Summary: “In Xing, in the days of old, the Emperor had an army of men who fought together, worked together and loved together. The next Emperor disbanded them. Executed them if they refused to take wives, to propagate their fighting skills. Said that men loving men was unnatural.” “Yeah? What does that say about us?”
Word Count: Approximately 7,300
Disclaimer: Arakawa never writes, never calls; I’m guessing the magic is over. But I’m still playing with her toys ‘til she tells me otherwise.
Characters/Pairings: Roy-centric; Roy/Ed; Ed/Winry; Roy/?
Warnings: Post Promised Day fic.
A.N.: While it's taken me a long time to decide to post this story, I've had it written since around fall of last year. Roy had been insistent about telling me this story for three days. I finally decided to let him finish it. Thanks to leni_ba for looking this one over. If there are any mistakes, blame me.
* * *
Edward Elric’s apartment in Central City had three bedrooms. When asked, he said, it was simple: “One for me, one for Al, one for Winry when she comes to visit.”
Havoc had snorted when he heard that explanation. “She isn’t sleeping with one of you?”
Edward had sputtered and snapped back, “It’s not like that. Winry’s our friend.”
Roy had been the only one close enough to overhear Alphonse’s lowly muttered comment, “And Brother’s an idiot.”
* * *
Not only did the military frown on fraternization, Roy knew that if it got out about his and Edwards’s relationship, everything that they’d worked to accomplish could be lost. While, in the civilian world, there were indeed instances of same sex relationships, the fact that Edward was still one of Roy’s subordinates made it suspect, so they had to be discreet when they met up. Hence Edward’s apartment. “Wouldn’t want to live with you anyway,” Edward said one time when Roy asked. He’d waved a hand around the house. “It’s so…sterile. If there wasn’t food in the icebox, I wouldn’t think anyone lived here.”
* * *
The younger man hung up his jacket on the hall tree when he came to visit. Central winters were amazingly cold, though Edward had sneered at Roy’s statement about that. “Briggs is cold. Hell, Rezembool is practically mountain country. That’s cold.” But he’d let Roy loop the scarf around his neck when he left, accepting the gift without comment.
* * *
Discreet meant Roy couldn’t take Edward out to the places he wanted to, though Edward wasn’t really interested in shows or fine dining. Whenever they did go out, it was under the cover of business, except to the bars that soldiers frequent. Even there, Roy couldn’t let down his guard, couldn’t touch Edward the way he wanted, or ask him to dance. Edward was always surprised when Roy mentioned it. “Eh.” He waved a hand. “I don’t dance anyway.”
* * *
Officers assigned to Central were required to attend the military ball every winter. Edward got out of it when he was younger, before the Promised Day, as he was always in the field. Now that he was more or less permanently assigned to Central, or at least, Roy’s command, which was stationed in Central, he had to attend.
“You’ll need a date, chief,” Breda informed Edward as he stared at the embossed invitation. “Can’t go to one of these things stag.”
“It’s considered quite the romantic evening.” Falman recited the history of the extravaganza. “It’s held in the Fuhrer’s, now the Parliament’s, grand ballroom. A feast is provided beforehand and an orchestra plays throughout the night.”
“It snows every year,” Havoc added, “like clockwork. If there was such a thing as a weather alchemist - ”
Falman interrupted. “Not every year. In 1912, it rained so hard, the orchestra was unable to cross the eastern bridge due to flooding. And in 1899, it was unseasonably warm. The Fuhrer instructed white flower petals be strewn over the grounds to simulate snow.”
Havoc rolled his eyes. “Twice in history? That’s nearly a spotless record.”
Breda ignored the bickering pair. “You’re taking your mechanic, right, chief?”
Edward, his cheek in his hand, doodling something on a report, blinked, startled at being addressed. “Mmm? Yeah, I’ll call and ask her tonight.”
Disappointment flickered and was firmly squelched. After all, he and Edward couldn’t attend the ball together.
* * *
Edward sprawled on his stomach, flesh foot dangling off the edge of the bed, his hair a tousled mess. Roy traced lazy designs on the younger man’s back. Under his fingers, he could feel Edward’s muscles tighten. Roy felt limp, boneless, wanting to cuddle and sleep but after only a few minutes, Edward’s body tensed. Roy couldn’t actually think of a time when Edward seemed fully relaxed.
* * *
“In Xing, in the days of old, the Emperor had an army of men who fought together, worked together and loved together.”
Edward rolled out from under Roy’s hand, casting around for his underwear. He pulled his boxers on. “Yeah? What happened to them?” He tossed his long bangs out of his face, meeting Roy’s gaze curiously.
Roy had to drop his eyes this time. “The next Emperor disbanded them. Executed them if they refused to take wives, to propagate their fighting skills. Said that men loving men was unnatural.”
“Huh.” Edward stepped into his trousers, pulling them up over his hips and buttoning and zipping them closed. “What does that say about us?”
Roy’s tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, leaving him unable to answer.
* * *
Of Roy’s inner circle, of which there were frighteningly few people, only Chris Mustang knew about his relationship with Edward. Roy still wasn’t sure whether she disapproved or not. At least nothing had happened between them before Edward turned eighteen, though, as Edward had once pointed out, “In Rezembool, you can marry at fifteen.” That nugget of knowledge had surprised Roy, who hadn’t thought Edward would have paid any attention to that sort of thing.
Edward had shown a few teeth when Roy’d asked. “Michael Todd proposed to Winry when she was fourteen. She turned him down. He got another girl to marry him then beat her to death in less than a year.”
There was something fearsome in Edward’s eyes as he said that and Roy turned the conversation to something else.
* * *
Edward made friends almost effortlessly, but the younger man didn’t seem to realize it. Roy wondered at this talent, how a mouthy brat with such a foul vocabulary had charmed so many people.
“Well,” Edward said, his smile nearly wicked, “You always say I’m good with my mouth.” And he proceeded to remind Roy just why he’d said that in the first place.
* * *
Edward himself had three people he considered his friends: Alphonse, Winry and ‘that stupid prince from Xing’. As Ling had returned to Xing with the secret of immortality, that left Edward’s brother and their childhood friend.
Both of them knew about Roy and Edward’s relationship.
Alphonse didn’t treat Roy any differently. Roy didn’t know Miss Rockbell well; at all, really.
A part of him couldn’t help but wonder if she hated him.
* * *
Though she wasn’t assigned to Central, Olivia Armstrong was a part of Parliament and made it a point to attend the military ball. It made a nice show, Roy thought. And, not inconsequently, gave him a date.
“Don’t worry. I won’t have you on a leash all night. If there’s some other woman you want to dance with,” she hesitated, obviously thinking about Hawkeye.
Roy filled in the awkward silence. “Of course. As long as I have your first and last dance, Olivia.”
She laughed, generous, and offered to let him lead both times.
* * *
Alphonse came with Sciezca, something that surprised Roy. He wondered if he’d missed something happening under his nose, but seeing their relaxed attitudes, the way they didn’t play at being lovers and genuinely seemed to enjoy one another’s company, told him they were there as friends and equals.
“You seem to be having a good time.” Roy guided Sciezca around the dance floor. Her dress was beautiful and he complimented her on it. She seemed exotic, the brilliant reds and golds of her dress making her seem a firebird trapped amongst a flock of blue jays.
“I am. Alphonse is so sweet.” Sciezca smiled. “He even seems to have rubbed off on Edward tonight. He’s barely let Winry out of his sight.”
* * *
Winry Rockbell wore a dress of rich, golden rust that shimmered as she moved. Her pale hair was perfectly coifed, a rust-colored lily part of her corsage. Topazes glittered in the lobes of her ears, another tawny jewel resting on the upper swell of her breasts. Roy noticed Edward’s cufflinks matched Miss Rockbell’s adornments – and that all the stones were the color of Edward’s eyes.
* * *
While Alphonse and Miss Rockbell danced, Roy and Edward met in a narrowed hallway. “I wish I could dance with you.” Roy didn’t touch Edward, even though he wanted to.
Edward’s hands were shoved in his pants pockets, his head lowered slightly. Roy wondered where his lover’s thoughts had wandered, about to ask, when Edward gave him a smile, one so bittersweet as to cut out the heart. “This isn’t ancient Xing.” A rust-colored lily winked at his lapel. “And you and I have other dates.”
He squeezed Roy’s upper arm before walking past, heading back to the ballroom.
* * *
Edward refused to meet with Roy whenever Miss Rockbell was in Central.
“You love her more than me,” Roy had teased once, early on in their relationship.
“She’s my best friend. I want to spend time with her.”
Roy had pretended hurt. “I’m not your best friend?”
Edward had answered simply. “No. You’re my commanding officer and you’re my lover.” Roy had almost missed the rest of it, a mumbled, “You have to be equals to be friends.”
* * *
Edward worked only half days the week of the ball, while Miss Rockbell was visiting. In the mornings, he moaned about how, “Al and Winry forced me to take them to that new jazz club in town,” or “We had to see that play last night and Winry made me wait in the alley so she could get an autograph for her boss in Rush Valley.”
After he dragged out of the office on the third day, complaining of a shopping trip and a visit to an art museum, Breda handed Roy his latest stack of papers to review.
“I should go with Fullmetal,” Roy grumbled, half-meaning it.
Breda’s bland expression didn’t carry any hint of censure. “Just sign the papers, Chief. She’ll be back in Rush Valley before you know it.”
* * *
Edward came over the night Miss Rockbell left Central City. Roy welcomed him with open arms and, afterward, drew patterns lazily on Edward’s back. He didn’t talk about the frenzied need in their lovemaking, any more than he mentioned how, under his fingertips, Edward’s muscles started to tense.
Rolling out from under Roy’s hand, Edward studied him through the thicket of his bangs. “Why,” the word sounded sticky and Edward tried again. “Why do you always draw your array on my back?”
* * *
The news came the next morning, while everyone was gathering to start the workday. Breda complained about the nasty commissary tea; Havoc bemoaned his lack of a woman. Fuery and Falman were going over the latest sports scores of the Central Lions against the Eastern Rams from the game the night before. At his desk, Edward chewed on the end of his pen, his thoughts obviously elsewhere. Roy allowed himself a split second to wish for Riza’s appearance to bring everyone to order.
Instead, Alphonse burst through the door. “Brother!” His voice sounded weak and strange and he staggered, clutching at the doorframe of the antechamber, as if was the only thing keeping him upright.
Edward’s chair toppled as he dashed to Alphonse, grabbing his shoulders. “What, Al? What is it?”
“Winry. Her train.” Alphonse rallied, clutching at Edward’s lapels, his eyes wide and staring. “An explosion happened last night.”
* * *
The brothers had wanted to dash off to the station immediately, intent on taking the next train out. Falman’s cooler head prevailed. “The line may not be running. We should find that information out first, before you go to the station.”
Precious minutes ticked by with Fuery on the telephone and Havoc tuning in the radio borrowed from the secretary pool down the hall. Edward paced, his fists clenching and unclenching, while Alphonse huddled on the ugly green sofa in Roy’s office, his hands clasped around his skull. Two cups of tea steamed gently in that cool morning air, ignored as the brothers tried to deal with the enormity of the situation.
The servos in Edward’s automail whined, a counterpoint to his mismatched tread. Roy couldn’t help but wonder if Edward was reminded with each step of his mechanic. He’d tried to lay a hand on Edward’s shoulder after Alphonse announced the news, only to be brushed off, almost violently. Guilt gleamed in Edward’s eyes and Roy wondered if his lover blamed himself. That thought was immediately followed with, ‘Of course he does. Edward always blames himself, even when it isn’t his fault.’
“Shouldn’t have let her go. She said she could stay longer.” Edward was actually speaking now. “Told her to go back to Rush Valley, that her customers wanted her.” Whirling, Edward kicked an empty chair, sending it crashing into the wall.
“Brother, that’s not going to help.” Alphonse seemed to have regained control of himself though his trembling hands belied that control. He studied the ruins of the chair dispassionately. “Don’t worry, sir, we’ll fix that.”
Roy waved it off. “It’s all right, Alphonse. I needed to replace the furniture in this room, anyway. Maybe you’d like to destroy a few more pieces while you’re at it, Edward.”
Edward spun to him, his hands slamming down on top of the desk. “Shut up, bastard.” His face twisted in a rictus of agony. “Winry could be hurt or…” Words failed him and his larynx bobbed. Roy inhaled sharply as Edward flung himself into the antechamber. “Fuery! Have you found out anything yet?”
Alphonse followed his brother, almost as if attached by an invisible tether. Roy forced his gaze back to the top of his desk, trying not to react to the sight of tears glimmering in Edward’s eyes.
* * *
When the brothers had all the information they needed to travel and all arrangements had been made, they were gone; only Edward’s scarf left behind to even show that they had been in the office that morning.
Everyone remained subdued through the day, listening to the reports pouring in from the radio. Even that information remained sketchy, though there were investigators interviewed and hospital staff, too. No names had been released but train tickets weren’t bought under a particular name unless they were reserved in advance. Someone could hop on a car and pay when the lineman came around to punch the ticket. Without actually going to the site of the crash, the Elrics wouldn’t know if their friend had even been on the train, that she hadn’t gotten off early, unless she tried to contact them.
“I hope she’s all right.” Fuery turned a pencil over and over in his hands.
They all whispered their own faint agreements.
* * *
Gracia Hughes called, having heard the news.
“Yes, the brothers left, almost as soon as they got the word.” Roy heard the tears in the woman’s voice as she asked her next question.
“No,” he said quietly, gently, “we don’t know anything more than you do, right now.”
* * *
Roy was called in to a special session of Parliament, one to discuss the train wreck. It turned out a group was claiming responsibility for the crash, one that disagreed with the present government of Amestris and wanted to return to the old ways. Olivia sneered at that stupidity but said nothing out loud; while the members of Parliament had been aware that the country, under Fuhrer King Bradley’s rule, had been headed for its own destruction, they had not been advised exactly as to why.
The Ishbalan man, still known only as ‘Scar’, listened to the arguments and protests made in the session, finally speaking in his low voice. “If this group,” he gestured at the notice with the words, ‘Return to Amestris’, emblazoned at the top and the bottom, “plan on other attacks, we will need to be vigilant.”
“Some of our best investigators have been sent on the fastest train,” Colonel Armstrong said, stroking a thumb over his moustache.
“And the Elric brothers,” Roy added, drawing all eyes to him. He took a breath, folding his hands together to hide their sudden trembling. “Fullmetal’s mechanic, Miss Winry Rockbell, was on that train.”
“Oh.” Olivia settled back in her chair. “Then if it is someone stupid enough to challenge Parliament, Fullmetal will handle it. He won’t allow someone to hurt that girl and get away with it.”
* * *
Scar asked leave of Parliament to also go south. “I have some knowledge about planting bombs.”
“You need to know if that girl is all right.” Olivia didn’t make it a challenge, more a statement of fact.
“If she has indeed died, someone will need to be there for the Elric brothers. I have experienced the loss of my family at the hands of another.”
A soft buzz of voices answered that, dying out almost immediately.
“If no one has any objections, I will go.”
If anyone did, no one raised a voice.
* * *
“It’s terrible here,” Alphonse’s voice came through the lines, tinny and choked. “So many fires, so much smoke.” He sounded close to tears. “There are so many bodies. The engine exploded as the train came into the station. The conductor and the engineers were killed in the blast, they had to have been.”
“Have you found Miss Rockbell?” Breda was the one to ask.
“Brother’s still looking. I have to go.”
The line went dead.
* * *
Waiting was hard.
All the information pouring in to Central City, and none of it what Roy wanted to hear. Scar had indeed made it south safely; he did call and say he’d seen the Elric brothers, but their friend was still among the missing. Citizens were rushing to get on trains to head south, to find out about family members. The telephone lines were out further south, due to the explosion, but Roy could imagine that Miss Rockbell’s friends in Rush Valley were desperate for any information, too. How many people would be pouring into Waterton, trying to find loved ones?
The military had been sent to take control of the situation; doctors and nurses and automail mechanics and surgeons volunteering to assist.
It might be weeks before the dead were all collected and even longer before they were identified, if even the bodies could be recognized. Fires and explosions were destructive to soft tissue and not everyone had a dental record.
Investigations reported that Return to Amestris appeared to be a new faction, built of malcontents and hardliners who thought a new Fuhrer should be appointed, rather than Parliament running the country. “A bunch of men around a table aren’t going to keep us or Amestris safe!”
Roy wondered how an explosion in a train station, the murder of innocent people, was supposed to make anyone feel as if Return to Amestris could be trusted.
* * *
Four days after the explosion, the call came, though not from either Edward or Alphonse.
“She’s been found,” Scar said tersely, “she’s alive.”
But that was enough for a minor celebration and Roy heard Gracia’s tears of relief when he called to tell her.
* * *
It was another three days before the next call, Alphonse, this time, sounding content. “She’s awake. She recognizes us. She’s furious because now she’s behind on her orders.” He paused. “Brother won’t leave her. It’s giving the doctors fits, well, when they have time to check on her. She’s going to be okay.” They could hear another voice and Alphonse’s fainter answer. “I have to go. Someone needs the phone. I’ll call as soon as I can.”
Roy wondered why the tension didn’t leave his body, even as the rest of his staff congratulated each other on their knowledge that Miss Rockbell was all right.
* * *
When it was safe for her to travel, the Elrics brought Miss Rockbell back to Central City. Roy heard she protested this, that she’d wanted to go on to Rush Valley, but Edward insisted that she needed the best care. It probably didn’t hurt that, somehow, Alphonse had gotten word to a Xingese healer, a girl Roy remembered being in that final battle under Central City.
Roy was part of the party at the train station, waiting for their arrival. Gracia stood next to him, her hand squeezing his. “I’m glad Elicia’s in school. I don’t know if,” she shook her head, unable to finish what she’d been about to say.
Miss Rockbell would be staying with Gracia, Elicia, and the Xingese healer. The girl, with her strange black and white cat, waited with them at the station, though she didn’t talk much. Her face was set and fixed on the tracks, obviously distracted with her own thoughts. Roy didn’t want to intrude.
He wasn’t sure what he would say, anyway. His stomach had tied itself in knots since he’d gotten the word that they would be arriving today. He didn’t know if he should try to talk to Edward or even what they might talk about. Their conversations over the past two weeks had been terse at best; all on open lines at the office. Roy hadn’t been able to express much beyond general concern. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that, either. A part of him had wanted to hop a train and go be with Edward but another part knew that his lover wouldn’t have welcomed him there, especially not with his own attention being solely focused on Miss Rockbell.
And Roy wasn’t sure if that hurt or not.
“I hear the train whistle.” Colonel Armstrong’s head raised, reminding Roy of a hunting dog. He checked the clock on the wall. “It’s early by two and a half minutes.”
Gracia squeezed Roy’s hand tighter. He could barely hear her whispered, “I hope…” before he, too, caught the sound of an approaching locomotive. Roy wondered suddenly if he was going to be sick.
Then the train was pulling into the station, the engine blowing steam, cinders and ashes. Everyone on the platform seemed to take a few steps back; the threats of the Return of Amestris were all too fresh in everyone’s minds. The train slowed gently, the engine letting out a tremendous sigh of steam. The conductor swung out of the box and onto the platform in a practiced move, an engineer and stoker following him. Porters started hopping off the cars, setting out steps for the passengers to disembark. The bell above the engine rang clearly and passengers began climbing down out of the cars.
“Do you see them?” Gracia stood on her toes as a rush of humanity swirled and eddied on the platform.
“I am searching,” Colonel Armstrong said and, from his position literally head and shoulders above the crowd, Roy figured he’d spot the trio first. When he glanced up, he was surprised to see that strange cat perched on Armstrong’s shoulder, mimicking his pose. The Xingese girl watched her cat, as if it might be able to tell the Elrics from the rest of the passengers leaving the train.
People swept around their small group, making Roy feel like a rock buffeted by running water. “There is Alphonse Elric.” Colonel Armstrong nodded toward one of the passenger cars and Roy caught sight of the young man’s brilliant hair before he disappeared in the flow and eddy of humanity.
“Where’s Ed?” Gracia rose on her toes again, using Roy as a brace to keep her balance against the tide.
“I am sure Edward Elric is assisting Miss Rockbell.” Armstrong gestured to the trickle still disembarking the passenger cars. Porters ran to help the passengers and collect luggage. Stokers raked ashes from the belly of the engine while the head engineer and his assistances checked and oiled the wheels and mechanics of the pistons. Roy spotted Alphonse, making his way through the remaining crowds, a porter trailing in his wake. Gracia’s fingers dug into Roy’s wrist, a soft gasp letting him know she’d seen, too. Alphonse was pushing a wheelchair.
Leaving the porter with the chair, Alphonse ran back up the steps and into a passenger car. Roy let Gracia pull him closer, not sure he really wanted to see. Neither brother had spoken of the extent of Miss Rockbell’s injuries, what few times they’d called. “Did you know?” Gracia breathed out and Roy shook his head once, eyes locked on that doorway.
Again, Alphonse appeared, walking down the stairs sideways, one hand raised behind him, obviously guiding someone down. Edward followed his brother, a pale blond head rising above his shoulder. Roy realized Edward was carrying Miss Rockbell down the steps. The waiting porter moved the wheelchair closer and the brothers carefully set their charge into it, Alphonse fussing with a blanket while Edward tipped the porter.
The Xingese girl was the first to move, striding across the platform to the trio, her cat leaping from Armstrong’s shoulder to follow her. She launched herself at Alphonse, who caught her, holding her tight. Edward glanced away, his attention snagged by the cat at his feet, watching it as it pawed at Miss Rockbell’s legs. “Here,” Roy heard Edward say gruffly, and he caught the cat with his automail hand, setting it in Miss Rockbell’s lap.
Roy realized that they’d all started following the Xingese girl, almost as if she had released them from their watching. Gracia dropped Roy’s hand, not quite running those last few steps. “Oh, Winry.” She leaned over, her hands hovering near the girl’s face.
“Miss Rockbell, we have all been so worried,” Armstrong said, going to one knee so she wouldn’t have to look up so high.
“I’m sorry I worried you.” She smiled faintly. The bandage covered most of the right side of her face. Roy could see red marks – burn scars – licking up her neck. He wondered what damage the blanket covered, realizing how uncharitable his curiosity was.
Edward nearly touched the crown of her head, hesitating over the top of the bandage, and cupped her left shoulder instead. “It’s all right, Winry. You’re safe now. We’ll take care of you.”
A sudden wind caught the blanket, ripping it away from Miss Rockbell’s lower body. Armstrong caught the hem of it, tucking it around her remaining leg. “Oh, Miss Rockbell.”
Somehow, her smile widened. “It’s okay, Colonel Armstrong. I can build myself a new one.”
* * *
Roy made sure that the Elric brothers were given leave to tend to Miss Rockbell. He didn’t expect to hear from either of them and wasn’t exactly surprised when that was proven true, however, after three weeks, Roy thought perhaps he should drop by Gracia’s to see how Miss Rockbell was doing. He stopped to pick up flowers, as well as some fresh fruit, figuring that would be a treat considering the January weather.
The walk from Central H.Q. to the Hughes’s residence was a brisk one. Roy decided that he might call for a car for the return trip, though the walk helped clear his head from the office chatter. The secretaries had been asking about Fullmetal and his brother; how their friend was. Roy had been able to answer but perhaps not enough to suit the secretaries. They expected Roy to bring back more news, maybe gossip for all Roy knew. He didn’t want to consider he was actually going to Gracia’s to check up on Edward but a part of him realized it was true. Roy could only hope that the others didn’t figure it out, too.
Gracia and Elicia had moved to a little house with a small garden, rather than the large house they’d lived in prior to Maes’ death. It was still big enough for guests and, even though Miss Rockbell and the Xingese girl – Mei, Roy remembered now – had been staying there, too, it didn’t seem crowded. Roy could see that alchemy had made some changes to make the living area more conducive to wheelchair access and he thought of Havoc, before the Promised Day. Would he have appreciated someone helping him that way or would he have considered it charity? Now that Havoc was able to walk again, thanks to more Xingese alchemy, it wasn’t something Roy concerned himself with.
Knocking on the door, Roy could hear someone approaching, turning a lock and twisting the knob. Alphonse blinked at him, taking in at a glance the bag of fruit, the fresh flowers, and stepped back. “Come in, sir.”
“Thank you, Alphonse.” Roy was pleased the younger man offered to take his gifts so he could remove his scarf and jacket. “I wish I could say I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d drop by, however,” he let the sentence trail off.
“We were getting ready to have some tea.” Alphonse waited for Roy to hang up his outer gear before raising his voice. “Add another teacup. We have a guest.”
* * *
Miss Rockbell – “Please, Winry,” and Roy had felt obliged to tell her to call him by his given name as well – definitely looked better than she had at the train station. Her skin wasn’t nearly as pale and the scars on her neck were barely discernable. The bandage that had partially covered her face was completely gone and, in its place, faint threads of white, barely puckered skin rose over her cheek and past her ear, disappearing into her scalp. A lush layer of fuzz nearly obscured the scars on her scalp but wasn’t long enough, nowhere close to long enough to hide the topaz studs in her ears.
* * *
Edward saw him out, standing outside in the cool winter air, forgoing a jacket. Roy almost pressed his scarf on the younger man but decided against it. “She looks well.” The words came out far more tentative than Roy liked.
Snorting, Edward nodded, his hands shoved deep into his pockets. “She’s getting better. Still has nightmares.” Something crossed his face at that and Roy guessed that Edward was thinking of his own bad dreams. Roy had woken him from them in the past. Unkindly, he wondered who woke Miss Rock – Winry - from hers. “What about those bastards who blew up the train?”
Roy heard a whine, recognized it as Edward’s automail servos. “It will take time. But we’re looking into it. Your focus should be on Winry.”
Edward lifted his chin and Roy expected him to retort. Instead, he said, “We’ll have to take her to Rush Valley when it gets warmer, so she can talk to her old master about getting fitted for automail.”
“However much time you need, Edward, I’ll make sure you and Alphonse have it.” It sounded almost normal.
Roy wished Edward’s relief at his comment had surprised him.
* * *
As spring approached, the brothers Elric returned to their duties, though Roy made sure they were not sent out of Central City for anything longer than a couple of nights. Parliament had to understand that they’d nearly lost a family member and were still taking care of her. Scar, at least, backed him up, though Roy thought that might have more to do with the debt the Ishbalan felt he owed to Miss Rockbell than anything. Still, he didn’t question the motives as long as the results were what he wanted.
Scar stopped him after a meeting, saying, “I think you should allow them their freedom. They are young yet. And they need each other.”
Roy understood what Scar didn’t say. “I’ll consider it.” The thing was, he’d already made his decision.
* * *
The graveled walk heralded his approach if there had been anyone around to hear him. Roy carried a paper twist full of calla lilies, their throats showing a pale rose blush. The wind nipped at his nose and the tops of his ears, playing havoc with his hair. He ignored it as he turned off the path and into the lush green grass. A part of him wondered how it stayed so green, even this early into the season, another part knew the answer had to be the type of grass. Still, it made the headstones stand out, stark reminders of the lives laid to rest beneath them.
Roy stooped to lay the flowers in front of one of the stones. He brushed some leaf debris from the granite. As always, the stone felt cool and Roy knew he shouldn’t be surprised by this, not after all these years. Still, it never failed to shock him, that icy texture instead of warm flesh beneath his fingers.
“I came to tell you I’m breaking it off with Edward. It’s time to let him go.”
The cold granite carved with Riza Hawkeye’s name didn’t offer a reply.
* * *
The knock on his door surprised him, even more when he opened it to find Edward on the stoop. “It’s late, isn’t it?” He motioned the younger man to come in.
Edward’s eyebrows shot into his bangs. “Not really.” He stood inside the doorway, as if unsure what to do with himself.
“No, I suppose not. Take off your coat, Edward, unless this isn’t an actual visit?” Roy waited for him to decide, watching as Edward did take off his coat, hanging it on the hall tree. He followed Roy down the hall to the den, where a fire crackled on the hearth. “Would you like something to warm you up?” Roy nodded at the teapot, set out on the table, a cozy keeping the liquid inside hot.
Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, Edward waved off the tea. He took a seat cautiously, his fingers lacing together loosely. Roy could see a furrow between Edward’s brows. Deciding it might be best if he took the lead, Roy spoke. “I suppose you’ve come to tell me we can no longer continue our relationship as it has been in the past.”
Edward’s head came up and he peered at Roy closely. “Yeah.” The corner of his mouth tilted, though Roy wasn’t sure if it was from humor or pain. “Yeah, that’s why I’m here.”
“I hope you and Miss Rockbell will be very happy together, then.” Roy heard the snort. “No, Edward, I mean that. There is something between the two of you; it’s probably always been there.”
The disparaging noise was directed at himself. “It took nearly losing her for me to realize that.”
“At least you did realize it, Edward.” Roy saluted him with the teacup, taking a sip of the smoky-flavored liquid. “Some people never open their eyes to what’s right in front of them.”
Edward got to his feet, as if unable to stay seated. “Hawkeye told me how you learned fire alchemy.” He shook back his long bangs, his expression curiously open and amazingly, achingly sad. “Is that why you’d draw your array on my back after we had sex?”
Roy found he had no way to answer that, not even rising when Edward said he’d let himself out.
* * *
Edward’s and Winry’s wedding was two years in the making, though the actual ceremony and celebration afterward were small. The setting for the ceremony itself had been in the Armstrong family gardens, in late spring, so flowers bloomed and perfumed the air. The man still known simply as ‘Scar’ performed the ritual. His Ishbalan robes seemed incongruous as he stood before a thick copse of trees. A reflecting pond offered mirror images of the procedure, a much less solemn one than Roy had expected. He had made no real study of Ishbalan ceremony but didn’t think the couple-to-be were probably walked together between the celebrants, arms linked with the man who was little brother to both of them.
Alphonse left Edward and Winry with Scar, taking his place nearby. His smile was brighter than the sun. Edward’s cheeks were stained with a permanent blush and his own grin was far more tender, directed at his bride, who reflected that beam and turned it back on him, more brilliant than ever. Roy didn’t hear everything that was recited, there were the sounds of splashing water somewhere, birds in the trees, a spring breeze playing with the leaves. A cough, then a resounding sniffle that could only have come from Armstrong himself.
And then the couple turned and Roy had to look away from the blazing joy in their faces.
* * *
The reception was held outdoors though from the buffet tables set out and the band playing, Roy wondered if the twenty or so people in attendance were hiding an army of well-wishers somewhere. He toasted the couple with everyone else, took a turn around the wooden dance floor with Gracia and then Elicia. He nibbled at the appetizers, tasting an amazing array of sweet and sour; spicy and mild; creamy and tart and could not have said for sure what he’d eaten later.
Gracia joined him at one point. “You’re quiet.”
“Thinking how many years it’s been.” Roy nodded at Edward, who passed his new wife over to Armstrong for a dance, though, from the shaking of Edward’s finger, Armstrong was getting a warning of some sort. “I remember when we…when I first saw those boys.”
Gracia didn’t miss the stumble but also didn’t remark on it. “Maes told me about them before he brought them home. They’ve always been something, haven’t they?”
Roy allowed himself a faint, proud, curl to the corner of his mouth. “Edward may, indeed, be the best.”
“But no longer a State Alchemist.”
“No, it wasn’t his desire to be a soldier. I think,” and Roy smiled again, though more gently, “I think he’s far happier now. And I’m happy for him.” He glanced at Gracia. “And Winry, too. I made her wait far too long for Edward.”
Her eyes seemed luminous before she turned them back to the dance floor. “And him for her.” Before Roy could open his mouth, Gracia went on. “Winry requested a dance from you, Roy. And I,” she smiled, that playful, charming grin that had so won over Hughes so many years before, “am to dance with Edward.”
“Don’t let him step on you with that left foot. I hear it weighs a tonne.”
The look she gave him should’ve burnt him to a crisp.
* * *
Roy did not want to take a chance of embarrassing the new Mrs. Elric, not knowing her own dance skills (it had been drilled in him to keep up with all the latest styles and to be able to perform them; part of his training from his adopted mother). And despite knowing how acrobatic Edward could be with automail, Roy had never spent any time with Winry to have knowledge of her abilities. Still, while Edward teased Elicia and Alphonse and his Xingese girlfriend fed each other treats from the buffet, Roy approached Winry and a dark-skinned young woman Roy didn’t know at all.
Bowing, he introduced himself to the young woman, who had traveled with Winry from Rush Valley and offered up her name simply as Paninya. He made small talk with the two women for a few minutes, keeping an ear out for the band, finally hearing a song that was not too slow and not too fast, something easy to dance to. “Mrs. Elric, I believe you requested a dance from me.” He offered her his gloved hand.
“Yes, Mr. Mustang, I did.” She accepted and rose to her feet, the skirt of her dress falling around her lower limbs. Roy led her to the floor, pleased that Winry knew how to set herself into position before he began leading her through the uncomplicated steps. Her grip on his hand was firm and Roy could feel, through the doubled material of his glove and her dress, that Winry was muscled; probably as fit in her own way as Edward was in his. Pleasantly surprised that she moved as well as she did, considering her automail leg, Roy led her in the first movements of the dance.
They made two turns around the floor before she spoke. “I hated you for taking them away from me. First, when we were just kids; then again, after.” There was no doubt that Winry meant in the aftermath of that final battle, under Central City. The cleanup from that had taken years, not to mention negotiations with Xing; rebuilding relations with Ishbal; forming peace delegations with Aerugo and Drachma. Edward had been a necessary part of that; all the State Alchemists had been given special assignments during that period when the new government was still going through its birthing pains. “I always understood why, though. Ed and Al, they were too big for just Rezembool and after what they’d done, well,” Winry shook her head. “They needed to atone.” The word sounded strange coming from her but also very appropriate. “And afterward,” she raised her gaze, meeting Roy’s steadily, “I just wanted him to be happy. If he was happy with you, then I could be happy for him, even if it meant you had to hide your relationship from the rest of the world.”
Roy spun her gently in the moves of the dance, unsure what he should say, whether he should actually speak. Finally, when it seemed Winry had nothing else to say, he whispered as the final notes of the piece rang through the garden, “I’ve never seen Edward as happy as he’s been today.”
* * *
The letter was unexpected, bearing a stamp from the West, smudged with fingerprints from somewhere along the way. Roy slit the envelope open, a single page falling out. Unfolding it, he recognized the stilted script, blinking slightly in surprise.
Roy, it read,
Figured you wouldn’t expect a letter from me but the phone lines out here are pretty bad. You ought to get Parliament working on it. We’re here so Winry and some other mechanics can set up a new automail center; somehow, they found out there’s no automail this far west and that’s some sort of tragedy. Roy could picture Edward rolling his eyes. Al’s here, too, and Paninya; I think you met her at the wedding. There might be something going on between them but I don’t want to know, especially if that Mei girl comes to visit. She’s jealous.
Anyway, I wanted to let you know, so you didn’t have to hear it from someone else. Winry’s pregnant. Man, the sex is crazy but so are the mood swings. I’ve got so many lumps on my head, I feel like I’m walking around with a permanent concussion. We’ll all be coming back east in time for the baby to be born. Figure it’d give Gracia and Elicia a chance to see Winry and ooh and ahh over the baby.
We’re thinking about Xing next; Ling’s been asking us to come. It’d be nice to see that stupid prince again and see how he’s doing. I’ll bet, the way he eats, he’s as big as a house now.
There were some words scribbled out, then, in a different color of ink, Edward had written, I don’t regret what you and I had. It was good, for both of us. But I think we both know we would’ve never stayed together. He could almost make out the words under the scribble, managing to pick out, both waiting - wanting? someone else.
The final sentences were clear. I learned too much, watching you. Don’t put off your own happiness, Roy. If you wait too long, you could lose it.
Roy folded the letter, slipping it back in its envelope. He stood in the hallway of his neat, ordered, little house, imagining it when Edward was here. Even then, the young man barely made an impression on the actual living space, though his voice had rung through the rooms. Roy considered for a long, long minute, slapping the envelope in the palm of his hand repeatedly then went to the telephone, hesitating for a second before dialing a number.
It rang three times before she spoke and Roy smiled at the sound of her gentle voice saying ‘hello’. “I know it’s very short notice, Gracia, but what are you doing tonight?”
* * *