Title: It's Okay to Cry
Word Count: 2596
Summary: As far as Roy was concerned, Ed could cry whenever he wanted.
"Another dead end, Fullmetal?" he asked, eyeing the boy slumped over the leather couch critically. He looked exhausted, like a sheet put through the dryer one too many times. His body, hunched in its usual display of disobedience, carried an extra dejection to it today, like the slumped position was actually necessary for basic sitting. His tight leather pants weren't as tight as they usually were, either, a sign the boy had probably shed a few unneeded pounds due to stress. But it was his face-one that was supposed to be at the peak of youth and happiness at his age-that said it all. Deep bags that looked semi-permeant hung limply from underneath his tired yellow eyes. His forehead was wrinkled in his familiar scowl, his chin resting on his gloved hand as he slouched further into the couch when he caught Mustang's eye.
"Yeah," he muttered, looking away. His braid was coming undo, too; as Ed turned his face away, Mustang saw a few additional strands pull free. Edward didn't seem to care, though, which made the situation all the more concerning. In fact, Mustang didn't think he'd ever seen the boy's hair in less than perfect condition. The boy took too much pride in his looks for such a lax of appearance to occur in his presence.
No; something was definitely wrong here. Mustang sat up and interlaced his fingers beneath his chin. Edward was shying away from his gaze, blatantly avoiding it. Usually, he rebelled against the notion of manners in front of his superior and kept eye contact like it was a challenge. He would yell, rampage around, kick furniture even if he was provoked enough. Now, it was all the boy could do to recoil upon himself like a turtle desperate for his shell.
"Are you..." he trailed off, not entirely sure what he was asking. No, that wasn't the issue; it was the fact he was asking Ed anything at all that had Roy feeling out of sorts. He was a commander, a leader, someone to look up to; he didn't ask questions, he gave orders. So instead of finishing his unspoken question, Roy changed tactics. "Tell me what's wrong, Fullmetal."
Ed looked slightly startled at the command but did his best to appear unaffected. Rolling his eyes in familiarity, Edward huffed and looked at his elbow. "Just give me my orders so I can go back to Al."
Stubborn brat, Mustang mused as he tried to catch eye contact with the blond yet again. Still, Edward avoided him, taking care to pretend to play with the screws on his arm as he stared down at the armrest.
This was yet another inconsistency with Ed's usual behavior. The automail was always covered in Roy's presence by the sleeves the young man wore. But today, Edward was openly letting them slide off his prosthetic as he leaned his head against the cool metal and played aimlessly with the metal workings.
Roy wanted to ask what he was doing, but his ego and role as a superior officer prevented him. Instead, he shuffled the papers around on his desk once more before picking up the manilla folder with the correct name written on the sticky.
"Very well," he stated as he held the folder out for the alchemist. A little too eagerly, Ed jumped off the couch and walked forward, reaching his flesh hand out for his orders.
He mumbled something about thanks and leaving, but Mustang immediately ignored this when he caught a closer glimpse of Ed's eyes. Not only were they bagged and saggy, but they also looked red. Red from irritation and rubbing, maybe. It was allergy season in Central now after all. But Mustang had a different theory.
"Wait, Fullmetal," he called as Ed headed for the door. The blond stopped, but it was evident in his features that he hadn't wanted to. He was in a hurry to leave.
"What is it, Colonel?" Ed asked, not turning around as he clung to the file. Mustang could see it in his body language; the stiff shoulders, pushed too high to his ears, the hunched back, trying to conceal. Ed was fighting to appear normal, a facade that too easily was a failure in and of itself; Edward Elric was never sensitive to the time or place when he felt fine. He never acted; he just plowed forward.
Ah, that was it. Mustang pushed his chair back and began to walk over. The second he stood, every visible hair on the back of Ed's neck shot out like a porcupine's. He feels threatened, like I'm going to figure him out.
"Fullmetal, you didn't answer my orders. Now tell me what's-"
"It's nothing!" Edward shouted, his shoulders heaving dramatically in a lie. He didn't turn around, but rather stepped away a couple of steps in defense. "Okay? So just-hey!"
Mustang grabbed him and spun him around fiercely, not waiting to hear more come out of the Elric's mouth. Mustang already knew he was lying through his teeth; he needn't pretend for Ed's sake.
The sudden motion caught Ed off-guard; before he could realize his mistake, he had already looked up to catch Mustang's gaze for the first time since their meeting began. Golden eyes rimmed with irritation and a nose leaking with fluid; yeah, Mustang knew exactly what this was.
"Why are you crying?" he barked out, his voice stern with command. Ed flinched, his cheeks blushing brightly with humiliation and shame. He tried to make a run for it, but Mustang wouldn't let it happen; he grabbed Ed by the braid and hooked an arm around his waist, pinning the teenager in place.
"Ow! Let me go, you bastard!" he yelled, his face flaming with anger. He squirmed and kicked, but in his position, Edward couldn't get much leverage on the older man. That was fine with Mustang; he had no intention of letting the alchemist out of his sight until he had some answers.
"Fullmetal, calm down. Quit acting like a child," he scolded, giving an extra yank to the ruined braid for good measure. This elicited an angry growl from Ed, but Mustang quickly cut that off at the head. He let go of the boy for an instant, then redirected his body facing Ed's as his hands came to grip the smaller man's shoulders. Stooping down to eye level, Mustang breathed in his face.
"Do I need to remind you of your rank, Edward? Now tell me what's wrong, damnit!" He didn't mean to let that last curse out, but trying to get anything out of Ed was like pulling teeth. He needed answers and he needed them now.
Stunned, Edward all but gave up his struggling and stared. He didn't even try to avert his gaze this time. The proximity and vulnerability of the look was unnerving, but Mustang met the golden gaze head-on like he did everything in his life. It was then that he saw it; like a storm on the distant shore, fresh tears were threatening to spill from Edward's golden eyes. The constant rubbing and blinking had kept them at bay so far, but the boy looked like the levy could break at any time.
Edward swallowed but didn't look away. "It's...stupid," he squeaked, looking nervous and uncomfortable as his eyes began to dart away, "But...it's four years today since my mom died and I-I...," he trailed off, looking down at his feet. Shifting softly, Edward managed to whisper, "...was hoping Al'd have his body back by now." He closed his eyes, and a single tear finally slid down his cheek. Mustang could only let the tide hit him as he felt a wave of overwhelming pity hit him full force. He could understand-no, heknew what it felt like to do wrong and feel that burden rise to the surface like vomit, uncontrollable and volatile. But he'd also had time, alcohol, and friends to share the burden with, to help him deal with it and move on.
As he watched the young man struggle to regain his composure, Roy couldn't help but wonder who Ed went to in his hour of need. Al was a suit of armor who lacked flesh and warmth, not to mention his body was the source of Ed's guilt rather than a place to find refugee. Other than Al...Ed had nobody. No friends or colleagues his age, no adults to look after him. No parents...
No parents. Yeah, Roy could relate to that feeling. He'd never known his birth parents, having been placed in the orphanage immediately after birth. He couldn't remember the way they smelled or what they ate for breakfast or anything since he'd never known them.
But Ed could. And that's what made all the difference here. Mustang knew, in a detached sort of way, what kind of life he'd missed out on. But Ed knew first hand his loss; he was old enough to remember the kinds of food his parents liked or the way they smelled when they held him in their arms. He could still remember the way they felt when they hugged him, and he was still hurting years later after the fact.
Letting go of the boy's shoulders, Mustang dropped to his knees and wrapped his arms around Ed's back. Edward immediately started and tried to flee, but Roy only held him tighter and rested his chin on the blond's shoulder.
"Shhh...it's okay, Ed. Don't run," he whispered, running a hand softly over the back of his head. "You can't run away from the pain."
Ed stiffened in outward protest, but Mustang felt his frame tremble as his resistance loosened. He was shaking like a leaf in the breeze with no branch to cling to, no control to rely on. The boy was at the end of his rope, out of room and out of energy to fight anymore. And, as he felt a pair of arms finally respond by hugging his neck, Mustang couldn't help but feel angry at himself for never offering such a small gesture to a child who had lost so much. Sure, one could argue that it wasn't his duty nor his place to offer such comfort, but, as he finally felt the sobs begin to break the child in his arms, he wondered how one couldn't see it as their job to help someone so broken.
"I miss my mom," he cried, clinging even harder to the man as though the man would reject him for his admission. Roy didn't; he couldn't, not now, not ever. He only wrapped his arms further around the child, reassuring himself that Ed wasn't physically broken as well. Running his hand through loose hair, Roy let him cry into his shoulder, not giving a rat's ass that the tears would leave a wet mark. There were far worse things than something as mundane as appearance.
He didn't know how long they stood there, Roy kneeling and holding Ed as Ed let himself extinguish his tear ducts. It might've been minutes, or it could've been hours. But Mustang endured it, both out of compassion and punishment for his ignorance. And he would keep enduring it until the child could finally reach his goals and restore the only family he had left.
When Ed was finally done, a single arm unwrapped from Roy's shoulder and wiped at Ed's blotched face. Roy held him loosely, not wanting to seem clingy but also not wanting to seem like he was rejecting him in case he wasn't done. But Ed only shook his head and smiled in embarrassment. "You can let go now, Colonel."
Smiling in return, Roy let go and got to one knee, noticing belatedly how stiff his legs felt kneeling like that. The brat really needed to grow a couple of inches.
"Right. Sorry," he said, standing as Ed backed up a few paces to give him room. The boy looked nervous again, though he didn't try to shield himself from Roy. That was good.
"No, you're fine. It's just uh...can you not tell Al? Or...anybody?"
The blush was unmistakeable, even in the midst of his already flushed face. If the kid was in any better shape right then, Mustang would've teased him for it. Instead, he simply nodded.
"I won't tell a soul. Soldier's honor."
Ed rolled his eyes. "That's stupid, but whatever. As long as nobody knows...don't want people knowing the Fullmetal Alchemist does this kind of thing." Fixing his hair into a simply high ponytail, Edward turned to leave. Before he could, though, Mustang placed a hand on his shoulder.
"The Fullmetal Alchemist does not cry."
Ed froze beneath his hand but didn't respond. Mustang continued. "The Fullmetal Alchemist isn't allowed to. See, he's this hotheaded kid who decided to join the military at twelve just for his own selfish goals. He's rude and arrogant and too prideful and full of himself to warrant any good. He doesn't cry."
"But Edward Elric..." Mustang began, sensing the blond was going to try to interrupt him. "No, sorry-Ed, as known to all of us here at headquarters-Ed can cry whenever he wants, as far as I'm concerned. He's selfless and kind and willing to go through any hardship, just for the sake of his brother. Even after having lost so much, Ed continues to try to help others, never thinking about his own needs. He can cry whenever he wants." Mustang walked in front of Ed, keeping head bent to maintain eye contact. "Does that make sense?"
Ed looked absolutely floored. Sputtering and scratching his head, Edward blurted out, "You idiot! Of course it doesn't! You just described two completely different people!"
Mustang laughed. "Well, I guess you'll just have to tell me which one it is every time you come in here. Deal?"
He held out his left hand, as though he was actually making a legitimate deal with the younger alchemist. Looking slightly taken aback, Edward made to shoot down the offer, then paused. His eyes turned inward, deep in thought, before taking a sudden mischievous glint. He held out his own left hand, like a peace offering, before slapping Mustang's hand and turning away.
"Are all old people saps, or is it just you, Colonel Bastard?" he called, strolling for the door. His attitude was back, his hair was swinging in perfect time-yep, this was Fullmetal alright. It figured; just as he thought he'd finally gotten through to the kid, the brat decides to go back to his irritable self.
Instead of waiting for a response, though, Ed reached the door and looked over his shoulder. "Because if so...," he drawled, "Maybe my future's not as bad as I thought it was." Then, without another word, Edward left, leaving behind what felt like a hurricane's destruction in his wake. Though, there were worse things, Roy mused as he sat back down.
Yes, there were far worse things than receiving praise from Edward Elric.