Genre: AU, soulmate AU
Pairing: Roy/Ed, Ed/OC
Summary: But some parts of the past were not so easy to sweep away.
Roy pulled the car to the curb and killed the engine. It was nearing dusk, and the few people out on the street here were hurrying toward their evening destinations. The stranger in the nice car might have been out of place, but it was not their business. Roy knew if he hurried he could keep it that way.
This part of Central had been completely rebuilt after the invasion eighteen years ago. For a time it looked like it might flourish and be transformed into something other than the slums it had been. But a downturn hit before the neighborhood had gotten its feet, and nowadays it was occupied by more squatters and transients than legitimate businesses.
But underneath this particular building, boarded over but not destroyed, was the entrance to the abandoned city.
Roy got out of the car and shut the door, staring at the empty building. The old church was long gone, demolished and built over by a country trying to redefine itself. But some parts of the past were not so easy to sweep away.
Eighteen years ago Roy had ventured down there amid the rubble to close off the portal between the worlds. _But no matter much he knew he should, he had not been able to bring himself to obliterate the array. He had forced himself to destroy key portions to render it useless, but enough remained for the array to have the memory of what it was. An echo of sorts, or an alchemic residue. Just enough, perhaps, to resonate.
At least that was what he was gambling on.
As he approached the building a man stepped out of the doorway. Roy tensed, hesitating on the sidewalk. Then the man smiled, and the world slid into place in a way it hadn't in almost two decades.
"We were hoping you would come. We saw what you did to the the array."
"Alphonse! I hardly recognized you."
Al gave him another smile with a shrug. "Yeah. It's been a while."
But it was more than that. This once cheerful, optimistic child had the look of someone who had seen the wrong side of a battlefield. His smiles might still come easily enough, but didn't brighten his face like they used to.
"After the tremor this afternoon, many in Parliament were advocating for mobilizing an entire unit," Roy continued, watching the younger man closely. "I had to do some fast talking to convince the Prime Minister to let me come on my own."
Alphonse turned and ducked back into the shadow of the building, but not quickly enough to hide his cringe. "Well . . . thank you," he said. "We've had more than enough of armies."
Roy studied him as he followed into the building.
It looked like the building's most recent life had been as a restaurant, and chairs and tables were still scattered about the room. Roy was so focused on the figure at the far side that Al had to take his arm to keep him from stumbling over broken furniture. He still didn't know if it was the physical proximity or being within sight of each other, but he could feel it. That same rush he'd felt hovering in that hot air baloon over Central when he'd caught sight of the then-eighteen year old Ed scrambling to stay atop a stone pillar.
Half a lifetime ago.
Ed stood now in an alcove, swaying back and forth and singing softly to the child in his arms. His hair was cut short and he wore strange clothes, and even from across the room Roy could see that time and stress had worn lines into his face. It should have been a shock. After so many years of seeing only dream-images of Ed as he'd been as a teenager, being confronted with him now as a thirty-six year old man should have been strange. But all Roy felt was that warm, familiar rush.
He stopped an arms length away. He wanted in the worst way to rush forward and crush him against this chest, to have that physical, real contact that they had never quite gotten. But the last thing he wanted to do was frighten Ed's daughter. So he held back, even though his skin burned for the touch.
Roy recognized the tune Ed was singing as an old folk song from the east. He lifted his head as he got close, his smile warm but, like his brother's, shadowed. It made Roy's heart ache. "Adala, schau mal1," he said down to the little girl he held. "Schau mal wer da ist2."
A dark head stirred, and one gold eye peeked out over her arm before she buried her face back against her father's chest. Roy wanted to reassure her somehow, but was at a loss. What could you say to a child who had just gone through hell?
Ed hiked her up and rested a cheek against her hair. "Sorry," he said, as if he had anything to apologize for. "It's—it's been a rough day."
"For all three of you, by the look of it."
He couldn't hold back any longer, he had to touch him. Even if it was just his arm through the sleeve. He had to verify for himself that this was real.
Ed shifted his daughter to free up one hand. As soon as he held it out Roy took his fingers, mindful of the makeshift bandage around his palm. Warmth flooded his body, and he let out a breath he felt like he'd been holding for the better part of two decades. Ed closed his eyes, and for a brief moment the tension drained out of his face. Finally, finally, the world felt right. At least a little.
"Come on," Roy said, when he'd found his voice again. "Let's get you home."
While his guests cleaned up, Roy called to assure the Prime Minister that there was no invasion this time, no threat at all, just two of Amestris' own finally returning (with one extra). He had to promise to share the full details as soon as he had them, but for now his assurances were enough to give them at least one night of peace.
Afterwards Alphonse told him what had happened. He sat on the couch with his hands clasped between his knees, quietly summarizing a war that was so big it was called a world war, and a country that had decided its path to improvement meant cleansing itself of any undesirable elements—and one of those undesirable groups included Ed's wife and her family.
"We thought we'd gotten away," Al explained, staring at the coffee table. "We got over the border. But then the army annexed that area. When the soldiers came . . . all we we had time to do was grab Adala and hide. Just me and Brother. Everyone else . . . everyone else got taken—or killed." He rubbed a hand over his face, and when he lowered it his expression had hardened. "But then we got ready. When the next group of soldiers came. . . ."
How high of a price would the Gate charge for transporting three people across unscathed? Roy wasn't sure he wanted to know.
Ed stepped out of the guest room and pulled the door to. "Adala's finally asleep. I shouldn't leave her, I don't want her to wake up and find herself alone—"
Al was already on his feet. "I'll stay with her, Brother." He said something more, too low for Roy to hear. He bumped Ed's shoulder with a fist as he passed and the two shared a weary smile.
Roy stood, taking a moment to really look at this man who held the other half of his soul. Eighteen years was a long time, and dreams were a poor substitute for reality. But while he noted the physical changes the thing that struck him most was how tired Ed looked.
He took two steps forward. Ed crossed the remaining distance in three strides and collided with his chest. Roy's arms found their place around him as if they'd always belonged there.
Ed was so tense he was shaking. Roy held him as tightly as he could. "I've got you," he murmured. "I've got you now."
The sound Ed made was more of a keening than a sob. He hunched in against his chest, shirt twisted in his hands. "I just—I-I just—left them to die—I took my own daughter from her mother and I left them to die—"
"You did what you had to—"
"And I killed—oh god, I just fed them to the Gate, all those soldiers—"
"Probably just following orders, and I—I—"
"Ed!" Roy pushed him back and took his face between his hands. "Ed. Step back a moment and think. Where would you be right now if you hadn't? Where would your daughter be?"
Ed stared back at him with haunted eyes, and Roy knew he was playing that scenario out to every horrible conclusion.
"You had no good options left," Roy pressed.
His face crumpled, and long-overdue tears started to well up as he shook his head. "I'm still a murderer."
"Yes," Roy said, as gently as he could. "Out of necessity."
Ed just shook his head.
Roy led him over to the couch, and held him as he started to sob, gasping and shuttering as if everything was trying to pour out of him at once.
"Dika—Dika made me promise—" he gulped out, voice muffled by Roy's shirt. "She made me promise—that—that if the Nazis ever came—I would take Adala away. Take her here—where the Nazis could never—never touch her. But—but—I—"
"You did what you had to do," Roy repeated.
He shook his head again, grinding his face into Roy's shoulder. He knew it would be some time before Ed could come to terms with what had happened—with what he'd done. For now, all Roy could do was hold him.
His own emotions were in turmoil. How could he feel the least bit of joy over this? What kind of selfish monster would feel happiness after events such as these? And yet having Ed here, physically, in his arms, was as close to elation as he had ever felt. And right there beside it was despair over what had led them to this point. Everything Ed and Alphonse had had to endure, the loss of Ed's wife and her family—the trauma and loss suffered by the little girl now sleeping in his spare room. He felt these things as a physical ache in his gut. Right next to the flutter and warmth in his chest.
Ed's entire body shook with the sudden release of emotion. Roy held him tight, sheltering him as much as he could. He had some idea from their shared dreams just how long this had been building up. At least now, here, he felt safe enough to let go. At least Roy could give him that.
Gradually the trembling subsided. Roy waited until the sobbing was reduced to sniffles and sighs, then said, "You're getting snot all over my shirt, aren't you."
Ed snorted out something that was almost a laugh. "Deal with it, Mustang."
Roy smiled at that and gave him a squeeze. "The things I put up with. . . ."
This time the laugh was a little more definite.
"So—so tell me," Ed said without raising his head. "Tell me what's been going on here. How come you're not running the country yet?"
He chuckled. "You can't just up and run for the highest office in the country, you'd never get the votes."
"Yes. We have an electoral system now. It's far from perfect, but at least there's some accountability to the people."
"Oh. Wow." He sniffed, rubbing his face on the much maligned shirt. "Good."
"I'm in Parliament as part of the military council. And a good thing, too—or else I never could have gotten permission to investigate your little tremor."
"I'm glad you did."
"So am I."
Ed sighed. "So—what about—everyone else? What about Winry? Is she . . . married, or anything?"
"Yes, indeed. She and Schiezka tied the knot just last year. The laws finally changed to—"
Ed pushed back and stared at him. "You're serious? It's—that's legal?"
Roy studied him. "As of last year, yes. It went to a vote, and then the courts—"
"People voted? They—people don't care if—if—"
"Personal opinion still varies, but overall, the public decided that romantic and sexual relationships were a private matter that shouldn't be dictated by law. The courts agreed and declared that there was no compelling argument for same-sex marriage to be illegal."
Ed shoved his hands through his hair with a half-crazed laugh. "Holy—holy shit."
He shook his head, his eyes unfocused. "Anyone suspected of homosexuality was being taken to the camps," he said, voice quiet and flat. "And it wasn't much better anywhere else. Maybe you wouldn't be killed outright, but you could be arrested, forced to take drugs—to say nothing of what might happen if an angry mob or just—just some guys at a bar or something found you. I had to be so fucking careful. . . . Even Dika—" he laughed again. "Even my wife had an easier time accepting the whole other world thing than with finding out gender didn't matter to me." He drew his hands over his face and shook his head once more. ". . . Shit."
After a moment, Roy reached out and brushed his knuckles down the back of Ed's hand. The hand detached and moved toward the touch, like a reflex. Roy grasped it. Left hand to left hand.
Ed sagged, his shoulder digging into the back of the couch and the tension visibly draining out of him. Roy was glad to be able to give him even that bit of relief, but he wished he could do more. He wanted to take this burden from him. Or at the very least share it, so that Ed didn't have to carry the full weight himself. What good was this bond if he couldn't at least do that?
Their joined hands rested against Ed's knee, and Roy could feel the hard ridges of the automail through his borrowed pajamas. It struck him then that Ed had gone eighteen years without replacements for his limbs or even a tune-up. Now that he thought about it Ed's arm and leg seemed to be moving a bit stiffly, but the fact that they were moving at all was remarkable. Winry must have really outdone herself back then.
He tapped a finger against Ed's shin. "You're long over-due for an upgrade. Winry will be ecstatic to craft you a new set."
Ed smiled, and finally dropped his other hand. "If she doesn't brain me after she sees what this set has gone through."
"I think you'll find that she's mellowed somewhat. Maturity and motherhood will do that."
"So they have kids, huh? She and Schiezka?"
"Three. Winry has a son from a previous relationship, and they took in a brother and sister they knew from Rush Valley . . . seven years ago now? It can get a bit chaotic, but they're making it work."
"What about . . . about. . . ."
Roy squeezed his hand, mindful of the freshly re-bandaged slice across his palm. The consequence of needing to do alchemy in a an alchemy-less world. "Pinako still rules the roost over there," he assured him. "She's slowed down some physically and leaves the business now to her granddaughter, but her mind and her tongue are still as sharp as ever."
Ed let out a relieved breath and nodded.
They both fell silent, taking each other in. Roy supposed it must be easier for him; Ed was careworn but still in his prime. As for himself, he'd tipped over into midlife some years ago, and while he liked to think he still looked good for his age, pushing fifty was quite different from the early thirties he'd been when they'd last met.
But any expected cracks about getting old didn't come. Ed just studied him with a small smile, as if—somehow—he was pleased with what he was finding. After a moment he leaned forward and tapped the eye patch.
Roy nodded, and tilted his head to let him slide the patch off.
Ed's automail fingers were cold against his cheek. "Archer really got you good, didn't he."
"Hawkeye got him better."
"Remind me to thank her." He lowered his hand, letting it rest against Roy's forearm. "You wear it well, though. The patch and the scar both. I'm serious!" He laughed at the look the other man was giving him. "It's got a kind of dignity to it," he said as he reached up to caress the edge of the scar again.
"If you say so," he conceded with a small smile. Ed wasn't the first to tell him the disfigurement wasn't as unsightly as he thought, but this was the first time he was even tempted to believe it.
Their left hands were still joined. Roy stroked his thumb against his knuckles.
"It's nice . . . seeing you in the flesh again," Ed said quietly. "Never really thought that would happen."
Roy nodded. He was still conflicted over expressing any joy given the circumstances, but he could still let him know the feeling was returned.
He reached up and ruffled Ed's hair. "It is quite something seeing you with short hair, though."
He laughed, and made a cursory attempt to smooth his hair into place. "I'll probably grow it out again. I never did like it short. But over there . . . well."
His hand settled against Ed's knee. "Let's see, what else," he started, searching for another distraction. "Oh! Gracia remarried, and has two more children. Andrew is thirteen now, and their little girl Maya just turned eleven. They both adore their big sister Elysia, though Drew is at an age where he doesn't like to admit it."
"Elysia . . . she must be all grown up now."
"Indeed. She's an investigative reporter for the Central Times, and has quite a way with words. Oh, speaking of—Havoc has set a record, he's been dating the same woman for almost two years now. She's a senior reporter at the Times, and Elysia introduced them. . . ." _Roy kept talking, supplying a steady stream of trivia and minutia until Ed's eyelids began to droop. At that point he gently roused him, and guided him into the guest room.
Alphonse was lying on the pull-out mattress, shoulders tense and brow furrowed even in sleep. Ed bent down to tuck the blanket around him. "Al lost someone last year," he said. "A little more than a year ago, now." He sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed, next to the tiny curled up huddle that was his daughter. "Just another stupid, pointless casualty from this stupid, pointless war."
Roy didn't know what to say. I'm sorry seemed so inadequate.
Ed stroked his daughter's hair. "Adala's been handling it so well," he said. "I . . . don't want her to handle it well. I don't want her to have to handle it at all." He watched her tense, sleeping form for a moment. "Maybe now she won't have to. Maybe that makes up for. . . ." He closed his eyes, face pinched under a wave of grief.
Roy reached out and took his shoulder.
"I'm—I'm all right. I just—"
He looked up, and Roy held his eye until the façade started to crumble and he lowered his head to his hands with a sound that was half sob and half laugh. "I just—I've had to keep everything together for so long—"
Roy stepped in close and pulled Ed against him. "I've got you, remember?" he whispered. "I've got you now."
He nodded, leaning against Roy's side.
"I'm just down the hall," he reminded him. "And it's a short hallway."
Ed laughed. "Mother hen. We'll be fine." He pulled away, wiping his face. "Really."
Roy nodded. There was fine and there was fine, but for now that was where they had to leave it. "Kiss Adala goodnight for me."
It was a long, exhausting week of meetings and hearings and paperwork, all to convince the State that the Elrics were indeed who they claimed to be, that they posed no threat, and that no threat going to follow them. And to give Adala legal standing as Ed's child, though she was blessedly kept out of most of the rigamarole.
Now free to travel, they were waiting on the platform to board the train east—Roy hoped that some quiet time in the country reconnecting with their family would do them all some good.
"I dunno how long we'll stay, there isn't much work out there. Not for what we do, anyway," Ed was saying. Alphonse had managed to pry Adala away with the promise of food, giving them a few moments to themselves. "Adala's always liked cities. I think she'll like Central, once she's . . . had some time to adjust."
The little girl hadn't said a word since their trip through the Gate. He could tell Ed was trying not to worry but, like any good father, was failing miserably.
"She just needs some peace and quiet for once," he continued. "Some time when we're not . . . well. You know. I just want to give her some time."
"Give yourself some time, too," Roy said. "You've just lost someone you love. Someone very important to you."
Ed could no longer hide behind his hair so the conflict of emotion was clear even as he turned away. Roy's heart ached for him; he felt the pull of the bond, too. A not-so-deep part of him railed at the thought of being parted yet again.
He reached out and stroked Ed's cheek with the back of a finger, and after a moment Ed lifted his eyes. Roy smiled, and assured him, "I'm not going anywhere."
At first Ed looked like he might crumble. But then he abruptly went on tiptoe and gave him a quick kiss and wrapped his arms around his shoulders. For a moment they just held each other, alone on the crowded platform.
"I'll give you a call when we get to Resembool," Ed said, voice thick. "And I'll pay you back, as soon as—"
"Don't you dare."
"Ed—a couple train tickets and some changes of clothes are the least I can do." Please let me do this for you, was what he didn't say. I can do so little.
From the smile Ed gave him when he pulled back, he guessed he heard anyway. "Fine. Gotta have your fingers in everything."
"Only the important things."
Alphonse was making his way back with Adala. As soon as she saw her father she let go of her uncle's hand and dashed toward him. Ed swung her into his arms, heedless of the meat bun being squashed into his new coat.
"Was ist das3?" he said. "Sieht lecker aus4."
She held the bun out for him to take a bite. He pretended to snap at her fingers, and finally earned a giggle. His responding grin was like the sun peeking out from the clouds.
The train whistle sounded. Al picked up their suitcase, and waiting until his brother and niece had boarded before he turned to Roy. "Thank you."
"You don't need thank me, Al."
"I know." He stepped aboard himself. "But thank you anyway."
A moment later a window partway down the train car slid open. At Ed's prompting, Adala gave him a shy smile and a wave. Roy waved back, and kept waving as the train pulled out. As he once more watched the other half of his soul speed away from him.
Roy lowered his hand, rubbing the base of his palm. He wondered how long it would be before the tingling started.
2 Look who it is.
3 What's that?
4 Looks tasty.
German provided by letsgooutintherain! ♥♥♥