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A Wicked Game

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In an odd twist of fate, ‘fun’ turns out to be relatively enjoyable, insofar as it involves water balloon assaults and yacht-based espionage.  It’s not as though Roy brought a great deal of dignity to check at the door, and once he orphans it near the cooler of filled balloons, he is presented with a golden opportunity to drench yuppies with freezing-wet projectiles when they least expect it.

It is definitively superior to paintball—there’s no risk of welts or lost eyes, and the reward for good aim is deafening screams from the targets as they get soaked.  It’s also significantly easier to be strategically aggressive when testosterone-fueled madcap kamikaze rage is not the only way to survive without agonizing bruises and permanent paint stains.

Somehow it feels startlingly natural for Ed to fall into stride with him, and then they’re double-teaming people with ruthless efficiency—Ed creates loud diversions with Silly String assaults, and when he’s about to be outgunned, Roy descends with primed water balloons and perfect aim, and they leave a trail of wailing couples in their wake.

“This is too easy,” Ed says, twirling his canister like a six-shooter.

“Consider that they’ve never had to fight for their lives before,” Roy says.  His ammunition is running low, primarily because water balloons are so damn unwieldy to carry in large numbers; is it worth the risk of darting back towards the cooler?  He’d bet his savings that Lan Fan is lying in wait there for anyone stupid enough to come within pummeling distance—although that’s not actually a very impressive bet considering how pathetic his savings are right now.  “They don’t have the instincts.”

“And they don’t play enough zombie-shooting games,” Ed says, peering around the corner.

“I didn’t realize at the time that we were training,” Roy says, hefting his next globular missile and watching the wall to their other side for any comers.

“Everything in life is training for something,” Ed says.  He darts a glance past the edge.  “Aw, shit.  They’re getting smart and banding together.  How many of ’em do you think we can take at once?”

“Uh,” Roy says, not especially helpfully.

“Put it this way,” Ed says.  “Do you wanna run, or should we go down fighting?”

Roy would conquer kingdoms for his smile.  “What do you prefer?”

“Life is short,” Ed says.  “Let’s go out in a blaze of glory.”

“All right,” Roy says.

Theirs is a last stand worthy of Gladiator—maybe even of Braveheart.

Treavisor comes at them first, armed with Silly String in both hands; Ed feints left and then ducks under the spray, and Roy dodges outside, slipping wide of Treavisor’s aim while he’s watching Ed, the better to grab his elbow and, in a single motion, deprive him of his weapon and twist his arm up behind his back.  Ed snags his other canister while he’s still startled, and Roy turns his twisting momentum into pushing momentum, shoving the small of Treavisor’s back to send him stumbling out of the way.

In perfect unison, he and Ed turn their newly-acquired canisters on Brown Pigtails and not-Jack Black, who fumble for their respective triggers—in vain; each gets a wad of string to the chest well before they’ve found their bearings.  Three boyfriends whose names Roy has long since forgotten try to mob them next; Roy lobs a water balloon at one, and he goes down sputtering; Ed ducks two thick streams of string and darts between them.  As they start to turn instinctively to chase him, Roy follows up with two more swiftly-aimed balloons—the first splatters beautifully on one guy’s face; the second breaks on the other’s shoulder, and several rather rude four-letter words sing out after him as he shadows Ed, and they glide onward.

Apparently the last three guys’ girlfriends weren’t idle all this time: they’re each hefting one of the biggest, fattest water balloons Roy has ever seen.  He’s only got one of his left, and his string’s running low, and the gleam of the challenge in Ed’s eye is so dizzying that it’s impacting his balance.

The girls grin, Ed grins broader, and Roy rushes them.

One screams and drops her water balloon; the second startles backward and tosses hers upward; the third hurls hers at him, but the surprise makes her send it wide.  Roy plucks the falling one out of the air, slips past them, and whirls at the slightest noise behind him to face—


Roy could swear that his heart pauses, simply to prolong the moment of his unmitigated doom.

Ling swings a massive water ballon up to hold it directly over Roy’s head, produces a narrow pocketknife from nowhere, and stabs the balloon.

The water is freezing, soaking Roy’s hair in less than an instant and coursing frigidly down the back of his neck, snaking along his spine.  The sheer amazement stills him, and then a shudder rattles through him in one wracking wave.

God, Roy!”  Ed catapults just past Winry’s merciless upended bucket. “You suck!”

“But does he do it well?” Ling inquires, smirk speaking a thousand volumes more.

Ed’s eyes widen to the size of Spartan coins, and he trips over his own feet and stumbles—

Roy reaches for him on instinct—

—and Lan Fan catches him in an outstretched, sopping wet towel coated with an intricate doily of silly string and wraps it around him securely.

“Best of both worlds,” she remarks when Ed’s finished screaming.

“That was unfair,” Ed says, prying himself free and scrabbling helplessly at his sticky cheeks.  “Like, seriously cheap.  I hate you guys.  Fuck you all.  Let me guess—this was the last dry towel on the whole fucking boat?”

“Builds character,” Lan Fan says.

“But not friendships,” Roy says.

“Lighten up, you poor dear,” Ling says.  “Why don’t we get you out of those wet clothes?”

There are a thousand stunningly clever things that Roy is going to say the split-second that his throat unsticks, and his brain fires up.  Any time now.  His tongue has untied tighter knots.  Any… second… now…

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Ed says, and then two strong hands are fastening themselves on Roy’s elbow and tugging hard.  “Not on my watch, pal.  C’mon, Roy.  You can keep ’em on.”

“Why, thank you,” Roy says.

“For now,” Ed says, and then he ducks his to hide the fact that he’s rapidly going thoroughly pink.

Speechless yet again, Roy allows himself to be led back over to the main deck, where Ed rights a chair and pulls them both down into it, fitting himself under Roy’s arm.  Roy’s brain wants to argue, wants to fight it, wants to lie—but his body won’t let him; both arms curl around Ed’s waist and hold him close but gently.  They must look like a pair of wet rats, and he cannot care; there’s a hot bubble of air in his chest that keeps expanding the longer he sits there, complicit, clinging to Ed and pretending like a child that it’s something other than it is—acting like it’s…

“Hey,” Ed says quietly.  “You ever… I mean, I was just thinking—” His fingertips fiddle with a button on Roy’s shirt, twisting at it, tilting it.  “You think maybe we should… I dunno.  Try this for real?”

Struggling for words is really no fun at all; Roy doesn’t want to do it ever again.  This whole so-called ‘vacation’ is a travesty.  “I—what?”

“I dunno,” Ed says.  His hand drops away; he folds it with the other and looks at them intently.  “I just thought—maybe—never mind.  It was fucking stupid; I shouldn’t’ve said anything.  Fuck it.  Just kidding.  Haha.”

“Wait,” Roy says.  “Ed—”

But Ed’s already getting up, shoving his hands into his pockets, and sauntering over towards the place the railing dips away for access to the ladder down.  “I said never mind, Mustang.  Get your fucking ears checked.”

Roy should get up, should go after him—should force the words out, fight the silence, make Ed understand—

But Ed gets mean when he’s on the defensive, and what is there to strive for?  Precisely how is Roy supposed to say It’s not that I don’t want you; it’s that I’m the definition of a waste?

“It’s not you,” he says, but he can’t put any real strength behind it, because one of the others might hear.  “I mean that—you’re—beyond belief, honestly; you’re wonderful, but I’m—”

“Full of fuckin’ clichés,” Ed says, eyes trained on the waves.  “I got it.  You don’t have to fucking sugarcoat it, okay?  I can take the fucking truth.”

His heart won’t stop pounding.  His mouth doesn’t seem to want to cooperate; it’s too desperate to protect him, but when Ed is crumpling like this, no fucking sacrifice is too great.

“The truth is that I’m fairly certain I’m in love with you,” Roy says.  His voice comes out strangled and sort of lilting.  Ed’s probably disturbed.  “And I’m sorry.  I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.  I wouldn’t wish myself on anyone.  But it’s—Ed, it’s not you.”

For the first time in over a minute, Ed turns towards him, and the hurt in his eyes is so raw

“Don’t you fucking bullshit me, Roy,” he says, and his voice shakes, and his hand clenches around the railing.  “Not about this.  Don’t you fucking lie to make me feel better; don’t you fucking dare.”

“I’m not,” Roy says softly.  “Not about this.”

Silence, and the waves, and laughter from around the upper deck.

And Ling, slithering up to Ed’s side so smoothly that he makes shadows seem inelegant.

“Fighting again?” he asks.  “What a shame; what a shame.  Does that mean I have a terribly attractively-shaped snowball’s chance?”

Ed’s forehead crinkles.  “Say fucking what?”

“I’m hitting on you,” Ling says, all pure, blinding sunshine-cheer.  “In the hopes that you’re angry enough to reciprocate just to spite him.”

“Fuck you,” Ed says, shoulders rising, tightening; his whole body is a single wire, wound taut, and some dubious higher power alone knows what happens should he snap—

“That would also be acceptable,” Ling stays placidly.  He moves in closer, way too close—Ed must feel his heat, smell his sweat, taste his breath—his swift pale hands flick up and pin themselves against Ed’s collarbones, curling around the drawstrings of the damn sweatshirt, flirting with the edges of the hood.  “Think about what fine revenge you’re wreaking.”

“I don’t believe in revenge,” Ed says, voice low and faintly frail.  “And even if I did, he doesn’t deserve it.”

“No?” Ling purrs, leaning in closer, mouth tracing the line of Ed’s throat a spare inch away.  “He’s never let you down?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Ed says, starting to lean back and finding the railing in the way.  “What the fuck are you doing?”

A small, feeble part of Roy is sort of proud that Ed is frozen, staring at Ling’s hands like they’re foreign and incomprehensible—whereas Roy’s ministrations were met with wild, hungry reciprocation.

The rest of him is bound too tight for breathing with the abject horror of it all.

“Seducing you,” Ling purrs.  “In front of your boyfriend.  Isn’t that tantalizing ballsy?”

“Good idea,” Ed says.

“Beg pardon?” Ling says.

Ed brings his right knee up hard into Ling’s groin.

The shock and agony on Ling’s face is perhaps more enjoyable than Roy would like to admit, but he can hardly be blamed for that, can he?

But—as with everything, as with everyone—it’s short-lived.  Waves from a motorboat passing with deafening gusto slap the side of the yacht; and the deck tilts slightly; and Ed, standing on his left leg with his right knee still raised, sways, then stumbles, then reaches for the railing, misses



Goes over the side in a flash of Doc Martens and a streak of gold.

Ling’s eyes are small universes; Roy’s heart is an anvil dangling by a thread, and the balance of a single beat—

—cuts it—

“I didn’t—” Ling begins, but Roy hardly hears him; Roy’s every muscle is straining to send him hurtling towards the railing; he grips the steel with both hands and stares down—

The water’s still froth-white, but there’s no sign of a red sweatshirt surfacing, no glimmer of a blond ponytail straggling up above the waves, no slender reaching hand—

“He’ll—” Ling’s voice falters.  “I—he’ll come up—it’s not so far—”

Roy doesn’t give a half a damn for all the words in every Earthly language.

He kicks off his shoes, plants his hand on the edge, jumps up, lets the wind drag just for a moment at his shirt—at his jeans—at his hair—

And then he dives.

He aims safely to the right; a collision would be the end of both of them; how can it possibly be so far down?

The water meets him like a long-awaited lover born of oblivion.

Even splitting the surface tension with his outstretched hands, it’s like a slap to his whole skin—like he’s bruised everywhere in an instant.  It seems ridiculous to open his eyes—vague memories laced with chlorine-burn bubble into his startled brain—but he forces them to widen and search before his lungs’ load wears thin.

The sunlight lances through the surface in pale stripes and sparkling beams; he twists around, propelling himself artlessly as the panic rises in him faster even than he can spend the oxygen—where the fucking hell is Ed?  How—?  He’s not heavy, whether or not he’d protest otherwise; he can’t have sunk too much further; surely Roy had more momentum—

There—a dark shape just a little lower, swinging at the water with three limbs, swaddled in the oversized clothes—so much fabric worn as armor; all his trademarks are so big; they’ve drunk so deeply of the water that wants to claim him—

Let it try.

Roy’s lungs ache; the air’s gone stale; he makes his sluggish body push through the thick of the lake towards the only thing that matters now.

A tiny trail pearls up from Ed’s lips; his hair floats wild like seaweed.

It feels to Roy like he’s moving through molasses—one would think the water would be welcoming; given that it makes up some seventy percent of his body mass, aren’t they nearly brothers?

He can hear his pulse pounding in his temples, and his muscles won’t stop wailing, and he reaches—reaches further—strives—he won’t let a goddamn motherfucking lake beat him, beat them both, drown them, own them, end this

His fingers barely seem to be listening to his brain; he tries to clench them, tries again; they twitch, milky-white in the filtered light; his captive breath scalds his lungs; his heart bangs harder—

And then he has a fistful of Ed’s sweatshirt, and he grips it for all he’s worth; he kicks as violently as he can muster the energy for.  Ed’s eyes fix on his face—and they’re both beating at the water, fighting it; they can’t lose to it; Roy won’t let them; the burn of oxygen deprivation courses through him up and down, but he has an arm looped around Ed’s waist now, and the surface keeps inching nearer, glimmering with the promise of air and sunlight—this silent, choking cage can’t hold them forever; they won’t lose this—his head’s swimming; his muscles whine; Ed’s so heavy, dragging at them both—Ed convulses against him, choking, as the rest of his air escapes in a rush and vanishes—Roy’s raised fingertips graze the surface, then break it, then greet the air; just one more push

Ed gasps so deeply Roy thinks dizzily that his lungs must be about to pop—it’s a rough-edged, ragged, wet sound, desperate and instinctive; his hands fumble to clutch at Roy’s shirtfront, and his eyes are wild and unfocused; his hair draggles down his face, catching in his eyelashes and his mouth as he wheezes.

“Roy—” he forces out.  “I t-tried, but my kn-knee—”

“I know,” Roy manages.  Treading water for two of them is the best workout he never wanted.  “I’ve got you.”

A sick sort of echo of a laugh emerges from Ed’s lips as he releases one vise-grip fistful of Roy’s shirt in order to swipe his hair back from his face.  “I thought—I mean, how fucked would it’ve been if I’d died?”

“Fucked,” Roy says.  “But I’ve got you.”

Ed coughs violently for a long moment.  Roy can’t quite look away from him; one of his hands rejects its assigned task of paddling to keep them afloat and applies itself to stroking Ed’s hair back instead.  Towards the edge of his vision, something white and circular comes sailing through the air toward them, splashing them both on impact.  Presumably that’s a lifesaver ring.

“Fuck this fucking trip,” Ed says weakly.  “I’m never taking a vacation again.”  He gives Roy an assessing look.  “Let me guess—there’s sharks in this water.  Or leeches.  Or eels.  But they’re crepuscular.”

“Haven’t the faintest,” Roy says, slinging an arm out and catching the damn ring.

Ed draws in and presses his face to Roy’s cheek.  “Fucking—I just—I could’ve—broken my fucking neck, I—”

“But you didn’t,” Roy says.  His feet feel so heavy it’s difficult to believe.  “It’s okay.  I’ve got you.”

Ed looks up, meeting Roy’s eyes, and his expression is equal parts suspicion and hope.

He heard it this time—the layer of words underneath it.  That it isn’t just I’ll keep you above the water—it’s I’ve got your back; it’s I’ll always have you; it’s I jumped off of a boat for you without a second thought, and I’d do so much more, but I could never ask you to do the same.

“Yeah?” Ed asks slowly.  “You sure?”

Roy kisses him.

And this one… this isn’t for anyone else—not for any spectator; not to prove a goddamn thing; it’s not even for Roy himself.

This kiss is for Ed.  Only for Ed.  This kiss is all of the things that could be said if words existed that could contain them.

Ed draws back after a long moment and looks at him again, and this time there isn’t any doubt left.

There is, however, a bit of a pout.  “You sure you’re sure?”

Hey, idiots!” Winry screams down from the deck.  “Get your dumb butts up here before you get hypothermia!”

Ed rolls his eyes intently, but he starts trying to propel their ungainly raft-tangle towards the ladder, and Roy can’t do much but to follow.

“I’m okay,” Ed says, scowling, as Winry fusses with how his sopping wet sweatshirt hangs on his shoulders.  “Jeez.”

“Shut up,” Winry says, patting at him absently, “or maybe I just won’t care next time.”

“I’d like to see you try,” Ed says, but there’s gratitude radiating from him like a pulsing aura.  “For fuck’s sake, I’m okay.  Lungs okay.  Knee okay.  No brain damage.”

“Yeah, we’ll see about that,” Winry says.  “But it’ll be pretty hard to tell.”

Ed’s scowl deepens.  “Only if you’re a brainless mech-head.”

“Whatever,” Winry says.

For all that, when she tries to squeeze the hard-earned breath out of him, he doesn’t hesitate to hug her back.

When they reach the cabin’s dock again, the majority of the party begins to linger meaningfully near the jet-skis, but Ed sets a firebrand gaze on Roy.

“Can we talk?” he asks.

“Oh, shit,” one of the guys says.  “Roy, what’d you do?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Ed says before Roy can even open his mouth for Saved his extraordinarily fine ass, if you must know.  “You don’t know me, and that’s not what I meant.”  He grabs Roy’s hand and starts pulling.  “C’mon.”

Roy goes where he’s led, like a rudderless ship—a Royderless ship.  He wonders what happened to the crew.  Presumably they all ignobly perished; perhaps a siren lured them overboard, and the ship lost the rudder drifting aimlessly into a reef…

It’s been a long day of near-death experiences and emotional roller-coaster rides.

When Ed draws him up the stairs and into their room and closes the door, he realizes, with a dismayed sort of resignation, that it’s not nearly over.

“So,” Ed says.  He sets his jaw, folds his arms, plants his feet, and stares intently at the floor.  “Are we—doing this, or not?”

Roy wants to sit down.  Or hide.  Or drop off the face of the Earth and disappear from human records.  Or dissolve into his component molecules and reconfigure himself into something much more useful.

Like a doily.

He’d make a great doily.

Doilies don’t feel a great deal of pressure to perform; it would absolutely be a win-win.

“Ed,” he says, “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Ed’s head rises, and then his chin rises, and his eyes fix on Roy’s, but otherwise he doesn’t move.

“Yeah?” he asks, in a tone of such forced casualness that Roy has to hold himself back from wincing.  “Why not?”

“Because it would be irresponsible of me to impose myself on anyone,” Roy says.  “Let alone someone as extraordinary as you.”

Ed’s voice lowers, and his eyes narrow.  “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“You can’t fix it,” Roy says.  These are the words that always skitter under his skin, squirm through his veins, flutter indefatigable at the inside of his skull—they’re so familiar, but somehow speaking them feels like coughing out shards of molten glass.  “I can’t be fixed.  I can’t be cured.  I’m never going to be all right.”

Ed shoves his hands into his pockets and kicks viciously at the carpet, like it’s the only safe place to channel his frustration.  “I get that, okay?  I’m asking for you, asshole, not you with changes; I’m not fucking stupid.  I understand how it works.  I understand how you work, more or less, anyway, and I like you.  You’re what I want.  Including all your bullshit.  That’s the point.”

It feels a bit like he’s falling, or like something is falling in him, and when it hits the bottom— “You don’t, Ed.  It’s not your fault; it’s the simple fact that you’ve only had a week for observations, and you’re basing your conclusions on the assumption that you’ve seen the worst of me, but you haven’t, and you don’t have the slightest concept of what I’m capable o—”

“What the fuck are you saying?” Ed asks, and his hands are out again, curling tight and shaking at his sides.  “You think I can’t handle it?  You think I don’t know you?  I’m not fucking stupid, Mustang!  If you think for a second that I’m not fucking strong enough to weather your shit—”

“You shouldn’t have to!” Roy says.  There’s a diamond in his throat now, all hard, sharp edges, frigidly cold and intractable.  “You deserve better, don’t you get it?  You deserve someone who can be good to you, and good for you, and treat you well and take care of you and—I am a quagmire, Ed; I am a sinkhole, and you’ve only seen the surface; you don’t know how deep it goes—”

“I said I don’t care!”  Ed crosses the space between them in three strides to glare right up into Roy’s face, and he is incandescent, and Roy would smother him slowly; Roy would clutch that beautiful light in his clumsy hands and put it out.  “Why won’t you even fucking try?  What are you so fucking scared of?”  He fists a hand in Roy’s shirtfront and yanks so violently that Roy can’t help staggering another half-step towards him.  “I’m not fucking scared of you, okay?  I’m not fucking scared of whatever fucking quicksand you think you’ve got; fucking try me; I eat that shit for breakfast.”  His other hand joins the first; Roy can’t swallow and can barely breathe— “Speaking of fucking which, you’re a goddamn liar, Roy, because nobody has ever taken care of me like you do, and nobody has ever wanted me before.”

His heart is pounding in his head and in his wrists and in his fingertips; he could reach out and tuck half a dozen silken yellow strands back behind Ed’s little ear.  “That’s ridiculous; people look at you all the time, and Ling—”

“Fuck you,” Ed says, twisting his hands tighter into the fabric.  “That doesn’t fucking count, when people see my hair or my face or whatever and are like ‘Sure, I’d fuckin’ tap that’; nobody has ever gotten to know me and seen all the broken shit and all the scars and wanted to keep me.”  His voice starts to tremble, and his eyes start to glimmer, and Roy’s heart starts to break.  “And here you fucking stand, the first person who’s ever—and you fake it so well that they believe it, and I believe it, and I feel like somebody could actually—and now you’re trying to convince me that the only fucking person who has ever really wanted me in their life is too fucking crazy to be trusted—”

“That’s not what I meant,” Roy says, and he’s powerless to stop his hands from rising to flatten themselves gently against Ed’s chest, curling over his collarbones; Ed’s heart is racing, and his jaw is clenched.  “There’s so much that you’re going to do, Ed; you’re so brilliant and so motivated that your potential is almost terrifying.  There are so many incredible things ahead of you, and all I would do is drag you down and hold you b—”

“Shut the fuck up!”  Ed releases Roy’s shirt in favor of grabbing his wrists and shoving him away—with enough force that Roy has to take a step back this time to save himself from toppling over.  “You don’t know that, and it’s my fucking choice how I spend my fucking life, and why the fuck do you always act like you don’t have a fucking future?”

Roy retreats another step, then two, then three—until he can lean against the wall and lay his hands out on it, to ground himself, to give them somewhere to go.

“I don’t,” he says.

Ed’s eyes narrow, and the disgust in his voice stings sort of distantly.  “Oh, for fuck’s sake, don’t give me—”

“Everything is cyclical,” Roy says.  “Isn’t it?  Matter, energy—it moves around, but it has to add up, and we always circle back to where we started out.”

Ed’s lip curls.  “What the fuck does that have to do with you being such a fucking dick tha—”

“My mother didn’t just pass away one day,” Roy says, looking at the floor, at his shoes, at his palm against the wallpaper.  “She killed herself.  The scarf, that I told you about, that she always wore—she hung herself in the kitchen.  It was a Thursday.  They think it was right about ten in the morning.  I’d just started kindergarten.  My father would drive me and another boy from down the street to school every day, and then his mother would drive us home just a little after noon.  My mother worked mornings at a bookstore, and she’d always be home and have the door unlocked by the time I got there.  She left it locked that day, but she didn’t know that my father had given me a copy of the key—just in case she ever forgot.  I let myself in, and I made sure to wave to the other kid’s mother so she knew to drive away, and then I…”

It’s the little things that hunt him through the shadows of every room, that seep in at the edges of every dream—her eyes; her fingernails; the way he touched her ankle uncertainly, and she swung.  The puddle on the floor; the welts around her neck; taking the chair she’d kicked away and righting it and climbing it to reach the phone.  The 911 operator’s voice; he can’t remember his own—What do you mean, your mommy’s stuck, sweetie?  Stuck how?  The wait.  The silence.  The way she turned so slowly, almost leisurely, to face him again—to look at him, without seeing; to stare until the sirens came.  The feet in the hall, the shouting, the people all in uniforms, the whole house full of strangers—someone wrapping him into a blanket even though he wasn’t cold—Where’s your dad?  What’s your name?  When did you get here?  Is there somebody we can call?

Ed doesn’t need that.  Ed’s got his own crosses balanced on his shoulders; Ed’s got his own graveyard of nightmares.

“When you’re four,” Roy says, “the way people talk about depression makes it seem like a monster that murders people.  And as you grow up, you realize that the monster’s been inside you all along.”

He looks up.  Ed is very still, shoulders slanted, eyes huge and horrified and intent.

“But you—” He clears his throat.  “You’re not—her—I mean, you don’t—”

“But I feel it,” Roy says.  A part of him wonders at this moment, with a muffled sort of awe; he’s never said this to anyone.  Not to Riza, not to Maes, barely even to himself.  “All the time.  Over my shoulder.  And sometimes I think it’s catching up.  Some days I honestly don’t know if I can make it.  I run shit I don’t need to in lab so that I have to be around the next day to deal with it.  I don’t let myself buy big bottles of painkillers.  I try to make up reasons not to, but some days—I’m not much of a liar; some days I don’t believe them; some days—”

“Shut up,” Ed says, and his voice breaks, and then he’s barreling across the gap of carpet between them, and he’s burying his face in Roy’s chest and wrapping both arms around him so tight— “I’ll give you fucking reasons, you stupid bastard; I’ll drag you with me; if it’s a fucking monster, then let’s fight it together; what’s wrong with you?”

“It’s a fight you can’t win,” Roy says.  “And if you ever stop fighting, you lose.”

“You ever seen me give up, asshole?” Ed says, gripping him a little tighter still.

“No,” Roy says.  Carefully, he lifts his arms and settles them around the shaking body pressed to his.  “I guess not.”

“You talk about yourself like you’re a lost fucking cause,” Ed says into his shirt.  “Fuck that.  I found you.”

“I guess you did,” Roy says.  He closes his eyes and buries his face in Ed’s hair; even damp from the lake water, it smells amazing.  Ed’s cheek is pushed against his collarbone, and he never wants to move.  “But that’s… not the linguistic setup of the idiom.  I mean, just for the record.  It’s ‘lost’ as i—”

“Suck my dick,” Ed says.

He has to look up for that, and when Ed scowls up at him, he has to brush a little bit of wet hair back and meet it with a slightly wild grin.

“Would you like me to?” he asks.

Ed’s cheeks darken.  “I dunno; it fuckin’ depends.”

Roy strokes his fingertips down Ed’s jaw.  “On?”

“Whether you’re any fuckin’ good at it,” Ed says.

Roy’s solitary experience of administering a blowjob was conducted in the bathroom of a skeevy bar.  It had been a shitty Friday to cap a shitty week, and the sheer force of the loneliness had swallowed his inhibitions whole; he sat at the counter stirring his Coke with his straw until some guy in a green shirt made eye contact and tipped his head towards the back hall.  They kissed twice staggering through the shadows; the guy’s mouth tasted like beer and bar peanuts and sex; he had two inches on Roy, a scraping of stubble, and a vise-grip on Roy’s hipbone.  Squinting, Roy could almost imagine him in glasses; the guy whipped his belt off to tie the bathroom door shut, and Roy honestly thought he was about to become a fucked-up crime statistic until the guy grabbed his hair and pushed him down onto his knees.

All he had to go on was a WikiHow article he’d cleared from his browser history and an adrenaline high that was almost whiting out his mind, but no one had ever accused him of being a slow learner, and the guy was so fucking vocal it was impossible to miss the cues.  No teeth; take it back in your throat until just before you’d start choking; breathe a minute when your jaw ached so you could get the suction going again…

There was a weird, broken sort of satisfaction in gagging down some other sad asshole’s cum.  The guy pulled him to his feet while he was still holding his hand over his mouth, squeezed his shoulder, kissed his forehead, and whispered “Thank you”.  He disappeared again like a wisp of smoke, like he’d never been, but the parting flash of gold on his left ring finger set Roy to vomiting until everything was gone.

“I guess you’ll have to be the judge of that,” he says.

Ed smiles.  “You guess an awful lot of shit for somebody who calls himself a scientist.”

“You talk an awful lot of shit,” Roy says, cupping his face in both hands.  “You want to find out?”

“Y’know,” Ed says, lips parting into a grin that tips wicked, “I really think I do.”

“For science,” Roy says.

“Nah,” Ed says, fisting both hands in his shirt.  “For us.”

“Are we not science personified?” Roy asks.

Ed tries to roll his eyes, start laughing, and drag Roy into a kiss all at once, which ends in…

Well, perfection.  It ends in perfection.

Roy’s heart is banging with equal parts terror and elation; if only it was just the latter—but it’s something, and it’s something good, and maybe the scales will tip gently towards that good if he just holds out long enough to believe that this is real—

He draws them a step backwards towards the bed without breaking the kiss, then another; just thinking about Ed’s hair streaming out across the sheets makes his blood quicken and his guts heat—

“Hang on,” Ed mumbles against his mouth.

Of course.

He shouldn’t even have asked, really; he ought to have known better than to expect, better even than to hope, that someone as simultaneously guarded and gentle-souled as Ed Elric wouldn’t hesitate to leap into bed with the likes of him after five shitty days of forced companionship.

“Sorry,” Roy says, and he is—apologetic and pathetic; personally and on the whole.

“No,” Ed says.  “We’re fucking filthy.  We can’t get in the bed like this; I wanna sleep in that later.”

Roy blinks.

The universe realigns itself a little bit.

“We,” he says slowly, “have… options.”

The floor.  The wall.  They could drag a couch up the stairs; they could do it in one of their suitcases; he doesn’t even care; his whole body is throbbing at the thought—

“You know what else we have?” Ed asks, and his grin is a beacon, and his eyes are alight.

Roy tilts his head in question as his voice fails once and for all.

“Bath salts,” Ed says.

They pour them all in.  The water in the massive bathtub froths and foams and turns a rather alarming, very murky shade of pink.  Ed pushes up the sleeve of his sweatshirt and starts stirring with his arm, and the whole thing roils.

“You sure this is safe?” he asks.

“Not even remotely,” Roy says.  “But if they’re not toxic in small portions, they shouldn’t be in any quantity, right?”

“‘Shouldn’t’,” Ed mutters, betrayed by the beginnings of a grin.  “Real fuckin’ reassuring.”

“Well, what do you think?” Roy asks, peering into the depths.  “Worth the risk?”

Ed is looking at him, not at the bathtub, and that smile is only getting wider.  “I think let’s dive in and see what happens.”

Roy’s hands are shaking, but not so hard that he can’t peel a hoodie off of the lithe body underneath his palms.  It’s really not his fault that he gets distracted by Ed’s hips, framed and cradled as they are by the low waist of his jeans; and then Ed’s abs, which are like some kind of nerdy scientist miracle-fantasy porno-dream—

“You ever done this before?” Ed asks, and his breath keeps catching, and Roy is on top of the world.

“Depends on what you mean by ‘this’,” he says, skimming his fingertips up under the obligatory black T-shirt and then tugging it off.  Ed’s hair does an adorable sort of fwip thing as it pops out around the departing collar.  “I’ve had sex.  I haven’t had sex with a guy.  I haven’t had sex in a bathtub.  I definitely haven’t had sex with a guy in a bathtub.  And to be honest—”  He owes that much.  “—I haven’t ever felt this fucking excited about it before I even got started.”

Based on the clumsy abruptness with which Ed jerks his polo off, either the feeling is mutual, or Ed just really hates that shirt.

“Cool,” Ed says as he pitches it aside, so maybe it’s the latter after all.  He drags his hands down Roy’s chest, counting the bones, cataloguing the scars and the blemishes, drinking it all in with those damned amazing eyes.  He glances up just as Roy starts to get goosebumps, and the intensity of his focus fades into another grin.  “Guess we get to figure it out together.”

“Shouldn’t be too hard,” Roy says, sweeping Ed’s bangs back from his face.  “We’re a pair of brilliant scientists, after all.”

“Oh, it’ll be hard, all right,” Ed says, grabbing Roy’s hips to trap them while he grinds his in close.

Roy’s intellect has just enough time to gasp Holy shit yes before it fizzles out and fails him, and the burning of his blood is all that remains.

The bath salts do not seem to be a detriment, at least, but some sentient piece of Roy doesn’t suppose that anything short of a full-scale apocalypse could stop them once they start.

“Wow,” Ed says, curling up against him, all smooth wet skin and glossy hair.  He doodles something that might be a molecular structure on Roy’s chest with his fingertip.  “That was… wow.”

“Couldn’t have put it better myself,” Roy says.  He has both arms wrapped around Ed’s waist and all his hopes hung on the uneven weight balanced against him.  He’d never really planned for sex with an amputee, but between Ed’s flexibility and his creativity, there wasn’t more than a moment to think about it—it wasn’t sex with a category, or a disability, after all; it was sex with Ed, and it was fucking magnificent.

Roy holds him a little tighter.  The water’s going cool, but he doesn’t particularly care.

Ed goes quiet for a long minute, and then he draws back to search Roy’s face.

“There’s one thing you gotta promise me,” he says, breath hot, eyes blazing but so… fragile, somehow; they’re the center of a small flame, and enough water could douse them right to ash.

Damn you, Roy thinks.

“Anything,” he says.

“Never get me fucking flowers,” Ed says.  At the rising eyebrows, he grips Roy’s shoulders in both hands.  “I mean it.  They remind me of the hospital, and it makes me feel like shit.  If hell smells like anything, it’s dying flowers and fucking antiseptic and my own fucking skin.  Can’t stand it.  Just—please.”

Roy draws him into a hug, rocking a little, breathing deep.  “For the record, I think your skin is the best smell on Earth.”

He can feel the smile unfurling against the side of his neck.  “Yeah, but you’re a dumbass.”

“True,” Roy says.  He drags his fingertips through some of the wet tangles, freeing them from each other.  “I won’t.  I promise.”

“Okay,” Ed murmurs.  “Thanks.”

“Of course,” Roy says, but what he wants to say is Always.

Ed is silent for a long moment, and then he clears his throat.  “One more thing.”

Roy tries so desperately not to fear.  “Yes?”

“You gotta let me in,” Ed says quietly, lifting one arm to wrap around Roy’s shoulders, fingers winding into his hair.  “No matter how hard it gets, no matter how bad it gets, you gotta trust me with it.  We have to be in this together.  Okay?”

Roy thinks of saying I’ll try, which is the most he can realistically offer, but…

Wouldn’t an impossible pledge give him something to strive for?  Wouldn’t it help to keep him honest?

“Okay,” he says.  “I promise.”

Ed exhales softly.  “So what do you want from me?”

“Never shave your head,” Roy says.  He pretends to contemplate.  “And… that’s all.”

“Dipshit,” Ed mumbles, snuggling a little closer.

“You look awfully relaxed,” Winry says, several hours later, as Ed arranges two hamburgers on his plate and fences them in with fries.

“What’s so awful about it?” Ed mutters, but Roy can see the grin burgeoning on his face—and a light brush of Roy’s hand to the small of his back only makes it widen.

Winry shoots Roy a look, which he meets with the single most innocent expression that he can muster, emphasized by a careless shrug.

“Hey,” Ed says, elbowing him in the ribs—but so gently that it’s almost fond.  “Eat something before you waste away.”

“If you insist,” Roy says, and kisses his cheek, and curls a finger in one of his belt loops.

Ed leans in and murmurs hotly into the shell of his ear: “If you’re good, you can have me for dessert.”

Roy’s throat goes instantly dry.  “You don’t say.”

Ed nips at his earlobe.  “Do so.”

“Well, then,” Roy says.

Despite an evening of milkshakes and rich-person celebration followed by magnificent sex and marathon cuddling, Roy’s eyes winch open at fifteen minutes after six.

The first thing he notices is that his right hand is completely numb, which is presumably a result of the fact that it’s wedged under Ed’s shoulder-blade and has been for goodness-knows-how-long.

He props himself up on his left elbow, grabs his right wrist, and carefully slides his hand out.  Ed’s eyelashes don’t even move.

This is clearly the perfect opportunity to admire the eyelashes in question, then.  Roy struggles to wriggle his fingers and massage some life back into his palm while he gazes rapturously at the small, bedheaded miracle sprawled out with more than his share of the sheets.

There’s a flutter of panic deep in Roy’s chest—wisps of smoke slipping out from under the vault door, what-ifs and worries and the usual litany of woes.

But mostly there’s his heart beating to an uncharacteristically soft, warm rhythm—Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Ed’s heart is so big, maybe even someone with all of his jagged edges can fit comfortably inside.

Maybe there’s hope for him.

Maybe he’s finally come home.

Chad is already rummaging in the refrigerator by the time Roy drags himself into the kitchen, on the hunt for the not-especially-elusive coffee.

“Hey, there,” Chad says, smiling at him.  “Last day, huh?”

“Yeah,” Roy says.  “Supposedly we’re leaving at ten, which I figure means eleven at the earliest.”

“Sounds about right,” Chad says.

Chad hands him things and loiters while he makes a pot of coffee and a plate of bacon and eggs for Ed.

“So, uh,” Chad says as he finishes up and starts playing tray Tetris, “it was nice to meet you.”

“You, too,” Roy says.  He finds that he kind of means it, so he frees a hand up and offers it to shake.  “Take care.”

“Right back at you,” Chad says.  He’s got a good handshake, for what that’s worth.  “And…” He nods towards the stairs.  “Take care of him, too.”  At Roy’s raised eyebrow, he grins.  “It makes you happy.  What can I say?”

There isn’t really a snappy rejoinder for that.

It’s actually looking like they might straggle out the door by 10:45.  Roy wonders if the Apocalypse is nigh.

They’re waiting in the entryway with their suitcases while Sara runs back for “one more thing”, and Ed’s just crouched down to do up his Docs’ laces when Ling saunters in, shirtless and yawning with his arms stretched up over his head.

He pauses in mid-yawn, and Ed pauses in mid-knot, and Roy can think of six-hundred-million places he’d rather be right off the top of his head—including the center of an active volcano, and the bottom of an overflowing dumpster.

“Oh,” Ling says.  “You’re heading out, then?”

“Yeah,” Ed says slowly.  He jerks the knot tight and stands carefully; Roy has to resist the urge to reach out and steady his shoulder in case his knee betrays him.  Ed knows when he needs help, and he doesn’t shy away from asking.

Ling considers the wallpaper for a long moment.

“I am sorry,” he says, sounding genuinely thoughtful, “for yesterday.  My excitement sometimes gets the better of me.”

Ed’s eyes are dagger-sharp for a long moment before they soften just a touch.

“Yeah,” he says.  “Apparently.”  He scuffs his left foot against the tile.  “Your ’nads okay?”

“I am confident they will recover,” Ling says, folding his hands behind his back.  “Thank you for your concern.”

“Sure,” Ed says slowly.

“Do we part as friends?” Ling asks, and he looks so staggeringly hopeful that Roy has roughly equal urges to smack him hard and hug him tightly.

Ed, however, has leveled a pretty good glower.  “Maybe.”

Ling wilts.  “You wound me, dear Edward,” he says.  “An inconclusive answer is worse torment than a ‘no’.”

“Tough shit,” Ed says.

Before Ling can get any more misery in, there’s a streak of blonde tearing down the stairs and flinging itself at Ed.

“Don’t you dare take off without saying goodbye!” Winry howls.

“Couldn’t if I tried,” Ed says, sounding more than a little bit strangled.  “Maybe if you—ow, Win—visited—more—”

“I was thinking about getting an old VW wagon and fixing it up and pimping it out into, like, a custom RV,” Winry says, stepping back and beaming.  “We could test it out with a road-trip!”  She half-turns and beams a little more.  “What do you think, baby?”

Treavisor, at the foot of the stairs, has his hands shoved in his pockets.  He smiles back.  “Sounds good to me.”  He moves over with one hand outstretched.  “Hey, thank you guys for coming—seriously.  It was beyond awesome to meet you.”

“Thanks for having us,” Roy says—sincerely, no less—as he shakes.

Predictably, Treavisor drags him into a man-hug and pounds his back, and Ed is going bright red with the effort of not laughing at him when he pulls away.

Roy mouths You’re next! and then grins his victory as his premonition comes true.

Ed’s still pouting when they get into the car.

Then he puts his head against Roy’s shoulder, and Roy’s pretty sure that all is forgiven on every side.

National fucking Geographic,” Ed says from Roy’s lap, which is currently serving as a pillow.  “Can’t believe this shit.  I love that they put your face in it.  They should’ve just come right out and called the article Wait, Science Is Still Sexy!  No, Really, Look!

“Then they would’ve had to put your face in it,” Roy says, tugging gently at the hair trailing over his thigh.  “Don’t read like that; you’ll—”

“‘Wreck my eyes, and that would be an unspeakable tragedy’,” Ed finishes.  He shuffles the magazine he’s holding up above himself defiantly.  “And I will not.  Come on, this is great!  Did you even read it?  They kept the part where Izumi called you ‘an extraordinary young man’.  Although they didn’t mention me laughing my ass off or you turning bright red.”

“Mediocre journalism,” Roy says.  “I wish it had been you instead of me—that would have been a lovely birthday present to you from the American media.”

“This is better,” Ed says, and by the light in his soon-to-be-wrecked eyes, it looks like he means it.

Roy loves this couch, and this apartment, and this beautiful, wonderful, magnanimous boy.  National Geographic can go fuck itself; he has what he wants.

Ed examines the picture of him again and then frowns up at him thoughtfully.  “Doesn’t really do you justice, though,” he says.  “Loses a lot of your charm.  And a lot of your raw animal sex appeal.”

Ed will not fail to notice the way Roy shifts his legs a little as his jeans start to get slightly uncomfortable.  “You don’t say.”

Ed tosses the magazine onto the table, grin growing more wolfish with each passing moment.  “You bet your fine ass I do.”  He’s up and straddling Roy’s hips in the time it takes to blink.  “When’s Winry supposed to get here, again?”

“Much too soon,” Roy breathes against his mouth.  “Perhaps—”  His will is trembling; his better judgment has a tendency to crumble under the weight of Ed’s gaze alone.  “—we should—take this up again after cake—”

“Perhaps,” Ed says, rolling his hips in a way that should be illegal.

That’s when the doorbell rings.

Of course.

“Fuck,” Ed says.

“Or not,” Roy says, kissing his cheek, grabbing his unfairly delicious hips, and depositing him on the next cushion over.  “I’ll get it.”

“I’ll lie here and hate the universe,” Ed says, draping himself over the couch arm for good measure.

When Roy opens the door, however, instead of squealing and trying to hug the breath out of his chest, Winry beams at him and holds a finger to her lips.  Behind her, Treavisor is carrying a cake box, and behind them…

Bonsoir,” a tall boy with wheat-colored hair and a dusting of freckles says, stepping over the threshold with suitcase in hand.  “Comment ça va?  You must be Roy.”

It’s a good thing there doesn’t seem to be any doubt in his mind about it, because Roy doesn’t have a chance to answer before Ed is strangling the life out of the newcomer and, by the looks of it, barely holding back a considerable quantity of tears.

“You shit!” he gets out, hitting the arm of the boy who cannot be anyone other than Al without relinquishing his death grip.  “You said you couldn’t leave until spring break!  You liar!”

“It was true when I told you,” Al says, curling his fingers into the back of Ed’s shirt.  “Then I convinced my advisors to change their minds.  I might have left that part out when I talked to you, but that’s hardly lying, is it?”

Is so,” Ed says.  “I’m going to kill you when I’m done hearing about everything you did and how great it was—I’ll wait ’til you’re stuffed full of cake and don’t expect it.”

“I see my absence has done nothing to dull the terrifying severity of your threats,” Al says.

Roy decides he likes him.

By the end of the evening, Roy has hurt his face laughing a few times, and Ed has eaten an entire quarter of the cake without any assistance.  Roy has also learned that Treavisor’s family has purchased a second cabin directly next to a ski resort in Colorado; and that despite the numerous polar opposite aspects of their personalities, Al lapses into the exact same searingly incisive, laser-focused brilliance that Ed does once the topic of science comes up.

They’re back on the couch as the night winds down.  Ed’s leaning against Roy’s shoulder and watching Al with a funny little half-smile—there’s a great deal of pride in it, and something like relief.  Then his attention swivels, and he looks up at the same moment that he seizes onto Roy’s hand.

“You okay?” he asks.

It’s been a lot of noise, a lot of energy, a lot of small-scale chaos—Roy’s nerves are a little raw, and the dark and their bed are calling to him like sirens from the shore, but Ed’s fingers are twined through his, and he’s holding on.

“I’m fine,” he says.  Ed’s eyebrow arches, and he adds, “I mean that.”

The more Ed smiles up at him, the truer it becomes.