pandora_culpa: (Ed golden eye)
[personal profile] pandora_culpa
Title: Two Of Us
Author: [livejournal.com profile] pandoraculpa
Betas: the exceedingly brilliant and patient [livejournal.com profile] evil_whimsey, [livejournal.com profile] artemisrae, ever kind and helpful , and consultation on medical details from the lovely [livejournal.com profile] beautiful_fic
Artists: the very talented [livejournal.com profile] bob_fish
Genre: Drama, Romance
Word Count: Um, a lot? Over 54,000; a more accurate count will be amended later
Rating: PG-13
Pairing/Characters: Ed/OCs, Roy/OC, Roy/Ed
Summary: After recovering from being gored by a chimera, Roy has to adjust to many changes in his life- especially his relationship with Edward. A sequel to The Prices We Pay.

Written for the [livejournal.com profile] fma_big_bang. This turned out to be much, much longer than I'd anticipated, and so for everyone's sake (including my own), I will post Part 1 (which will encompass three LJ posts) today, and the second part will come in a day or two. Also, many, many thanks to my betas, and to [livejournal.com profile] bob_fish for her splendid artwork! The illustrations are embedded within the story, but please do go and tell her what wonderful work she has done- she deserves all kinds of praise! But please be careful, if you haven't read the fic yet, as her art post contains spoilers for the story.

Sorry for not getting it all up in one go, but I'm about frazzled. At any rate, I hope you enjoy the fic!




If there was one thing that Roy was fairly certain Edward would always do, it was surprise him.

“I need tomorrow off,” Ed demanded, not with the surly petulance he'd exhibited in the past, but with a stoic face and quiet insistence that made the older man frown in confusion.

“Tomorrow is your physical evaluation,” he replied slowly, resting his chin on his hand. “It's been scheduled for two months. If there was an issue, it really should have been brought up before now.”

The young man shifted restlessly before his desk, pale brows drawn down into a scowl. “I didn't know there was going to be a problem,” he stated. “This kinda came up unexpectedly.”

Roy sighed. “I'm sorry, Fullmetal, but my hands are honestly tied on this one. Can't you postpone whatever is happening tomorrow instead?”

Ed made a snarling kind of face, but it wasn't directed at him. A gloved hand crept up to rub the back of his neck, just beneath the heavy blond braid, as though Ed was somewhat embarrassed by what he was thinking. “Wish I could,” he grumbled, looking everywhere but at Roy. “It'd make things a hell of a lot easier.”

“What is happening tomorrow?” Roy inquired, thinking that perhaps a word or two on the young man's behalf might settle the conflict, and the uneasy light in Ed's eyes. He'd never have thought to offer such a thing in the past, being unwilling to face down Fullmetal's overblown indignation more than necessary, but his relations with the alchemist had changed dramatically ever since Ed had saved his life. And while Ed was still easily the most volatile personality in the office, if not Roy's life in general, mutual respect had brought them into a much closer working relationship, and he no longer deemed it necessary to withhold his desire to assist.

But Ed kept staring at the floor, shuffling his feet and unwilling to meet his eyes. Finally, as if realizing he wasn't going to get away without some kind of response, he muttered sullenly, “I'm being evicted.”

*****


Experiments in the basement. Loud noises at odd hours, strange smells, and cursing that could peel the paint.

Looked at in that light, it was a wonder that Edward hadn't been evicted before now.

“So I need tomorrow off,” Ed explained, not at all repentant for the minor explosions and noxious fumes he'd unleashed on the private housing sector, “so I can find a new place to live. And I guess I'll have to find some place to put all my shit in the meantime, which means getting storage somewhere...” His forehead furrowed, golden eyes abstracted and Roy was sure he was pondering cheap hotels and empty warehouses. A genius, a prodigy; a man who had faced things at twelve that men three times his age couldn't cope with; he had plucked Roy from the jaws of death at the cost of a part of his own life, and the idea of Edward being homeless or even considering squatting in an abandoned building was simply beyond the pale.

“Why don't you stay with me until you've found a new place?” The offer was extended before he even realized he'd thought it. Upon further examination, he still couldn't think of a more satisfactory response.

But Ed gave him an odd, defensive look. “This isn't about... all that, is it?” he asked warily.

That. Fullmetal's charmingly euphemistic description of personal self-sacrifice, and the enormous debt that Roy owed him.

“I'd be lying if I said that didn't figure in, at least a little,” Roy told him, watching as Ed's eyes darkened a little. “But regardless, I don't think I could let you go without a place to stay. It's no trouble, you've seen that I have plenty of space, and you're more than welcome to the spare room. Besides,” he added with a sly grin, “my basement is already set up as a lab.”

Ed huffed in irritation, but the end of the day found them in Roy's car, the backseat and trunk stuffed with books and clothing, and the odd, sentimental knickknacks Ed had picked up in his travels. A receipt clutched in a steel fist held an appointment for the delivery of his furniture the next evening, and a steady rasping monologue was already informing Roy that he'd be paid rent by the third of every month, that Ed would provide meals twice a week as well as paying half the groceries, and that he'd be doing his own damned laundry, what did Ed look like, his personal fucking housemaid?

And so Roy Mustang found himself living with Edward Elric.

*****


“I need to use the phone- privately,” Ed told him when they entered the house. There was a slight flush to his cheeks, but his gaze was steady and challenging. Roy set down the suitcase he was carrying, nodding in understanding as he kicked off his shoes.

“Go ahead. I'll put on a pot of coffee.”

“That shit's not good for your fucked up liver,” Ed admonished, even as he began trotting toward the study. Roy watched him go with an indulgent smile before turning for the kitchen, still a little bemused over the revelation.

Edward was seeing someone.

When the young alchemist mentioned it on the drive over, for one instant Roy had been so taken aback he could barely think. But in the next instant, he was just as surprised that he hadn't foreseen such a thing. With Alphonse restored and no major disasters looming before him, why shouldn't Fullmetal be dating? He was the right age for it. Past due actually; remembering the raging urgency of adolescent hormones, Roy wondered if their suppression had played a role in Edward's hyper-aggressive youth. Chuckling to himself, he pulled out the percolator and began filling it. At least the young man was working it out of his system now, and he wished Fullmetal's girlfriends the best of luck keeping up with him.

After about ten minutes Ed reappeared, the edges of his mouth curled up into a smile that only barely managed to refrain from being giddy. The light was dancing in his gold eyes, and he shot Roy a smirk that he had probably learned from the Colonel himself before letting himself out to finish unloading the car. Shaking his head, Roy tried to remember when he had last felt that kind of innocent thrill over a new interest. Far too long, he decided, filling a pair of mugs with coffee. Work had long ago subsumed the majority of his life, and his recent recovery hadn't left him in much state to resume even his casual dating. Perhaps it was time to follow Ed's lead, however, and pull out the black book again, try to find a lady whose company he could appreciate, and some of that happy excitement he saw in Fullmetal's eyes.

If nothing else, it would keep Edward from giving him hell over staying in on Friday nights.

He heard the door open, bang closed again, and then Fullmetal's heavy tread up the stairs. For having lived in that apartment for nearly two years after restoring Al, the young man had accumulated very little; the furniture aside, almost everything he owned had fit in the car. Despite knowing very well why he would live such a spartan existence, Roy couldn't help but feel as though it displayed a barrenness to Edward's life that couldn't be farther from the truth. Perhaps having a girlfriend would help the him accept that he could have a home now...

A myriad of thumps heralded Edward's approach, and seconds later the young alchemist sauntered into the kitchen with a jaunty grin that melted into a frown at the sight of the two mugs steaming on the table. “I told you, you shouldn't be drinking that shit,” he growled, reaching out to snag the closest mug. “You're gonna hurt later.”

Roy shrugged, taking up his own mug and cradling it in his palms. “It's worth it. And I've cut down. Only a couple of times a week, or for special occasions.” He winked, trying hard to appear sincere. “See, I do listen to you and my doctor.”

Ed cocked an eyebrow at him, and Roy smirked back, lifting the mug in salute. “You're so full of shit,” Ed stated, then shrugged and took a sip of coffee. “Well, it's your gut. Don't cry to me when it starts cramping.”

“I have tablets to help metabolize it,” Roy informed him, then said in aggrieved tones, “Besides, I'm going to be taking the damn medicine for the rest of my life, so I might as well make use of it. It would be cruel to ask me to give up my coffee completely.”

“Consequences of being a dumbass,” Ed told him without a shred of pity, taking another deep swig, the shit. “You're supposed to know better than letting yourself end up on the wrong end of a chimera's tusks.”

“That wasn't by design,” Roy retorted, waiting until Ed had the mug to his lips again before slyly adding, “I was simply the bigger target.”

Bingo- spit-take. Score one for Team Mustang. Coffee dripping from his lips, Ed glared at him over the mug, eyes ablaze and bellowing, “Who the fuck are you calling so small an ant would need a microscope to see him?”

“Well, the chimera saw me,” Mustang drawled casually, taking another sip of coffee and chuckling at Ed's show of indignation. But the display was short-lived; the young man was used to Roy's playful barbs, and soon he was simply glaring at him with baleful amusement from over the rim of his mug.

“You really are a fucking bastard,” he grumbled.

*****


There was no shortage of bets on the outcome of Roy and Ed's living situation. Despite the undercurrent of respect and friendship that had grown up between the two, teasing and fighting was a part of their dynamic and, everyone was convinced, sure to cause friction between them now that they were sharing a house. Speculation ran from who was going to be the first one to come in bitching about an annoying personal habit of the other (won by Breda, who was aware of Edward's tendency to kick his boots off anywhere, and the Colonel's obsessive tidiness), to what their first argument would be about (Havoc; whose turn to wash dishes), to the consequences of that argument (won by Fuery, who also ended up letting Ed sleep on his couch overnight).

But overall, the transition to housemates went very smoothly. And it wasn't as though Edward was a bad guest. He was just... particular, and after spending years raising and taking care of Alphonse, not to mention nearly half a year running Roy's life during his convalescence, it wasn't all that surprising that he was inclined to take charge. Despite the disparity of their ages, and the minor fact that Roy owned the house, the Colonel found himself neatly slotted into the role of 'younger brother', enduring Ed's well-intentioned expectations, demands, and his general, benevolent tyranny of the home.

Perhaps he'd become accustomed to Edward's manner while he was still recovering from his wounds, but Roy found that he didn't really mind all that much. The conversation, the debates, even the brief arguments that flared between them were ample exchange for any inconvenience Ed's presence brought. After honing his mind against that of a genius every day, Roy was nearly bored with his former challenges at work; military committee debates were clumsy, ill-formed arguments that he could subtly turn in his favor with almost embarrassing ease, recalcitrant Generals were placated and mollified, and quite often convinced of his suggestions. Beside a mind as bright and quick as Edward's, everyone else seemed hopelessly dull.

And there was also the small fact that, for the first time in the years since Maes' death, Roy was having fun.

*****


It had been a nice evening. Ed was out, as he often was recently, and Roy had decided to make the most of the quiet. A light dinner, his gramophone playing in the next room, and afterward he'd gone so far as to indulge in a small glass of brandy, drunk down quickly while he cast guilty glances toward the door. Just a small one wouldn't hurt, his body could handle it, and what Ed didn't know wouldn't leave Roy bruised.

Now, slouched comfortably across the length of the sofa with a cup of tea in easy reach, Roy relaxed into the normalcy of what used to be his evening routine. Shaking open the newspaper, he began to read, and his mind was quickly embroiled in gleaning tidbits of useful information from the articles. Separating fact from spin, or finding the kernel of truth through what wasn't said wasn't a simple job, but he found it oddly satisfying and often even amusing. Not to mention, every once in a while what he learned gave him the edge in a game of political maneuvering. Humming absently to himself, he turned a page, and began scanning the local news.

He'd made it as far as the editorials before a key rattled in the lock of the front door, and mismatched footsteps in the hall heralded Ed's approach. The young man stalked into the room with an irritable twist to his lips, cast a disgruntled eye at the Colonel and immediately headed for the sofa. “Move it,” he growled, using one heel to hook around the older man's ankles and pull them off the sofa's edge before Roy could recover.

“Hey!” Roy protested, laying the paper aside and pushing himself up. “I was sitting there.”

“You don't need the whole thing,” Ed told him, settling in like a cat and making himself comfortable. The presumption irked Roy for some ambiguous reason, and he leaned forward to shove the young man's shoulder, trying to shift him from his stolen seat.

“Well, I was here first,” he griped, aware as he spoke of how childish he sounded. “Besides, aren't you home early?”

Ed growled, and shoved back, hard enough to cause Roy to flail to keep from being spilled into the floor. “We had an argument,” he snapped, scrambling a little to keep his place on the cushion as Roy tried again to push him away. “And what are you, my keeper? What the fuck does it matter, when I get home? Dammit, Mustang, stop pushing!”

Both hands occupied with trying to evict Ed from the sofa, Roy gave him a grim smile. “You started it,” he stated, and Ed gave a wordless snarl. For a few moments the two scuffled furiously for territory, finally ending up positioned shoulder to shoulder in the center of the couch, neither one conceding an inch of space to the other. Ed shot a challenging glare up at Roy, then broke into a wicked grin. “Looks like we'll have to share.”

“Hmph.” How had he ended up being made to look like the immature one here? He made a point of staring down his nose at his smaller housemate, relenting when Ed started to chuckle at his behavior. “I suppose I'll let you stay, this time. But you really ought to learn some diplomacy, Fullmetal.”

“That shit's no fun,” Ed commented, twisting around so that he could rest all his weight on Roy's shoulder, and slinging his legs to hang over the sofa's arm. Roy tried to elbow him in the ribs, but Ed twisted, avoiding the blow. “Hey, bastard, be nice!”

“I'm not your cushion,” Roy mock-growled, eyeing his newspaper and wondering how he could grab it again without losing his hard-earned space. Ed just huffed, leaning back farther, and Roy contemplated moving suddenly just to watch the younger man sprawl at the loss of his support. But deciding that would probably only result in losing the little space he'd managed to hang onto, he settled back as well, using Ed as a his own backrest.

They sat propped against one another in silence for a few minutes, until curiosity and boredom prompted Roy to ask, “What did you argue about?”

Ed snorted. “That's private, isn't it?”

The Colonel held his hands up, despite that Edward couldn't see the gesture. “Not trying to pry,” he said, “but you brought it up. Just thought you might want to talk about it.”

“Nothing to talk about.” Ed grumbled, the hard metal of his automail port pressing uncomfortably against Roy's back as the young man squirmed in his seat. “She's being unreasonable.”

Unreasonable by whose standards? Roy wanted to ask, but he was well aware what kind of reception that would earn. Instead, he made a quiet, noncommittal sound. “Reason and emotion aren't always compatible,” he mused aloud. “And young women especially tend to think more with their hearts than their heads, at least when it comes to their relationships.”

“I thought she understood,” Ed groused, still shifting on the cushion until Roy's back started to protest the abuse. “I'm busy, military work isn't easy, and it's not like I don't spend as much time with her as I'm able. But sometimes I need some time to myself too. That's not too much to ask, right? I give her all the space she wants, when she asks. What she's asking for isn't equivalent at all!”

Roy shook his head, silently amused. “Ed, you can give up the idea of equivalence right now. Equivalence and relationships don't comfortably coexist. By nature, a relationship tends to be unequal, whether by who sacrifices more, or who loves the most.”

“So now you're a relationship counselor.” Ed sounded amused, and faintly bitter. “That's some shit advice, Mustang.”

“Doesn't make it any less true.” Roy grunted, trying to escape the painful prosthetic grinding against his scapula and Ed obligingly moved so he could straighten. “A truly equal partnership is a rare thing.”

“Kinda kills the point of being in a relationship, if things are so fucked,” Ed growled, settling back against Roy once the older man had gotten comfortable. “What's so appealing about it, if things aren't fair?”

“I didn't say things weren't fair,” he corrected. “I said they were unequal. Take Maes and Gracia for example...”

“Perfect couple,” Ed said immediately, and Roy chuckled.

“You'd think so, wouldn't you?”

Ed twisted abruptly, nearly bowling Roy over. “Don't tell me-”

Roy shook his head. “It's not about a lack of love or understanding,” he explained. “The two of them had a wonderful and successful marriage. But it wasn't equal.”

“How do you figure?” Ed demanded. “There wasn't anything to suggest there was any inequality between them.”

He tilted his head back, looking upward at the ceiling as he replied. “Maes loved Gracia to distraction. There was nothing he wouldn't do for her, nothing he wouldn't sacrifice. She was his world.”

“Mrs. Hughes loved him too!” Roy stifled a chuckle at Ed's indignation, instead nodding in agreement.

“Of course she did. But the depth of it wasn't the same. Edward, in every relationship, there is someone who loves more, and someone who must give more. Maes loved Gracia intensely, but she was the one who had to balance that love. And she was the one who had to bend, to accommodate him and his job, to make the marriage work.”

Ed cast a disgusted, sidelong gaze over his shoulder. “That doesn't sound right. How could someone accept being loved less than they love? And wouldn't always being the one who had to compromise make a person resentful?”

“Like I said,” Roy explained, “you can get rid of any notions of equivalence. This isn't science, Edward. It doesn't have to be a balanced equation. Love makes it work, regardless of the difficulties. If you love, you simply want the other person to be happy, and the rest doesn't matter.”

“That's stupid,” Ed declared, and Roy could feel the shift of muscles across his back as the younger man crossed his arms. “Whoever I settle down with, it won't work like that.”

Roy let the laugh out this time and gave into his impulse to lean for the newspaper, spilling Edward over backwards onto the cushions with a yelp. “We'll see,” he said, folding the paper neatly and dodging the uncoordinated punch Ed threw from his sprawl.

“No you won't,” Ed snarled, pushing himself upright once more, “'cause you won't be there! Fucking bastard...”

*****


Ed's relationship didn't last long after that.

“I was working,” Ed stated, waving a sudsy plate for emphasis. “It's not like I can say, oh, hey, General, I can't go on that mission 'cause my girlfriend has a dinner party planned. It's not my fault!”

“It's a special kind of woman who can tolerate living with a career military man,” Roy agreed, rescuing the plate before it fell victim to Ed's vehemence. “It takes a lot of patience and understanding.”

Ed made a face at him. “Fuck, I'm not career. I told her that, too, told her that one day I wouldn't have to put up with being sent all over the fucking world to wipe other people's asses for them, and then I could go to any goddamn party she wanted. You think she heard a word of it?” He slammed a fist down on the counter, and Roy sighed for the fate of his kitchen. “No, she wanted me to fuckin' resign, so she could show me off to her idiot friends!”

Roy nodded in understanding. “It sounds as though, in the long run, this was for the best then. If she couldn't respect your situation...”

“That's what I'm talking about! Respect! Fuck, I didn't give her shit when she had plans! I didn't fuckin' hound her for details, either! I mean, shit, it's not like I was in love with her or anything, but...”

He threw a plate into the sink, and Roy winced as he heard the distinctive snap of breaking porcelain. Ed had the decency to immediately shut up, looking abashed as he fished the shards from the water.

“Fuck, I didn't mean to do that,” he muttered, face red and eyes downcast. “Shouldn't be taking this out on your dishes, it just makes me so mad...” Placing the remnants on the counter, Ed clapped his hands and blue light crackled as the broken pieces merged seamlessly together. Shoving the restored plate into Roy's hands, Ed snatched up the drying cloth and wiped his hands before stomping for the back door.

“I'm going for a walk,” he growled, still not meeting Roy's eyes. “I'll finish the washing up after I cool off. Sorry.”

The door slammed at his back, and Roy stared after the young man with a slight frown. No matter what Ed claimed, it was plain to see that the failure with his girlfriend hurt him. As was to be expected; no one was immune to the sting of defeat when emotion was invested. And Ed had always felt things so keenly; this breakup had to cut him deep. What a shame the foolish girl hadn't realized what she was losing.

Glancing down at the plate in his hands, Roy quirked a grin at the gargoyle faces scowling back up at him from beneath the glaze. “I suppose this is Ed's place setting now,” he commented to the empty room, and carefully stacked it in the cupboard before taking his housemate's abandoned place at the sink.

*****


He was drowsing in front of the fire, sleepily debating whether or not he was ready to face the climb up the stairs to his bed, when the creak of floorboards informed him that Ed was back. He looked up as the young man entered the room, his face still red from exposure to the nighttime chill and his movements subdued. But there was a measure of calm in his eyes now, and it pleased Roy to see it.

“Hey,” he greeted, and Ed nodded back.

“Hey,” he replied. Then, “You didn't have to wash the dishes. I said I'd do it.”

Roy shrugged, his eyelids drooping once more. “You needed to blow off steam. I didn't mind.”

Ed's mouth tightened as though he was about to argue, but he let it go, a reluctant smile curling his lips. “Yeah, well. Thanks. I owe you one.”

“You don't owe me anything,” Roy corrected through a yawn, stretching and rising with slow grace. “That's what friends do.”

“Yeah,” Ed agreed after a moment. The firelight caught in his eyes, filling them with warmth that hadn't been there before, and Roy couldn't help but notice how tired he looked. He laid a comforting hand on the smaller man's shoulder as he moved past him in the doorway.

“Try to get some rest,” he encouraged, and Ed nodded slowly.

“Yeah,” he said again, his voice quiet and dull. “I'm just gonna warm up first.”

Ed settled on the floor in front of the fireplace, staring into the flames, and Roy sighed as he mounted the stairs. The first heartbreaks were always the worst, though they never truly improved. But Ed was resilient; he'd bounce back. And surely there were any number of young women out there who'd be willing to take his mind off this failed affair. Ed wasn't a child; he didn't need Roy to hold his hand through a breakup.

He'll be fine, he told himself as he crawled gratefully into his bed. He's stronger than you, after all.

But he couldn't help the vague resentment that coursed through him as he drifted off, that someone would cause Edward any hurt. Didn't they realize what they had?

*****


As Roy predicted, it didn't take Ed long to recover from his heartache. About a week after the incident the young man came home late sporting a couple visible bite marks on his neck, and a shit-eating grin, and Roy sent up silent thanks that his companion had obviously gotten over things in the time-honored tradition of men everywhere: by getting laid.

After several more weeks passed, in a household that was increasingly empty as Ed's newest relationship blossomed, Roy came to the conclusion that perhaps he was overdue for a dose of the same medicine. Especially after Riza, of all people, commented rather acerbically that he'd be doing the entire office a favor if he'd just lighten up. She'd even gone so far as to point out that the newest addition to the steno pool- a buxom brunette named Diane- had been giving him the eye since she transferred to headquarters, and there was also that newly opened Cretan restaurant that was supposed to be so good...

As he considered the suggestion in the safety of his office (well away from the jeers and laughter of Havoc and Breda over the thought of Hawkeye as his wingman), it came as something of a mild surprise to him that it had been so long since he'd had even the most innocent of dates. Not since before his injury, as a matter of fact, and while he could be forgiven for not indulging himself in the fairer sex while still convalescing, he had to admit that even he could find no reason why he hadn't yet returned to the dating scene. It wasn't as though he were self conscious of his newest scars; many women found such imperfections quite manly. And so long as he left their explanation to being gored by a chimera during the course of a mission, and left off the details of how it was Ed who knit him back together and kept him alive, it came across as rather heroic and dashing.

So Roy put on his most charming smile and, ignoring the sniggers, headed down to the secretarial office where the lovely Diane was delighted by his invitation, and enthusiastically agreed to join him for dinner the following evening. Havoc was still chuckling when he returned, but he simply asked the Lieutenant whether or not he had a date lined up for that weekend, nodding in mock sympathy when the blond's expression fell into dismay. “Such a shame,” he sighed, “that you'll be spending your evening alone. I'll think of you while Diane and I are... dining,” he concluded with a wink, and Breda burst into howls of laughter as Havoc's face turned bright red.

The natural order restored, he sailed through the rest of his day with a light heart. When he arrived home after work Ed was already there, and halfway through making dinner for them. Over the meal he casually mentioned his date, and the young man gave him a wicked grin.

“About time you got back on the horse,” Ed commented. “Didn't want to say anything, but you've really been moping lately.”

What? “I don't mope,” Roy told him, taking a sip of water. “Just because I'm not spending every evening out on the town doesn't mean I'm moping. I'm perfectly content on my own.”

“Riiiight. Because it's a natural progression for the biggest womanizer in Central to go cold turkey after a little hospital time.” Pointing a fork at him, Ed made a face. “Shit, Mustang, I was surprised you didn't manage to have girls waiting on you hand and foot while you were still on bed rest! You know, playing the sympathy angle, getting spongebaths...”

Roy laid his own fork down, torn between amusement and irritation. A few women, a little sex, and now Ed thought he knew enough to advise him? “As usual, you display all the social refinement of a gorilla,” he remarked dryly. “For your information, there is- and always has been- more to me and my interests than spending every waking moment outside of work in some woman's company, or in her bed.”

“I've known gorillas who were plenty fuckin' refined,” Ed replied, without a shred of irony. “And I never said I thought you oughta spend all your time on women. Just that it was weird that you weren't spending any.”

Conveniently ignoring the fact that he'd been wondering the same thing earlier in the day, Roy rolled his shoulders in an elegant shrug. “I hardly need to prove my manhood in an endless stream of dates. I've got better things to do.”

“Mmph,” Ed grunted through a mouthful of pasta. Swallowing the bite down, he shook his head. “Better things like reading the newspaper, and folding your socks. That's fucking fascinating.”

Roy snorted, and rose to clear away his dishes. Behind him, Ed began to snicker evilly.

“Does this mean that before, when you were on a date nearly every night, that you did have something to prove?” he taunted, and bolted from the room cackling like a fiend when Roy spun back around with a growl.

*****


He found Ed sprawled on the couch later on, nose stuck in a treatise on the transmutation of noble gases and a pad covering in barely legible notes under his elbow. Concentration creased the alchemist's brow as he read, one hand lifting to tuck an errant strand of gold hair behind his ear in what was surely an unconscious gesture. How someone so young could have such remarkable focus never ceased to amaze Roy, and for a moment he paused in the doorway, watching as Ed flipped another page, those startling gold eyes never ceasing to move. Ed was lost in his own world, and a smirk spread across Roy's face at the opportunity this presented. Taking full advantage of the other man's preoccupation, he had swatted Ed's legs aside and dropped into the newly-vacated space before his victim could do more than yelp in surprised indignation.

“Fucker! What the hell?”

“You don't need the whole sofa,” Roy told him archly. “Be nice and share, Fullmetal.”

Ed huffed, slamming the book closed. “You're an asshole.”

Roy just smiled at him. “And you can clean up your own damn plate next time.”

“Fine, whatever. Did you just come in here to bother me?”

“No, I came to pursue my fascinating hobby of reading the newspaper,” he replied. “It's what I like to do in the evening. I'm surprised,” he added, “after that lecture you just gave me, that you aren't out with Marcia tonight.”

“Mary,” Ed corrected with the hint of a frown. “And I'm seeing her tomorrow. Wanted to get this reading done tonight, so my bastard commanding officer doesn't give me shit over not having my research ready for the Friday meeting.”

“A worthy endeavor.” Roy nodded in approval, and chuckled as he caught the kick Ed aimed at his thigh.

After a few more scuffles they settled down, leaning against one another as before, and in short order both of them were absorbed in their reading. Caught up in trying to sort out which anonymous official source was leaking details to the press about the military's budgetary concerns, it took Roy a moment to realize Ed was speaking to him.

“I'm sorry, could you repeat that?” he said, letting the paper droop over his lap. “I'm afraid I was distracted.”

Ed mumbled something that Roy assumed was derogatory, then said in a louder voice, “I said I'm sorry it's taking so long for me to find a new place. I'm sure you're sick of having me underfoot by now.”

The paper sagged further, as Roy considered. “Actually,” he replied slowly, as realization sunk in, “it hasn't been any trouble at all. In fact, it's been rather nice to have someone to talk to.”

“Eh. Well... good.” For some reason, Ed sounded embarrassed. “Don't wanna be a charity case or anything.”

“Charity cases don't eat nearly as much as you,” Roy teased, and felt Ed's answering growl rumble against his back.

“See if I take your turn scrubbing the bathroom again,” the young man snapped. “And don't forget to take the damn garbage out before you fall asleep. Lazy bastard.”

*****


The next day swept by with surprising fleetness. It passed so quickly that Havoc and Breda forgot to rib Roy over his date, and before he knew it Hawkeye was announcing the end of the day, and releasing the officers to their weekend plans. She gave him a keen eye as she gathered her coat, and said, “Have a nice evening, sir,” in such a bland tone that he was sure she was all but ordering him to do so.

Traffic seemed to part before him, and he was home with plenty of time to shower and change for his date. Ed was there as well, bitching about leaving some hot water for him, and how long did Roy need to take in the bathroom anyway, what was he, a girl? He bore the complaints with amusement, ribbing Ed in turn for changing his clothing several times before finally settling on the first outfit he'd picked. “Now who's the girl?” he asked slyly, and dodged the hairbrush Ed flung at him in reply.

Then he was out the door, navigating the darkening streets to pick up Diane, and asking himself rather belatedly just why he was doing this in the first place.

*****


The lights were still on when he arrived home later that night. From the driveway Roy frowned, thinking of his electrical bill, and making a mental note to speak to Ed about leaving without shutting them down. But to his surprise, when he went inside he was met by an unmistakable warmth that spoke of a fire in the grate, and there was the mellow glow of lamps flooding out into the hall. Rounding the corner, he saw Ed curled in his usual spot on the sofa, book in hand, and dressed not in his attire from earlier, but in faded flannel pants and a long, tired-looking shirt that gaped loose around his neck.

“I didn't expect you'd be home,” Roy commented as he unwound his scarf and tossed it over a chair.

“Yeah, well, that makes two of us,” Ed replied, shutting the book and setting it aside. His gold eyes were darkened by an emotion that Roy read as resignation, but they quickly flicked aside, staring at the coat Roy was shedding. “Didn't think you'd be home so early either.”

Roy didn't bother trying to hide the exasperation he was feeling. “I should never have allowed myself to be talked into this.”

“Didn't go well, huh?” It was odd, seeing sympathy on Ed's face directed at him. He hadn't seen that look since he was so gravely hurt, and it left him feeling strangely off balance.

“Oh, it went well enough,” Roy replied, moving over to take a seat next to him, and Ed obligingly shifted to give him room. “Dinner was fine, dancing was fine, she's a great kisser...”

“So what went wrong then?”

He sighed, tilting his head back against the cushions and closing his eyes. “I have no idea. Simple incompatibility? There just didn't seem to be any chemistry at all. It was like we were merely going through the motions, so I thought it best to just end the evening pleasantly before things got any more awkward.”

“Huh.” He could feel Ed shifting next to him, the leather cushion creaking beneath his weight. “That really sucks.”

“Yes. So what about you? And- Mary, wasn't it?”

A grunt. “Yeah, that's her. She said she wasn't feeling well, but... I think it's over.”

Roy opened his eyes, turning his gaze on the man hunched next to him, staring broodily into the flames. “I'm sorry,” he said softly. “What makes you think that?”

Shoulders lifted and fell in a quick shrug, firelight glinting off the metal that peeked through the loose collar of Ed's shirt. “She's not comfortable with me. Or... the automail, I guess. She won't admit it freaks her out, but she gets all weird if I touch her with it, and she doesn't like to see it uncovered...” His voice trailed off, and Roy felt a surge of irritation.

“What an idiot,” he remarked without thinking, and Ed turned a baffled look his way.

“The hell, Mustang...?”

“That's so... ” He waved one arm in frustration, “damned superficial. There's a lot more to you than your automail.”

Ed was staring at him as though torn between gratitude and argument. “It's not like it's pretty or anything, I don't have any illusions about that. Mary's right, it's a bit freakish, but it's not like she didn't know from the start-”

“Ed,” Roy interrupted, his tone of voice steeping in a severity that he generally reserved for the office, but this was ridiculous. “That's absurd. Your automail isn't freakish, and that girl is an idiot. Don't judge yourself by her obviously narrow standards. In fact...” he slapped his hands down on his knees, “new house rule. I don't want to hear any self-deprecation. Got it? You're better than that.”

The look in Ed's eyes had shifted, a flicker of unease in their depths. But he didn't back down from Roy's own serious gaze. “You really are fucking weird,” he finally said, resentful, but his taut posture was relaxing. “You gonna make me promise not to insult you next?”

Roy allowed himself a thin smile. “Hardly,” he replied. “You'd never open your mouth again if I did.”

“Oh har fucking har, bastard,” the young man grumbled, but the sharp edges of a grin were poking through his scowl. “But in case you hadn't noticed, we're both losers sitting around at home on a Friday night.”

Conceding the point with a tip of his head, Roy tried to keep his gaze away from the sideboard across the room, but sharp-eyed as ever, Ed caught the quick glance. “No,” he said firmly, poking a finger at Roy. “No drinking for you. Gonna fuck up your liver worse, just 'cause you're bored?”

It was a little tempting. Not so much as it had been once, before he'd experienced the burning pain that accompanied the aftermath of a binge, but a bad evening was seldom worse off for a stiff drink to chase it down. Sighing, he fleetingly wished that his injury hadn't stolen that particular vice, but the thought hung in his mind, an echo of remembrance, and he turned to Ed with a tight smirk curling his lips. “Then I suppose we'll have to come up with something else to pass the time,” he drawled, and gold eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“Like what?” came the wary response.

“I believe you have an array to teach me.”

*****


Ed was not pleased by the request.

More specifically, he cursed with a biting vehemence that Roy hadn't witnessed since Fullmetal was an over-aggressive teenager, and loud enough to rattle the windowpanes. From his seat on the sofa, Ed raged with refusal, balked at every attempt at persuasion, and shouted the Colonel down when he tried to reason with him.

Finally, Roy lost his temper as well. “You agreed to this!” he roared, losing his composure under the weight of anger. “Don't you dare back out of it!”

“What the hell good is it going to do you?” Ed countered. “And I didn't fucking agree to it. You just told me to show you and then assumed I would, like you always think people are just gonna do whatever you want!”

“First of all, I never assume you're going to do what I ask. In fact, it's a safer bet that you'll do the opposite. But you sure as hell implied that you would show me that array. And until now, you've always kept your word.” His patience was reduced to rubble, worn down by Ed's intransigence, and Roy couldn't refrain from the jab. “Second, why shouldn't you show it to me? Do you think I'm too stupid to understand it, or that it's something you've got to keep a monopoly on?”

“Fuck you, you know that's not it...”

“Then what?” Roy snapped, aware of how childish he sounded, but unable to restrain himself. Self-control was second nature to him, but somehow Ed always managed to get under his skin and bring out the rash temper he'd had, ironically enough, at about the same age as Ed was now. “Am I not trustworthy enough to have that kind of information? Think I'm going to sell it to the military?”

“You're so... Stop acting so goddamn stupid!”

“Then what, Ed? Why won't you explain it to me?”

“You don't need it!” Ed yelled, fist pounding the back of the sofa. “Fuck, Mustang, do you think I fixed you just so you could kill yourself?”

That made him pause. “What?”

“You might use it. If you knew, you might use it someday and...” Ed looked aside. “You know what it does. To the person using it, I mean. I don't want...”

Roy was silent for a moment, although inwardly he was screaming you mean what it did to you? Did you think I could ever forget that? “You think I'd screw it up.”

Ed shrugged, glaring at the carpet. “It could happen. Wouldn't be hard.”

“For god's sake, you do think I'm too stupid.” Roy swore beneath his breath, more than a little offended. “Can't you manage to have at least a little confidence in my ability? I'm not a fucking idiot, Edward- control is at the heart of my alchemy, unlike your own, and yet you managed.”

“I've also got a little more room for error than you,” Ed retorted, his face coloring.

Oh for... “So now you're saying I'm old.” Was this really what it was coming down to? Stupid, personal blows? Roy sighed, rubbing his face. “I'm not on my deathbed, you know.”

“Shut up.”

Fantastic. The Colonel had been in enough debates with Ed in the past to recognize that the young man was out of rational arguments, and was starting to simply dig in his heels. “Ed... I don't plan on using it. Not if I can help it but... I told you before, I need to know it. Just in case.”

The look Ed shot him was such a desperate melange of emotions that Roy had no idea how to interpret it. “You're not going to give this up, are you? Even after I told you, it's not anything you have to balance.”

Roy sighed deeply. At some point his hand had moved to lay atop the jagged pink scar that was a constant reminder of being wrenched from the very mouth of death. Of the hole in his side, where mortality had sunk its teeth. “No. I'm sorry, but I can't. Please, Ed. If I'm to have any peace at all, I need to know.”

Ed hissed something poisonous under his breath and slammed a hand down on the armrest as he rose, stalking over to Roy's desk and thrusting reports and books aside without care or caution until he found a blank sheet of paper. Snatching up a pencil, he glared at it as though he held a centipede before setting it to the paper and beginning to draw with strong, sure strokes.

Roy watched him, fascinated, but not simply because of the purpose of the array. Despite not needing to use written arrays in his alchemy, Ed still demonstrated consummate skill while tracing out the arcs and symbols, and the image taking form on the paper was easily the most complicated design Roy had ever seen. The lines wove together in increasingly intricate forms, symbols linking them until the older alchemist was no longer able to follow them at all, simply staring in awe and wondering how in the hell Ed managed to carry such a thing in his head.

After several minutes, Ed threw the pen down and stared at the paper in disgust. With a curl of his lip, he spat, “There. Hope you're fucking happy now.” He spun around and stomped from the room before Roy could reply, leaving the Colonel looking over the paper as anticipation twined alongside the ache of regret in his gut. He didn't like upsetting Ed, but he couldn't control the urgency that twisted within him at the thought of their situations reversed, of Ed failing and dying before his eyes, and him helpless to do anything. There were too many years of reading Ed's reports, of figuring out the terrible things that had happened that Fullmetal always left unsaid, of visits to the hospital where a battered and bleeding young man would still stubbornly insist that he was fine...

But looking at the array, and its tight mesh of symbols and lines, Roy felt another kind of sinking in his stomach. It could take years just to interpret it, to decipher its logic and understand the flows of energy. And once he did, he could never practice it, or test his understanding. Picking up the page, Roy tried to follow one of the lines into the maze, and was more than a little daunted when he lost track of it less than a quarter of the way around the circle.

Clearly this was going to take a great deal more work than he'd anticipated.

He tucked the paper into one of his journals, careful not to smudge the lines, and slipped the book under his arm, making a mental note to purchase a quality magnifier so that he'd be better able to study the complex design. Perhaps it was the work of a lifetime, but he owed Ed that much, at least.

*****


The next morning Ed was civil, if curt, giving Roy the correct impression that he didn't want to talk about the array any more, and that he wasn't wasn't a bit sorry for how he'd behaved. The Colonel felt a bit more guilt over his own behavior, but it was rather clear that if he brought the subject up even to apologize, the fragile peace they were maintaining would be shattered. So he kept their conversation neutral and pleasant, and breathed a sigh of relief when Ed left for the library just after lunch.

When Ed returned things were a little more relaxed, though the distance was still there. Dinner was a quiet affair; afterwards they squabbled over the couch in what had become a normal part of their evening routine and once they'd settled, shoulder to shoulder, things felt almost comfortable again.

Sunday found them back to their usual selves, discussing alchemical theory and tales from the office and the field, and Ed launched into a lengthy discourse during lunch on why the current Fuhrer had his head stuck up his ass. Roy listened with interest, nodding in agreement when Ed paused for breath (the young man actually had some very good points) and it seemed that the disagreement from Friday evening was forgotten.

But climbing up the stairs for bed that night, Ed suddenly paused halfway up and glared down at Roy, who had just put out the fire and was checking the lock on the front door.

“If you ever use that array, ” he promised, a fierce gleam in his eyes, “I'll punch you in the face, hard. With the automail.” Turning his back, his mood seemed to shift just as abruptly as it had darkened, and he added over his shoulder, “'Night, bastard.”

Roy watched his back disappear down the hall, his spirit lifting and a bemused smile flirting at the edge of his lips as he recognized tacit forgiveness in the gesture. “Goodnight, Edward.”

*****


go forward

Date: 2010-04-02 02:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] oh-so-blase.livejournal.com
OHMYGOD.
i haven't read it yet but I re-read The Prices We Pay recently (because I need Ed/Roy and it was in my memories) and I kept thinking how much I wanted a sequel and now THIS IS HERE. watwat.

ok. i need to calm down and read it.
but just to let you know, you seriously just made my week. maybe even more than that.

Date: 2010-04-02 10:56 pm (UTC)
ext_27574: (FMA- RoyxEd- Love Hurts)
From: [identity profile] pandoraculpa.livejournal.com
Funny how many people have mentioned that they were hoping for a sequel to The Prices We Pay. Honestly, when I wrote that one, I'd never really thought about continuing that arc. But one thing led to another, and then I realized that this story belonged to that universe... and now here we are. One GIANT story later, heh...

But I'm really glad I could make you happy. Now I'm happy too! :D

Date: 2010-04-02 07:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mnekochan.livejournal.com
YES YES YES! I enjoyed every moment of reading this. Ed and Roy where TOTALLY in-character and I have to say that I really love your writing style, it flows so beautifully. Can't wait to read more.

Date: 2010-04-02 10:58 pm (UTC)
ext_27574: (FMA- Roy/Ed orange)
From: [identity profile] pandoraculpa.livejournal.com
Thank you! Roy and Ed are so much fun to write- Ed especially, as all I have to do is let him loose, sit back and take notes. Roy's a lot more work, but as much of a pain as he is, I do adore him. I'm really happy that you're enjoying the story so far, and hope you'll continue to enjoy it as it goes on! Thanks!

Date: 2010-08-08 04:32 pm (UTC)
enemytosleep: boy holding a cat mask, grinning slyly (Fired Up Ed)
From: [personal profile] enemytosleep
I like how they are falling together and finding comfortable places in each other's lives without even realizing it. I look forward to reading the rest. Had been meaning to read this forever and am now finally getting around to it. ^^;

Date: 2010-08-12 01:15 pm (UTC)
ext_27574: (FMA- Roy/Ed orange)
From: [identity profile] pandoraculpa.livejournal.com
I am slow and distractable- WOE. Many apologies; I meant to get back to reply much sooner, especially since it was so wonderful to get comments on every entry. Lemme see if I can get through them today in a semi-coherent fashion. ;)

Writing the boys drifting unconsciously towards one another was incredibly enjoyable. Letting them become each other's support system and confidant created such wonderful obliviousness- even better than denial!

Glad you finally got some time to read this- thank you! Readers always make me happy. &hearts

Date: 2010-08-13 06:03 am (UTC)
enemytosleep: boy holding a cat mask, grinning slyly (Default)
From: [personal profile] enemytosleep
No problem dude! I'd been making my way through the Big Bang fics that I'd been interested in. It only took me 4 months to get here? XD I'm really glad the Big Bang gave me so much good fic to wade through, though. :D

Date: 2011-06-08 10:28 pm (UTC)
psiten: (Roy x Ed)
From: [personal profile] psiten
I can't believe it took me so long to get back to this!! ::sweatdrop::

Life needs to be less crazy so that I can read all your stuff when it comes out, because this is just awesome. Roy and Ed have such fantastically volatile chemistry. Looking forward to reading the rest of it when I get home!

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