“So I hear you’re heading back east.”
Roy turned away from his packing. It was a bit after noon, and he’d dismissed everyone from the outer office for lunch with orders to bring him something back, ‘something edible this time, Lieutenant Breda’, which was probably the only reason Ed had been able to sneak up on him this way.
He looked… good, Roy noted with mild shock. He wasn’t sure why that fact was so surprising, other than that it was. Maybe it was his clothes – understated and severe, a white dress shirt and black slacks and waistcoat, no flamboyant red coat in sight – or his hair, a ponytail rather than the ubiquitous braid, but for a moment Roy barely recognized him. The Ed of Roy’s memory had been an unnaturally prepossessing fifteen-year-old, caught in the midst of coltish adolescence. The person before him was undoubtedly a young man. He’d shot up some five, six inches and, if his shoulders were any indication, gained maybe twenty pounds of muscle. Roy tried to remember if Ed had been this tall during the Promise Day, if his jawline had been this sharp, his muscles this defined, and drew a blank. It appeared that, in the year or so that he’d had his back turned, Ed had grown up, and Roy’s memories of that day, some three months and a lifetime ago, were too hazy with terror and adrenaline to rely upon.
“I am,” Roy said, maybe a second or two too late to hide his startlement at Ed’s appearance. “Your brother told me you’re heading west.”
“Yeah,” Ed said, striding over to sprawl on the couch. “I am.”
Roy bit back a sarcastic quip about feeling free and making oneself at home. He never meant to be churlish, but around Ed it just seemed to happen. Maybe it was the simple knowledge that Ed gave as good as he got and rarely carried grudges that loosened his tongue from the constant need to be careful.
“Good thing Central’s on the way,” Ed continued, eyes skimming over the boxes on the floor and the half-emptied bookshelves. “Wanted to say goodbye to everyone. Was surprised to find you here though, instead of the Fuhrer’s office.”
Roy hummed noncommittally and leaned against his desk. Ed was building to something, but Roy wasn’t quite sure to what yet. He expected – dreaded – that it’d be about his vision and Dr. Marco’s treatment. Roy considered retreating to his chair, but he found himself somewhat reluctant to put that much space between them. To hide behind his desk, and the full weight of his office. It’d be too much like the old days, all those lifetimes ago, when Ed would rest his muddy boots on the couch and deliver his report, defensive and defiant, while Roy sat behind his desk and tried desperately to keep, maintain, reassert his control over the loose cannon, feral wolf, wild tiger he’d found himself in possession of, both of them going from studied nonchalance to snarling in the blink of an eye. Ed tended to react explosively to power differentials of any kind, so Roy propped his hip against the wood and tried not to loom.
“I was surprised to hear that Grumman got the chair. I mean, he might have experience on you, but you’re the hero of the minute. You and Breda and Maria made sure of that.” There was something slightly wry in Ed’s voice, slightly bitter. Roy understood. Ed hated manipulation, deceit, sometimes Roy thought he even hated the concept of subtlety, and Roy had known from the beginning that he’d hate the tactics Roy had used to keep public opinion on his side during the coup. The radio broadcast, the careful handling and manipulating of Mrs. Bradley, the willingness to paint their allies, the Briggs soldiers, as enemies to draw fire, all of it was anathema to Edward.
It had been one thing to be scolded by Ed when he’d been nothing but an idealistic child. Roy wondered how it would feel now, to be judged by those too-old, too-calm eyes.
“The Fuhrership was yours, General. And you gave it up. Why?”
“There’s some major reconstruction needed in the east. If I were Fuhrer, I’d have to delegate that task, and I don’t trust anyone else to do it like I would.”
Ed laughed, quietly. Not mocking, but not amused either. Rueful, perhaps. Roy hadn’t been aware that Fullmetal did rueful.
“It’s always like that with you,” Ed said. “No one else can run this country like I could, so I have to be Fuhrer. No one else can avenge Hughes’ murder like I can, so I’ll hunt down his killer. And now, no one else can help the Ishvalan’s, so I have to. You know, eventually, you’re going to have to trust people.”
“I trust people!” Something had kindled in him when Ed had mentioned Maes. Not the inferno of grief and rage that had threatened to consume him whole, but anger nonetheless. “I trust my staff, and you and your brother.”
“Wow, a whole seven people, I’m impressed,” Ed said with rich – and undeserved, in Roy’s opinion – sarcasm before shrugging. “Whatever, not my problem. I’m really here to give you this.” He held out a plain white envelope. “My formal resignation or whatever from the State Alchemist program and the military as a whole.” He placed it on the desk and, after a slight pause, laid his silver watch on top of it. “Delivered in person to my CO, as per regulations.”
Roy stared at the innocuous objects on his desk, and then looked up at wry golden eyes, feeling almost like he was on the verge of losing something he’d forgotten he’d had. “Al told me the purpose of your trip was to research different forms of alchemy. You might not be able to practice anymore, but your research alone would be more than enough to satisfy my assessments. There’s no need to do this, Fullmetal.” Don’t cut me off, Roy thought. Don’t throw away the only bit of help and protection I can give you. It was strange, to feel this desperate at the thought of no longer having to decrypt Edward’s insane expense reports, but at least when he’d been paying for his room service on the military’s dime, Roy had known he was eating. Roy had known he’d been alive.
Ed’s lips quirked into something too ironic to be a smile, but too fond to be a smirk. “I think I’m done with being your dog, General. It’s time for me to slip my leash and collar. Accept it, or I’ll go straight to Grumman, and that’ll be your reward for being such a fucking selfless micromanager.”
Roy took a breath and nodded, maintaining his composure through iron grit and years of hard practice. “I find myself surprised, that you’d plan to travel so far away from your brother.”
Ed sighed, something in him seeming to relax once Roy had tucked his watch into his breast pocket, out of sight. “I love my brother more than my next breath, but I’ve spent the past eleven years constantly with him or worried about him. I need some time – we both need some time – to be apart. To figure out who I am when I’m alone. It scares the shit out of me, but,” Ed shrugged. “Needs doing, I guess. Well, I’m off then. Be seeing you when I see you.” Ed turned to go.
“Ful- Edward. Wait.” It felt indescribably odd, to call him by name to his face.
Ed paused, halfway towards the door.
“When I saw you, I thought. Well I thought you were here to.” Roy stopped, frowned, and tried again. “I accepted Dr. Marco’s treatment. He cured my sight and Havoc’s back with his philosopher stone.”
Ed nodded warily, visibly confused.
Roy grit his teeth, angry at the boy for making him spell it out. Angry at himself for being unable to just let Edward walk out of the office without dragging this whole mess out. “You didn’t use a Stone to save your brother’s life. I used one to restore my vision.”
Some of the confusion cleared away, but Edward still looked uncertain. “I… General, it’s not my place to judge you.”
Roy laughed, bitter as ashes, because that was patently absurd. “When’s that stopped you before?” And before Ed could do more than open his mouth, Roy continued. “I haven’t trusted myself since the Ishvalan war. For the past fifteen years, with every move I make I ask myself: what would Maes think about this? What would Lieutenant Hawkeye want me to do? For the past three I’ve also been asking, how would Fullmetal react, if he heard I’d done this? I think, in this case, you have the most right to judge me.”
Ed looked shocked. Wide-eyed and frozen and still. “That’s… a lot to process, General.”
“You’re not my subordinate anymore. You can call me Roy.”
“That’s a lot too process, too,” Ed snapped back. Roy smirked at the fire in his voice; he’d missed it, oddly enough. “I’m not a goddamn ethicist, bastard! Obviously the Stone can do good. If Al and I thought everything about it was evil, we wouldn’t have let Dr. Marco continue healing people with it. The quest to get our bodies back consumed us. We were desperate, and desperate people don’t make good choices. We had to set firm boundaries, or else we’d get our bodies back and discover we sold our own souls to do it. We wouldn’t kill for it, or steal for it, or sacrifice other people to restore ourselves. As for what you did, I don’t know. It’s not the choice I would have made, but how the hell should I know if it was right or not? Ask Scar if you want to be absolved. Or maybe not. Who’s he to speak for the souls of all his dead countrymen? Who’s anyone? Maybe they would have preferred spending their souls on something positive rather than stay stuck in a stone for eternity. Or maybe they’d rather remain in agony forever than help heal one of their murderers. How the hell am I supposed to know? How is anyone? It’s not my place to judge.”
Ed stopped, his words ringing in the silence. He took a breath and when he spoke again, his voice was softer, tentative, and very young. “All you can do is try to be worthy of it now, I guess. If you can. I don’t know if you can ever make up for everything you’ve done, but. I think you can do a lot of good. Like, a lot. This country is a complete mess. We kinda needs you right now. And anyway, you can’t stop. I still owe you that 520 cens, and I plan on paying off that debt.”
Roy closed his eyes and nodded. Ed sounded like a creature out of his darkest fears and wildest dreams, speaking aloud both Roy’s deepest doubts and most fervent hopes. “Thank you, Fullmetal,” he said, and Ed didn’t correct him. Roy looked at him, and the smile came to his face a lot easier than he’d expected it to. “Where are you off to now?”
“Mrs. Hughes’ for dinner, and then the train station. And then after that Creta, if they don’t shoot me at the border.”
“Keep in touch, if you’d be so kind,” Roy said, and when Ed nodded easily, as if Roy was simply mouthing off another platitude, he frowned. “No, I mean it. Write me if you need anything from me. A visa, a reference book, a guinea pig.”
“Guinea pig?” Ed’s eyebrows nearly disappeared into his hair.
“You’ll need someone to test out all the new arrays you’ll design.”
Ed began to grin. “You’ll test out the arrays I send you, even if you don’t understand them?”
Roy shrugged, spreading his hands. “I like to live dangerously. I trust you not to send me anything too terribly embarrassing.”
Ed’s grin turned sly. “I might just take you up on that, General. Roy.” He said the name like he was testing it, analyzing its composition with the tip of his tongue.
“See that you do, Edward. And I’ll expect you back in Central for my inauguration.”
“Yeah, yeah, just give me a couple month’s warning to get my ass back into the country.”
“Have a safe trip,” Roy said a moment before the door closed, and he found himself smiling as he went back to his packing.