy swallowed. "I am not a doctor Ed."
"Well you knew about this."
"Well what doesn't feel well?"
"Can we be more specific?" Roy asked, becoming annoyed. He could feel his exhaustion wearing on his patience.
"Roy, you don't have to cop an attitude," Ed said, taking the empty glass away and stepping back to lean into the counter. Ed was also wearing his new Christmas pajama pants. Compliments of Gracia, Ed's were a red flannel and Roy's were a black. They were incredibly comfortable. Over Ed's red flannel pants he was wearing a cream waffle fabric long sleeve shirt, also compliments of Gracia. Like the pants, Ed said the shirt was also incredibly comfortable and Roy was jealous he had not gotten one. Instead he was wearing one of his old gray tee shirts.
"Well you didn't have to bring the flu with us so little Alicia can start vomiting all over her new dollhouse."
"I didn't bring the flu!" Ed snapped. "Stop saying that! You don't know I have the flu! And if I do have it, you're just as contagious as I am because I have been breathing all over you!"
Roy gave this outburst a heavy sigh before saying flatly, "Well then thanks for giving me the flu."
"Okay, okay, keep it down," Roy said, lowering his voice and waving for Ed to do the same. "Do you want to wake up the whole house?"
As if on cue one very tired Hughes appeared in the kitchen doorway, and keeping silent he leaned into the door frame and looked at them. Neither of them spoke, and Roy glanced at Ed, waiting for the apology before manning up to it.
"Sorry if we woke you," Roy said, shooting Ed a scolding glance.
"Gracia wanted me to bring my gun in case it was robbers," Hughes said, beginning a tired laugh. "As if there would be anyone in the house who could both get past you two and make as much noise."
"Did we wake Alicia too?" Ed asked, sounding a bit remorseful.
Hughes gave a slow shake of his head. "Want me to put some coffee on? You two night owls?"
"Hardly," Roy said, yawning with his head propped in his hand. "Normally he sleeps like the dead, so I wake up if he leaves. He's not feeling too well."
Hughes cast tired half lidded eyes to Ed who was still standing next to the pitcher of orange juice. "You sure it's not because you stuffed yourself silly Ed?" Hughes teased. "I've never seen a person eat like that."
"I wish," Ed said.
Hughes gestured to Ed with a tired single lift of his hand. "Come to think of it, you look a bit flushed. Do you have a fever?"
Ed looked shocked with these words and turned to Roy quickly for an educated opinion. Roy sat up a bit in his chair and gave his eyes a good squeeze-and-open. Ed's cheeks did look a bit pink. "Ed, do you have a fever?" Roy asked.
"No," Ed snapped, lifting a hand to his forehead and holding it. "I don't have a fever." Ed said, sounding panicked. He took his palm away and pressed his wrist to his forehead instead. "Why would I have a fever?" Ed didn't sound certain, and Roy stood up and went to his side.
"If you don't think so try to sleep it off," Hughes suggested.
Roy exchanged a fast glance with Ed, because of the automail there was little more to it than that. "Actually, do you think you have a…" Roy trailed off when Gracia trudged into the doorway wearing a robe three times the width of her body and gave them all a sleepy smile.
"Well good morning," she said kindly. "I don't think I've ever seen my kitchen so full." She tromped in dragging her feet and wearing her new Christmas slippers: red with one fat piece of holly sewn to the tops.
"Sorry if we woke you," Ed said quickly.
Gracia waved this off sweetly and approached them at the counter where she filled Ed's glass with orange juice and began drinking.
"Honey, Ed doesn't feel well. We have anything we can give him?" Hughes asked.
Roy crossed his arms casually across his chest to keep from touching Ed's forehead. With so many spectators he'd refrain because Ed became embarrassed easily with all things domestic.
"Oh really?" Gracia said, speech slow, but tone a bit distracted while so tired. "You poor thing Ed, why don't you go lie down." She patted Ed's shoulder and squeezed it kindly. "What can I get you?"
"Well, I really didn't mean to wake anyone up so I don't want you to trouble yourselves," Ed said, looking uncomfortable with the spotlight and hospitality.
"Ed, you're no trouble at all. Come along with me and I'll see what I have for you." Gracia left the kitchen in a slow lumbering autopilot that only mothers owned. It was the body's familiarity with conducting life at odd hours of the night when children woke up screaming. Ed followed her obediently and Roy dragged both his hands down his face and groaned.
"Doesn't Havoc have the flu?" Hughes asked.
"I am so sorry Hughes," Roy said, fingers still spread about his chin and jaw. "We didn't think either of us were sick."
Hughes gave a casual optimistic shrug. "Could be something he ate." Roy left for the bathroom with a friendly smile to Hughes. He had seen Ed eat a lot of things, in massive quantities, and in odd combinations, so he felt fully confident it was not the food.
Ed followed Gracia to the small full bath. She had decorated it with flowers and matching accessories. The towels were a faint blue, and over the back of the toilet and vanity there were decorative blue vases with complimenting bouquets. The shower curtain was the same sky color with tiny white blossoms peppered around it. It was a small quaint room, and everywhere between the home décor were small little girl belongings. A tiny pink toothbrush, a towel littered with printed hearts, sparkling hair clips, and a tube of fake lipstick.
Ed stood alongside the sink with Gracia digging through her medicine cabinet. Her eyes were barely open and she wore the constant faint smile of someone so exhausted they found everything pleasing.
"Okay Ed, let's see what I got. What's bothering you, your throat?" she asked, showing Ed a small bottle with red medication.
Ed shook his head. "My stomach." That was what felt bad and was growing increasingly worse at an alarming rate. "And do you have a thermometer? I really need to make sure I am not running a fever."
"You bet I do," Gracia said, replacing the bottle of medication. "We'll give you something for upset stomachs and I am sure you'll feel much much better." She retrieved a small brown medicinal bottle and set it on the vanity before digging around for a thermometer.
"Thanks for all your help with this," Ed said, lifting the bottle and reading the hand-made label from the local drug store. "You think this will help?" Ed asked, turning the bottle before glancing up with Gracia's silence. She was frowning thoughtfully at a glass thermometer in her hand and had stopped searching. "Gracia?"
"I do think it will help," Gracia said, shutting the medicine cabinet and leaning into the sink. "You want to take two tablespoons, so I'll get you one." She reached to Ed's forehead and laid her hand on to it. Internally he flinched, but outwardly he kept his appearance when her extending hand and assuming touch brought about a rush of medical insecurities. "And you do feel warm," Gracia said, expression becoming troubled. "Definitely low-grade, but I am sorry I don't have a thermometer for you."
Ed reached up to his own forehead with concern over the idea of a fever. He didn't have the luxury of careless illness in which he could have a fever and do nothing only to suffer the consequences. The automail required he understand his body's temperature, and keep it always from moving above a hundred and one. Anything warmer heated the internal pieces of the automail which could not be manufactured like the external. Those were made to withstand the summer, and heat of the sun on metal. The internal were delicate, expensive, and not meant to move past their manufacturing temperature. They damaged easily, were terrible to replace, and had the unintentional ramification of holding heat, which elevated body temperature dangerously.
Ed stroked his fingers over his forehead with building anxiety, and whispered a soft, "shit." He looked at Gracia's delicate hand and the glass stick she was holding with confusion. It was obviously a thermometer.
Gracia smiled when she saw Ed look to it. "Oh no Ed, you don't want this one," she teased. "Since we have children in the house, our thermometer is for young ones who can't keep things in their mouths while they're crying."
"Oh," Ed said dumbly, unsure of Gracia's meaning before the light bulb went off and he realized it was a rectal thermometer. "Oh!" Ed said, blushing the tiniest bit despite himself. "Okay, yeah thanks, you can keep that one." He gave her a quick embarrassed smile.
Roy entered the bathroom and stopped at Ed's side. He pet a loving hand up the middle of Ed's shoulder blades and left it on Ed's shoulder.
"What's the verdict?" he asked, giving Gracia a thankful smile.
"I am going to grab him a spoon, and Ed, then we'll put a cloth on your head, okay?" Gracia said, leaving for the door.
"Yeah thanks," Ed said, lifting the medicine he held the slightest bit so Roy would notice.
"She thinks this will help my stomach."
Roy took the bottle and read the label. It was standard tonic for upset stomachs, and something he was doubtful would fight a virus or dreaded flu. He read the back quickly. "Two tablespoons?" he asked.
Ed nodded, rubbing at the back of his neck. "I wish everyone would just go to bed and stop making such a big deal about this." He shrugged uncomfortably. "This is embarrassing."
Roy chuckled. "You're overreacting." He deliberately did not add the word 'again' although he was thinking it. "Gracia just wants you to feel better, and Maes could care less." Ed did not look convinced. "You're also the one who woke them all up, and I wouldn't call lovely Mrs. Hughes showing us where she keeps her supplies, her making a big deal of things."
Ed gave Roy a sour look. "You know what I mean."
Gracia returned with a spoon. She gave it to Ed and showed him her empty ice pack. "Here you go Ed, just put the spoon in the sink when you're done. Don't worry about it. I am going to put some ice in this for you and I'll leave it in the kitchen." Ed looked incredibly relieved she was going away. "I am going to go back to bed, but you let me know if you need anything else, all right?"
"Okay," Ed said, looking touched by her kindness. "Thanks Gracia."
"You're welcome." She gave Ed's arm a quick pat and shuffled to the door.
Just as she slipped from the doorway Roy realized they were missing something, and called a quick, "Gracia?" She leaned back in and lifted her eyebrows in a sleepy attempt to open her eyes more. "I am sorry to bother you, but could we get a thermometer real quick?" Roy was also aware of the significance Ed's temperature held on his body.
Gracia opened her mouth while growing a confused expression, but Ed spoke instead. "No need!" he said quickly. "She already explained it to me, thanks Gracia," Ed said, waving for her to go.
"What do you mean, explained it?" Roy asked, lowering his voice so the question was private.
"Funny thing about the Hughes family," Ed said, sounding nervous. "They just don't own one." Ed gave an elaborate shrug and took the bottle from Roy's hands. "Hold the spoon and I'll fill it."
Roy took the spoon and held it out. "What do you mean, they don't own one?" Roy felt blindsided.
"Odd I know," Ed said, pouring carefully and filling the spoon.
"But they have Alicia."
"That doesn't make sense. Ed, we need to know how warm you are."
"I think I'll be fine if I just take this," Ed said, sitting the bottle on the vanity and carefully taking the spoon from Roy's hand. Roy watched Ed lift it slowly and spoon it into his mouth. He waited, expecting the customary grimace, but Ed sucked the spoon clean and popped it from his mouth before giving his lips a lick.
Roy rolled his eyes. "I can't believe this. I don't even think a pharmacy will be open this late during the holiday." Roy gave a breath of worry. Having Ed sick with the flu was one thing, but he worried about his idiot alchemist. Ed handed him the spoon and he held it out while Ed began pouring again. "We should have thought to bring one just in case."
"Who packs thermometers?" Ed asked, giving the spoon a disagreeing look as he poured. Ed filled the spoon quickly and then bent down and closed his mouth around it so he looked much like a fish snared on the end of Roy's spoon fishing rod.
"Well we should considering how important it can be for you," Roy said, ignoring the humor in this and looking up when Hughes leaned into the bathroom doorway with his eyes practically closed.
"Hey, I am hitting the hay," Hughes said, giving a small wave.
"Maes, you don't know of a pharmacy close by with operating hours now, do you?" Roy asked. Hughes paused thoughtfully with a look of utter confusion. "I know with the holiday that's probably asking for a miracle, but we really need a thermometer."
Hughes dropped the bomb entirely unaware. "We have a thermometer."
"What?" Roy asked, giving a slow blink of confusion. "What do you mean you have a thermometer?" Ed flinched with Hughes's confession, unsure of where this would go and dreading it all the same.
"Yeah," Hughes said, indicating the medicine cabinet with a sloppy point. "We have….oh," Hughes said slowly, growing a fast smile. "No, I guess we don't have one. Sorry, we've got a lot of pediatric stuff around here."
"What?" Roy asked, feeling his brain crank a fraction of its normal operating speed. He looked to Ed for help, but Ed's expression of tense anxiety was like a red flag. He firmed his voice into a no-nonsense tone, and snapped an accusatory, "Ed?" Fully awake things would have been obvious, and he would have had more to say, but with it nearly four AM, all he could manage was, "What's going on."
"Roy, sorry, it's for kids," Hughes said quickly. Ed glanced between them muttering only a small broken noise. "It's tiny and it's one of those up-the-butt ones. We don't have an adult version. Guess we never needed one." Hughes gave a shrug. "Just put some ice on his head. He'll be okay; he's not going to break." Hughes gestured to Ed with a wide grin. "Right Ed?"
Roy gave Hughes a dirty smile that everyone knew was meant for someone else. "Could I have that one?" Roy asked.
Ed tensed with a fast sense of dread and whispered a quick, "Roy."
"Don't tell me you plan to use it?" Hughes laughed. "Come on Roy."
"Thanks Hughes, sorry to keep you up," Ed said, jumping in and trying to encourage Hughes to leave.
"Indulge me," Roy said, keeping his gaze on Hughes and successfully locking Ed out of the conversation. Ed could feel this happening and his anxiety and irritation was rising.
"It's right in the cabinet," Hughes said, stepping in.
"Thanks Hughes, but we don't need it. You can go to bed," Ed said quickly.
Roy stepped to the medicine cabinet and opened it. "Where? I don't want to dig through your personal things," Roy said, looking to Hughes for help.
Hughes entered the bathroom and went to the cabinet. "Hughes, whose side are you on!" Ed cried, lifting a hand and holding his temples when his anger made his stomach turn.
"Let's not make anything about sides Ed," Hughes said kindly. He plucked the tiny glass stick from its resting place in front of child-sized teddy bear shaped chewable pills and handed it to Roy. "I am simply showing him the location of a random item, and now I am excusing myself from the vicinity of two skilled alchemists," Hughes said, leaving quickly. "Don't wake us if you need anything else, fend for yourselves," he teased.
Ed waited for Hughes to leave before turning a dark look on Roy. "Whatever you're thinking, you can drop it." Ed's tone was low and serious, but Roy ignored it. He sat back onto the side of the tub and sighed. "I can't take this now, and I can't take this here, you know that." Ed lifted his hand and indicated the room with a small wave of a pointing finger. Ed had explained this before as something he took serious but understood to be irrational. Although he said he felt he could diagnosis himself in this category, he couldn't explain or understand it. "Hospitals I can do. Emergency rooms, clinics, automail wings, fine. Do whatever you want, I can take it." Ed was breaking into an edgy rant. His voice was tight with stress, and he looked ill. "But I can't do it here. I can't do it in a home. I don't want you to touch me Roy, and I don't want you to even think about maybe touching me, because just you thinking about it, is stressing me out more than you know."
Roy didn't think this was true. "I can see that you are stressed."
"I am not playing games Roy," Ed said, lifting his voice even while firming his tone.
"Ed, you need to relax."
"Don't tell me to relax!" Ed snapped, keeping his voice down. "I think this…" Ed suddenly cut himself off but didn't replace his sudden cease with anything new.
In his half asleep stupor Roy sat in confusion blinking slowly when Ed abruptly silenced, and tightened his lips a fraction of an inch.
"What?" Roy asked. He'd never seen Ed cut himself off while he was ranting. "What is it?" Ed didn't answer this either, he just suddenly left the bathroom. Roy was startled and leaned forward to look out the empty doorway before getting up and following. "Ed?"
Ed was on a mission and went quickly back down the hall and past the kitchen to the living room. The Christmas trees was dark and dormant, the presents shadowed lumps beneath it, but Ed breezed past. He went right to the door and began wedging into his boots.
"What the heck are you doing?" Roy asked, with absolute confusion.
"Going outside," Ed said, giving the laces on each pair a yank so the boots would close enough to be tight even while undone. "I have to lower my fever." Ed left and shut the door behind him.
Roy was abandoned speechless and standing in the foyer holding the thermometer. Ed was not an easy person to endure on limited sleep, and Roy yanked the Hughes's closet open and fought into his jacket cursing. He stuffed his warm wool socks into cold boots and stomped out after Ed.
It had been snowing all day, and Central's streets were poorly cleared. The steps leading to Hughes's door each held two feet of it, and Ed was three down standing completely still with his arms at his sides shivering.
"Ed, get back in this house," Roy said, crunching out into the small space before the steps. Central's street lamps were glowing balls of yellow dotting down the street. All about the base of them the snow was twinkling and it was light and blowing like powder in the wind. Ed's bangs were moving with it, and the boy looked breathtaking standing erect in his pajamas ankle-deep in snow. "Ed?"
"I just need to lower it a little bit!" Ed called, turning to look at Roy from over his shoulder. His nose was already growing pink and the wind pressed Ed's pajama pants flush to one side of his legs. "I am going to hurl!"
"You're that nauseous?" Roy called; stunned Ed could walk around and argue while feeling as if he'd puke. Ed gave a few sloppy nods before leaning forward and vomiting into the snow. "Dammit Ed!" Roy called, gesturing to the snow ridden stairs. "Over the railing! These are their stairs!" Ed took a quick step to the railing and leaned over like a seasick passenger. "You want Alicia to slip on your frozen vomit when it turns to ice?" he teased, trying to lighten the situation. Ed dry heaved, clinging to the frost covered railing and shivering. Then he hung there panting and Roy waited. "You done?" Ed gave another sloppy nod. "Good. Then get back in here, or I will walk over and pick you up."
This was a running joke, stemming from a night months ago when Ed was reading on the couch and kept saying he would come to bed but never moved. Roy had eventually threatened to come and physically relocate Ed, and then finally done so. With a wide loving smile he grabbed the book and tossed it across the room in one swoop. Ed was so startled his jaw fell open and he looked at where the book had fallen, before Roy swept in. He lifted Ed with ease, and carried the boy to their bedroom playfully scolding him with his mouth pressed to Ed's ear. Don't you ever ever ever make me come get you again. Ever ever ever.
Ed hobbled up from the railing and wiped his mouth before trudging up the steps. "I feel better now," he said, voice breathless.
"I am glad to hear it." Roy held the door and they tried to sneak inside. It was difficult when you had to stomp snow off your boots and Ed stood inside on the mat rubbing at his face while Roy unfastened his boots and helped him step out.
"Come on, we're going to our room," Roy said, taking Ed's hand and leading him along. "You realize you just threw up Gracia's medicine, right?"
"Want to wait a little bit before trying to take it again?"
Roy held the bedroom door for Ed, and shut it behind them. Strewn about the front and side of the queen guest bedroom was red wrapping paper with green trees. Off near the dresser and their two open suitcases, a bright gold bow, and bits of silver tinsel.
Ed shuffled directly to the bed and climbed on with a deep groan. "I should have just done that to begin with," Ed said, voice strained and muffled. "This is so much nicer."
"Ed, I am going to talk to you, and before I do I want you to relax yourself, understand?" Roy said. This statement had the opposite effect. Ed's breathing immediately became erratic and he pushed himself up and turned around to sit facing Roy.
"Leave me alone."
"I am not the old woman, I am not a doctor, I am just Roy."
Ed lifted a palm and held it out as if Roy had a gun. "I am serious." Ed looked serious. He looked incredibly disturbed and upset with the idea of taking one of the most difficult times in his life, and reliving scary memories now in a liked setting. "I can't do it here."
"You are the same brave person as always, it doesn't matter what building you're in."
"No." Ed closed his eyes tightly. "It does matter." Roy believed this mattered to Ed. He believed every irrational thing Ed explained to him, but that didn't change what he felt needed to be done. "You don't understand Roy!" Roy nodded, because he couldn't understand. "It's like…the complete opposite. Okay! The complete opposite! You know I am good for it, and when I am on the gurney like that, I can do it all. Any position, any insertion, I can tough it out, but don't, don't, make me do it at home."
"Ed." Roy went quickly to the bed and sat down on the foot of it. "We're not talking about surgery, or some horror film procedure. We just need to get your temperature, and we just can't do it using your mouth." Ed looked horrified. "I will stay with you, and I'll hold your hand."
"I'll…" Ed muttered slowly, cheeks growing pinker than even the winter wind had made them. Ed gave his lips and uneasy lick. "Then I'll do it myself somehow."
Roy fell silent with confusion. "No, you can't do it by yourself," he said dumbly. "No one ever does it by themselves."
"Who is no one!" Ed cried. "This is a child's tool! Other adults aren't being put through this by their unyielding overpowering boyfriends!"
Roy appreciated the adjective overpowering, and scooted closer. "Okay now," he said softly, wrapping an arm about Ed's shoulders and leaning their heads together. As soon as they touched he could feel Ed's stiff body. "It really is like the exact opposite," he said, amazed by it. With Ed hospitalized he had once witnessed Ed's nurse explain how a very long and thin needle was going to be fed into the ankle of the automail and upward until connecting with the internal flesh in Ed's port for a particular injection. The explanation was bad enough but seeing the nearly three-foot needle she prepared was something else. Ed hated needles to begin with, but he laid still and offered not a word of protest, even when it was being wedged in while his automail leg was awkwardly outstretched and his naked body was barely covered. Ed was a He-Man in the medical world and even when terrified simply went mute and complacent. This made the world at home, seem maddeningly incomprehensible in comparison, and Roy knew he couldn't understand either.
"I think…it's because it's not supposed to happen here," Ed said softly, speaking into Roy's hair. "I am supposed to be safe here."
Roy gave Ed a tight squeeze. "You are safe." He put as much conviction into his voice as possible. "Now it won't hurt you Ed, you're barely going to feel it." Ed grunted skeptically. "Maybe since this is so distasteful, I could give you a little reward to take your mind off it while it's happening," Roy said, using his naughty voice. Although he didn't require Ed to work for them, he often referred to his blowjobs as rewards.
"And corrupts another topic?" Ed asked, sounding none too impressed. "No thanks, I'll take a rain check."
Roy chuckled. "It helps me better understand how hard this is for you to know you'd turn down a blow job." Ed gave Roy a playful shove and pulled away.
"You won't tease me about this later, right?" Ed asked, looking vulnerably concerned.
"Of course not."
"Because even if I didn't have my tick, this is an embarrassing thing to do."
"Ed, to some people, this is foreplay."
Ed gave Roy another scolding shove, before beginning a shake of his head which held building speed. "No," he said firmly, bringing his hand to his eyes and rubbing. "I can't do this. I can't. I'll cool down." Roy wasn't sure Ed would. "At least let me try to cool down. Then if I don't…" Ed dropped his hand and lifted his gaze for a truce, "…if I don't…we'll get serious."
Roy considered this for a moment. The smart thing was to identify Ed's temperature, but they hadn't landed where they were in life by always doing the smart thing. "Okay," he agreed reluctantly. "We'll get you the ice and then if you feel less nauseous in twenty minutes you can take Gracia's tonic, we'll feel your forehead and you need to be cooler."
"Okay," Ed said, nodding with relief.
"Ed," Roy said seriously. "I mean it. You need to be cooler."
Roy left for the ice pack. Ed stripped his shirt off and then lay with it on his forehead for twenty minutes before taking two tablespoons. Ed's fever reduced and this was reassuring for them both. Roy fell asleep at Ed's side with Ed dozing in a sleep so light his eyes were almost open. Then he didn't wake again until the outdoors were bright and the room was fully lit. He could smell bacon cooking and Alicia's small voice and footsteps could be heard all about the house. She was playing with her new Christmas presents. There was the dollhouse, with many pieces of furniture she kept collecting in handfuls and bringing in and out of the kitchen, a brilliant wooden train on a string handcrafted by skilled wood carvers from Briggs, which she was pulling, and of course, the wrapping paper.
Ed rolled over and groaned when she went by their room making more noise than it seemed a child should. From the kitchen Roy heard Gracia call Alicia away from their door and remind her sweetly that Roy and Ed were sleeping and she should let them be. This only reminded Alicia that they were still visiting and she whined they slept too much and wanted them to get up.
"Alicia wants us up," Ed said, muffling his words into his pillow sounding drained to the bone. "Think she misses Uncle Roy."
Roy smiled, eyes still closed, and blankets tucked to his chin. "No she misses Uncle Ed." Ed gave a swift exhale, a sleeping person's laugh, and Roy fanned his arm outward to find Ed's body. Ed was curled to his pillow on his stomach, and he stroked his hand up the boy's back and into his hair. "How are we feeling?"
"I won't know until I start moving around."
"I don't think so."
"That's good news."
"Yeah," Ed said, snuggling a bit tighter to his pillow. "Guess that means I don't have the flu after all." Roy took his hand from Ed's back and brought it to his face. Slowly he rubbed at his mouth before pressing his palm up and into his hair. "Guess that means I was right and…" Ed trailed off, voice half asleep, but mind going strong.
"Okay Ed, okay," Roy said softly.
"…and a certain someone was wrong."
Roy rolled, flopping over Ed's back, and playfully bit Ed's shoulder in upward chomps until he approached the boy's neck where he kissed with dramatic smacking sounds in a fast left and right motion. Ed broke out squirming and laughed just as Alicia couldn't contain herself anymore.
She arrived at their door and they heard her small open palm begin slapping it. "Roy and Ed!" she called loudly. "Wake up, it's morning all ready! It's morning now!" Gracia began laughing a scolding from the kitchen. "It's bright out now, time to get up!"
"Okay!" Ed called, lifting his head and shoving Roy away. "Here we come Alicia!" Ed squirmed away from Roy and sat up slowly. His stomach didn't feel entirely comfortable, but it wasn't twisting in vomit inducing knots like it was last night. Stretching he climbed to his feet and trudged to the door to answer the child pounding. Alicia burst in and directly into Ed's legs as soon as the door opened. She was wearing her new princess pajamas, compliments of Gracia, and looked more like she was playing dress up than dressed for bed.
"How come you were sleeping so long!" Alicia cried, smiling widely.
"Because I was so tired," Ed said, bending down and pointing to the bed. "Go jump on Roy and wake him up. He said he won't get out of bed." Alicia's jaw dropped the slightest bit, and Roy heard Ed chuckle to himself. "Yeah, go get him." Next came the sound of Alicia's small feet padding to the bed and climbing up.
"Roy, wake up!" She flopped down in a bear hug over Roy's back and he pushed his head beneath the pillows. "Are you still sleeping?" she asked, lowering her voice to a curious whisper. "Roy, are you still sleeping?" She plucked up the edge of the pillow and he couldn't help himself, he laughed. "Are you?" Alicia asked, unable to take the laughter as a sign he wasn't.
"Oh Alicia," Gracia said, arriving in the bedroom doorway. "Leave poor Roy alone, what did I say?" Roy uprooted his head and found Gracia extending a hand to Alicia with a look of concern. "Come on sweetheart, Roy is very tired because he didn't sleep well."
"Why not?" Alicia asked, crawling off Roy. He groaned when her knees came down like stakes into the middle of his back.
"Well, because Ed didn't feel too well, so they had to get up. You remember when you didn't feel well and it kept you up?" Gracia approaching to help Alicia off the end of the bed. Alicia nodded slowly, recollecting this event when Ed walked back in brushing his teeth. "How are you this morning Ed?" Gracia asked, giving Ed a bright smile. "Feeling better?"
Ed nodded, and stopped brushing to mutter a "yeah," around his toothbrush.
"I am so glad to hear it. Did the tonic work?" Ed nodded. "Do you want some breakfast?"
Ed smiled widely, and his mouth was full of bubbles. "Is that bacon I smell?" Ed teased, leaving to spit and rinse.
"Ed! Do you think that's wise!" Roy called, rolling over to his back and giving a large yawn. Alicia looked down at him and he smiled at her fat face. Gracia had clipped Alicia's bangs back with pink sparkling butterfly barrettes.
Ed came back with his face looking washed and his cleaned toothbrush in hand. "Bacon is always wise," Ed said, packing his toothbrush into his open suitcase before looking to Gracia. "Can I help do anything?"
"You can tell me how you'd like your eggs," Gracia said sweetly.
"You spoil him," Roy objected. Gracia, like Hawkeye, had a soft spot for Ed that seeded when Ed arrived at the edge of twelve and was still blooming now at eighteen.
"She does not!" Ed said, sounding appalled Roy would try to obstruct a good thing. "Scrambled please, if it's not too much trouble."
Alicia was sitting on Roy's right ankle and absently playing with one of the pink ribbons acting as the false sash to her nightgown when she asked, "Are you sick Ed?"
Ed dug his hairbrush from his suitcase and stood up. "Not anymore," he said, pulling the hair tie from the bottom of his braid. "But I didn't feel well last night, so I had to sleep in today."
"Oh," Alicia said, watching Ed loosen his braid. Each section came apart and once again fanned into straight hair. "Did you have to take medicine?"
Ed started brushing out the base of his hair. "Yup."
"Oh," Alicia said. She watched Ed detangle the bottom of his hair and didn't speak again until he was brushing the back of it. "Did it taste bad?"
"No, it tasted good," Ed said, giving her a smile. "You always need to take your medicine when you're sick." Roy laughed to himself. He loved how Ed's voice raised a tiny octave and took on an optimistic tone whenever he addressed Alicia.
"I do, cause mom says that too," Alicia shared.
"Did you have to get a shot?"
"No shots," Ed said, brushing his bangs downward to his nose.
"Did you have to take your temperature?"
Ed stopped brushing and Roy lifted his head with a bit of curiosity when Ed didn't answer. Ed took the brush from his bangs and looked as if he were fighting hard to keep the blush spreading into his cheeks from taking hold before answering a quick, "No."
"Oh," Alicia said, none the wiser. "Then you didn't have a fever?"
"No fever," Ed said quickly.
"Oh," Alicia said. "Sometimes I have my temperature taken when I am sick." Ed forced a kind smile looking uncomfortable. "But I haven't been sick in a long long time, since I was only one I think."
"That's good," Ed said. Roy started laughing, and he kept it silent and to himself. He knew when and if Ed discovered him laughing Ed would be annoyed.
"Did my mom give you your medicine?" Alicia asked.
"No," Ed shook his head and dropped his brush into the suitcase. "Okay, that's enough questions for one morning Alicia," Ed said, approaching and lifting her off the bed. He set her on her feet with a happy smile. "Go make sure your mom is making me a mountain of bacon."
"A mountain!" Alicia cried, becoming excited as Ed steered her to the door.
"Yes, a whole mountain!" Ed said, before shutting and locking it behind her.
Roy propped his head up on his hands and smiled at Ed's pajama dressed self. "Somebody's a liar," he teased.
The day after Christmas breakfast was amazing. Gracia made flat jacks, bacon, eggs, rolls, had fresh fruit, equisetic coffee, and three types of juice. Ed's appetite was just beginning to truly embarrass Roy when Ed decided he was full after having three times what Roy had of everything. Alicia found this delightful and giggled uncontrollably when Ed purposely took whopping bites of his food with loud chomp noises to tease her. For some reason Gracia also found this flattering, and didn't seem to mind the fact she was feeding Ed enough food to suffice a third world village for a week.
After breakfast they learned the new and interesting fact they were snowed in. Hughes came tromping in covered in snow wearing his winter gear and let them all know the roads were closed. Christmas had buried them all, and cars were nothing but lumps in the driveways down the street. Alicia, arms full of toys, found this expression confusing, and asked Hughes how he was able to go outside if they were snowed in. Hughes dressed her in pink winter gear and took her out to play in the snow. On the snow covered side walk and steps she ran about screaming happily and falling into it.
"Daddy!" Alicia cried, running to Hughes's legs and pressing fistfuls of snow into them. "I am getting you with snow balls! I am getting you!" Hughes surrendered and bent down kissing her rosy cheeks while laughing.
Roy could hear this from the guest bedroom window where he was changing from pajamas to his own jeans and warm gray sweater. He made the bed for Gracia and straightened up. Ed was good about keeping things in his suitcase, but he felt compelled to keep the place tidy with Ed eating a fortune in food. With Alicia squealing in delight Ed's voice joined, and Roy stopped tucking the bedspread beneath the decorative sham covered pillows and went to the window.
Outside Hughes was running at a ridiculously slow speed with Alicia waddling after him through the snow throwing small handfuls at him. Ed yelled another loud encouragement Alicia catch Hughes and Roy ducked into either side of the window scanning the outdoors for his lover. He didn't think Ed was healthy, although Ed now thought he was. Cured by bacon, or so Ed said.
"Gracia!" Roy called, leaving the guest bedroom for the kitchen where she was cleaning up with the radio playing classic Christmas tunes. "Have you seen a blonde about this tall?" he asked, leveling his palm at shoulder height.
Gracia laughed to herself and pointed into the living room. Ed was standing at the open front window, leaning onto the sill, with his head poked out into the cold air. "Alicia, Alicia, come here!" Ed called, making a snow ball. His flesh hand was turning pink with the cold, but the automail couldn't feel it. "Alicia!"
Roy approached Ed's pajama dressed bent over self with a wide smile. Playfully he laid his hand on Ed's lower back and pet down over the boy's bottom cheeks with appreciation.
"Stop mauling me in public," Ed said, without taking his eyes off Alicia. She was struggling to step through the snow and reach the window. Each limb was encased in a puffy bright pink snow suit that left only her little face poking free. Hughes had put a colorful striped hat on her head, and then pulled the snowsuit hood up as well. She looked positively delightful with all of it detailed with little girl accessories. The buttons were sparkling hearts, the hat had ribbons hanging, and instead of the dull colored scarves they wore, hers was bright pink, yellow, and blue striped, with glitter worked into the fabric, and white beads decorating the end.
"What!" Alicia cried, coming to the bottom of the window and looking up. Ed lowered the snowball he had made and she took it with both hands.
"I'll make you another," Ed said, pointing to Hughes who was standing a small distance away holding conversation with the next door neighbor. "Go throw it at him."
Alicia looked back at her dad and then again at the large snowball she held. Her pink mittens had white unicorns on them. "At his legs!" she asked with excitement.
"At his face," Ed said, laughing with his own excitement.
Roy still had his hand resting on Ed's rear, and he gave it the softest scolding pat.
"Right at his face," Ed repeated, reaching back and shewing Roy's hand off.
"Okay!" Alicia took off, her enthusiasm was high, but the snow had her making barely any progress. Ed was laughing as he watched. It was still snowing, and slowly flakes were collecting in his bangs. In the cold air the tip of his nose was turning pink, but he seemed not to mind.
"Ed, you're a deviant," Roy said, unable to hide his own smile. He bent down and rested his elbows on the window sill next to Ed.
"This is going to be good," Ed said, smiling widely as Alicia closed in. She was lifting each leg extremely high to try and step over the snow, and three feet from Hughes she slipped and went face first into it. "Oh!" Ed called, laughing when she crunched down on the snowball he'd made. "Man down! Man down!"
Hughes didn't even notice this; he turned around in conversation and scooped Alicia up. While smacking the snow off her, he held her on his hip and finished his conversation before coming back to the house.
Ed pulled inside and waited for Roy before shutting the window. "Gracia your hubby is coming back!" Ed called, leaving for the kitchen which was beginning to smell more and more like baking Christmas cookies.
Roy opened the front door and waited for Hughes who was stomping up the steps with Alicia in his arms. Hughes had shoveled them clean that morning, but already a new thirteen inches had collected. Hughes made it inside and handed Alicia to Roy. She felt like ice and her snowsuit was damp and disagreeable to Roy's warm skin.
"Roy I fell in the snow," Alicia said, smiling as he started unzipping her snowsuit.
"My neighbor has one of those sunrooms, for plants," Hughes said, leveling his palm and coaxing it forward. "With a flat roof, it's leaking something awful."
Roy set Alicia down and plucked her hat off her head. "Really," he said.
"He needs some help shoveling it."
"I'll help," Roy said. "Keep your boots on and I'll suit up."
Ed returned, and Roy did a fast double take at his partner. Ed had half a cookie sticking from his mouth and another in hand. He was sucking on the top half of a frosted Christmas tree, and Gracia had placed small circular sprinkles on its branches to look like decorations. "Alicia," Ed said, speaking around the cookie. He gave her an exaggerated shrug. "What happened?"
"I fell!" Alicia pointed toward the door. Hughes bent down and began stripping her of the snowsuit.
"Ed, I am going with Hughes to shovel off the neighbor's roof," Roy said, debating whether or not he would bring up how he worried Ed was not out of the woods with his illness. Ed looked incredibly tired even through he had plenty of sleep. There was something about his skin and eyes that suggested something was hiding there.
"Okay, let me grab my boots," Ed said.
Roy took a discrete step to Ed's side and whispered, "You make me worry about you eating like this."
Ed looked clueless. "Eating like what?" he said, sucking in another few branches. "I eat like this all the time."
"I think you should stay here since you were sick last night. I don't want you breathing all that wet cold air and doing such physical work."
Ed's expression moved in a landslide to sour disagreement. "Are you serious," he muttered softly. "You're leaving me with the women?" Alicia was almost free of her suit and she stepped forward and latched to Ed's left flesh leg. Ed preemptively grabbed the rim of his pants when they slid down an inch with Alicia's weight.
"No, I worry you'll make yourself sick," Roy said, giving the Christmas Tree protruding from Ed's mouth a scolding look. "Outside, and eating like that."
Ed scoffed a snorting little laugh as if this were preposterous. He used his tongue to flip the cookie into his mouth and bit it with a wide smile. "Yeah right," Ed said, still laughing. "Not on Gracia's cooking I won't."
Alicia slipped in her wet boots and sunk down Ed's leg like a cat until she sat down on the top of his foot. Ed held onto his pants, but dropped the Gingerbread Man cookie he was holding. It fell on top of his bare automail foot with a small clank, and its head cracked off.
"Man down, man down!" Alicia sung, before picking up the head and eating it.
"This is what I think I have," Roy said, and his voice sounded distant to Ed over the phone.
"Oh god," Ed moaned, tipping his head back into the wall. He was slouched into Gracia's kitchen chair wearing his pajamas. Like a good guest he had helped clean up parts of the kitchen the best he could. Gracia asked him to wipe the counters and he had. She asked him to make some more coffee, and put the cookie dough she was not going to continue baking in the refrigerator, and he had. Then she had left and straightened up the presents under the tree before leaving to do laundry. During this time Alicia ran all about the house in her day-after-Christmas dress which had a black satin top over a red and black plaid skirt carrying toys. She loved Ed's presence and kept him engaged even while he was doing other tasks. Then when he thought he was starting to get a headache, and then when his stomach started feeling not so good, and even now with him sure he was down right sick and wanted Roy to come home, she continued to play with him. With Ed's head tipped back into the wall in surrender he moaned out, "Okay, what do you have?"
Roy chuckled on the other line of the phone. "A big bag of I-Told-You-Sos"
Ed lifted his flesh hand and pressed it to his face. Speaking almost directly into it he muffled out an irritated, "Roy."
Alicia was in the process of carrying every piece of plastic furniture her dollhouse owned into the kitchen where Ed was sitting in order to put items into the pockets of Ed's pajama pants.
"Roy, I want you to come home. I don't feel good."
"Ed, you can get really needy," Roy teased. His breath became a bit strained as he resumed shoveling while he held the phone.
"Roy, I am serious." Ed looked down at Alicia. She was stuffing the dolls' dinner plates into his pocket one at a time so they looked like white faceless quarters. "I am serious."
"What did I say about eating so much."
"It's not what I ate."
"I thought the bacon cured you?"
"Are you going to do this to me now?" Ed asked, voice monotone. "It's mean." Roy laughed, and Ed listened to the intermittent scrape of the shovel and silent pause as the snow was tossed aside. "It's mean." Ed reached down and stopped Alicia from putting one of the small plastic dolls in his pocket. He lowered the receiver a bit and said, "No, not the people, they're not going to fit."
Alicia looked up with fascination, and then nodded in agreement. Carelessly she dropped the doll to the floor and used her free hand to pluck the remaining two from her arms and tossed them aside.
Gracia entered the kitchen carrying a plastic laundry basket and gave Ed a warm smile, before looking at Alicia. "Oh Alicia, don't you think Ed could use some time by himself?" Gracia asked, walking to a cabinet and fishing out detergent.
"But we're playing!" Alicia cried, sounding horrified she'd have to stop.
"It's okay, I don't mind," Ed said to Gracia, keeping the receiver dropped.
Gracia left carrying the detergent and called back a, "You remember to thank Edward Alicia!"
"Thank you Edward," Alicia said obediently, stuffing a plastic platter with a permanently affixed Thanksgiving turkey and fixings into Ed's pocket.
Ed lifted the receiver and cleared his throat miserably. "I want you to come home."
"Okay, I will as soon as I finish the roof."
Ed did not want to hear this. "Roy, I don't feel good," he argued, lifting his voice with a bit of urgency. Alicia was still in the process of trying to wedge the Thanksgiving turkey into Ed's pocket and stopped to look up at him.
"You don't feel good Ed?" Alicia asked curiously. Ed glanced down at her but didn't answer. He lifted his flesh hand again and began rubbing his face. "I can help you!" Alicia dropped her dollhouse accessories into a pile alongside Ed's kitchen chair and left the room.
"Okay," Roy said, and Ed heard the shoveling stop. He felt his spirits lift, feeling hopeful Roy was now going to stop what he was doing and come home to him, when Roy said, "As soon as I finish this roof I will be right there."
Ed whined into the phone, and after taking a quick glance to make sure Alicia was no where in sight, lowered his voice and said, "You're being a selfish dick."
Roy ignored this. "You're still going to be sick whether I leave now or not, so I am going to finish this up. Ed I only need fifteen minutes."
"Fifteen minutes!" Ed cried, knocking his head back into the wall.
"Maybe a half an hour."
"I can't take this," Ed groaned. "I need you to come home. I need to lay down with you so I feel better." Roy laughed: the laugh of the flattered. "Roy I am serious, I don't feel good." Alicia came running back in carrying a black toy bag and Ed looked at it was disinterest. "What is that?" he asked her.
"It's for you and me!" Alicia said, swinging the bag carelessly onto Ed's lap. Ed protectively flinched, buckling slightly where he sat as if to keep his stomach from impact, but the action was to protect his groin from the unknown weight and aim. Alicia didn't notice this; she pressed herself to Ed's knees and began opening the bag even as he adjusted it down his thighs and away from anything sensitive.
"What do you have in there?" Ed asked, leaning forward with the phone and looking in. "Dollhouse stuff?"
"No," Alicia said, dragging out a yellow and blue plastic stethoscope. "Doctor stuff, I will be your doctor!"
"Fantastic," Ed groaned, slouching lower in the chair. Roy was shoveling and holding the phone. Ed kept one eye cracked and watched Alicia dig through her supplies while listening to the constant scrape and toss of snow.
"I'll listen to your heart," Alicia said, putting the stethoscope in her ears and shoving Ed's shirt up over his belly button. Alicia placed the diaphragm of the stethoscope over Ed's belly button and then changed her expression to one of concentration.
Ed watched this with mild entertainment. "Can you hear it?" he asked, skeptical the plastic toy could do anything. Alicia looked up and pressed a finger to her lips. Ed smiled, and closed his eyes as she did this. She moved the plastic toy around his stomach a few times before he reached down and took it. She let him do so with confusion until he bent down and brought the diaphragm to his mouth so in a low and playful voice he could ask, "Alicia, do you hear my heart?"
Alicia broke out laughing and smacked Ed's hands off the stethoscope while she pulled it from her ears. "Look at this," she said, pulling out a box of band aids and adding them to Ed's lap. "This is my thermometer," she said, taking out a blue toy with a yellow cap. "This is how you make the temperature," she said, twisting the yellow cap. It made the red temperature line go up and down and Ed chuckled. "Here, put that in your mouth," Alicia said, offering it upward. Ed looked at the toy with skepticism.
"But I have germs."
"All sick people have germs," Alicia said simply. Ed held the toy but didn't move to put it in his mouth and she noticed this. "If you don't want it in your mouth you can…put it in your eye or something."
"My eye?" Ed said, giving a laugh. He brought the toy to his closed eye and poked it gently so Alicia could see this happening. She was watching with an expression of child fascination and Ed swallowed the thermometer up with his hand and held his eye before loudly crying out, "Ah, my eye!" Alicia broke out giggling. "It's in my eye!" Ed cried louder, egging her on.
"Ed?" Roy asked, back on the phone sounding concerned. "Are you okay?"
"Yes," Ed said, voice returning to a perfectly serious tone. "I want you to come home."
"What are you doing?" Roy asked, sounding confused.
"Playing with Alicia and feeling very very sick."
"God dammit Ed, if you're feeling sick, get away from her. You're going to make her ill."
Ed extended the thermometer back to Alicia and she turned the yellow cap up to make him as hot as possible. "I don't know how," Ed confessed. "She seems to like doing this."
"Ed," Alicia said, speaking in a loud whisper because she understood he was on the phone but still wanted to talk. "This is how hot you are." She showed him the thermometer and he nodded. "That's very hot."
"Yes it is," Ed whispered back.
"You have a fever."
"I think I do."
"God dammit Ed," Roy said, sounding annoyed. He could hear their conversation and knew Ed wasn't lying. "If you have a fever I want you to get away from her."
"Then come home and make me," Ed snapped, voice sounding ill and whiny. Alicia took Ed's automail hand and pulled it down to his knee. She rested it there while opening the box of real band aids and Ed watched her slowly peel one apart and stick it to his arm. "Alicia's giving me band aids," Ed told Roy, giving her a smile when she looked up. "I feel better now."
"Well how do you feel about giving her the flu?" Roy asked.
"You don't know that I have the flu!" Ed snapped. "Stop saying that Roy, I don't want the flu. I don't feel good, and I want you to get your ass—I mean get your butt home right now," Ed said angrily, giving Alicia an apologetic look. She lifted her gaze with her jaw hanging open, and Ed pat the air to put her at ease. "That was—I said a bad word Alicia, and I shouldn't have," Ed said quickly, feeling concerned. "Roy, what do I do."
Roy groaned. "Put the phone between you so she can hear me." Ed extended the phone between them and Alicia looked at it with a bit of worry. Roy raised his voice so he was easily heard and said, "Ed, say you're sorry for using bad words."
Ed looked at Alicia; she was staring at the phone as she listened to it before lifting her gaze to him. Her innocence was so extreme Ed felt embarrassed, and shifted uncomfortably. "I am sorry."
"Good, no more saying bad words," Roy said loudly. "Right Alicia?" Alicia nodded her head smiling happily, and Ed returned the phone to his ear. "She's just a kid Ed, if you slip up just say you're sorry and she'll be fine."
Ed swallowed roughly. "I think I am going to vomit."
"Ed!" Roy snapped, and Ed heard the shoveling stop. "For god sakes, go to the guest bedroom and lay down." Ed didn't feel like moving. Alicia had pulled a toy syringe from her fake doctor's bag and was giving his automail fingers shots. "Ed?"
"I don't want to."
"Ed, you're making me angry," Roy said, and Ed could hear the anger blooming in Roy's voice. "Okay, I don't care what you're thinking about Alicia right now, you need to be the adult in this situation. You don't feel well and shouldn't be playing with a child. Get up, and go to bed now."
Ed pressed his face into the phone. Hearing Roy's angry tone made him want to cry and this felt very confusing. Ed closed his eyes tightly and took a few deep breaths. He was hoping the sick feeling would pass, and also that Roy would come home, but somehow it was getting worse. "Roy, how can you do this to me," Ed whined, slumping down in the kitchen table to rest his head on it.
"Do what?" Roy asked angrily.
"I feel—I am starting to feel really awkward here, I don't know what to do."
"What do you mean you don't know what to do?" Roy snapped. "Ed, you know how to take care of yourself, go do it!"
"Yeah, but this isn't my place! I want you to get your ass back here!" Ed snapped, before flinching when Alicia let out a small gasp and her jaw fell back open. "Oh, I am sorry; I shouldn't have said that, I am sorry Alicia." She looked confused with his change in behavior and studied him with worry. "Okay?" Ed asked softly. "I am sorry, okay?"
"Ed," Alicia took the syringe from his hand and reached forward to poke him in the chest with it. "You look sick, I am getting my mom." Alicia said this with comforted familiarity and Ed was shocked. She dropped the toy to his lap, stood up with a smile, and skipped from the room yelling, "Oh mom!"
"Great Roy!" Ed snarled. "Now Alicia is getting Gracia on me, all because you didn't come home!"
"Alicia is getting Gracia because she thinks you look sick?" Roy asked dully. "Ed, you have a toddler diagnosing you and being more responsible."
"We were playing doctor!" Ed snarled, before silencing when his stomach lurched. "Okay, I am going to put the phone down. I am going to hurl, fuck."
"Ed, I am really not impressed with this," Roy said, voice sounding tight. "Are you purposely being this immature to goat me into coming home, because it's pissing me off."
Ed moaned, pressing his face into the table feeling as if he'd vomit any second. "Probably," he groaned. "I don't care that you're pissed. I feel like giving all the wonderful things I ate back to the world involuntarily, and I hate it! You're a dick!"
Ed didn't get to hear what Roy's response to this was because he started to puke and dove for the nearest resource: the kitchen sink. He threw up all over the Hughes's unwashed breakfast dishes and was still panting down to the splattered cups and plates when Alicia returned.
"Ed I told my mom you have a high fever, and I gave you eight shots, and put band aids on you, but you're still sick cause I never went to the medical school I am only in preschool." Alicia went to Ed's side as she spoke and looked up at him.
In a healthier state Ed would have found this funny, but instead he just laid his head on the edge of the sink and said weakly, "Alicia, I think I have to stop playing now."
"Yeah?" she asked, sounding worried. "Cause you have to go to bed?"
Ed nodded sloppily. His body felt like it was on fire, and trapped in the Hughes's house all alone he wasn't sure what to do about it. Feeling disgusted he lifted his gaze slowly to the window behind the sink. Gracia had a small bottle of soap and a few decorative snow men sitting on it. Outside it was still snowing, and Ed was accepting the fact he was going to have to go sit in it as soon as he felt capable of leaving the sink. He wasn't looking forward to shivering by himself outdoors where he was going to soak the ass of his pants because standing was not going to be an option. "Son of a bitch," Ed whispered, spitting down to the drain trying to collect himself.
Alicia was picking up the toys over by the table and humming. She was putting doctor toys and dollhouse furniture in the doctor bag before picking up the discarded phone with a small and pleasant, "Hello?" Ed glanced back when this happened. She was sitting in his chair holding the receiver with both hands. "He's looking at stuff in the sink," Alicia said happily, falling silent as she listened to Roy before hanging up with a short, "Okay I will, buh-bye."
Ed startled when his connection to Roy died. "Alicia!" he cried, feeling stung, but she climbed off the chair looking motivated and began leaving the room. "Wait!" Ed cried. "Where are you going?"
"To my mom," Alicia said, pausing to answer.
Ed felt panic bloom. "Why!"
"Cause Roy said I had to go tell my mom you are in the kitchen sink being immosponstatile cause you are sick and being sick makes you inbearst and kneegletful of yourself."
Ed was panicking. "How-how did you remember all that!" he cried, grabbing his face with his flesh hand. Stupid Roy! Stupid awful Roy!
"I'll be right back!" Alicia sung, skipping off.
Ed slapped the faucet on and began frantically rinsing his vomit off the dishes before Gracia arrived. Without Roy, and trapped with these women, he felt himself shaking and he clung to the side of the sink for dear life. He didn't want anyone to see him this way, and more importantly, he didn't want anyone to touch him or force him into anything.
"My boyfriend's an asshole," Ed whined, feeling his eyes warm with illness. He took a few steps from the sink and shimmied down the counter trying to gauge if he could make it to the door. "My boyfriend is such an asshole."
"Surely he's not that bad," Gracia said, appearing in the doorway with a smile. Ed startled, flinching away from the sound of her voice and looking back at her. "Sorry if I startled you Ed, did you puke in my sink?" she asked, not a trace of animosity in her voice. Gracia looked inviting, still in her morning robe with her Christmas slippers with a kind smile on her face.
"I-ah," Ed said, taking a slow step from her. "Need to…go outside for….a little bit."
Gracia entered the kitchen and went to the sink. She turned on the water and poured in some soap. "Ed, I have just the thing for you," she said, filling it half way and killing the water. She turned to him, leaning into the counter and tipping her head forward. "Ed," she whispered. Ed didn't know what to make of this behavior and stared at her with his face burning up and his body ready to puke. "Listen to me," she whispered. "You look under the weather and that's not an inconvenience to us."
Ed lifted a shaking hand and indicated the door by hooking a thumb over his shoulder. "I am just…gonna…" he only made it this far before Gracia interrupted and attacked. Not like Roy who became loud and commanding, but like a woman. She looped a gentle arm around his back and tugged him close. She smelled like lemon juice and gingerbread.
"Okay you, just follow me," she said, steering him from the kitchen. Ed fell hostage to her and looked at the phone as they passed it. Somehow he couldn't fight her gentle strength and she steered him down the hall toward the bathroom. Half way there Alicia stepped out of her bedroom and called to them. "Not now Alicia sweetheart, mommy wants you to stay in your room and do a puzzle, all right?" Gracia said, ignoring Alicia's protests and whines to go with Ed. "No love, you've played with Ed enough this morning, he needs some time to himself. Go do your puzzle." Gracia pulled Ed into the bathroom and shut the door half way before giving him a kind smile. "You've been so good to keep playing with her Ed, you know you don't have to," Gracia said kindly, opening a few drawers in the bathroom vanity and taking out some supplies.
"It's no problem," Ed said softly, standing awkwardly by the door trying to keep his stomach under control.
"To thank you I am going to give you some inside tips," Gracia said, giving Ed a quick wink that made him shift his weight uncomfortably. "You're running a fever, even I can see that, and while vomiting I can't give you any medication." Ed felt the simple passive expression 'I can't give you' attack him. It wasn't 'I can offer you' or 'I suggest' it was forcible execution of medical treatment on his body. "So this is what I am going to do instead." Gracia held up a lighter and popped the flame.
Ed looked at the small flickering bit of fire and swallowed uneasily. "What?" he asked weakly. Gracia lifted a large candle and lit it. Then she sat it back on the counter.
"My gender handles being sick a little differently than yours," Gracia said kindly. "I know you guys might rough and tough it until you puke in kitchen sinks, but this is what we do." Gracia went to the shower curtain and brushed it aside before starting the tub. "I am not taking no for an answer on any of this Ed, so just listen to directions, okay?" she asked kindly, giving him another wink.
Ed was shaking with uncertainty, but managed a quick hospitable nod. They did let him and Roy stay for Christmas, and were feeding him, and going out of their way, so the least he could do was adhere to the only request Gracia had made of him. Even if that request was the most disturbing thing Ed could think of, and he wanted to climb out of his skin and just run out into the snow to get out of this awkward bathroom!
"Roy is going to be here very soon," Gracia said sweetly, not blind to the panic in Ed's face. "I am sure he will come right to you." Gracia beckoned Ed over and he came one step and stopped. "Ed, I am drawing you a bath. The water is going to feel very cold." Ed watched her take a small glass jar from the counter, open it, and sprinkle what looked like salt into the water.
"I—I don't want a bath," Ed said softly, feeling defeated even as he protested. She had already said she wasn't taking no for an answer, and he didn't feel he could rightly refuse, but he didn't want one just the same.
"You think that now," Gracia said, offering the open glass jar toward him. Ed looked at it wearily, so Gracia took it back and brought it to her face to smell it. Then she offered it again and Ed imitated. It smelled like vanilla.
"Being of the homosexual community you can't have anything against Vanilla, can you?" she teased.
Ed lifted his hands to the bottom of his shirt and held it. "Do straight guys have things against Vanilla?" He didn't know what to make of this statement, but he hoped it wasn't common for straight guys to have things against Vanilla.
"Maes doesn't like anything scented on him," Gracia said, giving her eyes a playful roll. "But I've put some of this in your water, and lit this Vanilla candle, so the scent can sooth you." Gracia took Ed's automail arm in a gentle grasp and tugged him forward. "When you're in the tub put this mask on your eyes, and just lay back and relax." She showed him an odd thin plastic mask filled with a gel. "It will feel cool, and make sure you get your head wet." Ed took the mask from her slowly and gave it a squeeze. It felt interesting and he glanced at the running tub. "I am going to kiss your forehead, all right?" she asked, taking a step closer so they were facing one another. "To gauge your fever." Ed didn't move when she neared him, and felt relieved when she explained why she might kiss him after feeling panic when she said she would. The forehead, even though it wasn't the mouth, was an intimate place to kiss, and Ed wasn't sure he wanted Gracia kissing him, or Hughes to know he was kissed by Hughes's much loved wife.
"Mom?" Alicia whined, popping her head into the bathroom while Gracia was holding Ed's shoulders with her lips to his forehead. "I don't want to do my puzzle I want to play with my dollhouse."
Gracia disengaged with a heavy sigh. "All right darling, go do that then," she said, waiving for Alicia to leave. "Ed, your fever feels very high."
Ed didn't disagree and closed his eyes thinking about how he would never let Pinako or Winry know his temperature pushed up this high. If things became complicated it might even be possible to grab a Central mechanic during work hours so Roy wouldn't know he was having maintenance done.
"But Ed has my dollhouse stuff!" Alicia whined pointing at Ed before rushing in and attaching to his leg. Ed stuffed his hands into his pockets and took out fistfuls of plastic accessories. Alicia was thrilled and stood patiently as he filled her arms before running off. By this time Gracia had finished the tub, taken out a fresh towel for Ed and gestured to where soap, wash clothes, and lotion was kept before backing out.
"I'll keep Alicia busy Ed, just enjoy yourself, the water will lower your temperature and you'll feel much better." Gracia stepped out and shut the door and Ed stood on the bath mat looking at the small pool of water. It did seem much nicer than sitting in the snow, and smelled better too. Although Ed could admit he was feeling better Gracia had rescued him from the sink, he wasn't ready to share that with anyone else and slowly stripped off his shirt and dropped it to the floor. Next he shucked his bottom half of his pants and reached to the water. The bath looked inviting until he touched it, and then he recoiled his hand shivering. He could not get in that. It was freezing and he reached to the tub's knobs to add warm water when Gracia spoke.
"Ed!" she called through the door. "The bath is going to feel cold but it's not. Get in."
Ed startled, yanking his hand back and jerking his head around to the door. "Okay, thank you!" he called. "Um, you can…go away or…whatever."
"I am not falling for that," Gracia said, laughing softly where she stood far too close to the door for Ed's comfort. "Get in that tub and don't you dare add any hot water. You don't get to be the mother of a preschooler and not know what temperature to make a bath to lower fevers." Ed looked at the water with distaste. "Ed?" Ed looked back to the door. "Want me to come in and help you?" she teased.
Ed narrowed his gaze on the door. "Ha. Ha. Gracia," he said miserably. He didn't for a moment think she would do such a thing.
"Well if you're not getting in willingly, maybe you need a little help." Threats! Ed left the side of the tub and went to the door to lock it before startling when the knob was bare.
"What the—how do you not have a locking bathroom door!" he cried.
"Because we have children Ed. So the door doesn't lock."
Ed pressed his hand against it. "Gracia, this will be the last Christmas we ever share if you open that door while I am not wearing anything," Ed threatened firmly.
"Then get in the tub," she countered, voice confident and flawless. Ed balked. She was a worthy opponent for a woman! "Come on Ed. Get in the tub and I will make you a special reward." Ed felt his defenses flare when he felt he was being talked to like a child, but also, against his will curiosity peaked, because Gracia was a good cook. "I am thinking about making a nice day after Christmas pound cake, just for you."
"I am not going to be tricked into taking a bath," Ed snapped.
"A nice circular one, heavy, and thick. Then I'll do whipped cream, home-made, I have my own recipe, and fresh-cut strawberries." This sounded delicious. "Of course, because I would make it for you, you wouldn't have to share." Ed looked back at the tub and envisioned Roy sitting with an empty plate while he sat in front of his cake. "I am certain you wouldn't be able to eat half of it in one sitting, even with your appetite." That was amazing! "You'd have plenty to take home with you."
Ed grabbed the knob and curled his hand around it before pressing his face to the door. "Gracia, this is torture. Please, leave me alone. I don't feel good. I don't want to take a bath now, I think it will make me worse."
"You know that is the same recipe I took to the neighborhood picnic. I had every lady there ask me for it Ed. I think I could have made eight cakes and not have had enough it was in such high demand."
"Ah!" Ed cried, slumping into the door. "Gracia you're a cruel woman. Are you saying you won't make me this cake if I don't take a bath!"
"That's what I am saying," she said sweetly.
"I am not a two year old! You can't just make me take baths!" Ed cried. "I think I just need to go lay down!" He looked over to where his clothing lay. He wanted to put them back on, but at the same time, he felt nervous leaving the unlocked door unreinforced.
"Of course I know that Ed," Gracia said, keeping her sweet tone. "I am just one little housewife asking you to do me a small favor. To take a bath while I bake a cake so I know you're occupied and comforted while I am baking."
Ed shoved his face into the door groaning. "Oh my god," he whined. She was a monster! Sweet innocent Gracia! "I can't do this," Ed groaned. He was beginning to feel very confused. Without his clothing his body was starting to shiver. He could still feel his thick fever in the back of his neck, and he still felt ill but somehow also wanted this fictional cake! The conflict blooming over bathing seemed too much! He didn't want to seem like a ridiculous push over, just taking baths when ordered, but he wanted that cake, and what a stupid reason to comply!
"Oh dear, if Hughes and Roy get back before I start baking I bet I won't have any time," Gracia said, adding this to the mix. So now the offer had a timeframe!
"I don't think I am in the right state of mind for these negotiations," Ed groaned, enjoying the cool feeling of the wood on his face. "Gracia…I underestimated you."
Gracia broke out laughing, a sweet carefree feminine sound. "Ed, you're going to be getting an invitation every holiday if you keep this up," she said, laughing to herself before grasping the door knob. "Now get in the tub," she said, tone changing to a firm maternal one.
Ed blurted his first thought. "No."
"Ed." Gracia turned the doorknob and Ed grabbed it on his end.
"Wait a second lady! What are you doing!"
"I've seen far worse things in my life than young naked boys in their prime of whom I have to put in the tub." Ed wedged his elbow into the door to keep it firmly shut.
"Wouldn't I Ed?" Gracia teased. "You're wagering a cake on this."
"Fuck," Ed scowled.
"Ed, please, not with Alicia."
"Sorry," Ed groaned. "Sorry for using bad words Alicia."
Gracia giggled. "She's not in ear shot Ed, now get in the tub."
When Roy arrived a half an hour later, beating snow off his coat, with his nose a crispy red, and Hughes laughing and energetic at his side, they found Gracia in the kitchen making a pound cake. Roy found Ed in the bathtub looking oddly at peace, and pulled back the shower curtain and smiled down at his young lover. Ed was sprawled out in the water with a mask on his face and a candle burning on the side of the tub.
"Ed, how do you feel?" Roy asked.
"This Gracia's idea?" Roy asked, indicating the candle, but Ed didn't move the mask. He didn't move a single muscle when the door opened and Roy stepped in. He could tell by the approaching footsteps it was Roy, and he didn't care what Roy was doing while he felt so relaxed.
Roy looked at the candle with a bit of dislike. It wasn't that he had anything against them, but something about this scene was a bit gay even for him. "I am going to blow it out."
"Leave it alone," Ed said, voice taking a firm unexpected tone.
Roy considered Ed, and shared his thoughts the best he could. "Ed, you're looking a bit like a queen right now."
"You left me here with these women," Ed said, voice sour even while so at peace. "Said I couldn't go with you. Then wouldn't come home when I was sick and vomiting." Roy rolled his eyes. "Let Gracia coerce me into the tub, and now…"
"I didn't let Gracia coerce you into anything," Roy corrected. "If you let her trick you into a bath that's all you." Roy couldn't hide the small chuckle that rose up his throat, and kindly he laughed out the end of his sentence.
Ed lifted his hand from the water in a strong point at the door. "Leave," Ed sat flatly.
"Oh come on," Roy said, still chuckling. Ed's hand didn't lower. "Come on Ed."
"Get out," Ed said, reaching to his face and pushing his mask up. "For being so terrible to me, don't think you're even getting a bite of my cake."
The next day the weather rose into the high forties and Central began melting. Alicia was back outside; kicking at the slush of the snow, and watching Hughes shovel everything clean. He tossed handfuls of salt into every scraped surface and she crunched over it in her boots. With the sky gray the air was fresh, and as expected after a storm the streets were active with people cleaning off their cars and steps. Young people left hand-in-hand, running errands to the few shops which had opened, and simply escaping the solitude after their entrapment.
Gracia packed Ed's pound cake into a circular container made especially for cake transport, and Ed was thrilled. Roy brought their bags to the car because Ed wouldn't put the thing down, and as they backed out of their snow encrusted parking spot waving, Ed held it on his lap. He hadn't eaten breakfast that morning, or dinner last night, but apparently still wanted the cake with him.
Roy pulled away from the Hughes residents and slowly into the main road. They were covered with the slush of the melting snow, and although it was too warm for black ice, there was no reason to be reckless and complicate things further. Together they settled into comfortable silence watching the other drivers take slow turns and pause before all intersections in caution.
"Well," Roy said, stopping a good car's length away from the sedan ahead of them for their red light. "That was a nice Christmas."
Ed was bundled in his outerwear with his bangs poking free of the gray wool hat he'd purchased last winter when they kept freezing after he was caught in snowfall. "I know," he said happily. Ed pulled his mittens off and dropped them to his lap in order to pet the outside of Gracia's container for a way to open it.
Roy glanced to this with confusion. When Ed found the latch and began trying to pop it, with disapproval Roy asked, "You're going to open that in the car?" Ed giggled to himself. "Ed, don't open it in the car."
"I just want to see it," Ed said, smiling down as the latch snapped apart and the lid became capable of lifting up. Slowly Ed did this, revealing the large circular cake dusted with powder. The sight of it had him grinning to either ear, and Ed chuckled once before singing, "Guess who's jealous?"
"Ed, shut that before it gets everywhere," Roy snapped. Ed snickered to himself, and began trying to put the top back on. "When I hit the gas I don't want it sliding off your lap and getting everywhere."
"It's not going to get everywhere," Ed said, struggling to latch the top.
Roy glanced at the red light, and knew any minute it would be green. Ed was fussing with the top. Using delicate motions he was trying to press it down, but it wasn't working. "You're an idiot," Roy said kindly.
"I think it's funny how you keep doing things to ensure you'll never get a piece of this cake," Ed said, pressing both hands to the lid's top and trying to force it closed.
"This is why I said don't open it in the car."
"It's like there is something in the way, or something," Ed said, leaning forward and ducking around the container to visually affirm the lid was properly aligned.
"There's nothing in the way." Roy looked back to the red light and watched it turn green. "I am hitting the gas, so hang onto it."
"There was so something in the way!" Ed said, wedging out a small pink folded square of paper. Roy gently accelerated and took them through the intersection watching for anything which might jostle the car while the cake was open.
Ed latched the cake's container firmly in place and then held up the card so it was in plain sight as if to say: see how you were wrong? Grinning Ed slipped back into his mittens before flipping the tiny pink card around. He opened it and immediately recognized Gracia's flowing cursive penmanship.
"What is it?" Roy asked, unable to hide his curiosity. She had deliberately put a little card into their cake container so they would find it later.
"It's an invitation," Ed said, sounding surprised. He closed the card and ran his wool mitten thumb over the cute print of a white rabbit sitting next to a colorful egg. "To Easter dinner."
Roy could not believe Gracia was inviting them back after experiencing Christmas with them. She was a brave woman. "For Easter dinner?" Roy asked, glancing from the road to Ed's wide smile.
Ed looked ecstatic, and gave the card a happy wiggle. Sounding far too excited, Ed laughed out, "Let's go!"
Okay so before you say anything…yes, I am aware of the glaring error in the story, I wrote this on a whim, for fun, really liked it, and decided to post despite the plot hiccup. I thought about going back and changing it but…just loved the Ed/Alicia interaction while she was young.
I do hope you enjoyed the read, please try and review for me! This was my Christmas gift to you, please leave one for me under the tree. : )
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!