The door to his office opened with a familiar crack! of the knob smashing into the wall behind it. Only one person entered his office with such impunity, so Roy didn't feel the need to lift his eyes from the stack of papers Riza had so graciously offered as an alternative to being shot. Honestly, the bullet was starting to look more and more appealing. His hand was about to fall off.
"I see you got your leg working again," Mustang said, signing off on another paper with half-hearted flourish. It was only a day after his day off, which, frankly, wasn't much of a day off. Mustang certainly did not consider babysitting the Elrics a day off.
Not that the experience had been all bad. There were even some moments that were almost enjoyable, like when they played cards, and Ed kicked his rear in chess, and Roy taught the boys the proper way to make a lasagna. He even managed to sneak down to his basement to do some research for an hour or so.
But putting up with Ed for any extended amount of time is a chore, regardless of how amiable he was being. And Ed was rarely, if ever, amiable.
Except for now, apparently. He was awfully chipper this morning . Roy wondered if he had seen his orders yet.
"Yup!" Ed chirped, stepping up to Mustang's desk and lifting himself to sit on the edge. "It wasn't too hard to figure out, just a couple of wires that got messed up in the ice, but I found some material to transmute into them. Good as new, and more importantly, Winry will be none the wiser."
Roy glanced up from his papers to study the boy. He looked even better than he had yesterday. They had made it to the hospital late that afternoon, once the sun had come out and taken the edge off the snow. The doctors gave him some ointment for his frostbite and gave him a clean bill of health.
Then, Ed had asked Roy for help in a way that both touched and terrified him.
"I . . . I need some help."
Roy glanced up from the book in his hands. Ed was standing at the top of the stairs in the doorway of his basement, staring at his bare feet with his only arm holding onto his detached prosthetic limb. His face was a bit strained, as if he were in pain. It was probably from the frostbite, not to mention the way his leg had been bothering him all day. He had tinkered with the machine earlier that morning and was somewhat able to walk on it now, albeit with a noticeable limp. Maybe Roy should go find the kid some ibuprofen or something. "Al can't get it to work. His hands are too big, and I can't really do it by myself . . ."
Roy blinked at him. He wanted Roy to help him with his automail?
Except for Al, there was very little that Ed was more protective of than his automail, especially the connection of it. He wouldn't even let the staff at the hospital connect it. Roy had never seen or witnessed it, but it had been described as one of the most painful things the human body could go through while retaining consciousness. It was going to cause Ed an undue amount of pain, and he was going to let Roy be there for it. Roy understood in that moment the level of trust Ed had placed in him.
For some reason, it was terrifying.
"Are you sure you want me to do that?" he asked, eyeing the limb as if it were an armed bomb.
"Come on, Mustang, don't be a wimp," Ed sighed waving the arm as he lectured. "It's not like it's going to hurt you."
"That's not who I'm worried about hurting," Roy muttered. "Haven't you put your body through enough for today? Why don't we wait until tomorrow—?"
Ed's temper flared. "Look, I'm not going to stick around here another hour without at least three functional limbs! Are you going to help me, or not?"
Roy sighed. It was obvious the kid was frustrated with the whole situation, and he couldn't blame him. Having only one arm made even the most mundane of tasks into an ordeal, as Roy quickly learned over course of the morning. That combined with an only half-functioning leg had put Ed into an even worse mood than usual as the day had worn on. If nothing else, Roy had to help him before he went and hurt himself.
Roy gave the kid a deliberate stare before slowly placing his fire alchemy book aside and leaving his comfortable chair. "Fine," Roy grunted as he made his way up the stairs, cursing his sore back under his breath and the blond alchemist responsible for it. All those hours propped up against a headboard . . . ugh. "I'll help you with your automail."
Something flickered across Ed's face, possibly relief, but it disappeared quickly and settled into firm resolve. "Okay, here, take this," he said, shoving the device into Roy's arms once he was in range.
He took the awkward bundle, not entirely sure how to hold it. It was bulky and surprisingly heavy. "I'm starting to understand why you're so short, Fullmetal."
Ed narrowed his eyes. "Shut up. Just pay attention."
Roy did. Very rapt attention. Automail was something that was completely foreign to him. Ed was the first person he had ever known that had automail, and he would be lying if he said he wasn't a little bit curious about it.
Well, that and scared. He wanted to make sure he didn't mess this up.
"—then you just twist it and then quickly snap the cinch. Got that? Quickly!"
Roy nodded. He completely understood. If he screwed this up, Ed would probably murder him. Or Ed would pass out and murder him later.
And since his heart was probably weak after what had happened last night, there was a whole new reason to be paranoid.
Not to mention that Ed was trusting him with it. Him of all people! And after their conversation that morning, it almost seemed to be opening another side to their relationship. Roy wasn't sure if Ed would have asked him to do something like this a week ago, and he knew that if he screwed this up, some small part of that trust would be shattered, and Roy wasn't sure if there would be an opportunity to get it back.
Don't screw this up, Roy.
Ed took a seat on the first step, an awkward move, given how his leg whined and halted as he tried to lower himself. With an impatient huff he simply fell back on his rear. "Stupid automail," he grunted.
Roy sat down next to him, eying the port with no small amount of trepidation.
"Well?" Ed asked with an impatient huff. "You going to fix it or just stare at it?"
Roy gripped the arm in both hands, holding it steady despite a bead of sweat that dripped down the side of his face. He carefully placed the joint inside the port, watching Ed's face as it disappeared inside the mechanism. Ed gave no reaction, his eyes staring in front of him in an almost trance-like fashion. Roy had never seen him conscious and so still.
"So, does this stuff break much?" Roy asked, hoping the conversation might help alleviate some of the severe pain he was about to cause. He twisted the arm, hearing it click into place like Ed had described and feeling a twinge of nausea. He wasn't sure how Ed did this. . .
"Nah. Winry makes good automail. The best there is. I'm just . . . a bit reckless I guess."
Roy's lip quirked in a wry grin. "That's one way to put it."
Ed frowned. "I didn't ask for your opinion," he growled, but Roy sensed no heat in the words.
"Maybe you should be more careful."
The words escaped Roy before he had a chance to think about them. He immediately wished he could take them back. There was no telling what kind of rant Ed was going to launch into now about how Roy wasn't his father, how he needed to mind his own business, or something similar.
But instead of the fireworks Roy had tensed for, Ed frowned. That was it. Just frowned and kept staring ahead at the wall. Roy wondered what he was thinking to make him so docile. He put his hand on the cinch, readying himself to flip it and cause Ed a world of hurt.
"Did you ever know your father?"
Roy jumped at the sudden question, yanking his hand back from the lever. He let out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding in. His father? "No, not really," he admitted, curious as to where the question had come from. "I was three when he and my mother were killed."
Roy watched Ed's face out of the corner of his eye while he absorbed that. "Was there ever someone that . . . that was like a father to you?"
Roy thought a moment. "I suppose Hawkeye's father was the closest thing I had to one."
Ed nodded, as if that information were somehow important. After a second, though, his gaze sharpened and he glanced down at his shoulder with an irritated frown. "Are you going to connect it, or not?"
Roy nodded, steeled himself and quickly flipped the lever.
It was as if lightning struck Ed's body; Ed went ramrod straight, every muscle contracting and a strangled scream tearing past his clenched teeth. His eyes screwed shut and pained tears leaked out at the corners as he cried out and gasped for breath at the same time.
Not sure what else to do, Roy rubbed his back in a tight, circular motion and struggled to not be sick at the sight.
Kids shouldn't have to go through that.
Ed shouldn't have to go through that.
It was only seconds, but it seemed like an eternity later before the screaming finally stopped and Ed's weak body collapsed back into Roy's arms. He was breathing hard, and sweat glistened on his face. His golden eyes stared blearily at the ceiling. "I'm . . . I'm gonna pass out now," he informed Roy very matter-of-factly before his eyes closed and he went limp in Roy's grip.
Roy stared down at the child in his arms. "Stupid brat," he murmured softly, wiping away the tears with a gentle hand. "What are you boys doing to me?"
"Colonel, are you even listening?"
Roy blinked, focusing once again on the boy in front of him. "What was that?"
Ed picked up a piece of paper from his desk and waved it in front of Roy's face. "My report?"
Something caught his eye. Roy snatched the official document from the blond's grasp and stared at it in disbelief. "Fullmetal . . . is this crayon?"
"You wrote . . . an official report . . . in crayon?!"
"Blue's your favorite color, right?" Ed grinned, leaping of the desk with flourish.
"Fullmetal," Roy growled, looking from the paper to Ed. "This isn't even legible!"
"At least it's not half burned this time. And there are no food stains on it, either, just like you ordered," Ed retorted smugly, waltzing toward the door. "The paper's not even wrinkled!"
"Well, that certainly is something," Roy muttered, massaging his brow to ward off a headache. Ed always knew just how to bring them on.
"Oh, another thing, Colonel," Ed said, stopping by the door.
"What is it?" Roy growled, eyes already back on his paperwork.
"You . . . you wouldn't make such a bad father," Ed said casually. So casually that Roy did a double take. He blinked, looking up to see if he had heard right.
Ed tossed an impish grin over his shoulder. "If you weren't such an idiot, that is."
Roy knew a compliment when he heard one, and that was perhaps the closest Ed ever got to giving one. Mustang recognized what it meant for Ed to put himself on the line like that; to show a vulnerability, no matter how small. And in that moment, Mustang had never felt so elated. Instead of leaping for joy though, he only offered a smirk. "Thank you, Fullmetal."
Ed turned away quickly and left, much more quietly than he had arrived.
Despite the cold and the paperwork and the pain in his hand, Mustang spent the rest of the day beaming.
Ed traipsed out of Central Headquarters to find Al sitting on the steps in the middle of the snow, probably lost in thought. He stopped in front of his little brother to get his attention, yawning and stretching his real arm languidly over his head before a shiver ran up his spine. He had decided over the past couple of days that he hated the cold. More specifically, snow. "Alright Al, let's go."
Al looked up at his brother and clambered to his feet. "Where to?" he asked, brushing the snow from his metal body.
Ed grinned, waving the orders Hawkeye had passed along to him at his little brother. "Looks like Mustang wants us to check out some land divisions."
"You sound awfully excited about that," Al pointed out with suspicion out as they made their careful way down the icy steps. "Where at?"
Al turned sharply, and though he didn't have a face to broadcast his emotions from, Ed could tell he lit up like a Christmas tree. "You mean it? We're going home?!"
Ed's grin broadened. "Yep. Seems like the Colonel thinks we need some downtime. Probably because we were stuck in his house all day. That'll drive anyone crazy."
"I didn't think it was so bad," Al offered, a smile in his voice. "It was almost fun."
"Yeah. Almost being the operative word," Ed said with an irritated scowl, yanking his coat up to cover his neck.
Actually, it hadn't been that bad, considering it was the Colonel.
Ed might even venture to say that it was almost enjoyable.
Al didn't say anything for a while, content to keep his thoughts to himself as Ed led them through the snow and up the busy streets of Central. Then, Al asked, "Was that what it was like? When Dad was home?" The question was meek and tentative, as if Al were afraid Ed would blow up at the mere mention of their father.
But Ed didn't feel the rush of anger he usually did at the mention of Hoenheim. Instead of the raw pain he was accustomed to feeling, he felt a dull ache, like an old injury in the cold; small enough to ignore, eclipsed by something warm and safe.
Mustang could certainly be a pain, but when it came down to it, he was there when it counted. Maybe that was enough.
Ed offered Al a small smile. "Almost."
Almost was good enough for him.
It is done . . .
No, it wasn't an epilogue. It was it's own chapter lol.
Whew! Hope you guys enjoyed! I know this was a blast to write xD Hope you have warm fuzzies now. I do c:
Again, thank you for all of your wonderful reviews and kind comments while I was writing this! It's been awesome! I already have a couple of other FMA fics in the works, so hopefully I'll see you guys next time ;)