pandora_culpa: (Ed golden eye)
[personal profile] pandora_culpa
Title: The Prices We Pay
Characters: Roy, Ed, cameo by Hawkeye
Word Count: 13639 (just a little too short for Big Bang, dernit!)
Rating: R (warnings for gore, and major manga spoilers for chapters 76-77, maybe a little before and after that as well. Please read responsibly.)
Summary: Only life is equivalent to another life.
A/N: The conclusion to the story- please read part 1 first!

Part 1



For a moment, Roy couldn't even think; a roaring sound filling his ears and swamping his senses. Too many emotions to process tumbled through his mind in a jumble, leaving him shaking and numb, but the impact remained, the punch-to-the-gut, sickening feeling that came over him as he absorbed the understanding of what Ed had done.

At the foot of the bed, Ed watched him with eyes that held no trace of denial or artifice, and Roy wondered in mute agony how he could sit there, without any fanfare or theatrics, as though what he'd said were of no consequence. The Colonel searched the young man's expression, finding no trace of the reproach he'd assumed would be there, and passed a shaky hand over his face, desperate to retain the mask of calm he always wore. But it had been cleanly stripped away, leaving him achingly exposed to the unforgiving truth.

“How could you do that to yourself?” he finally found voice to whisper, horrified. “Instead of putting yourself in danger, why didn't you let me die?”

Ed gave him a wide eyed stare that suggested he'd lost his mind. “What the hell makes you think I'm the kind of person who lets people die?” he exclaimed. “And I already told you, you don't get the luxury of dying. Not while I'm around.”

Pain and guilt stabbed through him. “Your life, Ed. I never wanted to take that from you.”

Gold eyes narrowed, angrily, perhaps, but Roy didn't trust himself to define the emotion that smoldered there. “Yeah, my life,” Ed snapped. “Mine to use how I want, and you were fucking dying, Mustang. I wasn't just gonna stand by and watch.” Abruptly his expression softened, although the corners of his mouth drew tight. “You'd have done the same thing.”

“I couldn't have done the same thing. I doubt anyone could.” Brilliant, a genius, and how could Ed not see that he was so much more valuable than a broken, worn out soldier? “You gave me part of yourself,” Roy insisted. “You gave it to me, but it feels like something I have no right to. How can I ever find something equivalent-”

Ed sighed. “It's not always about equivalence, Mustang.”

“It has to be! I can't...” Everything was coming apart; the situation, his control... Roy took a deep breath, closing his eyes briefly and reaching for the equilibrium that had always been his to command. Slowly, his heart calmed its frenzied patter behind his ribs, and each successive breath came easier until he finally felt steady enough to continue. Opening his eyes, he tried again.

“You're not the kind of person who can be replaced, Edward. There's no one else with your abilities or intellect, let alone your morals.” He paused, mind floundering to find the right words. “What I am... Ed, I'm expendable.”

Ed's face darkened, and Roy tried to pull away in alarm as the smaller man lunged forward and grabbed his shirt in rough fists. “Expendable?” Ed spat, shaking him, hard . “Fuck you, do you really think like that? No one is expendable. No one is replaceable. Someone else might be able to do your job, but people can't be substituted.” He let go abruptly and Roy fell back onto his pillows, mouth slack with surprise. But before he could even think of a response Ed was snarling, fingers curling in the air as though he longed to shake him again. “What the hell is wrong with you, that you don't think your own goddamn life has enough value to be worth saving?”

Unnerved and confused, Roy tried to take refuge in the authoritative tone that had always served him well in the office. “You shouldn't have risked yourself. You could have died doing this.”

Somewhat belatedly, he realized that that had never impressed Edward. “Maybe I was okay with that,” the young man retorted, his jaw set in a belligerent expression that Roy knew all too well. It was a gauntlet Ed had thrown down at him so many times before that his response was nearly automatic.

“Now you're the one with a death wish?” Roy regretted the words as soon as they emerged, watching how the young man stiffened, eyes flaring, and hastened to add, “Ed, you are undeniably brilliant, but I can't imagine any situation that would allow you to know exactly how much life you have to spare. Just a little too much spent, and it's over.”

“I knew what I was doing,” Ed snapped, as if the Colonel were suggesting he was incompetent to make simple decisions, but Roy would never make another disparaging comment to him again, if only he'd understand the seriousness of this...

“Do you think that Al would find my life an equivalent trade for yours?”

Ed froze, mouth hanging open as the rant that had been building crumbled on his lips. For the first time that afternoon, he looked uncertain. “That's not the point...”

“You don't think so?” Roy leaned forward, scenting an advantage. “One miscalculation, and that's all he'd be left with. And what about all the other people who care about you? All we ever wanted, Edward, was for you to succeed so that you and Alphonse could live normal lives. Long, happy ones, we'd hoped, to make up for how you had to grow up. Not... not with pieces taken away from it for someone like- if it was for Alphonse...”

“Would you rather be dead?” Ed cried suddenly, his hands gripped in fists on his knees, arms shaking. There was open pain in the question, shimmering in the bright eyes that were locked on his own and as strong as the anger that burned beside it, and looking into that fire Roy thought he at last recognized the emotion that had hung between them. A mirror to his own, and who'd have thought Ed...

It was suddenly hard to breathe again. “I would rather you were whole,” he choked out quietly, heart in his throat. “Ed... Haven't you had enough tragedy in your life without taking on more?”

“You don't get it, do you?” Ed said bitterly, breaking his gaze away to glare down at the bedsheets. “You think it would somehow have been less of a tragedy for me to watch you bleed out? You think I want that?”

Roy just watched him, aching and sad and painfully grateful to the young alchemist. “I think at this point, I don't know what you want.”

“Still fishing, you bastard.” Ed grumbled without looking up, clearly unwilling to meet Roy's eyes. “When did you ever give up on me?” he asked with gruff exasperation. “Fuck... you've been there for years, and you...” A fist pounded the mattress once in frustration as Ed swore to himself. “Things wouldn't be the same without... I wouldn't be the same...” He stopped, brows knotted together, then closed his eyes in resignation.

“I need you here,” he finished simply.

And that really was the heart of things, for both of them, wasn't it?

~*~*~


Fuck, there it was. Out in the open, ripe for contempt or mockery, and Ed had no one to blame but himself. All of the pithy, expedient answers he'd dreamed up over the past few weeks, and he had to go and blurt out the pesky grain of truth he'd discovered, and hoped never to bring to light. It was too strange a thing to admit, it upset the balance they'd worked out long ago, and Roy- Mustang, dammit!- would never let him hear the end of it...

Only the Colonel wasn't making fun of him. The Colonel wasn't saying anything; he was just sitting there, and Ed wanted to open his eyes and glare at him, only that would mean actually looking at him, and he really wasn't ready for that yet.

But the longer the silence dragged on, the more it gnawed at Ed, until he finally turned and gave Mustang the glare he'd been longing to deliver. A snarl curled his lips, but it died unuttered as he met the candor in those dark eyes. Mustang was watching him, every mask and barrier down, his face utterly disarmed and he looked...

Damn it, he looked completely freaked out.

“The fuck, Mustang?” he grumbled, shifting back on the bed and drawing his knees up to his chest to hide his discomfort. “Can't think of a good comeback?”

Roy blinked, his face smoothing but not closing in the slightest. A sigh slid away from his lips, and he slumped back against his pillows as though too tired to sit upright any longer. One hand began to motion vaguely, then fell back to the bed as the Colonel seemed to lose the train of what he was trying to say. All the while his eyes remained locked on Ed's, and uncomfortable as he was, he couldn't look away.

Finally Roy's hand lifted again, shaking just a little, and pointed at Ed's chest. “As soon as I'm better,” he said in a voice whose sternness was betrayed by the thin quaver that ran through it, “you are going to draw that array you used to heal me so that I can learn it.”

Shock slammed through him, alarm bells ringing in his mind; he'd never expected... “What the fuck do you think-” he started to exclaim, but Mustang cut him off.

“Do you really think,” the other man snapped, “that you're the only one who feels that way? After all this time? I know you're smarter than that!” He ducked his head, but not before Ed saw the fierce expression that flickered across Roy's features. “I may not be the genius that you are, but I can damn well learn an array. As reckless as you can be on your missions...” Roy paused, swallowed. “You don't get to die either, Fullmetal. I won't allow it.”

“Fucking oneupmanship now, is it?” Ed grumbled, but some of the constriction in his chest eased.

Mustang smirked at him, though his eyes remained warm. “I always pay my debts,” he grinned, then sobered abruptly. “Ed... I'm serious. I wouldn't...” His voice foundered, the intent writ clear on his face even as his words failed, and recognizing the emotion shaking him, Ed took pity on the man.

“You just need someone to keep your damn head from outgrowing Headquarters,” he grumbled with as much snap as he could manage which, under the circumstances, wasn't all that much. But Roy's weak smile went a long way toward making him think that maybe, they could adjust to this new acknowledgment of each other's worth. It even felt kind of good, in a weird way. Not that he needed the bastard's respect; he'd been getting along without it for years without any problem.

But it was nice, all the same.

“So...” Ed cocked his head to the side, brushing aside the bangs that fell in his face at the motion. “When are you getting your lazy ass back to work?”

Roy's laughter at the question broke off into a hissing wheeze; his wound, although healing, was still tender, and Ed winced in sympathy at the quick pull of pain on Roy's face. Gathering his breath, the Colonel gave a rueful grin. “As soon as possible, I expect,” he replied. “Although all the paperwork that has surely built up is liable to present a far greater danger to me than that chimera ever did.”

This was familiar, more like what they'd always had. Snorting in mock exasperation, Ed rolled his eyes skyward. “More like Hawkeye's gun, once she catches you slacking off after the day or so it takes you to get tired of being back.”

“Mm,” Mustang said, possibly in argument, maybe agreement. “I don't know, I may have developed a newfound appreciation for desk work.”

“Yeah, you're clearly not cut out for fieldwork,” Ed retorted, eyes twinkling. “You just make messes that I have to come along and clean up...”

“Ed...” Roy sat up abruptly, still holding his side, making Ed's words hang in his throat as he wondered if the jibe had somehow overstepped. But the Colonel reached out to lay a heavy hand on his arm, staring up at him with fathomless dark eyes, and the thought arose again that Roy had almost been gone, and what would he have ever done then...?

“I don't know that I ever said it properly before now,” Roy said, his voice quiet but intense, “but even if it's hard to accept what you did, I owe you my life, and I will never forget that. I doubt I'll ever have the means to repay you, but my sincerest gratitude... I will always be grateful...” He broke off, the hand on Ed's arm tightening as he took a shaky breath. “Edward. Thank you.”

All the pride, all the arrogance and cunning that Ed was accustomed to seeing in Mustang's face were gone. What remained was open and thankful, and for one ridiculous second Ed thought how he'd always wanted to see the Colonel like this; no longer impervious, but unguarded, humbled. But in the next instant he'd banished the childish notion. It didn't matter. None of it did, except that they were both here, and alive, and it was just that simple.

The smile that grew on his face was easy, as natural as the one he'd worn while he lounged in the doorway watching Roy think. That was simple, too. “Just live,” he told him. “Keep on living, and being a bastard. That's all I want.”

The smirk put in a brief reappearance, and there was a hint of challenge in Roy's voice as he replied, “I think I can manage that, so long as you promise to do the same.”

Shit, you're demanding!” Ed rolled his eyes in mock exasperation, listening with quiet amusement as Roy chuckled in response before finally acceding, “Yeah, fine, whatever. Fuckin' bastard.”

There were a few moments of comfortable silence between them then, Roy studying him contemplatively while Ed pretended not to see him at all, before Mustang finally broke it with a sigh. “You know,” he said, in that deliberately innocuous tone that Ed knew damn well meant the man was up to something, “I never did ask how you got me out of there.”

Ed gave him a sharp look, to mask the quick roil of embarrassment in his stomach. “Fuckin' full of questions today, aren't you?” he growled, but Roy only smiled back and really, after everything else, this wasn't so much to explain.

“Well,” he drawled after a moment's pause, “you were in really bad shape, you know. Bad enough I wasn't sure if I could move you at all, let alone carry you out. An' there was no way you would've lasted 'til I could get help down to you, even with what I'd done.

“So I thought that what we really needed was an elevator, something to lift us right up from underground, and get us up to street level. Up there, we'd find help, no problem, right?”

Roy looked confused. “You didn't transmute an elevator. There'd be no way of powering it.”

“Right. But that's what gave me the idea...” Ed leaned back, knowing he was going to catch hell for this one. “Instead I, uh, kinda pulled down the walls and ceiling. Used that material to create a pillar that lifted us up through the hole it left. Dumped us right out on Cory Street, actually, maybe a block or two from the hospital, so that was pretty damn lucky.”

Eyes widening, Roy gaped like a fish for a moment, clearly taken completely off guard. “You opened up a hole in the middle of Cory Street? What if something had been above us, like, I don't know, a car, or a building? What would have happened then?”

“Fuck if I know!” Ed shot back, having had the same thoughts since then. It could have been a disaster. He rubbed the back of his neck, averting his gaze. “I might have been just a little, uh, freaked out at the time.”

Roy was staring at him as if he were certifiably insane. Might as well go on and tell the rest in that case. “Anyway, it caused enough of a commotion that a patrol came by pretty quick after we got to the surface, and they called for backup, and an ambulance once they saw you. And then they really started in on me, screaming about me causing all that damage and interfering with the city's infrastructure, and a whole lot of other bullshit I couldn't even follow since by then I was about to pass out too.”

Mustang's expression had passed beyond incredulity now; he had one hand clamped over his mouth, and if his eyes bulged out any farther they were going to fall right out of his head. Just knowing that the tirade that was building was going to be a doozy, Ed figured he'd better just get the rest of it out of the way before the Colonel started reaming him for not thinking, and creating a situation that was sure to reflect badly upon him.

“Might not have been the best thing to do, but I shoved my watch in their faces, told them to shut the fuck up and call in Major Armstrong to fix things up all pretty again. Those guys must be a new breed of recruit or something, because they actually did all of that. And after that... I don't really know, because I passed out, and woke up later in the same room as you. Which is why I was being treated for exhaustion as well.” He sighed, staring at his feet and bracing himself for what was to come. “You know all the rest.”

A sound kind of like a wheeze caught his ears, and he glanced back up at Roy. The Colonel was red in the face, hand still pressed against his mouth, but his whole body was trembling, and Ed didn't think he'd ever seen the man so mad. “Look,” he said, holding one hand out, “I'm sorry, okay? I was just scared as hell that you weren't gonna make it no matter what I'd done, and-”

He didn't make it any further, as a sudden bark of laughter broke from behind the Colonel's restraining hand. Within seconds, Roy ceased struggling to keep it contained, throwing his head back and laughing until he was clutching his side, hissing with pain but still unable to keep the guffaws under control, and with a start Ed realized that what he'd taken for barely-contained fury was, in fact, the opposite.

“You...” Roy breathed, fighting back the laughter that spilled around his words, “you opened up a goddamn crater in the middle of Cory Street? A-and then left it to Major Armstrong to clean up?”

Unbidden, a chuckle crept out of Ed's own throat. “Yeah,” he admitted, then added, “Bet there are little mustached statues everywhere now.”

Roy absolutely howled with mirth, tears rolling down his cheeks, and Ed soon joined in without reservation. The laughter poured out of them, a catharsis of all the anxiety they'd both held inside during the months since the incident.

And looking at it this way, Ed thought about how easy his choice had really been. How he'd do it again in a heartbeat, if ever faced with the necessity, because anything else was unthinkable. Because sitting here with Roy, both of them laughing their damned heads off over the massive destruction he'd caused in the wake of near-tragedy, and the absurdity of the whole thing, was the second best feeling he'd ever had in his entire life, topped only by the day he'd held Al, whole and human, in his arms again.

If he hadn't spent a piece of himself down in those tunnels, if Roy had died down there, this could never have happened. And now the future lay wide open; days like this, and others he hadn't even imagined yet, possible because of the choice he'd made. He may not have understood the implications at the time, but it was coming clearer with every minute, and if it took years for understanding to come in its fullness, well... he had the time to wait now. They both did. As Roy reached out, clutching Ed's arm in an effort to keep himself upright in his amusement, Ed knew with a fierce burst of joy that he would never regret what he'd done. It had been worth every day he gave away, to have this moment.
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September 2011

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