pandora_culpa: (Ed golden eye)
[personal profile] pandora_culpa


Julia was indeed not like the other girls Ed had dated. Although he saw her as often as he could, there were no late evenings, nor did Ed ever spend the night with her. He brought her flowers, shared candyfloss with her in the park, and generally courted her with as much restraint and chivalry as Roy had ever seen. Julia's innocence reached out to everything around her, transforming even Ed's cautious idealism into a a pure projection of undiscriminating goodwill. She brought out the best in Ed, and he blazed with life until Roy could scarcely look at him.

As happy as he was for his housemate- and he was happy- Roy felt left behind. The joy in Ed's life seemed only to reflect a certain lack in his own, though he had no idea what might be missing, nor how to replace it. Pastimes that had once given him comfort now left him impatient, his attention wandered, and his temper at the office began to fray.

He did find some relief with Sophie. Sensing the recent shift in his mood, she went out of her way to find lighthearted amusements for them to enjoy, and was more than once a sympathetic ear when he finally had to admit to her his unfocused discontent. Instead of taking offense at a slight he wasn't intending, as so many ladies in his past might have, Sophie just cocked her head to one side and looked at him with her dark eyes, love and concern filling her gaze. “Well,” she said at last, “I suppose we'll just have to see what can be done to make things better.”

It was the utter, selfless kindness in her reply that undid him. Here he had a woman of rare wit and empathy who adored him, and what right did he have to want anything more? He should be celebrating his luck, down on his knees thankful for her, for his position, for his damned life, which but for the altruism of yet another friend would have been taken from him long ago. This moody moping was ridiculous. Sophie deserved better than that, and damn it, so did he.

She also deserved honesty, and all of his affections. Which meant his evenings on the sofa with Ed had to stop.

It wasn't an easy decision. As odd as it was, kissing Ed was something Roy had come to enjoy very much, but even if it didn't mean anything, it still felt as though he was taking something from the ladies in their lives just through the act. Neither Sophie nor Julia were likely to view it as anything less than a betrayal, and the mere fact that it was something he and Ed kept unspoken was further proof of its illicit nature. For the sake of their longterm happiness, for all four of them, he would stop.

He explained it to Ed that evening, after one last long, guilty kiss. How they were cheating their women, toying with their trust. As he might have expected, Ed disagreed.

“We're not taking anything from them,” he insisted. “We're not sleepin' around, and we're not hurting anyone. It's just like practice, right? It just feels good.”

“It isn't fair,” Roy told him, sticking firm to his conviction despite the taste of Ed still clinging to his lips. “Not to them, not to us. We shouldn't do this.”

Ed argued, but Roy wouldn't be budged. “It's not fair,” he repeated, over and again until Ed grudgingly agreed to let it go.

“It's stupid,” he growled, arms crossed over his chest, one heel kicking irritably at the sofa leg. “It's a totally different thing. But if that's what you want, fine. Whatever.” He huffed out a sigh, sat in silence for a long minute before glancing back at Roy through his long bangs. There was an uncertain light in his eyes, and he bit his lip before asking, “No hard feelings, right?”

It took everything Roy had not to cup Ed's face in his hands, smooth out that worry, but if he touched him his resolve would break. “Of course not,” he said quietly. “Ed, it's not that I didn't like it. It's just... we can't... I can't do it. Not while there's Sophie, and Julia. It's not just us. We can't be that selfish.”

Some of the concern in Ed's face faded. “I'm not tryin' to hurt anyone.”

Roy nodded. “I know that. But even if they never knew, this still hurts them.”

“That doesn't even make sense,” Ed growled. He made to reach for Roy, stopped himself, and grumbled something under his breath. “I'm going to bed,” he muttered. “This is stupid.”

Roy caught his hand as he passed. “Ed. Please don't be angry.”

Ed stood still, not looking at him. “I'm not angry. Just frustrated, and think you're wrong.” He lifted his head, flashed Roy a wan grin. “Nothing new, really.”

Roy smiled back. “Nothing new indeed. But this is right. We'll be better for doing it.”

Not doing it,” Ed corrected, then shrugged. “Tired of arguing about it. If it makes you feel better... whatever.” He pulled his hand gently from Roy's grasp and left the room with slow steps, not stomping or swearing as he usually would. Left alone in the living room, Roy leaned back on the sofa, tilted his head to the ceiling, and hoped that doing the right thing would soon feel better than this.

*****


He met Sophie at their favorite cafe for lunch, relieved that for once the sight of her wasn't shadowed with guilt. Afterwards, they meandered down the bustling streets, filled with pedestrians out enjoying the mild Saturday afternoon. Sophie's hand was tucked in the crook of his elbow, and every now and again she would pull him to a halt, to gaze into store windows and comment on the merchandise.

Stopped in front of a boutique while Sophie oohed over a caramel colored dress on display, a case in the window of the shop next door caught Roy's eye. He stepped closer, his gaze flitting over the jewelry displayed there, pendants and rings set with stones of all colors. And there, in the center of the case...

“What is it, Roy?” Warmth at his shoulder, and he turned to see Sophie looking up at him with a coquettish grin. “Did you want to go in?”

Her eyes followed his back to the case while he quickly excused his interest, though his eyes lingered on the rings. Beneath a heavy-banded ring set with a rounded dome of topaz was a delicately wrought ladies band of white gold, surmounted by a pale pink diamond, and even as he turned away he could feel the weight of her eyes upon him, considering.

She said nothing, but he could sense that her thoughts were racing as she steered them over to a vendor selling flavored ices. He bought a peach one for her, declining a treat for himself, and as they resumed their walk, she casually asked, “How is your friend doing?”

“Ed?” Roy glanced down at her, before moving over to an old woman selling flowers. “He's fine. Has a girlfriend he's completely besotted with, actually. And I think she's very good for him.” He selected a single white blossom and paid for it, before turning to Sophie and tucking it into the dark curls framing her face. She smiled, leaning into his touch, and he caressed her cheek tenderly before withdrawing his hand.

“I'm so glad to hear it,” she said, and after a few more steps added, “I was thinking...”

“Yes, my dear?”

She leaned her head upon his shoulder, careful not to crush the flower in her hair. “You speak so highly of him, and yet we've never met. We should invite him and his lady friend to dinner with us. Wouldn't that be lovely?”

Roy's steps faltered, but he recovered quick enough that Sophie didn't notice. “Ed isn't exactly dinner party material,” he told her with a wry smirk. “He eats like a starving man, and his manners are atrocious.”

She laughed gaily, tugging at his arm. “But he's your friend,” she said, “and that's all that matters. If you care about him, then I'm sure I'll adore him as well.”

Sophie meeting Ed was an inevitability, but one Roy found he didn't want to face just yet. Reaching for excuses, he said, “I think his girlfriend is afraid of me.”

“You?” Sophie laughed again. “How could anyone be scared of a kind person like you? That settles it- we should do this. I can meet your friend, and set his lady straight about you. After all,” dark eyes cut up to meet his, twinkling, “we're all sure to be good friends for a long tine, aren't we?”

There was something else in her words, but Roy couldn't place it, and he had no recourse but to agree. “Of course,” he told her, watching as happiness spilled across her face even as he felt vague trepidation shudder through him.

*****


“Dinner?”

He had mentioned it to Ed the next morning, over breakfast. The young man paused with a forkful of eggs halfway to his mouth, his eyes still hazy with sleep. For a moment Roy held out the hope that Ed would nix the idea immediately, but to his discomfort the mismatched shoulders shrugged, and Ed stuffed the eggs in his mouth.

“Sure, why not. I'll mention it to Julia, see what she thinks, an' let you know tonight.” He drained the last of his orange juice and stood, stretching, before scratching his stomach just above the waistband of his loose pants. “Havoc coming to pick us up this morning?”

Roy tore his eyes away from Ed's hand. “Lazy. Yes, he is- at least, he's picking me up, and you can come too, if you're dressed and ready in the next...” he glanced at the clock, “ten minutes.”

“Mm.” Ed stretched again, and Roy dropped his eyes to the table. “I'll be ready in five.” He padded off, picking idly at the tangle of hair falling over his shoulders and unaware of his housemate's consternation.

The Colonel spent the rest of the day on edge, snapping at Breda's attempts to joke with him, and drawing irate glances from Hawkeye over his prickly behavior. Sitting through meetings with General Hakuro and members of Intelligence helped the afternoon pass quickly; he generally hated such meetings, but today they kept his mind off the prospective dinner with Ed and Julia. Riding home by himself- Ed had walked to the bakery- Roy found himself wondering exactly why the idea of the four of them together bothered him so, but was unable to come up with any rational reasons. It simply set off alarms in his head that he'd learned to trust, even if they couldn't be explained.

Instead, he prepared and ate dinner in the quiet of the house, hoping that Julia would be terrified of the idea, and turn Ed down flat. But his cautious expectations were shattered when Ed finally came home, flopping down on the sofa and announcing, “Yeah, she's interested. Wanna say Friday night?”

Once again, Roy had no reason not to agree.

*****


The restaurant they settled on was an elegant establishment in the theater district and when Friday afternoon arrived, Roy went home to change before picking up the ladies. Ed's door was shut as he passed it, snatches of muted, off-tune humming drifting through the door. After some consideration Roy selected a charcoal suit to wear, with antique silver cufflinks for the crisp white shirt, and once he was dressed he combed his hair back instead of letting it fall into its usual tousled elegance. It was too warm for the scarf that generally accompanied the outfit, but he carefully tucked a linen handkerchief into the pocket before studying his reflection in the mirror and, satisfied, making his way downstairs where Ed was waiting.

The young man didn't own a suit, but he had put on new black trousers that appeared to have been pressed, and a silvery gray button-up that was flatteringly tight across his broad chest. Instead of the usual braid, his hair was pulled back into a high ponytail, falling down his back in a torrent of gold, and he wore a black tie that he fiddled with anxiously as Roy came into the living room.

“Very nice,” Roy commented, nodding at Ed's attire, and then other man shrugged.

“Feel silly in this thing,” Ed grumbled, tugging at the tie once more, and Roy arched an eyebrow at him.

“Allow me,” he murmured, reaching over to adjust the knot. A few deft motions, and the tie lay snug and straight. “There. Does that feel better?”

Craning his neck experimentally, Ed grinned. “Yeah. Thanks. And you...” He lifted out a hand to Roy's face, gloved fingers rearranging the slicked bangs into disarray before he could protest, then leaned back to examine his work. “Yeah, that's it. Now you look sharp.”

It was on the tip of his tongue to protest that he'd combed his hair like that for a reason, but what came out instead was, “You think so?”

Ed paused, hand still hovering beside his face. An expression Roy couldn't name ghosted across the young man's features, though the golden gaze remained steady on his. Fingers brushed carefully across his cheek, and he nearly started at the gentle touch. “Yeah,” Ed said softly. “Looks good.”

The tip of his tongue darted out to moisten his lips, and Roy wanted to chase it with his mouth. His breath caught, and he forced himself to drag his eyes back up to Ed's, voice somewhat hoarse as he said, “Thank you,” and took an unsteady step back. “You look pretty sharp yourself.”

*****


The drive to the restaurant seemed to take forever. The women chatted amiably and Sophie, playing hostess, drew both men in with ease, but for Roy it was as though the air had thickened around him. He felt hypersensitized to everything; the streetlights, Sophie's laugh, Julia's nervous shuffling, the whirr of Ed's automail...

For god's sake, he could feel Ed, sitting right behind him.

The heavy expectation that hung between the two of them back at the house had lingered, and even as Roy met Sophie's eyes and gave her a wink, he couldn't help but be aware of it. It filled the empty spaces in the conversation, subtle, silent, yet refusing to be ignored. He put on a cheerful mask, but by the time they reached the restaurant and he handed the keys off the the valet, Roy was almost ready to risk pain and Ed's fury for a good dram of scotch.

Once seated, it only grew worse. Now that he was no longer driving he was forced to face his company, and across hors d'oeuvres Roy had nothing to hide behind except years of practiced social skills. They were enough to fool Sophie, and to make Julia smile and blush, but after the first glance he stopped meeting Ed's eyes.

Not that that was easy. For the most part Sophie dominated the conversation, drawing Julia out of her shell and peppering Ed with good-spirited teasing and questions. But Roy couldn't sit silent, and there were enough questions directed at both Ed and himself that he was forced to at least pretend that his nerves weren't dancing like water on hot oil. Seated close by his side, Sophie smiled at him with happy eyes and slipped a hand into his under the table; across from them, Ed slid his arm around Julia's waist, and Roy felt as though the walls were closing in.

A waiter came with menus, and Roy gratefully hid behind an exaggerated consideration of his choices. But once the selections were made and the menus whisked away, there was nothing left but his company, and not enough air to fill his lungs. Ed stared at him, worry creasing his brows, and even though he wasn't looking at the younger man, Roy felt it all the same. Sophie tightened her fingers on his, one thumb stroking gently along the top of his thigh, and asked how he and Ed met.

He managed to give some reasonable response without expressing Ed's secrets, but Roy had almost no idea what he said. His heartbeat had picked up an echo, a dull thump pattering after his pulse that was both familiar and utterly alien, and absolutely unnerving.

When their orders arrived, he'd never been so relieved.

The pressure continued to build as they ate until finally, Roy excused himself for a moment, feeling the weight of Ed's stare between his shoulders as he moved away through the crowd. Sidling up to the bar for a quick shot of bourbon felt like losing control, but the alcoholic burn in his throat and the buzz that followed was worth the shame. False confidence, he knew, liquid courage, but he was willing to take what he could get if it meant surviving this night.

As he returned to the table he saw Sophie coming toward him, with Julia in tow. The dark haired woman gave him a peck on the cheek as he paused to meet them. “Just going to powder our noses,” she told him with a sly smile, and a wink which hinted that talk was the point, rather than cosmetics or necessity. With a smile, he stood aside to let them pass, and continued making his way to the table, now unoccupied save for Ed.

Without the buffer of the women, Roy expected some kind of verbal assault from Ed and he wasn't disappointed. Before he'd even settled his napkin in his lap once more, Ed was leaning forward, hissing, “What the hell, Roy? What's wrong?”

“Nothing, everything's fine.” He smiled, reaching out for his glass of water and taking a sip, but something gave him away to Ed's critical eyes, which widened in alarm.

“You were drinking.” The words fell quietly, an accusation he couldn't bring himself to deny. His silence was admission enough, and Ed swore under his breath, face creased with worry. “The fuck nothing's wrong, you know better than to put that shit in your system. You've been too fucking careful about that to screw it up now, so what's going on?”

Gold eyes, bright with concern, were steady on his, the scrutiny making his breath catch once again, making it hard for him to breathe. One of Ed's hands was stretching across the table as though he wanted to grasp Roy's arm, and the thought of Ed's touch flooded him with panic. He clamped down on it fast, drawing back out of reach and forcing a smile that, while patently fake, was all he could muster.

“One small drink will neither kill nor incapacitate me,” he told Ed. “And why shouldn't I celebrate a little? Just like you said, we're both lucky. Lovely ladies at our sides, good friends...”

“Don't fuck around!” The words tumbled out, low, but fraught with tension. “Don't bullshit me, Mustang, I fuckin' know better. Not fooling me for a second, and I'm not letting this go until you explain what's goin' on in your head!”

You explain it to me! he wanted to shout back in frustration. Tell me why I can feel your goddamn heartbeat from across the room, when I'm supposed to be falling in love with Sophie. I'm luckier than I deserve to be, to have a woman like her, and I should be thinking about proposing to her, planning a life with her, instead of wondering why I still want to kiss you! Tell you? Why should I tell you, can't you fucking feel it yourself?

But he couldn't say that, not here, not anywhere and, sickened with himself, he turned away, waving over a passing waiter and requesting a bottle of bordeaux for the table. Ed sat across the table, white-faced and aghast, and when the server moved off to retrieve the wine, he stared at him with mute betrayal. “Roy...” he whispered, but at that moment the women returned, laughing, and the moment was broken.

That didn't stop Ed from glaring at him, however, or from pointedly refusing to touch his own glass of wine when it arrived. Roy ignored his scowls as best he could, taking small sips of his wine while he listened to one of Sophie's anecdotes with feigned enthusiasm. She had a knack for storytelling that generally drew him in, but tonight concentration was beyond his reach. Thankfully the others were not so distracted; Julia was rapt, and even Ed managed to rouse some interest, although he still shot Roy hard looks from time to time. Just wait, that smoldering stare told him. This isn't over.

He couldn't avoid Ed forever. It would have been impossible, even if they didn't live together. But he could at least try to postpone this confrontation until he understood his own mind, and Roy had every intention of doing just that.

He insisted on covering the bill, actually managing to argue Ed down when he wanted it split. “Don't be ridiculous. Put your wallet away,” he said, adding with a smirk, “And don't make me turn it into an order.” Julia ducked her head to stifle a laugh, but the smile Ed shot back at him was murderous.

From the corner of his eye, Roy noticed that Sophie was staring at Ed with a thoughtful expression, and his heart froze. She was too perceptive with people, and Ed was an open book. He stood, ostensibly leaving to pay, but it was a cowardly retreat and he knew it. Behind him, he heard Sophie ask, “Edward, what's wrong?”

“Drinking,” Edward replied in aggrieved tones. “I don't know. He shouldn't be drinking.”

*****


They dropped Sophie off first, at her sister's house. Roy walked her up to the door, one arm wrapped around her waist, and calmer than he'd been all evening. It was a clear night, the waxing moon and a bright spray of stars overhead lighting it with a chilly glow, frosting Sophie's hair as she dug in her purse for the keys and filling Roy with a peculiar drunken haze that had nothing at all to do with the alcohol he'd imbibed.

Dark eyes glanced up at him, a slow smile following. She was lovely in the moonlight, and Roy's heart kicked sharp in his chest at the sight. He leaned in to whisper goodnight, and kiss the corner of her mouth, but somewhere in the process he instead found himself claiming her lips as he'd never done before, forceful, needy. She clutched his arms for a moment, startled, but quickly melted against him, returning his affections with ardent enthusiasm.

Roy finally pulled back, that strange dizziness racing through him. Sophie looked up at him, her eyes filled with the moon and he wondered, as if in a dream, is this love?

She leaned closer, tilting her head up to nuzzle along his jaw. “I've wanted you to do that for so long,” she whispered, voice trembling, and he murmured something nonsensical in reply to hear her laugh. Is this love? he thought once again. Is this what it feels like?

He bent to kiss her once more, her lips parting to his eagerly, but he only gave a teasing flick of his tongue, their mouths meeting in the briefest of touches before he released her. “I'll see you soon,” he promised, and there was so much light pooled in her eyes that it hurt to look at. Her reply was hushed and hesitant, swelling with hope, then she turned and fled through the doorway with light steps. Roy stood for a moment longer, bathed in the silvery evening, before making his slow way back to the car, staring up at the stars as he walked.

*****


Julia lived on the same street as the bakery, in a small flat above a teahouse. Car parked at the curb, he slouched in his seat and idly watched Ed escort the girl around to the side door entrance she used. The drive over had been quiet, which suited him fine. His mind still felt awash in moonbeams, everything just a little unreal, and he wasn't ready to face anything while still caught in this glamor. Beyond his window, a breeze ruffled the leaves on the trees lining the street while up the narrow walk between buildings, Julia's skirt fluttered like a moth's wing in the thin light.

Shadows played across the couple saying their goodnights, obscuring their faces to Roy's eyes. Julia's pale hair was a soft gray cloud, and even Ed's sunrise coloration was muted beneath the moon's glow. The wind shook the trees again, the light falling in little random splinters over them as the leaves shivered and swayed. The darker shadow that was Ed moved his hand up to the indistinct oval of Julia's face, possibly stroking her hair. Roy thought he caught a glimpse of her smiling before Ed's head dipped to hers, eclipsing her face from view.

But he had a clear view of Ed's back, the way the thin fabric of his shirt pulled from his shoulders, and he could imagine- having seen it before, at one time or another- the sharp planes of muscle and smooth skin beneath. Julia's hand slipped up, resting on the back of Ed's neck, and Roy's palm burned with phantom sensation, the memory of his own hand cupped there, fingers tracing the hard knobs of his spine. Roy's eyes followed the curve of his back, down to the narrow waist and hips snugged by black trousers, back up again to the bare skin above Ed's collar that her gesture had exposed, and only then did he realize that Ed and Julia were kissing while he callously stared. Embarrassed, he tore his eyes away, but his hands still itched and curled restlessly in his lap and the weight of the evening, which he'd thought dissipated, settled back upon him with silent menace.

Even so, he couldn't stop his gaze from stealing up again, watching Ed take a half-step closer to the girl, moving with her, just as he'd moved beneath Roy's own hands at one time. From this objective stance, he could see the grace in every movement, the quivering balance of animal eagerness and human restraint, the careful, caged passion that was Edward engaged in a kiss.

That heaviness deepened, pooling down his spine and settling low and burning, and for one spiteful second Roy wanted to lean hard on the horn, disrupt the moment occurring in the shadows of the building. The urge was gone again in an instant, but it left him empty and confused in its wake. No, he thought, the hallucinogenic sheen of the evening shattered. No, that's not right. I'm tired, I shouldn't have been drinking tonight. Need to go home, lie down, things will be better tomorrow.

He gripped the wheel tightly as Ed straightened, hair falling in pale gold rivulets down his back. Julia was already walking away, and some ungracious part of Roy was happy to see her go. Tired, he told himself again, I just want to go home.

Then at last Ed was turning, coming back to the car. Hands in his pockets, feet scuffling along the pavement, his head hung slightly down and Roy couldn't see his face at all behind the curtain of his bangs. But when he was almost at the car he glanced up, and Roy found himself caught in the gaze of those arresting eyes. Two steps, and it felt like ten years, then Ed was opening the door and slouching into the front seat next to Roy. He didn't meet Roy's eyes again, staring forward into the street, but neither did he cast so much as a glance back where he'd left Julia. “Let's go,” he said, and didn't speak another word for the rest of the drive.

*****


Ed unlocked the front door, pushing it open and disappearing into the dark within before Roy, following more slowly, had made it as far as the steps. It was a relief to be home, where he could safely avoid the strange mood that had been upon him all evening. Even if he couldn't explain the impulses moving him, he could easily close himself away from everyone else in his room, and by tomorrow everything would surely be back to normal.

By the time he reached the door itself, there was a light on in the hallway and faint rustling from upstairs, and Ed was nowhere in sight. Probably headed straight to his room, Roy thought, toeing off his shoes by the door, but before he could retreat to his own room, Ed came barreling down the stairs at him, one fist raised, and he shied back instinctively from the attack.

“Here!” Instead of a blow, the hand came down to present him with a small white container that Roy recognized as his medication. Arm outstretched, Ed glared at him, waiting for him to take the bottle before turning for the kitchen. “Now come on,” he instructed over his shoulder, his tone brooking no argument, and the thought of disobeying never occurred to Roy.

He followed after the younger man, and by the time he entered the room Ed was already filling a glass with water. “Drink this,” he growled, shoving the drink at him, “All of it, and take your goddamn tablets. Then we're talking.”

He was used to Ed ordering him around in his own home, but tonight Roy wasn't in the mood. “I think I'd really rather-” he began, only to have the younger man cut him off sharply.

“Wasn't a request,” he snapped, leaning back against the counter and fixing Roy with a stare that he recognized was Ed at his most intransigent. The hard gaze stayed upon him until he'd swallowed a couple of tablets and began drinking the water; only then did Ed nod slowly, some of the tension in his body fading.

“All night,” he said, his voice curiously soft, “you've been acting weird. An' I know- I got fuck-all room to talk about weird behavior. But you don't drink. You know better, and I didn't... Fuck, Roy.” Ed turned his back on him, hands gripping the countertop, shoulders bowed. “I don't know what's got you so freaked out that it made you start drinking again, but don't. I know what that shit does to you, and goddamn it, don't fuck yourself up that way.”

“I wasn't...” Roy started, then stopped himself. Sighing, he looked down at the half-empty glass in his hand. “I don't know why,” he told Ed instead. “It was more than I thought I could handle tonight.”

The look Ed shot over his shoulder was disbelieving. “Huge fucking formal functions are your thing, Mustang. Smiling and making nice with your enemies, and having to watch every damn word that comes out of your mouth is your messed up idea of a good time. This was a small group of friends. For fuck's sake, the only person there you didn't know well was Julia, and you can't tell me she scares you!”

Julia was the only person there who didn't scare me, Roy thought, though there was no way he was going to say it. But there wasn't anything he could say; he couldn't explain how intensely aware he was of the younger man's presence, nor how Sophie's eyes had looked in the moonlight. The strange impulses moving him tonight were utterly opaque; how could he explain what he didn't understand?

Ed faced him once again, shifting from foot to foot, one hand reaching up to snag his tie and tug it loose so that it hung sloppily across his chest. “I don't get it, Roy,” he complained, but there was hurt underlying the words. “I thought... maybe things... Shit...”

He threw his head back, grimacing with frustration, and closed his eyes. And Roy, watching him, felt Ed's distress resonate within him even as his eyes were drawn to the exposed stretch of neck. His heart thumped once, hard, and then the echo from before was back, just out of sync with the frenzied pounding in his chest. He didn't need to see the flutter of Ed's pulse just below his jaw to confirm what he already knew, and the breath he drew was long and shuddering. At the sound, Ed looked up and blinked, his curious expression quickly morphing to alarm while Roy could only stare at him-

- and they were stumbling, nearly falling, Ed's arms around his shoulders, his hands tangled in gold hair so tight that it had to hurt, and Roy didn't have any idea how they'd come together or when he'd moved. There was only this- Ed's mouth on his with bruising urgency, their tongues stroking and tangling, and the world was heaving slowly to one side, spinning, until an arm tightened on his waist and Ed caught them with one hand on the countertop.

Fuck,” he whispered against Roy's lips, but the older man recaptured his mouth, stifling speech and drowning himself in this frantic madness, the desire to taste Ed, touch him, to release all the pent energies of the evening into him and press closer...

Somehow he'd turned them, pinning Ed to the counter with his hips and leaning into the kiss until Ed's back arched, bowing back toward the surface, and Roy's lips followed the accessible trail of skin down his jaw, his neck, to where the first button on his shirt had popped and the silvery cloth gaped. There was a glimpse of collarbone peeking out from beneath the fabric and Roy's mouth latched onto it, sucking greedily while Ed groaned beneath him. Hands grasped at his hips, his back, pulling him in tighter, and then Ed was tugging his head back up to kiss him again, teeth and tongue and desperate hunger.

The undeniable need sang through Roy; dimly, he was aware of things like consequences, boundaries, but those were distant, meaningless. This- Ed's taste upon his tongue, the strength barely held in check beneath his hands, the sheer, bright fire that blazed between them- was all that mattered in that moment. Ed's teeth closed on his earlobe, delicately biting until Roy gasped aloud, feeling his knees shaking as heat plunged through his body. He couldn't touch enough, kiss enough, to sate the ravenous desire that was building; by comparison, the kiss he'd shared with Sophie had been a pale imitation of this blinding passion-

Reason abruptly returned, a cold wash of water over his mind, shocking Roy back to his senses. He pulled his head back, staring down at the young man beneath him with wide, stunned eyes. His mouth worked soundlessly, reaching for any kind of explanation, but no words would come and he wasn't sure what could explain this anyway.

Still held in place by Roy's body, Ed blinked several times before scrubbing his face with one hand. He was delectably disheveled; most of his hair had been pulled free of the long tail, and several of the buttons of his shirt were undone, revealing a broad swath of bare chest, still gleaming in slick trails where Roy's tongue had recently traveled. A dark red stain marred the skin over one collarbone- evidence of Roy's lack of control. He stared at it, watching the mark flex as Ed lifted an arm to push a hand through his sweaty bangs.

“That was...” he began breathlessly, then glanced up at Roy's face. “What was that?”

A good question. Letting his head tip forward, resting against the warmth of Ed's chest, Roy closed his eyes tight. “I don't know,” he said finally, voice weak and trembling. “I don't know.”

Fingers curled in his hair, scratching gently at the nape of his neck. “Thought you didn't want to do this anymore,” Ed remarked quietly. “Not with the girls an' all.”

Pain welled in his heart, but Roy wasn't sure what he regretted. “I didn't,” he answered, feeling broken inside, and every bit as confused as he'd been all night. “I do. I don't know...”

He stepped back, releasing Ed from where he'd been trapped against the counter, his body keening in protest at the loss of contact. Pulling a chair from the table, Roy dropped into it before his legs gave way, noticing for the first time the hard ache in his groin. He leaned forward, burying his face in his hands and trying to bring his thoughts under control again. “I'm sorry,” he muttered. “I don't know what came over me.”

“It's okay,” Ed said. “Don't have to apologize.”

“This can't... We shouldn't have...” Disjointed phrases, and words unequal to the meanings he intended were all that tumbled through his mind. Roy shook his head in frustration. “I need to think.”

From the corner of his eye, Roy saw Ed prop himself up on his elbows, not bothering to move from the counter nor to tidy up his shirt, still hanging agape at his chest. He tugged his hair tie from the snarled mess it still clung to and shook out his hair before fixing his attention on Roy once again. “That's what was bothering you tonight, wasn't it?” he asked softly, and Roy nearly flinched.

“I don't know,” he whispered even as his bones agreed. “I don't- god, I just need to think about this.”

“It's okay,” Ed repeated, and Roy lifted his head.

“No, it's not,” he snapped, harsher than he'd intended, and Ed recoiled from his tone. “We both have women we're seeing. I just lost control and mauled you in the middle of the kitchen.” He paused, breathing heavily. “That is definitely not okay.”

The younger man's gold eyes focused past him, as if thinking very hard. Suddenly his expression changed; surprise played over his features for an instant before it was replaced by resolution. Pushing himself up, Ed ran a finger along his bruised collarbone and cocked his head at the table. “Dunno about you,” he said in that peculiar, gentle voice. “but I missed this. And I still don't think it's anything wrong.”

Animal desire clawed at him, and Roy shoved it down with an effort. “Ed, please,” he begged, and the other man nodded.

“Okay,” he said, though his face was filled with an odd tension. “Okay. But fuck, Roy, you've gotta talk to me, alright? This freaking out, and then drinking... I didn't keep you alive just so you could kill yourself some other stupid way.” His voice had dropped low by the end, and Roy had to strain to hear him add, “Don't fuckin' hurt yourself like this.”

The casual reminder of what Ed had sacrificed to save him drew Roy up sharp, and he straightened, turning to face the other man, ashamed. “I'm so sorry,” he told him, and he was, more than he could say, for squandering the gift he'd been given. “After all you did for me, I shouldn't....”

Ed made an exasperated sound. “Idiot. That's not what I meant. I told you already, about that...” He shook his head, mouth tight. “Nevermind. Just... take care of yourself, okay? Don't make me worry.”

He managed a weak smile for his friend. “I won't do this again.”

“Better not.” Gruff and disapproving, Ed was acting almost like his old self again except for the concern that darkened his eyes. Stepping away from the counter, he let his fingertips brush Roy's arm as he passed, the brief touch burning on his skin. “Don't think yourself to death either,” he grumbled before walking off, his footsteps echoing back slow and steady as he moved off to his bedroom.

*****


Roy took the glass of water with him when he went into the living room, placing it on the blotter as he sat down at his desk. He wasn't sure why he was retreating there, except that the source of at least part of his confusion was upstairs, across the hall from his own bedroom. The sofa would have been more comfortable, but there was no way he could sit upon it without remembering the many times he and Ed had kissed in that same spot and he needed his mind to be clear.

Edward. Sophie. How could he want them both?

Sophie, at least, made sense to him. She was the myth Maes had always insisted was real, a woman who would accept and love him despite his many flaws, his devotion to the state, his past sins. Patient, intelligent, whimsical yet practical, with enough poise and tact to match him- he had never met another woman like her, and doubted he would again. She held the promise of a life he'd never before considered, and never thought he deserved. With her, he could be happy.

But Ed...

Roy squeezed his eyes shut tight, trying to understand what brought the irascible young alchemist into this equation at all. Kissing? He'd kissed more women than he cared to recall, and none of them provoked the response Ed drew from him. None of them had brought his carefully maintained control to its knees, sweeping it aside not with coy temptation, but a single honest gaze. He'd never been attuned to any of those women in his past the way he now felt Ed. Not even Sophie. He loved her, but it wasn't the same.

This wasn't fair. He was leading someone on, regardless of his intentions, and that didn't sit well with him. He had always tried to keep his relationships respectful, and even when they were little more than physical flings, Roy never wanted them to be misunderstood as something more. For all the subterfuge in the rest of his life, his affairs had always been conducted above the table and that wasn't a trend he cared to break. If he wanted to continue with Sophie, to see if the feelings between them were the kind to last a lifetime, he couldn't allow what happened tonight to occur again. And if what he wanted was Ed...

It seemed an impossible idea. He wasn't homophobic- it was impossible to come up through a nearly all-male military without being aware that some bunkmates were closer than friends, and to hold issue with comrades for who they chose to sleep with was ludicrous. And yet the concept of taking a male lover was something he'd never entertained. It simply didn't fit with the intrinsic view he carried of himself, his understanding of who he was. How could he accept a new view of his sexuality now, well into his thirties, when he'd thought he'd fully explored that aspect of himself?

But then what did that kiss in the kitchen mean?

Round and round his thoughts cycled, never arriving at a conclusion. Roy sat at the desk, clenching his fists and staring at the wall for what felt like hours as he debated with himself, until he was finally forced to accept that there would be no answers tonight. He was worn by the stress of the evening, exhausted and faintly disappointed, and the only thing that kept him from stumbling upstairs to his bed were the slight creaks from the beams above his head, indicating that Ed was still awake as well.

Instead he slid open a drawer, retrieving his journal and flipping it open to the page where he'd put Ed's drawing of the array. It had been a while since he'd worked with it, and even if he didn't really expect to make any progress, the sight of it would keep Ed at a distance if he did venture back down.

He looked over the complicated circle with only half his attention really on the work. His concentration was fairly well shot for the night, and as he puzzled over the arcs and symbols, his mind flitted among memories of the night; images of Sophie and far more sensory details of Ed. Roy sighed, pushed the distracting thoughts aside, and tried again.

It was difficult, but after a frustrating hour he managed to gain some small momentum on his studies and his thoughts wandered a little less. This line to this sigil meant life, or heart, and was connected to this element which represented endurance, and did he love Sophie enough? Here was power, or energy, or light- it could be read many ways- and it, too, connected with life, and what was this thing he and Ed shared anyway? Did it have a name? Balancing all of this was sacrifice, and despite himself he frowned over that symbol, for he could never read that without thinking of Ed, who brimmed with life, giving pieces of himself away forever, to keep him alive...

It struck like lightning, like a heart attack. A flash of insight, staring down at the array, awestruck, and in that moment Roy suddenly understood.

He understood everything.

*****


He dozed and awoke too many times in the night to count, what little rest he managed broken by bizarre dreams of unfulfilled yearning, and when the dawn finally scratched its way down his walls he gave up the pretense of slumber and stumbled into the shower, bathing quickly and dressing in subdued attire. Despite the headache he was suffering from the alcohol and far too little sleep, he left the house before Ed ever stirred.

The streets of Central were quiet that early, the occasional lilt of birdsong, normally drowned out by street noises, cutting through the morning in pleasant surprise. The sun crept down the avenues like warm honey, gilding everything it touched, and Roy shaded his eyes as he passed the cafe he and Sophie frequented, standing silent and dim, waiting to be opened.

By the time he reached the establishment that had been his goal, the jewelry shop had already flung wide its shutters to the fresh morning air and was ready for the busy Saturday crowds yet to come. Smiling at his fortune in finding the shop still empty of customers, Roy approached the counter and its sleepy-looking attendant.

“There's a ring,” he said quietly, “on display in your window case. I'd like to purchase it.”

*****


go back ~*~ go forward

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September 2011

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