Notes: One more to go! This one is a bit on the short side, sorry.
February 9th, 1927
Tomorrow is the day. Ed keeps telling me not to get my hopes up, that the chances of anything working on our first try are slim, but I think he's trying to convince himself more than me.
I've been trying to stay positive for his sake, but I've never been very good at being selfless. I love him and I don't want to let him go, but I have to or I would never forgive myself. He would never forgive me, though I get the feeling that he might stay if I asked it, and that makes it all the more painful to endure.
He's going home, back to his brother and the place he belongs. Part of me is happy for him, but mostly, I keep thinking that in a few short hours, he could be gone forever. That in a few short hours, I could lose the best thing that ever happened to me.
I've never been very good at being selfless.
Cold glass against his cheek, Edward leaned against the window and watched the snow falling softly outside. Some time in the night winter had reasserted its grip on Central. There was already a thin blanket of snow on the ground, and it showed no sign of letting up. He shifted slightly, ignoring the bit of pain of the movement caused, drawing his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around them.
He hadn't slept long, four hours maybe, before he had woken and found himself unable to go back to sleep. Ed had given up trying after a while, and careful not to wake Roy, he had slid out of bed and dressed. He hadn't been able to find his shirt, so he had taken the one Roy had discarded the night before, retrieved his pants from where they had been kicked beneath the bed and settled himself onto the window seat for a good long think.
Not that he had accomplished anything more than turning in circles, really. He glanced over at Roy, nothing but a dark shape amidst the blankets. Part of him just wanted to say 'fuck it' to his internal debate and crawl back beneath those blankets, curl up beside Roy, and stay there. The idea had its merits -he'd be warmer for one- but until he sorted through the mess of his emotions, at least a little, he couldn't let himself. Edward had the strange feeling that if got back into that bed now, he would never leave it again. Which might be what he decided to do in the end, but it was too important a decision not to think through.
Ed heaved a sigh, fiddling with the cuff of his borrowed shirt. Which brought him back to the real question: What did he want? Did he accept his situation, did he accept what Roy was offering? The feelings he had for the man sleeping across the room, were they genuine? Or just a reflection of the feelings he had for the man he would never see again?
Did it matter?
Yes. Yes, that was probably the only thing he was certain of. It wasn't fair to the general to use him that way, as some sort of pale replacement. Even if the man might be willing to let himself be used. The problem was, everything in his head was so jumbled at the moment he was having trouble pinning down his own feelings into something definitive. It might have been easier if he hadn't slept with the man first, but that was hindsight for you.
A muffled, indignant meow from just beyond the door interrupted his thoughts and made him smile. Ed stood, and with a cautious glance at Roy, made his way to the door as quietly as possible. His mismatched footsteps were more pronounced than usual, the discomfort from the night's activities giving him a slight limp. Ed reached the door and opened it a crack, grinning when the cat darted inside and began to wind around his ankles, purring loudly. Ed closed the door and hobbled back to the window seat, the cat leaping up as soon as he settled and draping bonelessly over his lap.
Ed ran his fingers through soft fur; the repetitive motion soothing. After a moment he let his head fall back to rest against the window with a quiet thud, staring up at the slowly lightening sky. He knew there was a reason he had avoided any sort of relationship all those years; it just wasn't worth the hassle and heartache. All this emotional crap made his head hurt. There was no 'right' answer when it came to matters of the heart, no formula that made it all make sense. Ed preferred problems that were intellectual in nature; they were infinitely easier to solve.
Start with the known information. He knew he loved Roy, the one he had left. He knew that he wouldn't go back, even if he could. His romantic problems were secondary to Al. Everything was secondary to Al. He knew he liked this Roy. He knew he found him attractive. He knew he was lonely, and that loneliness could make people do things they might not otherwise do. Those were the facts, and while laying them all out made him feel a little better, he wasn't any closer to figuring out the Roy problem.
Do I love him, can l love him? Or am I just afraid of losing that last connection?
He looked back at the bed as if it held the answer, to find that Roy was awake and watching him with a sleepy dark eye. "Did you sleep at all?" he asked after a moment, smothering a yawn into his pillow.
"For a few hours, I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep."
Roy shifted a bit, then lifted the blankets in invitation. "It's barely dawn, and you must be freezing. Come back to bed."
Edward almost crumbled. He was cold, and tired, but mostly it was the offer of those arms that made him want to give in. The desire to crawl back into bed and let Roy hold him was almost physical; it was as if he was being offered permission to stop worrying. He sighed and shook his head, "I need to think."
"You never could take it easy on yourself," Roy grumbled, sitting up and rubbing his eye. "And not to -is that my shirt?"
Edward blinked at the sudden change in topic, looking down at the too-long sleeves draped over his hands. "Yeah, I couldn't find mine."
Roy looked around briefly, then pulled a bundle of dark material out from underneath him. "That was probably because I was sleeping on it," he said with a grin, tossing the shirt to the foot of the bed. "So, what are you brooding about?"
"I said I was thinking, not brooding," Ed muttered.
"You're tucked up in my window, looking like someone just killed your puppy; you're brooding," Roy said, stretching. "Is it about last night?"
Straight to the point. "Sort of?" Ed shrugged, a little self-conscious. "I'm just not quite...sure. About anything." Roy was silent, obviously waiting for elaboration, and Ed struggled to articulate his thoughts. "I'm worried that I might just be using you as a replacement for him, and that isn't right, it isn't fair to either of us." He squirmed slightly, but continued, "I can't figure out if what I'm feeling for you is real, or just an echo."
"...Does it matter?"
Roy nodded, resting his elbows on his knees and staring at the blankets thoughtfully. After a moment he looked back at Edward. "Sometimes sex is just sex. Last night doesn't have to be more than that if you don't want it to be."
Ed dropped his eyes, "I'm not sure that was all I want it to be," he said quietly, scratching the cat under the chin and thankful he was too tired to be more than mildly embarrassed.
Silence stretched out for a long moment, and when Ed finally dared look up, Roy was smiling at him. "Then how about this; you and Al figure out how to separate us, you go home, get some distance, and sort things out. We'll worry about it when you're ready."
Home. Distance. Time. Maybe time was the only thing that would let him sort himself out, and Ed was about to agree when it struck home exactly what the other man had said. We'll worry about it when you're ready. We. That almost made it sound like Roy was willing to wait for him. Ed realized that he really had no idea what the other man's feelings were. "What about you?" he asked.
"What about me?"
Edward sighed, exasperated. "This isn't just about me, you know. What do you want? What are your feelings about all this? Because I really don't have a clue, Mustang. The whole point here is that you aren't him, so where do you stand?"
There was a long silence as Roy considered that question. "I don't think I can answer that yet."
Yet. Which meant eventually, just not now. Ed could handle that. He nodded slowly, glancing out the window then back at Roy. Time was probably for the best, all things considered.
Ed wandered into the kitchen, doing his best to walk normally despite the discomfort. The resulting stiff-legged gait wasn't much better than the limping had been. He yawned and flipped on the light, starting when he saw Alphonse sitting at the counter, mug of tea in hand. "Al?" Ed shot him a puzzled look then grabbed the percolator off the stove, "Why're you up so early?"
He put the coffee on to brew, turning back to Alphonse when no answer was forthcoming. Al wasn't looking at him, he realized, and Ed turned to see Roy standing in the doorway, dressed in nothing but pants since Ed was still wearing his shirt.
Ed glanced back at his brother, who was watching Roy through narrowed eyes, and he was struck with the odd notion that Al was about to leap up and defend his honor. Or something. Instead, the silence stretched out until Roy cleared his throat. "I'll be in the shower," he said, retreating back down the hall and leaving Ed and Al alone.
"Um." Ed leaned against counter opposite Al and folded his arms over his chest defensively. He was tempted to say, 'It's not what it looks like!' which would be stupid because it was exactly what it looked like. Instead, he fidgeted under his brother's stare for a minute before bursting out, "Look, Al-"
"You should be glad Winry's room is on the other side of the house," Alphonse interrupted, "because you are loud."
Edward felt his face turning several shades of red and he hid his face in his hands, wanting nothing more than to just disappear. "You heard?"
"It was pretty hard not to, Brother," Al said, a hint of humor in his voice.
There was absolutely nothing about the situation that was funny. His little brother had heard him having sex. With Roy. Ed wondered if it was physically possible to die of embarrassment, and if so, he wished it would hurry up and happen. He cracked his fingers and peered at his brother. "You couldn't have pretended you didn't?" he asked.
"Brother," Al began, and Ed dropped his hands, "I know you're still messed up over everything, and it's been very hard for you and if the general...if he took advantage of you, I'll kill him." For a brief moment, Edward though he was joking until he got a good look at Al's face. He was dead serious.
"No, no," he said, trying to reassure his brother before they had to explain how exactly the general wound up ripped to shreds. "I started it, not him. I...don't think I did it for the right reasons, but he didn't take advantage of me." Ed was actually kind of touched by Al's protectiveness, though he pretty sure this was topping the list of Most Awkward Conversation Ever.
"Oh." The serious expression vanished, replaced by one of acute embarrassment. " Oh. Are you two..." He trailed off, but the meaning was clear.
Edward poured himself a cup off coffee, and downed the scalding liquid far too quickly before pouring another. "No. I don't think. It's...complicated, but for now, I think we're just going to focus on fixing this problem and going home." He sat down beside his brother. "The rest can wait."
"All right." A pause, and then hesitantly, "What was it like?"
There was a solid thunk as Ed's head met counter.
Edward rotated his shoulder slowly, marvelling at how smooth the movement was. He had almost forgotten what it was like to have automail that wasn't a cobbled-together piece of crap. He dug a coin out of his pocket and flipped it, catching it easily as it fell. The difference in his fine motor control was amazing; he hadn't realized just how much it had deteriorated until Winry had replaced his arm. He glanced up and caught Alphonse smiling.
"What're you grinning at?" he demanded, unable to keep an answering smile off his own face.
"You're like a little kid with a new toy," Al said, "It's funny."
"You have no idea what a piece of shit my old arm was. Hell, I didn't even realize how bad it had gotten. Remind me to send Winry flowers or something. That woman is brilliant."
Al snorted a laugh, "A bouquet of screwdrivers might be more her style."
Ed chuckled at the thought, stretching out a bit and wriggling his toes just for the sheer pleasure of being able to move them. He had already had his new automail for nearly two weeks; but having a fully functioning arm and leg again was still something of a novelty. The procedure on his arm had been hell, but Ed had to admit it was worth the pain.
Al kicked him gently to get his attention, then tossed a book into his lap. "Try that one," he said.
It had been nearly two months since he had returned to Amestris, and they were no closer to finding a solution to his problem than they were when they started. Winry had gone back to Risembool with Pinako shortly after replacing his arm and leg, unable to let work go for any longer while they waited for Ed and Al to find a way to detach him from Roy.
The only thing they had discovered was that whatever force tied the two together was weakening. Ed could go nearly three times the distance from Roy now than he could when he had first returned. It was better than nothing, and it meant that it might simply wear off eventually, but Edward didn't want to be stuck on a slowly lengthening leash waiting for the possibility. Unfortunately, they had hit something of a brick wall. Neither he nor Al had found mention of anything even remotely similar to his problem.
Roy had long since returned to work, which meant Ed got dragged along every day. A nearby office had been appropriated for the brothers to use for research, which kept them busy and out of the hair of the military personnel. The arrangement worked well, provided Roy didn't forget about Ed and go wandering off without warning. Which he had, once. Ed had not been pleased to learn that he had spent thirty seconds feeling like he was being turned inside out because the general'd had the "munchies'.
Edward had felt much better after kicking the bastard in the shin. Really, really hard.
He picked up the book his brother had given him, thumbing slowly through the thick volume, scanning the tiny, cramped script and pausing to read every time something jumped out at him. After an hour or so, Ed rubbed his eyes wearily, marked his page, and let himself fall backward with a loud thump. "I just want to go home," he muttered.
"Where is home, brother?"
Ed propped himself up on his elbows, giving Alphonse a bewildered look. "You forget where Risembool is already?"
Al shook his head, the troubled expression he wore making Ed sit up straight. "That isn't what I mean. I've been thinking, about everything you've told me about your time on that other world, about the Roy there and," he flushed slightly, "what happened with the general. I don't think this is home for you anymore. You're trying so hard to make yourself want to be here, and maybe you've even convinced yourself that you do, but..." Al shook his head. "You want to go back."
"My home," Ed said fiercely, "is right here. With you." He leaned forward and captured Al's hands. "I am never, never leaving you again, so you can get whatever wild notion you've got out of your head right now."
Alphonse met his eyes and was silent for a long moment before nodding to himself, as though coming to a decision. "I don't think the connection between you and the general has anything to do with him at all."
"What?" Ed shook his head slowly, confused.
Al freed his hands from Edward's grip, sifting through the notes by his leg until he found the page he was looking for. It was a slightly bent and crumpled copy of the array that Ed had used, with notes in the margins. Alphonse passed it over to his brother. "When I was looking over the array for any flaws that might have resulted in this," he waved a hand vaguely between Ed and the wall they shared with Roy's office. "something occurred to me. You and the other Roy had to activate the array together, because you no longer had the ability to do it alone, and while he could activate it, he didn't have the skill necessary to control the outcome."
Al paused for confirmation, and Ed nodded, wondering what his little brother was getting at. "There's always an element of uncertainty in a transmutation involving two or more alchemists," Al continued. "If you look here," he pointed at a section near the center of the array, "This gives a great deal of sway to the realm of thought, which I think was absolutely necessary to the success of the array. Unfortunately," he sat back on his heels, "that also left you vulnerable to side effects from the state of mind of the two people activating the array."
Edward stared down at the array in his hands, unseeing, when he realized exactly what Al meant. "Both of us were wishing I could stay."
"You aren't connected to the general," Al said, "you're connected to the other Roy through the general."
"Shit." Ed said eloquently, certain that Alphonse was right. "Shit."
"If you go back," Al said slowly, "I think it will probably reverse the process."
"No!" Ed snapped. He knew his brother was worried about his personal happiness, and Edward couldn't decide if he was touched that Al wanted to send him back because he thought Ed would be happier, or angry that Al actually thought Ed could be happy without him. "If I have to wait until it wears off on its own, fine. If it never wears off, fine. I'm not leaving you."
"I wasn't suggesting that, brother. You aren't the only one who spent the last five years searching," he said, a hint of pain in the words that broke Ed's heart.
"I know, Al, and I'm sorr-"
"I'm saying I'll go with you."
Edward froze. He couldn't have meant that. He couldn't. "You...I don't think you realize what you're saying, Al," Ed said thickly. "That world, it isn't...it isn't the same. You wouldn't have your alchemy, your friends. Your life, Al. I can't let you give that up." The words came out in a rush, his heart suddenly at odds with itself. He didn't want Al to sacrifice anything for him, he was sick of sacrifice. However, he was being offered exactly what he had refused to admit he wanted, and he wanted so, so badly to accept.
Alphonse smiled slightly and pushed a pile of books out of the way so that he could sit beside Edward. "This isn't a sudden decision, Brother. I've been thinking about it ever since I realized how unhappy you are. I've considered all the consequences, and I want to go. I want you to be happy."
Edward leaned into taller boy. "What about your happiness?"
Al hugged him. "If you can be happy there, why can't I?"
Closing his eyes, Edward summoned up a picture of his strange little surrogate family in Boston. They'd love Al, he knew that. Everyone loved Al. They would treat his brother just as warmly as he had been treated. "What about alchemy? You won't be able to use it there, and trust me, it can be frustrating as all hell."
A sigh as Alphonse seemed to realize he would have to deflect his brother's objections. "I'll miss it, sure, but from what you've told me, there is plenty going on in that world to occupy the mind of a scientist. I'll just have to exchange one science for another."
"And Winry?" Ed persisted, "Pinako? Everyone else?"
"I'll miss them, Brother, you know that. Sometimes though, you just can't have everything, and I've already made up my mind. You aren't going to change it unless you can look me in the eye and tell me honestly that you don't want to go." Ed could tell by Al's voice that his little brother knew damn well that Ed couldn't do that.
In the deepest, most selfish place of his heart, he did want to go back. "Can you look me in the eye and honestly tell me that you won't regret it?"
Alphonse shifted and they were face to face, Edward searching the steady gaze that met his for any sign of uncertainty. "I absolutely will not regret it, Brother."
Edward believed him. He let his head drop forward to rest against his brother's. "I love you, Al," he said.
Recognizing the acceptance for what it was, Alphonse smiled. "I love you too, Brother."
Edward couldn't quite believe it. He wanted to laugh, to cry, to sing. Mostly, he wanted to work; there was a great deal of preparation ahead of them. The array would need adjustments to compensate for two travelers instead of one, but it could be done. He was going back.
He was going...home.