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

The relationship's failure left Roy morose, angry with himself for his blind stupidity, and desperately lonely. He made a few attempts to keep in touch with Sophie, to remain friends, but it was too awkward and painful, and eventually they both agreed it would be better to cut things off entirely. Thankfully, work was too busy to allow him to withdraw into his office and indulge in self-castigation, but he still reflected, in pauses between paperwork, on the damage his thoughtlessness had caused not only to Sophie, but to himself.

And then there was Ed. If he had felt that the potential for anything between them was impossible before, Roy was now doubly convinced. Had he been honest with himself from the beginning, he might have realized that what he felt for the young man went far beyond respect and friendship, and perhaps he might have been willing to take the risk. Instead he'd allowed fear to control him, and if he wasn't brave enough to face his own insecurities while Ed was still unattached, then he didn't deserve him now.

Even so, for a while he entertained wistful daydreams of Ed separated from Julia, and the opportunity to confess the depth of his feelings. But as Ed continued to arrive home late from his evenings out with his girlfriend, Roy finally forced himself to put the thoughts aside. He'd had his chance and let it pass; Ed had what he wanted now, and Roy would do everything he could to support his friend's happiness, even if it meant crushing every hope that tried to spring up in his own heart.

Surprisingly, Ed had developed an inexplicable protective attitude regarding him. The military bred thick skins, and the office crew tended to deal with heartbreak and other disappointments through jokes and disparagement, but where it concerned Roy and Sophie, Ed would have none of it. While driving them to Headquarters one morning, Havoc tried to make a weak joke that perhaps this was Roy's comeuppance for stealing so many girlfriends in the past. It was an unintentionally callous remark, and though it stung, Roy wasn't offended- he deserved it, after all- but Ed reached forward, quick as a snake, and smacked the back of the Lieutenant's head hard with an automail palm. “Shut the fuck up!” he snarled, clinging to the back of the seat while Havoc yelped, and the car veered crazily across the road. “You don't know what the hell you're talking about!”

Havoc swore, yanking that car back under control, narrowly missing a streetlight. As he and Ed yelled at one another and the car roared down Central's narrow streets, Roy sat quietly, staring out the window at the cityscape careening past.

*****


“Can't believe that asshole,” Ed grumbled, kicking off his boots so hard that they bounced off the wall, before he stomped down the hall toward the kitchen. “It's not his business, and the next time some girl dumps him, I'm gonna point in his face and laugh, see how he likes it...”

Shutting the door, Roy sighed. “Edward,” he said wearily, “give it a rest, please.”

It had been like this all day. Despite Havoc's apologies for his joke, Ed had spent the entire morning meeting glaring across the table at the Lieutenant. Then instead of heading off to the library, as was his usual routine between missions, Ed chose to remain in the office, glowering at the staff and being a general nuisance until Hawkeye firmly suggested that he head over to Intelligence and pick up the latest briefings.

The errand had been a relief until Ed returned with Lieutenant Colonel Dawkins, who was bringing in some restricted documents for the Colonel's attention. Ed parked himself outside Roy's office while the two officers conferred, but when his sharp ears had picked up Dawkins' snide humor about the playboy of Central being dumped by his girlfriend, it had taken Hawkeye and Breda combined to restrain Ed from kicking the door open and laying into the hapless Lt. Colonel. They'd managed to keep him quiet until the Intelligence officer left, but Breda had to be sent to the infirmary afterwards with bites on the hand he'd kept clasped tight over Fullmetal's mouth.

“The fucker was being damn inconsiderate!” Ed whirled about to face him, and Roy had to wonder why the other man was so doggedly defending him. If he hadn't screwed up so badly, he might have appreciated the gesture; as it was, the continued show of support only made him ache with shame.

“They all seem to think it's funny,” the young man continued, clearly furious. “It makes me sick! Don't those assholes know how much she meant to you?”

Something inside of him snapped. “Apparently she didn't mean enough, or I wouldn't have lost her!” Roy shouted back, startling himself as well as Ed. They both stared at one another down the hall for a long moment, until Roy dropped his head, sighing heavily. “Please Ed,” he went on, quieter. “Just let it go.”

Ed gave him a look, but surprisingly he did as he was asked. Shuffling his feet, he said, “So what do you wanna eat tonight?”

“Weren't you seeing Julia this evening?” Roy asked him, shrugging off his uniform jacket while he tried to regather his dignity.

“Canceled.”

Solicitude was one thing, but this was too much. “Ed...”

Gold eyes glared at him, and Ed's jaw firmed obstinately. “Look, you've been spending too much time alone since Sophie left. It's not healthy. Tonight you're gonna stay up here like a normal person, and be sociable whether you like it or not!”

It was true that he'd been spending many evenings in the basement, working, but Roy didn't particularly want to discuss that. Nor could he explain how difficult it was for him to retain his composure lately when Ed was reclining against him on the sofa. “Ed, I'm fine. It's been miserable, I'll admit it, but I'm a grown man. I can handle this. But if you don't take care with Julia,” he added, voice softening, “you could lose her, just like I lost Sophie. I don't want that for you.”

“That's my business,” Ed told him darkly. But after a moment he grinned. “'Sides, like you told me once, if she's worth being with, she'll understand. So it's not a problem. Unless you just don't wanna be around me...”

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Roy shook his head, defeated. “Of course that's not it.”

“Good.” Satisfaction radiating from him, Ed turned back toward the kitchen. “So what should I make then?”

He hadn't had much of an appetite for a week. “Anything. I don't know. Surprise me.”

Ed's voice floated out from the kitchen amid a clatter of what had to be pans. “Fine, but there better not be any bitching if you don't like it. And if I hear you even thinking about the basement, I'll kick your ass.”

Roy tore his gaze away from the door he'd been eyeing, a reluctant smile curving his lips. Trust Ed to know. He always knew, lately; it was uncanny. A peculiar lightness swept over him, a giddy elation that Roy could finally place, now that it was too late. If only...

The smile dropped away. There wasn't any point in wishing.

*****


When Ed decided to take care of someone, they weren't given any choice in the matter. It was almost as though they had reverted to how it had been before, back when Roy was still recovering from his wound. Ed was kind, but firm, throughout dinner, insisting that Roy eat everything he was given, and then refusing help with the cleanup afterwards. Shoving the evening paper at him, he jerked a thumb toward the living room and glared until Roy did as he was told.

It was with great reluctance that he sat down on the sofa, shaking open the paper and trying to bring his mind under control to focus on the articles. But the mysteries hidden in the news articles and the gossip column held no draw for him tonight. Roy's attention kept drifting, and before long he gave up any attempt to read, letting the pages drape across his knees while he listened to the splash and clink of Ed washing dishes in the other room. Only when the sounds subsided, and Ed's familiar footsteps could be heard approaching did he lift it once again, pretending to be absorbed in the words.

The footsteps paused a few feet away, and Roy wondered if Ed was considering tackling him, or engaging in some of the more physical roughhousing that used to be their norm in the evenings. And for a moment he wondered if that wouldn't be better than this cautious behavior, though he doubted he could handle wrestling; the thought of that muscular body against his sent an involuntary shiver through him. But in the end Ed simply shuffled over, nudging the edge of the paper out of his way as he settled beside him, his shoulder pressed against Roy's even though there was plenty of space at the other end of the sofa.

For a long time, neither one of them said anything. Roy continued to flip through the paper, despite that he wasn't taking in a single word. He couldn't concentrate on anything other than Ed's arm- the automail one, but that didn't matter- brushing against his own, and the warmth building between them. His heart jumped, and he swallowed hard when he realized he could hear a soft patter echoing behind its louder beat.

“I'm glad,” Edward said without preamble, breaking the silence, “to see you out here, like this.”

Roy let the paper fall, relieved to no longer have to pretend to read it, but also more than a little nervous of conversation. “Like what?”

Ed shrugged, shifting Roy's shoulder along with his own. “This. Sitting on the sofa, reading your paper... acting like you used to. It's been lonely around here.”

“I've been here the whole time,” Roy pointed out. He'd had neither reason nor desire to go anywhere other than to work or for groceries since Sophie left. Ed made a rude noise, and nudged his shoulder again.

“You've been hiding,” he told him, “and don't pretend you haven't. You can call it working, but it's still hiding. Think I can't tell the difference?”

He wouldn't make any bet of the sort. “I've had a lot on my mind,” he answered, not untruthfully, and the paper rustled as he shifted his knees anxiously.

That seemed to soften Ed a bit. “Yeah, I know. I still remember how it was, after Merisel. But...” He paused, uncertainty weighting his tone, before resuming in a firmer voice. “But you don't have to do this on your own.”

“If you're asking me if I want to talk about it, I really don't,” Roy told him, because this was one conversation he couldn't have with Ed. “I screwed up. I screwed up, and now I'm paying for it, and I accept that. Talking about it won't change anything.” Talking could only make things worse, tempt him to admit things he could never say now. Roy sat rigid, already afraid that he'd said too much, but if Ed noticed his tension, he didn't mention it.

“I've been worried about you, y'know,” the young man said softly, and with a flash of pain, Roy felt Ed's heartbeat thumping through his own chest.

“Please don't,” Roy murmured, a wrenching sickness in his gut, but the man at his side misunderstood.

“It's not like I can turn it off. I'm not used to seeing you like this, all quiet and acting fuckin' defeated and it makes me worry. 'Specially 'cause it's just not you, Roy, you're not like that...”

This hurt far worse than he'd imagined it could. “Stop,” he whispered, and Ed turned, looked at him, and his eyes opened wide as he suddenly seemed to see...

He wanted to escape, but Ed twisted and grabbed his wrist with his flesh hand, holding him in place not by the force of his grip, but by the simple entreaty in that sunlit gaze. “I'm sorry,” the young man told him with quiet sincerity, and Roy was caught. In that second he was ready to tell him everything, the words poised on his tongue to spill out in a mad, jumbled confession, but his conscience intervened just in time to silence him. Instead, he tried to dredge up a smile, a smirk, anything for Ed, but the result was a miserable, sad thing.

“Me too,” Roy admitted, feeling his heart squeeze as Ed smiled back at him. His hold on Roy's arm loosened, slipping down to rest on the back of his hand, their fingers weaving together, and it felt so right that it was hard to remember that he shouldn't succumb to this temptation, that he ought to be disentangling himself, retreating upstairs...

...but Ed was sighing, tucking his head against Roy's shoulder like some contented cat, and in an instant all of his good intentions scattered. He wanted to be strong, to hold to his convictions, but he wanted this so much more. And it was torture, yes, to press his cheek against that bright hair, to taste Ed on every breath, and still Roy couldn't bear to relinquish the slightest sensation. He closed his eyes, breathing deeply, committing it all to memory against the day when the young man at his side would be gone, and his heart would beat its solo march once again.

*****


Slowly, things returned to normal. The pain ebbed, even if the remnants of sorrow still clung to him, but Roy found it easier to smile once again, and to act more like himself. Their old schedule reasserted itself into the household routine; evenings on the sofa, when Ed wasn't out, companionable arguments and friendly bickering.

But the nights like this, when Ed was with Julia, Roy spent in the basement, working. Instead of resisting his efforts to unravel it, the array now seemed to draw him in, revealing more with every examination, and he traced its lines with increasing surety. It took an effort to drag himself away from the work, but no matter how certain he was of the design, he was still unwilling to push himself to the point where he might make a mistake. Not now, not after he'd come so far.

Still... it was very close to being completed. Eyes burning with weariness from staring at the tiny, intricate lines in the magnifier all evening, Roy set his stylus aside to scrub at his face. He'd come far tonight; if he judged correctly, there was very little work remaining before it would be complete. After spending so long to get to this point, it hardly seemed possible, and he stared down at his workbench in bemused consternation. A few more days, and then what?

His thoughts were interrupted by the muffled bang of the front door, and he lifted his head in surprise. Ed was home early tonight.

Quickly packing away his tools, he turned off the desklight and made his way up the stairs, blinking as he emerged into the bright glow of the hallway. At the doorway to the living room, Ed turned, regarding him with a frown as he shut the basement door, but the young man refrained from making the expected comment. Roy gave him an apologetic smile, dusting his hands off. "I didn't expect you so soon."

Ed just shrugged, staring at Roy as though he weren't quite seeing him. A crease had formed between his brows, and one corner of his mouth kept twitching downward in a nervous tic. His flesh hand tucked into his pocket as he leaned against the doorframe, he appeared relaxed but Roy noticed the quiver in the automail digits that was an unconscious expression of some deep emotion.

“Is everything alright?” he asked quietly, and Ed shrugged again.

“Yeah, it's...” The young man paused, the worry line deepening, and he shook his head. “Julia wanted to show me something tonight.”

All indications were that this was somehow a bad thing, although Roy didn't have any idea what the girl could have shown Ed to cause him to act so strangely. “Should I assume this was unexpected?”

The look Ed threw him was almost a glare. "Depends," he muttered, then sighed. "There's a flat for rent. Over the bookstore, by the bakery. She knows the owner, wanted to me take a look at it before he listed it."

You knew this was coming, Roy warned himself even as his mouth went dry, thankful his arms were crossed over his chest, so that his clenched fists were hidden. But he had to wait a moment before speaking, to make sure his voice didn't waver. “How was it?”

"It was good," Ed admitted, although he didn't sound entirely sure. "Plenty of space, lots of windows. Big kitchen. Rent's reasonable. And it's right there at the cafe, with the bookstore underneath..." His voice trailed out, but Roy could complete the thought easily enough. Close to the bakery, close to Julia; it could not have been a more perfect arrangement for the young man.

He'd promised himself that, when this time came, he'd be supportive. However, faced with Ed's imminent departure, Roy's mind scrambled to come up with some argument that would convince him to stay. But it was too late; Ed had chosen his path, and he had no right to try and lead him from it. Every muscle screaming in furious denial, Roy forced his face into a smile for his friend. "Do you think you're going to take it?"

"I don't know. I told her I'd think about it."

He'd been bracing for thanks and goodbyes, and the hesitation surprised him. “Taking your time with this kind of decision makes sense,” he admitted, greedily happy for even the short respite, though wretched honestly provoked him to add, "but I have to admit, it sounds like it could be a good place for you.”

"In such a hurry to get me out of here?" Ed growled, but his fierce expression didn't quite match the brightness in his eyes. Roy shook his head, as much in amazement as to correct him.

"Of course not," he replied, wanting so badly to touch him and erase the unhappiness he sensed in his friend, to hold him, keep him here. "This is your home for as long as you want it to be."

He didn't think about what he'd said until he saw the strange yearning that flickered across Ed's face, and belatedly Roy remembered the barren apartment he'd moved Ed out of. That place had never been the young man's home, no matter how long he'd lived there. And perhaps that's what Ed had wanted, all along; a place of his own that could be a home. His home.

Roy had opened up his house, brought the young man in and hoped he'd be comfortable, but had Ed ever felt like he belonged here? Did he even want belong here, in someone else's house? He swallowed hard, guilt boiling up as he realized he couldn't hold Ed back in this, any more than he could kiss him again. He might be dying inside at the thought of Ed leaving, but he'd be damned before he'd deny him something the young man had denied himself for so long.

Still standing in the doorway, Ed passed a hand over his face, looking absolutely miserable and resolution or not, Roy couldn't stand to see him this way. Two strides and he was in front of the smaller man, one hand already wrapping around his shoulder in a gentle grip. Startled gold eyes met his, and the smile that curved his lips wasn't forced at all this time. “Whatever you choose, you'll have my support,” he told him. “I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't miss you, if you decided to take the flat. But if moving on is what's best for you, then that's what I want. You've lived nearly all of your life for other people. It's time you did what was right for you.”

Roy didn't think he'd ever seen Edward Elric speechless before. Brilliant eyes opened as wide as they could go, mouth caught in a grimace, Ed looked like he was struggling to catch his breath. But he reached out, catching Roy's extended arm in a such a hard grip that he wondered if he'd have a bruise there. Not that he cared; looking down into Ed's painful expression, Roy would have borne far worse. “Thanks,” the young man finally rasped out, his gaze dropping to the floor. “I... thanks.”

“It's what friends do,” Roy reminded him.

“Friends. Yeah.” Ed gave a rough laugh, still clinging to Roy's arm. Abruptly he straightened, lifting a gaze once again filled with steel. “I'll remember.”

A squeeze and Ed dropped his arm, Roy following suit and stepping back to allow the other man room to move. The young man still seemed worried, but there was confidence there that hadn't been before; Ed never took long to rebound. Mismatched feet carried him toward the stairs, and the blond braid whipped about his shoulders as Ed turned his head to fix Roy with a strangely intense stare.

“I told Julia I'd make a decision by Friday,” he said quietly, but the words carried an unnatural weight. “So I... I'll be able to tell you then.”

“Alright.” Heart aching, Roy watched the young man move heavily up the stairs, not looking back but taking deliberate steps forward. Could he be so brave, if those same steps carried Ed away from him?

You won't lose him, his mind insisted reasonably. No matter where he lives, he's still your friend. Location and residence, even women or wives, won't ever change that.

But his heart still cried betrayal as he listened to Ed's uneven tread down the hall, and the emphatic click of a closing door.

*****


Three days. Three days, and a lifetime, until Ed's decision.

He tried his best to go about his days as usual, forcing himself to remain pleasant and calm, but his stomach was a snapping, roiling mass of anxiety. No matter how he tried to distract himself, Roy's mind kept coming back to Ed, and the likelihood that the companionship he'd enjoyed with the other man for nearly a year would be over in less than a week's time. Thinking about it roused a dreadful, empty sense of loss even worse than what he'd experienced when Sophie had left him, and although Roy tried hard to fight back the jealous want, it crept around his barriers and gnawed at his heart.

Ed spent the intervening evenings at home, and with the end so close, Roy couldn't keep his distance as he'd done before. He sat on the sofa with the young man without hesitation, eyes closed as he leaned back against Ed's warmth, trying to memorize the shift of muscles, the breadth of his shoulders. He talked, teased, reminisced, grasping at everything he'd come to love about Ed's presence in his home.

But Ed himself was subdued, withdrawn. He never pulled away from Roy's company but he offered little in return, choosing more often to simply listen rather than debate, staring back at him with eyes shadowed with sadness. It was answer enough for the question plaguing Roy, and even as he reached out to Ed he was building walls up around his heart, fearful of the loneliness to come.

Friday morning finally arrived, and Roy woke from a fractured sleep with a cramping, sick stomach. The bedsheets were wet with sweat, and he stripped them from the bed, throwing them in the corner before stumbling to the shower and shivering beneath the cold spray. Dressing in his uniform felt like girding himself for battle, and once the last button was fastened Roy finally felt brave enough to face the day before him. He left his room, descending the stairs and heading for the kitchen as though walking to his own execution.

But the room was empty.

So was the living room and, when he finally couldn't help checking, Ed's bedroom as well. His housemate's clothes and belongings were still there, which helped to loosen a fearful knot in Roy's chest, but the young man himself was nowhere to be seen. Another quick inspection of the house revealed a plate in the sink, as well as an empty mug, and Roy stared down at the evidence of Ed's early departure with a lump in his throat.

By the time Havoc arrived to pick him up, his masks were firmly in place and Roy was hidden behind an icy calm demeanor. He somehow managed to reply to the Lieutenant's jokes on the drive in, but the coolness of his responses quickly curbed all conversation, and the silence that overtook them suited Roy fine.

He expected Ed would barge into the morning meeting late, grumbling excuses and juggling his reports and a bag of pastries, like he'd done so many times in the past. But no interruptions appeared, and it was his own distraction that dragged the procedures out longer than normal. By the time things finally wrapped up, it was nearly ten, and well past when Ed should have been in. Roy waited until everyone had dispersed to their duties before pulling Hawkeye aside, and asking if she had heard from Fullmetal that morning.

“He requested a personal day,” she told him, flipping through a stack of reports on her desk. “Weren't you aware?”

Roy thought of the empty house, the dishes in the sink. “No,” he snapped. “And it would nice if I were informed of the goings-on with my own staff. When did he request today off?”

“Wednesday morning, sir.” He had her full attention now, weighing his reactions. “He hasn't made any other requests recently, so I didn't see any reason to refuse it. Is something wrong?”

There really wasn't, not that he could explain, and he sighed. “No, Lieutenant. I simply would have appreciated knowing.” Even as the words left his mouth, he knew he'd made a tactical error, confirmed when Hawkeye frowned at him.

“Edward didn't tell you?” she asked with a meaningful tilt to her brows.

“Clearly not,” he snapped, more irritated with himself that her, but his angry outburst didn't faze the Lieutenant in the slightest. Turning back to the reports, she nodded, taking up her pen and signing the top one.

“I'll make sure I inform you of any future requests, sir” she told him coolly, and Roy's face reddened. Without replying, he spun on his heel and stalked back to his office, only just resisting the urge to slam the door childishly at his back.

The day dragged on in slow motion. He made himself walk down to the commissary at lunchtime, on the off chance that Ed might show up for a cheap meal, but the young man's distinctive bright hair wasn't visible in the crowd. Buying a sandwich that he didn't really want, Roy trudged back up to his office, sequestering himself once more and envisioning a return to a house stripped of Ed's belongings and finding, if he was lucky, only a note left on the table. The thought did nothing for his mood.

That afternoon he snarled at Fuery for making too much noise with his new radio transmitter, and then all but chased Breda out of the office for making wisecracks. Falman quickly remembered a task he'd neglected across the base and hurried off, leaving Havoc huddling in on himself beside the file cabinet, hoping to escape notice. Irritated with his staff and disgusted with himself, Roy gave in this time and did throw the door hard against its frame this time as he stomped into his office.

About an hour later, someone tapped on his door. When he growled a reply, Hawkeye entered, ignoring the tense atmosphere, and shut the door quietly at her back. Roy didn't look at her, still trying to pour all of his aggravation into his work, but after a few minutes the silence grew overbearing. Glancing up, he saw that she was standing at attention before his desk, watching him with dark eyes.

“What is it, Lieutenant?” he said curtly, wishing she'd just ask and be gone so that he could get back to his sulk.

“I thought you might need something, sir,” she replied.

Scratching out a brusque approval on the form he'd just finished reading, Roy set it aside and picked up the next request. “I don't recall asking for anything.”

“Perhaps someone to talk to, sir?”

He laid his pen down, and gave her a wry, angry smirk that was usually enough to send its target on their way. “Was there something you wanted to say to me, Lieutenant?”

But Hawkeye had never been intimidated by him. “Permission to speak freely, sir?” He made a 'go ahead' gesture, and her posture relaxed slightly. “Is something wrong between you and Edward?”

Astute officers were generally something he considered a boon to his command, but at times like now, Roy wished they didn't actually care about him enough to turn that intelligence his way. The smirk twisted, turned bitter. “Now really, Lieutenant, how would I know? I haven't seen him since last night to ask.”

Hawkeye didn't say anything, only continued to stare impassively at him. Willing to outwait him, he realized, and he'd never been able to dissuade her before. Anger wouldn't get him anywhere either, and he leaned back in his chair, trying to let the frustration he felt dissipate into the air. “He's moving out,” he said, trying to keep the rancor from his voice. “At least, I think he is. He was supposed to tell me today.”

He heard her shift slightly as she considered this. “And you don't want him to go?”

God, couldn't he have a self-absorbed imbecile for a First Lieutenant? Just for today? “No,” he grumbled reluctantly. “I don't.”

“Have you told him this?”

Roy thought back, to the day Ed had first brought up leaving. He wondered if his protest at that time counted, then decided it probably didn't. “Not for a while,” he admitted, “but I did tell him he was welcome to stay as long as he liked.”

“That's not really the same thing,” Hawkeye murmured, then sighed. “Roy,” she said, and that got his attention because she never used his name at work. “You need to tell him.”

She was looking at him, fond exasperation in her eyes, and Roy felt ridiculously out of his depth. “What?” he exclaimed. “Riza, this is his choice. I'm not going to take it away from him.”

“I doubt you could,” she replied, one corner of her mouth curling into a smile he was certain was mocking him. “Roy, you're not ordering him to stay. You'd simply be giving him all the facts. Do you think he hasn't considered your feelings on the matter?”

The truth was, he had no idea. “It's Ed's decision to make. I can't see where my feelings enter into it.”

“That's because you're an idiot. Sir.” She smiled, this time with honest affection. “Ed worries about you nearly as much as you worry about him. I think he'd like to know. And,” she added, with a rather severe stare, “you're allowed to want things, Roy. It's only wrong if you aren't honest.”

He stared at her for a moment, before breaking into shaky laughter. Honesty. That had been his problem all along, hadn't it? With Sophie, with himself- and most of all, with Ed. He shook his head, grudgingly willing to allow that maybe wise First Lieutenants were worth the trouble, after all. “I suppose I should tell him,” he conceded, though he didn't bother to add that his confession would have to include far more than she was assuming. To his surprise, the decision made him feel slightly better, and he reached out for the next paper, only to pause as she shook her head.

“Why don't you take the rest of the day off, sir,” she suggested. “You've been working very hard, and I think the office can survive the next few hours without you.” Another slow smile crossed her face. “You're no good to us like this anyway.”

A warm rush of gratitude filled Roy. “Thank you, Riza,” he told her, ignoring the jab, and she saluted, still smiling encouragement.

“Do your best, sir.”

*****


It was almost four when he arrived home, and as soon as he'd kicked his shoes off Roy hurried upstairs, barely remembering to knock before pushing open the door to Ed's room. It looked exactly as it had that morning, empty of life, but still filled with Ed's possessions, and a faint thrill of relief ran through him. It hadn't happened yet. He wasn't too late.

But Ed still wasn't at home, and Roy had no idea where he could be. The question gnawed at his mind as he crossed the hall to change clothes. Was Ed even now signing the papers for the apartment? Or perhaps out at the shops, getting things he'd need for the flat? Roy's hands clenched hard. Why wasn't Ed back yet?

Was he making love to Julia, in the empty rooms of his new home?

The thought stopped him cold, and Roy closed his eyes, tilting his head back and forcing himself to take several long, slow breaths. It was pointless to let his imagination wander in this way; Ed could be blowing bubbles with Elysia just as easily as any of the other things he'd speculated. Tormenting himself with what-ifs would only make him ill with worry and, running a hand through his hair, Roy resolutely pushed the thoughts away. He needed a distraction.

There were only two diversions he could think of that would effectively keep his mind from running in circles, and Ed would approve of neither of them. But in the end Roy descended into the basement, leaving the door at the top of the stairs cracked, and hoped he'd chosen the lesser of evils.

Flipping the desklamp on, he examined his project, now nearly finished. The delicate whorls were almost invisibly small, and nestled among them were a multitude of tiny symbols, painstakingly carved into the substance that used to be wax coating the ring. There were only a few left to place, and the design would be complete, and he could move on to the next step. Pleased, despite the anxiety that still fluttered behind his ribcage, Roy took up his stylus, pushed the magnifier back into position, and began carving.

As it always did while he worked on the array, time seemed to disappear. There were only the lines to follow, each so precisely placed, and as familiar to Roy now as the strict geometry of his personal array. It was a work of genius- as much art as science- and within every elegant element of the design, Roy could feel Ed's touch, brilliant and indomitable. They were the lines that connected him and the young man who'd drawn them, and with each careful addition to the circle Roy fancied he could hear the thrum of Ed's pulse, murmuring in quiet tandem with his own.

One last graceful ogee, and Roy stopped, blinking eyes that ached and burned as he stared down at the ring in surprise. His work was finished.

He studied it, scrupulously chasing each line with his eyes until he was certain it was right. It was strange, realizing that the hardest part was done. He'd prepared a small vat specifically for this stage, and it was with a sense of proud satisfaction that he cautiously placed the ring in the holder he'd made, dipping it in so that the base was submerged, while the stone sat, winking and safe, above the chemical. All that was left now was to wait, and let the acid permanently etch the design into the metal.

He checked the progress of the etching every so often, and it didn't take long before the acid had cut deep enough into the ring's base. Pulling it from its bath, he dipped it into another vat that he'd set up, filled with a baking soda mixture, and waited for the foam to die down before carefully cleaning it to stop the reaction. A quick rinse, then a hastily sketched array transmuted the waxy substrate to an indefinable lump beneath the silver, and Roy picked up the ring with held breath, turning it over in his hand.

Flipping the magnifier into position once more, he studied the array now permanently imprinted on in the inside of the ring, in the metal that backed a topaz cabochon nearly the color of Ed's eyes, double checking that there had been no errors. But it was perfect; Ed's array, the array that had brought him back from the edge of death, now set into a ring that would forever remind Roy of the surprising, unique man who'd created it. And if he ever needed that array, to use it...

Knuckling his eyes, he sat back in his seat, muscles smarting with stiffness, and wondered how long he'd been down there. Hours, surely, absorbed in his work. But he hadn't heard the front door in all that time; had he been too absorbed in his labors? Surely Ed would be home by now. Pocketing the ring, Roy cleaned up his workspace and turned off the light, feeling oddly light now that his work was complete.

But when he pushed open the basement door, he was greeted by darkness, the house still and empty. He was alone, and when he fumbled the hall light on, he saw that it was already nearly nine o'clock. His stomach rumbled, reminding him that he'd worked through dinner, but Roy only felt the dismay that was creeping back into his heart. Still out. Ed... He probably wasn't coming home at all.

He'd been so optimistic, after talking to Riza. But what good was his honesty, his confessions, if there were only the walls to hear them?

Somehow he marshaled the resolve to turn toward the kitchen, moving as stiff as an automaton as he prepared himself a light dinner from leftovers in the icebox, and forced himself to eat. Wherever he was, Ed would want him to take care of himself and as little as Roy cared at that moment, with the array fresh in his mind he couldn't bring himself to dishonor the life the other man had given him.

He moved to the sofa after the meal, holding the newspaper in his lap out of habit, though he made no move to read it. Instead, he let his mind wander back over memories of the past year, the arguments, the laughter, the closeness they'd shared. The richness of joy in those memories was astounding to him, and he would gladly sacrifice his pride to hear Ed's laughter. His house already felt emptier than it had ever been, without the young man's overwhelming personality crowding the halls and echoing from the kitchen. Will he miss the time he spent here, once he's gone? Will he miss me?

At eleven, Roy finally gave up his vigil. He laid the paper aside, still folded as he'd found it, and turned off the lamp before moving slowly up the shadowed stairs. Undressing in the dark, he turned back his bed and slid into the sheets, feeling the emptiness of the room across the hall in every bone. The streetlights below painted his ceiling with yellow light, a glow that could only lead his thoughts in one direction, and he shut his eyes tight against that reminder. Lying still and quiet, praying for sleep to take him away, Roy wondered how he could ever again fit into his old life, after it had been so thoroughly filled by Ed's presence.


illustration by [livejournal.com profile] bob_fish

go back ~*~ go forward
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September 2011

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