Ed: I felt like all of my life had been filled with hate and hurt and sadness and disappointment. I gave everything, only to have my brother –my only family– run away when he found out what I am. Is it so monstrous to be a man who loves a man who will never love me back? Apparently so, in my brother's eyes. I could still see the expression that had slowly crossed his face before he turned and ran from me. But musing to the dark sky offered me no answers and no solutions. Once upon a time, I used to find all of my answers in my alchemy, but since I gave up my ability to transmute in exchange for the brother I loved more than life, I had been forced to try and find another path to those same answers. Life was not as ordered as alchemy. In life, equivalent exchange was one hell of a joke. If you need a reference point, see "gave the only ability that made him worth anything for a brother who ran away when he found out his older brother was gay". In life, the laws of alchemy become obsolete when one cannot practice alchemy. The way I'd always lived my life was obsolete. What good did it do me to be an alchemical genius if all of my theories had to be tested and practiced and proven by other hands? My heart ached for the alchemy that had pulled me out of deep ruts and unimaginable situations, but I knew that it was gone. I'd given it up for something that I valued more –even if he didn't value me that way anymore. "Edward?" I looked up, startled. Had I finally gone completely around the bend? Was I so lonely, so desperate for company, that I was hearing voices? As far as I knew, there was absolutely no reason for Roy Mustang to be in Risembool. In fact, I was pretty sure there were at least three different people who were each perfectly good reasons for him to stay the hell away from my little hometown! But there he was, his dark hair as perfectly mused as always and his dark eyes full of concern. He looked softer, somehow, outside of his uniform –less severe, less ambitious, less like the Flame Alchemist and more like an ordinary man. "Mustang," I replied quietly, my attention drifting back toward the dewy grass. God only knew what he wanted to talk about. Frankly, I wasn't in the mood to talk at all, though I didn't have any particular wish to be alone. But I especially didn't want to be alone with him. "Alphonse told me you might be here." He reached out, a gloved hand coming toward my shoulder. "Then Alphonse needs to learn when to keep his mouth shut," I snapped back, jerking away from the gentle hand that was scant inches from my shoulder. He looked a bit hurt by the action. He had only been trying to comfort me and I made him feel like his comfort wasn't wanted. I sighed and scrubbed my hands over my face. "Sorry," I muttered. "I'm not good company and talking doesn't really help." A soft chuckle burst passed his lips as he sat down next to me on the stone. "An apology? How rare." "Don't make a big deal of it." All I could feel was the heat of his body so close to mine. Shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit! Trust my little brother to send this sexy asshole after I confessed to wanting him! Is this an instance for which I break Al's jaw or hug him tight? I wondered idly. Well, time would tell, as it always did. "How can I not? I think that's the first apology you ever offered me." Despite his calm tone, he still sounded quite surprised by the gesture. "It might also be the last," I threatened darkly. The silence drew on and stretched out, but his quiet presence beside me was enough –at least for now. I was stretching my arms out before me, trying to work a few kinks out of my neck and my spine, when a hand came to rest on my shoulder. "What's wrong, Edward? Why have you changed so much?" I snorted. "I can't do alchemy. I can't transmute a damn thing –not even a pitiful toy, like I did as a boy." "Surely, it's deeper than that." It wasn't a question so much as a statement. I took a deep breath. In my heart of hearts, I knew that this man would keep my secrets. That didn't mean he wouldn't laugh at them when they were revealed: only that he would never spread them. It took a certain type of courage to reveal yourself to a man like that, courage I had to scrounge up from hidden stores and wells inside myself. Hm. Perhaps confession is my new alchemy... "I'm gay." Mustang's back was suddenly career-military straight, despite the lack of uniform. "Excuse me?" "I'm gay. I like men. I told my brother that and he ran from me." That hadn't been all I told him, but then, Mustang really didn't need to know all of the dirty details. "Is it really so wrong to like men? Of all the things I've seen and said and done, why is it that one that scared my brother away from me?" The silence that fell was thick and dense and harsh. I wanted to bury myself in a shallow grave until he left. Already, I was working out the mechanics and schematics in my ever-busy mind. It wouldn't be easy –not without the use of alchemy– but I supposed I could manage it by hand. "Perhaps you startled him?" he said at last. "After all, I've known you a long time, Edward, and I never expected that declaration." "If you think it startled you, you should try coming to this grand realization at the age of twenty-one," I replied dryly. "I had originally just thought myself asexual." "Asexual?" "Yeah, you know: unaffected by sexuality? Initially, I had thought I had no interest in it at all, regardless of gender..." I shook my head. "But, of course, there had to be one man who turned my head –especially since I have a better chance of surviving another death-match with the dwarf in the flask than of having him. Because my life obviously didn't suck enough." A worry line creased his brow. "It's not like you to wallow in self-pity, Fullmetal..." I snorted. "I no longer bear that title, Flame Alchemist," I reminded him harshly. "And since I am no longer that boy, I find myself doing many things that were not like the Fullmetal Alchemist." Like kissing a woman just to try to make her happy. Like building a house over the past I fled from like a brat. Like lusting after the Flame Alchemist. He cringed. "Ed..." "What do you want me to say, Roy? That giving up my alchemy was the biggest mistake I ever made? That I miss being a dog of the military, the alchemist at your beck and call, and all of those stupid pointless missions you used to send me on? That when Armstrong comes to visit, I hide in my basement because seeing anyone that can still preform alchemy hurts something deep inside of me that has never hurt before? That I've fucked up every decent relationship I was ever a part of? That I have become so consumed by my past that there is no longer any sort of escape, nor any reason to?" I sighed, running my hand through my shorter, choppy hair as I tried to process my own outburst. Roy was at a total loss for words. Frankly, I couldn't blame him. I didn't know what in the hell I was still doing here, with all of that baggage. "I love my brother –I do! There are days that my sacrifice feels worth it. Today, however, is not one of them." My down-cast gaze lingered on his shiny polished boots, for I could no longer meet those dark eyes. "I built that fucking house, Roy! I built that house over the charred remains of my family home, the home I burned to remind myself I had nothing to come back to. That house is nothing if not a product of my blood, my sweat, and my tears. Yet I left it because he couldn't cope with a gay older brother. How do you think that makes me feel?" The silence stretched painfully over the ensuing moments. Yet, to my surprise, he was the one to break the silence. "...Do you know how long it has been since you were home, Ed?" What an odd question, I mused, until I realized I didn't really know the answer. As if he knew I wouldn't know the answer, he continued. "Your brother came to Central to find me when you'd been gone for two weeks." It seemed impossible. Surely, it hadn't been that long! All of my strongest emotions had always had a lot in common with fireworks: there was a hell of a lot of flash and bang, but it was over quickly enough and forgotten just as easily. I'd never spent that much time away from my brother after a fight, especially after seeing some of the misunderstandings he could come to if left unsupervised! "Have you been in this graveyard the entire time, Ed?" This time, Roy's voice was gentle as he reached out for my arm. I nodded slowly, numbly. If it had indeed been two entire weeks, I had been here the entire time. "I didn't realize you were so attached to your father." "I'm just getting sentimental in my old age, I suppose," I quipped, though it lacked the normal bite. My eyes still traced the engravings in the headstone. By all the laws of alchemy, how had I missed the passage of two entire weeks? Roy's hands clasped around my wrists and he lifted me. "Come, Ed. At the very least, you need to eat." My legs were weak with disuse, so for once in my life, I allowed someone to carry me. No, not just someone: I allowed Roy Mustang to carry me. And I fell asleep on his strong shoulder only a few steps in, without even knowing where he was taking me, trusting him to take care of me.
Roy: "I have never seen him like this," Alphonse Elric told me, wringing his hands as he looked down at his elder brother's prone form. "Oh, gods, this is all my fault...!" I shook my head. "No, Al. That was a catalyst. It seems to be the compounding of several things. His sexuality was just the last straw." If I were truly honest, I knew that I was simply trying to make the younger man feel better –mostly because I wanted to blame him for this, and I really couldn't. I stroked Ed's shoulder-length hair, absently wondering what he'd used to cut it because the ends were all jagged. Probably a knife, knowing him, I thought wryly. When it came to thinking things through, Edward was a little... impaired. "Yes, but my reaction was... well, it was ...bad." His gaze hadn't moved at all. "I just... I never expected it, and then he told me why he'd realized it and I suddenly just needed away for a time..." If I had been a rabbit, my ears would have twitched at that. "Who is this unattainable man of his, anyway?" That made his gaze shoot to mine. "If he wanted you to know, he would have told you." I shook my head. "I would have counted on that, actually, but he's... he wasn't acting like the Edward I knew." Swallowing hard, I looked at the heart-sick man. "Al... I think it would be best if I took him to East City with me. If nothing else, some distance should give him some perspective." "I'll go with!" "Al... Al, he's still upset from your reaction. He'll want to see you, but he still needs more time." "...But there was nothing he wouldn't do for me when I was nothing but a suit of armor!" How could I explain this to him without hurting him? "That's probably why it hurts him so much. He would have been happy if he got you back and your body was that of a serpent. I think he feels like you can't accept him..." Tears began to well up in Alphonse's eyes but his tone barely wavered. "L-let me pack some of his things, at least." I winced, chagrined and ashamed. His tears had been something I'd been trying to avoid, because, frankly, if he broke down, I probably would, too. It was a lousy day for rain, after all. "I'll bathe our little one, then." Lifting Ed up with one arm beneath his knees and the other supporting his back, I tried to smile at Al. Balancing him was a little awkward, really: Edward had grown so much since the last time I'd held him this way –not that he was conscious when that happened the last time. He really wasn't so little anymore, but he would always be that short-tempered brat to me. A small smile pulled at Al's lips. "He would kill you with his bare hands if he heard you call him that." That summoned a genuine smile to my lips. "I know. That's why I call him that." Tousling Ed's hair, I cocked my head at his younger brother. "Do you know why he cut his hair? I thought he liked it long." "I came home one day and he was swearing at it and hacking at it with a kitchen knife." Al shook his head. "That's all I know." Inclining my head, I acknowledged the information he imparted. "I best bathe him before he awakes. Gods know, I'd never hear the end of that one." The front door opened and I turned to watch Winry Rockbell hurry in. "Did you find him?" she inquired, her tone still shrill and panicked. "We did," I confirmed, indicating the man currently in my arms. Her trembling hand rose to cover her mouth as tears streaked silently down her cheeks. "Oh... Oh, Edward. What are you doing to yourself, you foolish man?" she asked softly, even though she knew he couldn't hear her voice. Al reached out for Winry, wrapping his arms around her and drawing her closer to him. "He'll be fine, Winry. Mustang is going to take him to East City with him for a while." She whirled, ready to lash out at anyone in her path. "Why? Why must you take him from us all over again? Why, damn it?!" Her strong words quickly dissolved into weeping and Al did his best to comfort her. "I'm taking Edward with me for him, Miss Rockbell." I informed her, keeping my tone level and gentle. This was no capricious choice I would soon swear was a mistake. I knew he needed space, and I knew he wouldn't get that here. "He can't seem to cope here right now, but you know Ed: he'll be back before you know it." She shook her head, her words almost lost against Al's shirt and chest. "No. Not this time. He won't bounce back from this. Are you prepared, Mustang? Are you prepared to care for him if it's more like a few months than a few weeks, or more like a few years than a few months?" Swallowing hard, I looked down at the slender man in my arms. "I don't think you'll believe me, Miss Rockbell, but I always did my best to take care of him," I admitted, not looking up from Edward's face. Gods, when had he gotten so old, so beautiful? When had I gotten old enough for that to happen, and why hadn't I noticed? Not willing to give her any more of an answer than that, I walked to the bathroom and slipped into the small room, careful not to hurt Edward any further when I closed the door behind us. Edward Elric had always been a lot more important to me that I liked to admit –even to myself. Once upon a time, I had seen him as the son I would never have, but that time had long gone. For a while, he'd become an essential friend, much like Maes had been. He'd been my encouragement, my support –even my eyes, at one point. But when he'd given up and left East City to return home, we'd lost our connection over the time and the distance. Now, as I slowly removed his clothes and folded them neatly before dampening a wash-cloth to bathe him with, I saw another facet to the relationship I had never noticed before: I admired him. Edward had always been attractive –eye-catching, even. I'd noticed it in the periphery, the same way I noticed the beauty of a sunrise or the elegance of architecture. What I had always admired in him was his deep core of inner strength, strength that allowed him to push past all the rules and all of the nay-sayers and all of the utterly impossible situations he frequently found himself in. He'd had an incredible charisma, a center in him that never seemed to shift despite any situation, and balls big enough that most people would have had trouble walking. And by all the laws of alchemy, that boy had been so preposterously strong. Despite all the cockiness and the happy-go-lucky charade he'd shown all of Amestris, I had seen part of the soul-deep sadness that had been more motivation that anything else. It had been that vulnerability, that chink in his carefully-built armor, that had made me want nothing more than to protect him. He'd seen so much sadness in his life that something in me screamed for his protection. Frankly, it was embarrassing to remember the number of times Riza had to set her hands on my shoulders and remind me, "You're his commanding officer, not his father. You can't protect him from everything." Still, I'd always tried my best to, even though Edward had never been the sort of person who'd appreciate such a thing. So why was it that now, at this point, that I ceased to see him as a boy? What was it about these moments that had made me see that the short-tempered boy I'd known was gone, replaced by an equally short-tempered man I wasn't sure would allow me to know him? Was it the warm smooth skin beneath my hands and the wash-cloth? The choppier hair that framed a much more mature face? Or was it the darkness that he had finally revealed to me, the years of hurt and pain that he couldn't pretend weren't there any more? As long as I'd known him, Edward Elric had never been just a boy. He'd always been an alchemist, an older brother, a genius. He'd been the Fullmetal Alchemist, the Hero of the People. Yet now, without his titles and without the people he'd always protected –only now did I see the boy had become a man. I shook my head. It was going to be an interesting time when I got him back to East City. Yet I had a feeling I would enjoy at least some of it immensely.