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Damn Close

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Ed tends to dream of Earth in white and brown.  They had a name for it—sepia tone.  Like black and white, but faded.  Muddled, sort of.  Less comprehensible and less distinct, more like an old memory than like ink on a page.

He can’t tell where he is when he wakes in the dark.  He doesn’t feel whole or human yet; the dream sunk its fingertips into the meat of his arms and gripped his ankles to try to drag him back into the anxious, churning swirl of sleep.

He remembers—

He remembers that Amestris dreams were all in colors brighter than the real thing: blues and reds and sunset-orange.  Lilac.  Gunmetal.  Forest green.

Earth was just guns and metal, every way that counted.  Earth knew that he and Al didn’t belong there; Earth knew that it had swallowed the pair of them on accident.  Earth wanted to rip them to pieces and spit them back out.  Earth knew that they didn’t fit, and Earth didn’t let them forget it for a single fucking day.

There’s sky blue and a soft blond in the Earth dreams sometimes.  There are many people speaking languages that Ed can’t understand, sometimes; but sometimes it’s just silence.

Noah and her people took them in.  He usually dreams of something going wrong—of the ones who would annihilate the mismatched lot of them finally catching up.  He usually dreams of running.  Sometimes he’s the only one who gets away, and that’s… worse.  That’s so much worse.  Sometimes he almost manages to save Noah; sometimes he has to pick between her and Al—

Sometimes he can’t save either of them.

Sometimes he can’t save anyone.

Sometimes he can’t do a fucking thing, because there’s nothing that he’s good for—nothing that he’s capable of.  Everything that made him special once is gone, is dead, is left behind; everything that gave him half a chance to fight a world that hates him has been stripped away, and all he is—

All he’s got—

He doesn’t—

He can’t

“Ed,” a voice—the voice—says from the darkness just a little to his right.

Ed hears his breath scrape into him and rattle on the way back out.

“Shut up,” he says.  Figments of Roy tend to be just as contrary as the real thing, but every once in a while, they’ll listen to him, and they’ll leave him alone.

Whatever time it is now, it’s the wrong one—he has a knack for that.  Wrong place, wrong time.  No one ever suggests that maybe you’re just the wrong person.  He’s always been that.  That’s probably what it is, really.  The rest just follows.

“Hold on,” Roy’s voice says.

As if Ed’s ever had a choice.

As if he’s ever had an option other than survive, survive, get up, move on, and cling like fucking hell to anything that you can get.

The rustling sounds… real.  Something that feels like a sheet—what of it doesn’t feel like another layer of unwelcome warmth chafing on the damp shirt stuck to Ed’s chest—tugs sideways.  A drawer opens, or something like it; and little objects clack together.  Another whisper of flimsy fabric, and then the mattress dips, and then…

A whiff of ozone.  Fingers snapping.  And a spark.

A tiny flame illuminates—the size of a candle’s, but cast out in the open air; blue-violet at the feeble core for a split-second before it feathers out to red, softens to gold—

Ed pushes himself up onto his right elbow to stare at it.  His shoulder aches.  That feels… concrete.

The flame keeps him mesmerized for moments on end, in part simply because the dark around it was so complete that it’s all that he can process for… a while.  Time passes.  He can hear his breaths; he can hear his heartbeat.

Slowly, he starts to differentiate between his and Roy’s.

The pallid shape beneath the flickering light resolves into something more distinct—Roy’s fingertips, in the white glove.  Ed drags his eyes down over the hem of the glove, along a forearm to an elbow.  Crumpled sheets pool in Roy’s lap; he sits with one knee bent and the other leg extended.

Ed follows the lines of gentle orange light back up the rest of Roy’s arm this time, to a shoulder that he knows and a neck that’s familiar and a jawline that he recognizes.

Firelight always casts shapes into a starker relief—emphasizing the way things are.  Roy’s mouth looks softer; his nose looks sharper.  His right eye gleams as the flame undulates.  The socket where the left used to be is a well of shadow rimmed with spreading tendrils of pearl-white scars.  Alfons would say that this is what it should look like when a star dies—emptiness framed in evidence.  A ring of new things coalescing around the collapse.

Roy has both eyes, sometimes, in Ed’s dreams.  He’s often hazy, blurring at the edges; disappearing around streetcorners; slipping out of sight.  Even when Ed pins him down—sometimes very literally; sometimes with a heat and a hunger that twist and ache twice as much as they ever satisfy—he stays evasive.  He melts.  He changes.  He fades away.

The Roy in Ed’s dreams does not usually extend the gloved hand towards him.  The Roy in Ed’s dreams does not usually smile, ever so slightly, with just a touch more warmth than bitterness.

When Ed is dreaming, Roy is rarely clear, and rarely tangible, and almost never dressed in his favorite threadbare blue-and-white-striped pajamas, which the Ed who dreamed him had never even seen.

And the Roy in Ed’s dreams never once did alchemy.

Ed would try it—any time that he could bring his leaden hands together in the midst of a howling nightmare; any time that he could summon up the will.  Sometimes it would almost work.  Sometimes he’d get a half-second’s trembling relief.

The Roy that he dreamed, though—

Ed sits up and reaches out to clasp both of his hands around the base of Roy’s.  It’s warm against his left palm.  He can feel the tendons that have tightened in Roy’s wrist.  Roy has siphoned enough oxygen out of the air around them to feed this little visual aide that it’s starting to make Ed’s head go light.

Ed squeezes gently with both his hands, and Roy lets the fire go out.

The dark seems to make the silence more obvious somehow—pointed.  Too acute.

Ed swallows, first, but his throat still feels dry enough that he has to clear it next.  Another little rustle of the sheets heralds Roy’s other hand lifting to wrap itself around his.  It’s a good thing that the light’s out; they must look stupid, tangled up like this.  Sitting up in bed with their hands all knitted up together, like children making a pact at midnight.

It’s probably later than midnight, anyway.  Feels fuzzier.  Feels worse.

Ed has to say something, but there doesn’t seem to be much left.

“I’m trying,” he forces out.  “I’m fucking trying.  I am.  You—know that.  Right?  I want—” He breathes as deeply as he dares.  “I want to be… here.  I swear to God I fucking do.  I just…”

“I know,” Roy says, softly.

Everybody says that—or wants to say that, or thinks that it’s the nice thing to trot out when someone else is struggling.

But Roy really does.  Roy does know.  Roy has lived a hell a lot like this one.

Roy made it—maybe not through; there might not be any sort of through about it.  There’s no fixing; there’s no resolution; there’s no other side.

But Roy made it here.  Roy made it this far.

Ed runs the pad of his left thumb up along Roy’s hand, and the fabric of the glove slithers against his skin, and he thinks…

He thinks that this is better than he deserves, anyway, when you get right down to it.  He thinks that this is kinder.  He thinks that it could be a shit-lot worse in a hundred-thousand different ways, and he’s about as lucky as they come.

He thinks that he can probably make it, too.

“You ever tried replicating fireworks?” he asks.

Ed woke Roy from a well-earned, solid sleep over yet another fucking lousy dream, and now he’s talking alchemy at godawful o’clock.  Al always gives him a withering look when he says that he’s a blight on their species, but honestly

“I have been advised,” Roy says, “not to comment on that topic prior to a consultation with my lawyer.”

Ed feels the corners of his mouth turn up before he processes that he’s amused.  Weird sensation.  Nice, though.  “Is that a ‘Of course I did, but I was sixteen and stupid, and I had to draw on eyebrows for a month’?”

Roy withdraws his bare hand from the knot of their overlapping fingers.  A half-second later, his knuckles graze Ed’s cheek—exactly the right amount of pressure to make Ed’s scalp tingle, and to make his skin feel tight.

“I’m not allowed to talk about that without my lawyer present, either,” Roy says.  “If I was, though, I would caution you that giving oneself very surprised or very angry eyebrows to see how people will react loses its charm somewhat sooner than you’d expect.”

The unauthorized smile overtaking Ed’s face increases in intensity until his body starts to up warm from the inside this time.  “Please tell me that somebody got a photo.  Just one.”

“No comment on that, either,” Roy says.

“Christ,” Ed says.  “Are you coming down with something?  I don’t think we’ve ever had a conversation where you decided not to talk.”

Roy’s fingers curl underneath his ear, smoothing little sweat-damp hairs back from it gently, so Ed reaches out with his left hand and presses the back to Roy’s forehead.

“What’s the verdict, Doctor?” Roy asks.

“I dunno,” Ed says.  “I’m no good at being funny on command in the middle of the night.”

“I believe it’s technically the middle of the morning,” Roy says.

“I believe you’re technically an asshole,” Ed says.

Roy tilts his head back swiftly enough to kiss Ed’s palm before Ed can retract his hand.

“Knock it off,” Ed says.

Roy’s fingertips brush over the shell of his ear.  “Mm… no.”

Ed makes a sincere effort to be annoyed, but it’s just too late, and he’s too tired.  Maybe tomorrow.

“Go to sleep,” he says.

He can hear the smirk in Roy’s voice, which makes it worse: “You first.”

Fine,” Ed says.  Comebacks don’t tend to be his forte even in the course of a well-caffeinated afternoon; at a time like this, he’s just going to have to take what he can get.  Hopefully dropping to the mattress in a fake huff helps to get the point across.  “Happy now?”

Roy settles down much more sedately beside him; the nightstand drawer opens and closes again; the sheets pull taut as Roy moves, and then they drape down into the little gap between the two of them.

“You know,” Roy says, “I am.  Happy, that is.  Oddly enough.”

Even now, Ed flinches most of the time, when Roy’s fingertips find him without warning in the dark—times like now.  It’s the force of a habit that his brain won’t break after all the times that it’s kept him alive.

But they both always stay still for the length of a breath or two after he startles, and if Ed doesn’t pull back, Roy picks up where he left off like nothing happened—like nothing’s broken, and nothing’s lost.

This time, after the waiting, Roy runs his fingers through Ed’s hair and guides it back off of his face.

“Are you?” Roy asks.

Ed lets himself feel the way his body draws breath—the way his lungs fill, and his heart beats, and his head tries to tilt itself towards Roy’s hand.

“Pretty damn close,” he says.

“I’ll take it,” Roy says.

“Good,” Ed says, and even in the dark, he manages to smear a kiss on one of Roy’s retreating fingertips before it pulls away.