Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Rated for: Sexual Situations, Mild Violence, Language
Type: Gen, Suspense, Psychological, Dark, Divergence (story ignores series ending and movie), slight AU.
Pairings: Focus on Roy and Ed, but no actual “pairings” (see A/N in first chapter).
Warnings: Yaoi and Het sexual situations
Summary: When Ed shows up unexpectedly after a two year disappearance, Roy tries to help him and learns that there is a darker meaning to the words 'equivalent exchange'.
Chapter Listing Here
A/N: Just one more left.
Roy sat in his office and idly tapped a pen against the document he was supposed to be filling out, but he couldn’t really get himself to focus on it. The office was dimly lit, the sun having set hours ago, and the only light came from a small lamp on his desk. The overhead lights had died days ago, but no matter what new bulbs were put in, they simply would not work. He shivered a little in the heavy coat he was wearing, and shook his head in an effort to clear his mind.
It was no use. He simply couldn’t find it within himself to concentrate, but he felt a little better looking as if he were doing something, even if he wasn’t. The office was cold—he’d given up trying to get someone to fix the temperature since his meeting with Alphonse—and it was getting late. He was tired, but he had no desire to return to his similarly freezing apartment.
He sighed and, sitting back in his chair, pulled the thick, leather-bound book Alphonse had given him out of his coat pocket and flipped through the pages. He’d read it cover to cover many times—he’d had to, given how disjointed it was—and still Roy felt disbelief at some of the information it contained.
Roy lifted the book so that it caught the faded lamplight, and let his eyes wander over a page before flipping ahead to another. The actual writing had similarities, but one was the scrawl of a child, the other the neat script of an adult. By the information each told, it became obvious that the careful cursive was from the Al he knew, and that the rough scribblings were from the part of Alphonse who’d been left behind—the child.
The tone of the words was also very different. Anger was buried deep in the scribbled words in some places as Alphonse told his short and lonely tale, and sorrow lay behind Al’s need to justify why he hadn’t tried to help his brother, like he had tried to help him. In a way, the book was almost a journal at some points, but there were parts that were filled with complicated mathematical formulas and complex arrays that had taken Roy quite some time to fully understand.
He sighed, closed the book, and stuffed it back into an inner pocket in his coat. It had been weeks since he’d gone to Rizembool; weeks since he’d come home to find his apartment empty... In that time he’d practically memorized the book, and he’d prepared everything for when Ed finally came back. He would come back, Roy knew this. The frigid temperatures in his office and apartment seemed to confirm it, and he was able to take enough comfort from this knowledge to keep the cold from bothering him too much.
The clock on the wall chimed and he didn’t need to see it to know that the time was eight o’ clock. Roy had been free to go home at five, but he’d stayed—he stayed late often now—and he’d gotten almost nothing done in the extra three hours.
He yawned and got out of his chair. No point in staying here. Perhaps he’d head down to the Officer’s Club and get a drink before heading home. He stretched, then groaned when the already tepid lamplight fizzled out. He felt a slight shiver run through his body and he quickly walked over to the small coat rack in the corner of the room near the door. He had no desire to stay in here with the light gone and was intent on making his exit as quickly as possible. As he was pulling his hat from the rack, the door to his office opened, flooding the room with light; and Lieutenant Hawkeye walked in, carrying a couple of folders.
Roy could see her shiver a little as she wandered over to his desk before glancing through the folders and picking out the papers that were meant for him. She hadn’t seen him standing there in the corner behind the door, and he took a moment to study her in the light from the other room.
Her tight hairstyle was starting to show signs of wear after the long day, and by her movements Roy suspected she would be going home soon as well. The lieutenant was a good worker, sometimes almost too good; and, since she had no family, she often stayed late to be sure everything was done on time.
He swallowed, feeling a little depressed. Since the time she’d come to his apartment, Hawkeye had begun to avoid him just as much as everyone else, and when avoidance wasn’t possible, she was polite, but very aloof. The thought that she believed the rumors about him hurt, but he supposed that he couldn’t blame her. Roy wasn’t sure that he would believe he was innocent either...
Yet it still hurt and still made him angry. She’d come to visit him after he’d been released, but he could tell that even then she’d been nervous to be with him. She hadn’t said it outright, she wasn’t that type of person, but he’d been able to tell in her tone and in her body language.
Roy wanted her to come out and say it—say that she believed he’d raped his subordinate and murdered that prostitute. He wanted someone to say it to his face and not just whisper behind his back, go quiet when he entered the room, or give him looks of nervous fear. After all, his reputation from Ishbal also followed him. Some called him a ‘hero’ because he’d somehow been able to protect his own men, but those who had been there also knew of the awesome and terrible power he had displayed with the help of the false stone, and just how many people were dead because of him. No... he was no hero... He was a monster...
Stepping over to the door, Roy closed it, making the room dark again. He could hear the gasp from Hawkeye as she quickly turned around, but it wasn’t until a few moments later, when his vision became used to the darkness, that he was able to see her.
“Good evening, Lieutenant...” Roy murmured softly.
There was a slight pause before, “Sir... I thought you’d gone home for the night. If I would have known you were still here...” Her voice trailed off, and he walked toward her.
“Then what?” he asked, his voice still maintaining its quiet tone. When he got too close for her liking, she backed up a couple of steps, then stopped when she connected with the desk. He didn’t stop, but continued forward until his body was practically touching hers.
“Sir...” she said, her firm voice filled with nervousness. Oh yes, she believed he’d done it. She should know better, but still she believed it...
“Tell me, Lieutenant...” he began in a whisper. Roy could feel her breath on his skin from how close they were, and her breathing was quickening; an indication that she was beginning to panic a little. “If you’d known I was still here, then what?”
“You wouldn’t have come in here, would you?” he whispered, and this time it was hard to keep a bit of both the hurt and anger out of his voice. Her gun hand began to move down a little, but he quickly grabbed it and twisted it behind her back. She moved her other hand as if to strike him, but he grabbed it and twisted that one back as well.
“Let go of me,” she demanded. If Roy didn’t know better, he would believe she was unafraid; but he did know her and he recognized the tone in her voice for what it was.
Instead of doing as she requested, Roy pressed his body even closer against hers and moved his mouth near her ear. “Or what?” he whispered breathily.
She tried to fight against his hold, but when he only tightened his grip on her wrists, she stopped and ground out, “I’ll scream.”
Roy wasn’t worried. There were very few people in the building by this time of night, and the night guards were much too lazy to be of any good—probably in the break room drinking coffee and munching on doughnuts.
“You were going to draw your gun on me. I’m protecting myself,” Roy returned quietly. “Why would you draw your gun when I was just talking to you?” Silence. He had the urge to yell at her, to demand why she didn’t trust him. Weeks of enduring silent accusations had brought him to this point, and he wanted nothing more than to let out his resentment and frustration. Instead, he murmured, “You think I did it, don’t you.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement.
“No, sir...” she said, the lie obvious in her voice.
“You’re lying,” Roy said flatly, and moved both of her wrists together so that he could hold them with one hand. He brought his now free hand up and stroked slowly at her hair. It was softer than he’d expected it to be... “You believed I raped her, and you think I murdered that prostitute,” he accused tightly.
She said nothing, and this only made him angrier. He gritted his teeth together, trying to hold in the emotions, but failing miserably. “I’ve never killed anyone outside of my military duties,” he breathed furiously. “And I’ve never raped anyone.” He could hear the anguish in his own voice and it made him sick because he didn’t want to be seen as weak.
Roy tightened his grip on her wrists, then reached up and gently dragged his fingers of his other hand down her cheek, to her collarbone, then finally to her chest. She thrashed, as he expected she would, when he rubbed his palm over one of her breasts. One of her legs lifted in an effort to knee his groin, but he twisted his body slightly so that her knee caught the side of his thigh. It still hurt, but not quite as much as it would have had she struck her original target. He tightened his grip on her until she stilled. Any further pressure from him and her wrists would snap. They both knew it, but what she didn’t know was that he wouldn’t be able to go through with it.
“What good does it do me to be innocent, when everyone thinks I’m guilty?” he asked in a cold tone that he almost couldn’t believe belonged to him. He couldn’t believe what he was doing. It made him sick just to think about it, but he wanted her response. He wanted to make her pay for not believing him; wanted to make her pay for all the others he couldn’t get ahold of. Hawkeye tried to struggle again, but stopped when he slid his hand up and clasped it around her throat. A small whimper of pain came from her as he tightened his already fierce hold on her wrists, but that was all.
It was then that his mind went back to Alphonse Elric. The teen had been so full of hate and anger at his brother that he’d wanted to see him suffer like he’d suffered. Wasn’t that the same thing as what he was doing now? The realization made his insides churn and he thought he’d be sick. Was he any better than Alphonse?
He stared down into Hawkeye’s fierce, yet fear-filled, eyes and knew that he would never be able to hurt her like that—he’d never be able to hurt anyone like that—and at that realization, he fell into a state of complete and utter despair. How could anyone think that of him?! How could he have even supposed for a moment that he could do something like that?!
Roy swallowed, letting go of her wrists and throat, then wrapped his arms around her in a tight and desperate embrace. “I’m sorry...” he whispered in an almost whimper. “I’m so sorry... I could never…”
He waited for her to retaliate in some way, but there was nothing. And, after a moment, he could feel her body shaking beneath his grip, then, instead of going for her gun as he’d expected, she wrapped her arms around him in return and said in a tearful voice, “No... I’m sorry... I...”
“I didn’t do it!” he cried, the anguish finally too much for him to handle.
“I know... I know! I’m... I’m so sorry. I should have known, but...” Her apologies were floundered, but it didn’t matter. Just the fact that she believed he was innocent—or at the very least said she believed—lifted a great burden from him. He squeezed his eyes shut and one solitary tear escaped each of his eyes, trickling down his cheeks and into her uniform. He wanted to hold onto her longer, but he already felt so weak... He didn’t want her to remember him like this...
Pulling away, Roy stared down at her through darkness, cleared his throat, and said, “I’m going away...”
“What?” she said in surprise.
“I’m leaving. Tonight.” There was no way he could stay here after what he’d just done. Even though he hadn’t gone through with it, Roy still didn’t think he would ever be able to face her again.
He could barely discern her eyebrows knitting together and a deep frown pulling at her lips. “But, where will you go?” Hawkeye asked worriedly.
“Somewhere...” Truthfully, he planned on hiding in his apartment for as long as he could. He’d stay there and wait for Ed; and, when he came, Roy would help him. After that... well, perhaps there would be no afterward for him...
“When will you be back?” She was anxious now, he could tell, and he almost lied to spare her the pain, but he couldn’t bring himself to do so.
“Probably never,” he said quietly.
“But—” she began, but he cut her off.
“I told you, I could never do any of those things, and I’m tired of having to live with the accusations. I can’t handle anymore of this. There’s nothing left for me here. Please understand...” She stared at him for a long time before finally nodding.
He moved away from her, then quickly stepped forward again and snatched the picture from his desk; the picture of his staff and of Ed and Al. Stuffing it into the same pocket as the book, Roy turned and walked toward the door. When he opened it, he blinked at the sudden light, then glanced back at Hawkeye one last time. She looked a little shaken, but he was sure it was nothing that a good night’s sleep wouldn’t take care of.
“Thank you...” he said softly, then without waiting for an answer, he turned and walked out the door.
Ed stalked angrily to the door, looked at the address scratched into his watch, then began to pound on the door. He wanted to know why the hell Mustang’s name and address was scratched on his watch. If this was some sort of joke, then it wasn’t funny. Ed didn’t like people messing with his watch—even Al.
He frowned and glanced up and down the long hallway. Where was Al anyway? Probably doing some kind of research at the library, he supposed. Ed nodded to himself, feeling satisfied. Of course. Where else would Al be? He and Al were always together because they needed to find a way to restore what they’d lost. If Al was somewhere other than that, Ed was sure he would let him know. He probably just didn’t want to hear another argument with Mustang.
Ed frowned. It was hard to say just how much leeway they’d made in their search. For some reason he felt a little fuzzy in the head when he tried to think about it. Even thinking back an hour ago seemed too far away. Maybe he was working too hard... Yeah, that must be it. Well, he couldn’t let Al know in any case. He’d start worrying and all hell would break loose.
Irritably, Ed pounded on the door again. Fucking Mustang. He’d better answer the damn door, because Ed knew the man was in there! More pounding, then he stopped when he heard a small click and the slide of a chain. Feeling satisfied that he’d gotten a response, Ed folded his arms and waited. The doorknob turned and the door opened slowly, making the hinges creak. When he laid eyes on the man inside, Ed blinked in surprise and frowned deeply. It was Mustang, but...
“You look like shit...” Ed said, feeling a bit of shock. This was not the man he knew. The Roy Mustang Ed knew took extreme care in his appearance. He was meticulous. He was... well, not was he was seeing now... Mustang’s clothes were rumpled and disheveled as if he’d been sleeping in them. His black hair, now being taken over by white, was dirty and unkempt. The whites of his eyes were tinted with a light red, and dark circles hung underneath. His face—pale and thin-looking as if he hadn’t been eating well—was speckled with hair as if he hadn’t bothered to shave for the past couple of days.
“Ed...?” Mustang murmured, looking him up and down as if he wasn’t sure he believed what he was seeing.
“Well, duh!” he said, then suddenly remembered why he was here. “Let me in. I have to talk with to you!”
“Of course...” the colonel said quietly, moving aside and opening the door wider. Ed walked in, his boots clunking noisily against the wooden floor, and a strange odor met his nose. It was a slightly nauseating, metallic smell; so familiar, yet he couldn’t place it...
He shivered and said, “Fucking cold in here!” He glanced around, but saw almost nothing. “And dark. What the hell is this...?” He swallowed hard, suddenly feeling nervous. “I don’t like the cold... Can we turn on a light or something?”
“I have a candle...” Mustang murmured and Ed could hear rustling. “My utilities were shut off a few days ago. I’m running low on funds...” That was said almost so quietly that Ed didn’t hear it. He was about to ask about that when he heard a snap from where Mustang was standing and a candle across the room flared to life. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
Ed blinked and looked around in the dimly lit, and mostly empty, room. For some reason he supposed that there should be furniture. It wasn’t just the fact that such a thing would be normal, but he felt like he’d been here before and knew there should be some. But that was stupid. He’d never been here before in his life.
“Why are you here?” Mustang asked mildly, breaking the silence.
“I...” He blinked. Why was he there...? Ed searched his thoughts and jumbled memories for a moment before he pulled something from the murky depths and said, “My watch.” He held it up; the dim light of the candle reflecting off its surface. “I want to know why the hell your name and address are scratched on it.”
“That is a good question...” Mustang murmured. “And one I can’t answer because you were the one who did it.”
He had done it...? Ed moved the watch close to his eyes and inspected it closely. The scratch marks were barely visible in the candlelight.
“Why are you here, Ed...?” Mustang asked again as if Ed’s first answer hadn’t been good enough.
“I told you!” he snapped, then held the watch out toward Mustang again. “I don’t want a watch that has your information on it! I want a new one.”
The light from the candle flickered, making the shadows on Mustang’s face dance and pulse. It seemed to fit with the calm way the man was speaking to him. “That might be possible,” Mustang said, “if you were still in the military.”
“What the hell are you talking about?!” Ed snapped, feeling confused and slightly angry. “I am in the military! I’m the Fullmetal Alchemist!”
Mustang reached out, grabbed the hand Ed was using to hold the watch, and moved it down. “No...” he whispered. “You’re not.” Mustang seemed sad and regretful over this, but unmoving as well. “You gave up being Fullmetal years ago.” Ed’s eyes widened and he shook his head in a sudden, frantic attempt to maintain his grip on reality. “You haven’t been the Fullmetal Alchemist for quite some time,” Mustang continued quietly. “You no longer have rights to that name, or to this watch.”
“But... I...” Ed stammered in disbelief, letting his hand drop. Was Mustang right? He couldn’t be, could he? But then, Ed couldn’t even remember the last time he’d been to headquarters. He was in the military... and he and Al... they were searching...
He was searching... There was something he had to find... But it wasn’t the Stone... No. It was something else. Something more important, but... what was it?
Mustang stepped forward, raised his hand, and gently touched Ed’s face, bringing him out of his thoughts, then asked again, “Why are you here? The real reason.”
Ed swallowed hard and looked away. He felt empty and defeated; tired and worn. What was wrong with him? He looked down at the watch in his hand and realized that it meant nothing to him. Why was he even holding onto it? What did it mean?
“I’m looking for something...” Ed murmured. How did I even get here? he wondered vaguely. “But... I don’t know what it is... I...”
“I know,” Mustang said, interrupting him. His hand moved to rest on Ed’s shoulder. “I know what you’re looking for and I know where you can find it.”
Ed lifted his head and stared disbelievingly at Mustang. “You... do?” Hope clawed its way from the pit of his stomach to his heart and squeezed so tightly that it was almost difficult to breathe.
“Yes, I do. I’m going to help you, but... you’ll have to trust me...”
Ed dropped the watch and dismissed the clanking sound it made as it hit the wooden floor. “I trust you!” He stepped forward and grabbed onto Mustang’s shirt, desperate for what Mustang was promising him. “I trust you! Please... I’ll do anything...” It didn’t seem to matter that it was Mustang he was begging and making promises too; if he could help... if he could take away the confusion and pain, the loneliness and frustration...
Mustang reached up and held onto Ed’s hands for a moment, before prying them gently away. Ed stared up into Mustang’s eyes as if he could convey his desperate need with just a look, then he looked down at his hands being held by Mustang’s and said quietly, “Anything... I... anything at all...”
He heard Mustang sigh, and looked up in time to see the man move close and give him a tight hug. “Maybe we’ll both get what we want in the end...” he whispered, then pulled away just as quickly as he’d moved in. He snapped twice and two other candles flared to life, then he pulled off his gloves and set them down on the floor.
“Take off your coat, shirt, and shoes, and set them there,” Mustang said, pointing at where he’d laid the gloves. Ed hesitated as he watched Mustang take off his own shirt. The hug had felt so good... He’d felt so warm and he desperately wanted another one. “Well?” Mustang asked, looking at him. Ed shook his head and quickly did as he’d been told. After dropping the clothing in the pile, he shivered again and resisted the urge to wrap his arms around himself. Cold automail did nothing to ward off the chill.
Ed watched as Mustang headed toward the kitchen, then looked into the living area and frowned deeply. Not only was the furniture gone, but so was the carpet... He was sure there was supposed to be carpet, but it had been stripped up and... Something on the floor caught his eye and he walked slowly into the living room, staring down at the wooden floor. There was something large drawn there...
The array—which seemed so familiar, yet he was sure he’d never seen it before—was incredibly complex; beautiful with its intricate weaving lines and circular plains... and... an odd thing... The lines were dark—black—not white. That meant that chalk hadn’t been used to draw it. Yet, there were no paint buckets, and this didn’t look like paint in any case...
Kneeling down, Ed inspected the array more closely, then gasped in disbelief. The lines weren’t black; they were a deep and crusty red. Blood had been used to draw this array... He stared at it in shock and horror. Why would anyone draw such a large and complicated array in blood? Where would someone get so much blood? Ed wasn’t sure he wanted to know...
Footsteps sounded behind him and Ed turned to see Mustang standing behind him with a small bowl and a hand towel. He wanted to ask about the array, but before he could, he was told to stand up.
“I’m sorry, this is cold,” Mustang murmured apologetically. “I’ve been storing it in an icebox to keep it... as fresh as possible...” He dipped a finger in the bowl, looked at Ed, then reached out and began to draw on Ed’s chest. Ed winced at the cold and at the feel of the slimy liquid on his skin. It felt sticky, and he looked down to see a dark red array being drawn on his chest in paint. Only, it wasn’t paint, he realized, feeling the urge to vomit.
His eyes wandered to Roy’s arms and what he saw took his breath away. Long, half-healed cuts ran down the inside of Roy’s arms. “Is this...” he whispered, almost unable to get himself to ask the question. “Whose blood...? Is it... yours?” No answer was forthcoming however as Mustang continued to draw arrays on him; his chest, forehead, hands, feet...
When he was finished, Mustang inspected him quietly before wiping his hand off with the hand towel and holding the bowl out. “You have to draw the arrays on me,” he said simply.
Ed stared mutely at the bowl for a moment, then reached out, took it, and dipped his finger hesitantly into the chilled blood. Why? Ed thought as he began to draw the arrays on Mustang’s pale skin. Why would he do this? Why would he do this for me? He tried to think back, tried to remember... something... anything... a reason why, but nothing came to mind. He couldn’t possibly have ever done something so great for him...
After finishing the array on Mustang’s chest, hands, and feet, Ed looked up, knowing he wasn’t tall enough to reach Mustang’s forehead. As if he understood what was going on in Ed’s mind, Mustang knelt down in front of him so that Ed could more easily reach his forehead.
Why do I trust you? Ed wondered as he drew the array. What have you done to earn my trust? Why did I come to you? He stopped as a thought hit him and it was so powerful that he asked it aloud. “What will happen to you when this is over?”
Dark eyes stared silently back at him for a long moment, then Mustang said, “Hopefully, I will be free.” Free? What did he mean by free? Ed couldn’t understand, couldn’t begin to guess, but... But Mustang didn’t sound as if it would be a bad thing, yet...
When he was finished, Ed handed the bowl back to Mustang, who simply slid it across the floor, then handed the small towel to Ed so that he could wipe his hand off. Ed did so slowly, never taking his eyes off of Mustang. He wanted to reach out and touch him, wanted to have some contact. The memory of the hug still lingered and Ed longed for another one; longed for that warmth and the feeling of not being quite alone...
Before he could initiate anything, Mustang stood up and moved his gaze to stare steadily at the array. Ed looked nervously up at Mustang and was a little relieved to see that he looked unafraid. It made him feel better. Mustang knew what he was doing. He knew what was going on and he wasn’t afraid.
“Step onto the array,” Mustang instructed softly.
Ed tossed the towel aside; then, looking at the array, he took a deep breath and stepped forward. In the instant his foot touched the ground, the array on the floor and those on his body on his body, lit up. He’d begun the process of activating it and it was ready to be used.
But this knowledge passed unnoticed by Ed because at that moment he knew nothing, felt nothing, was nothing... He was blank. Everything was empty. The past, present, and future were nothing because he didn’t have those.
He walked to the center of the circle, and looked at the man beyond the light. “Are you ready?” he asked in a hollow voice. He wasn’t sure why he’d asked, but it seemed right, and the man nodded slowly in affirmation.
Roy watched as Ed began the activation of the array and the room was suddenly bathed in a deep red glow. His eyes were fixed on the sight—entranced by it. Ed’s automail reflected the red glow, but it also caught the light blue glow from the arrays on his body. Roy looked down at the arrays on his own skin and noticed that they, too, were emitting a light blue glow. But he’d expected that. Al had made careful notes about what had happened when he and Ed had done this.
Yet, even those notes had been missing some important aspects, one of which was how they’d felt at the time. Had they been afraid? Of course, there was no way of knowing how Ed had felt; but, in the book, Al hadn’t indicated any feelings of fear. In fact, he’d mentioned feeling a little empty and hollow...
“Are you ready?” Ed asked in almost an uninterested voice.
Roy nodded. Yes, he was ready. He was ready to do this—ready to leave this existence behind. There was absolutely nothing left for him here; yet, there was everything here for Ed. He was doing the right thing. They’d both benefit from this.
He stepped forward and, when his foot connected with the array, alarm filled him. It was sharp and painful, and Roy almost felt as if he couldn’t breathe. He took another step and nearly fell to his knees. Just a moment before he’d felt no fear; and yet, now, a dreadful terror was raging through his body.
I must do this, Roy thought. He’d already come so far; he wouldn’t turn back now. He took another step, and then another. Panic gripped him as he neared the center of the array where Ed stood calmly looking at him.
Roy stopped when he neared Ed and asked, “Are you ready?” His question echoed loudly in his ears and Roy almost wanted to curl up and cover his head with his hands. Instead of answering the question verbally, Ed raised his hands with palms out and waited calmly. Swallowing hard, Roy raised his own hands—shaking with unrestrained terror—and pressed them against Ed’s.
The array became fully active and blindingly bright light flared up around them. He felt as if he were being torn apart and put back together all at the same time, and he yelled with fear and pain.
Then there was nothing but yellow. All around him was yellow. A light, almost white, ethereal yellow void... And that yellowish-white void held a coldness that was deep and heavy—something that seeped into his very being and sapped the strength from his body.
“Colonel?” a voice asked in calm surprise. The voice grabbed at him—pulled at his soul. He knew this voice and he was relieved that there was none of that painful longing and confusion that he’d become accustomed to hearing. Turning his head slightly, he saw Edward Elric standing a few paces in front of him; looking a little insubstantial, as if he wasn’t exactly real. Ed’s eyes—pale and ghostly—radiated knowledge and also a slight tinge of happiness, but that emotion didn’t mingle with the look of interest and curiosity that his face held.
With an effort, Roy tore his gaze away from Ed long enough to take in his surroundings. A large, black, two-doored gate stood near and its ominous presence sent a chill through Roy’s spine. He’d known to expect it, known it from the book Alphonse had given him, but to actually see it was terrifying. The urge to shrink away from the menacing gate was strong and it took everything he had within him to stay where he was.
He tore his eyes away from the gate, turning a little more, and saw Edward Elric again; though this time it was the tattered-looking, shirtless teen who had been in his apartment only moments before. His eyes were slightly blank, only vaguely taking in what was going on. Roy looked from one to the other for a moment, then gave a small sigh of relief.
It had worked... Or at least, everything seemed to be going as planned thus far.
Moving close to the Ed he’d brought with him, Roy said, motioning to the ghostly-looking Ed before them, “This... is what—who—you were looking for...” Ed stared fixedly at his pale double and tears gathered in his eyes, but he did and said nothing; simply stared.
“Why are you here?” the other Ed asked quietly. “Why have you come to this place?”
Roy turned and watched the other Ed walk near. All the intelligence, all the personality, all the everything that made Ed who he was shone brightly in those insubstantial eyes. This was Ed. This was his soul. It was his very being.
“I’m here to help,” Roy said simply.
“You don’t know what you’re doing,” Ed answered, looking concerned. “I told Al—”
“I’m not your brother,” Roy said, cutting him off.
Ed opened his mouth, then shut it and shook his head with a small smile. “Don’t misunderstand, I... I’m happy to finally see someone again, and I’m... touched... by your effort, but I can’t let you do this...”
“Do you really think you can stop me from doing what I want?” Roy countered stubbornly. There was no way Ed was going to talk him out of this. This had been his decision. He’d known what the risks were, but he was desperate for something else. He wanted to get away from his life, and this gave him the opportunity. He would not let Ed deny him this.
“They say that exchange is equivalent, but you know, it never is; at least, not here. Fairness doesn’t exist in this place.” Ed glanced at the gate, and Roy thought he looked a little bitter and angry. “The concept is a foreign thing; and, in the end, you’ll end up worse off than before.”
“Ed...” Roy began, then trailed off when Ed looked back at him. Pain filled his eyes as he gazed steadily at him.
“There is no ‘fixing things’, Mustang. There is no restoration or returning life to how it was. Such things are the dreams of children who know no better. But we know... we know that it’s impossible... We can only pay for our sins and hope that the ones we harmed will forgive us...” Ed’s gaze dropped to his feet as his words trailed off.
Roy was silent for a moment as the weight of Ed’s words rested on him. He knew much about sin and hoping others would forgive him... Finally, he said quietly, “Do you really think Alphonse will be able to forgive you if you can’t forgive yourself?”
Ed’s head snapped up and he stared at him with a look of shock and undisguised horror. “How—” he began.
“Ed... there is too much hurt to go around—too much pain.” Roy knew plenty about pain as well. “You hate yourself for what you’ve done to Alphonse. You hate yourself because his soul was stuck in that armor for all those years, then you hate yourself even more when you realize that part of your brother was still here—languishing in a hell that he didn’t deserve.” Roy knew much about self-hatred too...
Ed’s face contorted into a look of pain, but Roy didn’t stop. He wanted Ed to realize that he was wrong, that even if he couldn’t put everything back to how it was, he could make things right with his brother and with himself. He, at least, had something to live for. Ed had a chance of having a good life.
“If you thought that by staying here, and living through what he did, would make things better—would make them equal—you were wrong. Your brother is still hurting. The half of him that was stuck here hates you bitterly, yet at the same time he wants to forgive you. While the half who journeyed with you all those years, misses you and hates himself for not finding a way to get you back.” Roy sighed and shook his head. “You need to go to him. He needs to forgive you...” He paused, studying Ed’s face for a moment, then continued quietly. “And you need to forgive yourself.”
Swallowing hard, Ed looked away for a time. He seemed to be considering Roy’s words. His lips pressed together tightly and his eyes crinkled in pain. Then Ed rubbed his eyes before finally saying quietly, “What about you...”
“What about me?”
“You’ll...” Ed’s voice cracked. “You’ll be destroyed. You...”
Roy shook his head. There were worse fates than being destroyed. He was ready for anything, though hopefully what awaited him would be death. If not, well... “I have nothing to lose. Everything that mattered has already been taken from me, and the one thing I have left can never be taken from me.”
“And... what is that?” Ed asked.
“My sense of being... If I survive whatever happens here, people will still see me and remember who I used to be—even if I’m no longer that way. If I die, they will remember me for who I was. I’ll leave a legacy... That’s something that can’t be taken away.”
Ed looked at him searchingly for a moment, then glanced over at the Ed Roy had brought with him. “My body... It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to touch anything, or... It’s been so lonely here... so cold... You must be able to feel it, the cold...” Ed looked down and wrapped his arms around himself. “It’s the only thing I’ve been able to feel this whole time. It’s as if the cold lies on more than one plane of existence...” His voice trailed off and he took a step forward before glancing at Roy with a look of longing. “Is this really alright?”
Roy nodded and stepped aside for Ed to move close to his body. For a moment Ed did nothing; then, hesitantly, each reached out and the two connected. Ed’s soul quivered for a moment, then disappeared. The light and intelligence in the physical Ed’s eyes seemed to come back; and, for a moment, shock and horror played out across the features as if he were witnessing something dreadful that he couldn’t stop. Then Ed crumbled to his knees and put his hands to his head with a loud yell.
“No!” Ed screamed in pain, shaking his head as if that would make everything alright. His teeth clenched and tears welled up in his eyes. Roy stepped close, knelt, and wrapped his arm around Ed’s shoulders as he started to cry. “It hurts...” Ed moaned. “The memories... What I... this body did... without me... what I... that part of me... oh my... someone help me...” His anguish descended into unintelligible moans and whimpers as he begged for relief.
Holding tightly to Ed, Roy said, “Go to Al. Find him. I can’t help you anymore, but he will. I’m sure of it.”
Ed looked up at him in shocked disbelief. With tears streaming down his face, Ed said, “You... you helped me... You didn’t have to... You refused... I...”
Roy gave Ed a sad and understanding smile, then tightened his hold on him for a moment before letting go and standing up. Staring silently down at Ed for a moment, Roy wondered if Ed would really be okay. It was a slight prick of doubt that made him wonder if he was really doing the right thing, or if he had only deluded himself into thinking that for his own selfish reasons.
But if so, it was too late now. Ed’s body and soul were whole and he was strong. He’d be okay. Both he and his brother would be okay... They would work out their problems. Turning his gaze from Ed, Roy looked up at the ominous gate. With a deep breath, Roy said loudly, “I’m here to retrieve Edward Elric. Send him back to where he belongs!”
“Edward Elric belongs to me...” The words felt as though they were carried on a breeze, but there was no breeze and he didn’t actually here them. He felt them inside.
“Send him back where he belongs and you can have whatever you want from me! I will pay the full price that is owed by the Elric brothers!” he shouted.
“No!” Ed shouted, grabbing at Roy’s pants. “You can’t! I won’t let you!”
“Much is owed...”
“It doesn’t matter,” Roy said resolutely.
“No!” Ed said again. “No! This is my price!”
“It shall be done...”
“Wait!” Roy heard Ed cry, but when he turned to look at him, Ed was already fading away. His face was haggard and tormented, and tears were trickling down his cheeks as he shook his head.
“Good-bye, Ed...” Roy whispered sadly. He hoped Ed would understand that this had been Roy’s choice. He hoped that Ed wouldn’t feel any guilt or remorse over it. He had been given a chance to give something back, to make his death—as he hoped it would be—mean something.
When he was alone, Roy swallowed hard, feeling slightly nervous now that the moment had come, then looked at the gate. “Well?” he asked, feeling both eager and nervous. “What great and horrible punishment do you have for me?” A sudden prick of fear struck him as he wondered if those within the gate would decide that the worst thing would be to send him back to the shit hole of a life he’d just left. “You heard what I said to Ed!” he yelled. “I have nothing to lose! There is nothing you can take from me that will make any difference!”
His voice seemed to echo around him, and then there was a moment of silence as if whoever or whatever lay beyond was contemplating his fate. Finally, the gates slowly opened to reveal a dark mass beyond. Eyes stared out at him and terror overwhelmed him. He felt the urge to turn and run way, but instead he stood his ground and waited. This was what he wanted, after all.
Dark tendrils slid out from the inky blackness and surrounded his body. His skin began to tingle, then burn horribly. It seemed as if his whole body was being crushed and he screamed from the blinding pain. Memories flew through his mind, making sense for only a moment before they seemed to belong to someone else. His brain seared with a freezing pain and he reached up to clutch at his head.
And then, mercifully, there was nothing.
Roy opened his eyes. Everything was blurry. He blinked a few times and was able to clear his vision enough to see that he was staring up at a ceiling. He was in a dim room and the air had a slight metallic smell that made his stomach churn in disgust. He turned his head to one side and saw an almost burned out candle playing its part to light the room.
He sighed in contentment as he stared into the flame. The flickering was comforting and it lulled him into a slight hypnotic state, yet he broke out of it when he realized someone else was in the room. He turned his head to look back up at the ceiling, and this time a face came into his line of vision.
It was a boy with long, blond hair... His golden eyes were tinged with red as if he’d been crying for a long time, and his face looked worn and haggard. Concern and wonder filled the boy’s eyes, then he whispered in disbelief, “You’re alive... I don’t believe it... but... it’s you, isn’t it...?”
Roy frowned. What was this boy talking about? He blinked again, feeling tired; then he shivered as he realized it was a little chilly in the room. The boy’s face left his vision and was soon back, accompanied by him lying something over Roy’s body.
“That should keep you warm...” the boy murmured. “I don’t think we’ll have to worry about the cold following us anymore. It’s already warmed up since I came back.”
Roy pulled the stiff blue fabric up close to his chin, thinking that such a thought was stupid. Cold didn’t follow a person... did it? He stared up at the boy and studied his face. Who was this? He seemed nice, but... The boy seemed to understand what he was thinking because he said, “You don’t know who I am, do you...?” Roy shook his head, not wanting to talk to someone he didn’t know.
“Do you know who you are?” the boy asked a little nervously. Roy nodded. What a dumb question. Of course he knew who he was... He was Roy. He yawned and blinked tiredly. “You’re safe with me...” the boy whispered, then reached out and brushed his fingers through Roy’s hair.
“I’m going to protect you. I’m going to help you and take care of you...” A tear escaped one of the boy’s eyes and Roy suddenly felt sorry for him. He didn’t like seeing people be sad... “You were the only one who didn’t take advantage of me... I can never pay you back for that and for all you’ve done for me, but I’ll try.”
Roy yawned again. He was very tired and the boy wasn’t interesting enough to keep him from starting to nod off. “Go to sleep. I’ll watch over you,” the boy whispered with a small smile. Roy blinked a couple of times, then yawned again before letting his eyes close completely. He was tired and it took only a moment for him to fall asleep.