A brief story about an unexpected conflict, a missing alchemist, and three very long years. (Somewhat AU-- deviates from canon around episode 25. Established Roy/Ed relationship assumed.)
Ed eventually sighed, though, and turned away from the window. He pulled his old red coat from where it draped over the back of the couch, wearing an odd little smile as he ran a finger over the fabric. But he didn't say anything, just swung the coat around and settled it over his shoulders.
Roy walked over, picking up the backpack that had replaced the old suitcase and handing it to Ed. A hundred little things ran through his head, questions he'd asked many times over the past few days while Edward had been packing and planning, but this time he kept them all silent.
They stood, looking at each other in solemn silence. Then, Ed quirked a tense little grin. "Al will be waiting. Guess I should probably get going, hm?"
Roy nodded gravely, opened his mouth to reply and let it fall shut again.
"Well." Ed's gaze dropped to the floor, then lifted again. "I'll be back before you know it. It's probably nothing."
"Yes," Roy agreed quietly.
Ed hesitated again, mouth working soundlessly, then the backpack dropped to the ground and suddenly they were clinging to each other, Ed's arms around Roy's shoulders and Roy's around Ed's waist.
"I love you, you know," Ed whispered. "Never said it, but--"
"I know." Roy's arms tightened briefly. "I know. I love you, too."
They stayed frozen like that for several heartbeats, before pulling back just far enough that they could seal their lips together in a desperate, bruising kiss. When they broke apart, Ed backed away, gaze dropping to the floor again while one hand lifted to brush at his eyes.
Without looking back up, Ed picked up his bag and turned, striding firmly away and closing the door behind him with a muted click, leaving Roy standing in the living room with a hard knot of dread in his gut--
Snapping his eyes open, Roy looked at the face before him and had a moment of disoriented horror before he realized that his face was dry and his mask was still in place. The junior officer, seeing that he was awake, saluted crisply. "We're almost to Newhope, sir. You said you wanted to be notified--"
Waving the man to silence, Roy just nodded in acknowledgement. "Thank you--" He struggled for a moment to think of the man's name, but eventually gave up. Enough like him had come and gone in recent years that all the faces blurred together, and to name each one had become an effort he wasn't able to make. "Thank you. Dismissed."
Watching the young man go, Roy absently wondered how long this one would live, before he remembered that the war was over.
"Over," he murmured to himself, turning his head to look out the train's window, watching only absently as the landscape blurred by. The concept was hard to grasp, after three years of constant fighting, of confusion and blood and fire. Three years since--
Roy sighed and closed his eyes, but the past refused to settle.
Three years before, there had been rumours from the far north-- just hints of unease, the barest possibility of a threat. A perfect assignment, most thought, for one Edward Elric and, by association, his brother. So off the two had gone into the unknown, and when communications dropped off after two weeks, some were mildly concerned, but passed it off as normal for an investigation of such a nature.
For Brigadier General Roy Mustang, who had felt uneasy about the assignment from the beginning, it was only a confirmation of his fears. And when the north exploded suddenly into a bloody, heated battleground, he was one of the very few that weren't surprised.
Heartsick, perhaps. Worried to the point of distraction, certainly. But not surprised.
From that point-- no one was sure exactly what happened. The fighting spread almost before the areas involved realized it, and suddenly there were no sides, there was no way to tell allies from foes. Old feuds were quickly reignited, minor squabbles escalated to open warfare. Areas of vague civil unrest became outright revolts overnight. And soon, the entire country was engulfed.
The army, for the most part, had stayed together, despite the fact that so many had died early on while they were still scattered throughout the country-- despite the fact that most of those early deaths had been high-ranking officers, including the Fuhrer himself, leaving the chain of command shaky on its feet. True to their training, they had rallied and fortified, and created a little island of calm amidst the chaos that seemed to have swallowed everything.
In the end, what it had come down to wasn't really a matter of victory or defeat. Simply-- who held on the longest. Three years of conflict ground down even the staunchest fighters, until everything seemed a uniform shade of grey, until it seemed like the nights would never end and the bloodstains would never come clean--
And then one morning, everyone seemed to wake up and come to their senses all at once. They looked around at their neighbours and friends, looked down at the weapons in their hands, and finally began to wonder just what they were doing. The weapons were thrown down, and everyone began the long, limping journey back to their homes, leaving the wreckage behind.
The wreckage-- and a lot of unanswered questions.
Opening his eyes, Roy scanned the fields beyond the window out of habit, searching for enemies, picking out likely shelters, noting the burned homes and trampled fields-- then craned his neck and pressed his forehead to the glass to see the outline of Newhope ahead. It was an old city, with a new name-- a great sprawling thing of thick stone walls that had somehow become the gathering point for all surviving army personnel. As they passed under the arched gateway that marked the city limits, Roy was already looking for its weaknesses.
Which were, he was surprised and pleased to note, relatively few. The outer wall was broken in many places and therefore useless, but the streets were wide and most of the buildings sound. And the entire place was connected above the ground as well, by walkways supported by more arched gates, creating a defensible high ground that, Roy noted, was already manned by figures in blue.
Finally, Roy felt himself begin to relax.
The train ground to a slow halt, and Roy sighed soundlessly and stood. He seemed to ache right down to his bones, wearier than he could ever remember being, but he just pulled his Brigadier General persona around himself a little bit tighter and buried it all away.
He crossed the little private car in brisk strides, already running the state of things over in his mind-- forty-three soldiers with him, to find supplies and lodgings for, and to report on roll-call wherever the command centre was set up; Hughes and Havoc were a day behind with twenty-one more, and had hopefully met up with Armstrong's unit as planned; there were fifteen more still that had gone ahead with Hawkeye--
The door slid open, and there was the familiar form of Hawkeye waiting on the platform, uniform impeccable, salute as crisp and professional as if it had been any other day. It was possible that there was a bit of relief in her eyes as he stepped down to her level, but it went unspoken as they both turned to supervise the men getting off the traincar beside them.
"Sir. Welcome to Newhope." She gestured with her eyes and a faint nod of the head towards a nearby building. "Command has been notified of your arrival."
"Already?" Roy murmured, a hint of a smirk ghosting across his face. "Have we got any kind of communications back yet?"
Hawkeye shook her head sharply. "Lines are still down, Sir. Though repairs are scheduled to start within the next few days."
If the cease-fire holds/, was the unspoken condition. /If we can manage to pull ourselves together enough by then.
Roy just nodded, and turned towards his men-- then tensed his fingers automatically as movement flickered at the corner of his eye. /Friendly territory/, he reminded himself, trying to ignore the fact that sometimes, in the past, that hadn't mattered.
The movement had come from atop one of the elevated walkways, which gave him a momentary twinge of something like claustrophobia as he realized how those paths closed in the sky above. He turned his head a fraction, still looking sidelong, to get a better view--
"Sir, there's something you should--"
Sunlight glinted off gold, and the rest of Hawkeye's words were lost into the background. It felt for a moment distinctly like he'd been shot, because there was a hot point of pain lancing through the centre of his chest-- but there was no gun, no blood. Just a slight figure silhouetted against the sky, bent to look down over the edge of the walkway.
The hair was wrong somehow, Roy noted absently. And the clothes looked like army standard, no sign of black or red. And it was too far away to make out any details, and really it could be anyone-- but he had already taken a few steps forward, unable to stop himself, and his heart was thudding a quick, heavy beat against his ribs.
The figure whirled around and was gone, and Roy let out a shaky breath he hadn't realized he was holding. The normal sounds of the platform rushed in to fill the void. Drawing in another, steadier breath, he took firm hold of himself and returned his attention where it belonged. "Colonel, I'll need to know where the rest of our unit is barracked. And if you could tell me who is currently in charge?"
"Sir, I really think you--"
Roy fixed Hawkeye with what he hoped was a stern look, though he felt it might have been shaky around the edges. "If you have something to say, it can wait. There are things that need to be done--"
"With all due respect, Sir," Hawkeye interrupted firmly, "don't be an idiot."
Roy blinked, and while he was recovering from the shock Hawkeye neatly plucked the roster sheets and reports from under his arm. "I will see to the troops, Sir. We're all barracked in Section Five, you can find us later."
"But--" Roy gave himself a little mental shake. "I need to report--"
"They'll take my word that you're present and accounted for, Sir." Something glinted in her eyes. "I've dealt with them before. Now, there's a stair up to the platforms three streets that way." She gestured briefly, then turned to the assembled troops and started barking orders like the frighteningly competent soldier that she was. The men were marching off towards the Command building almost before they realized what was happening.
Roy watched them go, then snapped his mouth closed and turned towards the street his subordinate had indicated. He had barely entered the shadow of the buildings before the sound of pounding feet reached him, every second footfall having the faintest of echoing rings-- and then he stopped, a point of stillness in the thin flow of traffic on the street, because that figure from the walkway was running towards him, dodging pedestrians until it was right in front of him--
Ed's breathing was a bit ragged, and his eyes looked slightly wild. Roy wasn't feeling too steady himself. A moment stretched between them as they stood, staring, and all of a sudden the only thing Roy could think of to say was: "You've grown."
"Yeah, well." Instead of the half-expected angry retort, there was only a tight, awkward smile and a half-shrug. "Had to happen some time, right?"
Roy nodded absently, and studied the golden-blonde head that now topped out just below his nose. His fingers twitched, his hand almost reached-- but both fell still again.
Ed seemed about to speak, then paused, then forced a breath in let it out noisily. "Well. You've got to be hungry, right? Just getting in, and all. Each unit gets assigned rations every day, so there should be plenty over where your group's camped--"
"Hawkeye said we were in Section Five," Roy said automatically.
"Yeah, me too. Al and I packed up and switched over yesterday when we heard they got here." He shrugged again, stiffly. "Kinda good to see some familiar faces, y'know?" He turned and started walking, and only then did Roy realize what had struck him as wrong about the young man's hair-- the braid was gone, cut off not quite evenly at the nape of his neck. "C'mon, I'll show you the way."
Roy fell in at his side, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "Your brother is well, then?" he asked after a moment of strained silence.
"Yeah! Yeah, he's-- good. Always is." Ed shrugged, and Roy noted that the movement of his right arm seemed off. "You know Al."
Roy tried to say something else, but the words wouldn't come. They walked the rest of the distance in strained silence.
Section Five turned out to be just another large stone building in a long line of them, with narrow windows, a thick door and a shadowed alcove just inside that split into two staircases and a hallway. Ed gestured down the latter. "They set up the kitchen down that way, and the common area. You could probably find something--"
"I'm not hungry," Roy cut in abruptly. Ed blinked at him a few times, then nodded slowly and turned instead towards one of the stairwells. He went up several flights, with Roy trailing him, and eventually came to just one more door in a hallway full of them.
Inside was a small, dim space containing a narrow bed and one small, shaky table. Ed took a few steps into the room, then stopped, ducking his head and half-turning back. "This is my room," he said quietly. "I-- I don't know what-- I mean, if you--" He glanced up through his bangs at Roy, eyes wide and very uncertain all of a sudden.
The moment hung, and then shattered, along with that peculiar tension that had been strung between them since the moment they'd met in the street. Roy was stepping forward and yanking Ed into a crushing embrace, and Ed was shivering violently as he wound his arms under Roy's uniform jacket, and neither of them noticed when their knees buckled and sent them both to the floor.
"I thought you were dead," Roy found himself murmuring to the head tucked under his chin. "I was sure of it-- when you stopped reporting in, and then with what happened up there, I thought--"
"Don't." Ed hugged him tighter, almost trying to burrow into his chest. "Just-- don't, right now, please? I don't want to talk about it."
Roy nodded, biting back all of his questions, and simply held on. He thought that Ed's grip might be tearing holes in his shirt, and he was sure that his own fingers were leaving bruises where they clasped Ed's shoulders-- but he couldn't bring himself to care, and the younger man wasn't saying anything either.
Eventually Ed uncoiled enough to lift his head, and their lips touched-- soft, light, though not for long. And then it was like the three years of worry and loneliness and bloody adrenaline dissipated all at once, leaving a strange kind of light-headed euphoria in their wake.
If the stone floor hadn't been so cold Roy would have forgotten about the bed altogether, though sadly that was not the case.
They tumbled onto the narrow cot, making it creak alarmingly, and started to fumble almost desperately with the snaps and buttons and ties that held their clothes on. They came apart only long enough to breathe, only when the need became impossible to ignore-- it seemed more important, somehow, to keep up that contact, burning, igniting--
Old habit made Roy fumble one hand to the side, groping along the surface of that rickety bedside table, but his fingers found what they were looking for nonetheless, and he drew it back to the bed. And then everything was molten warmth, and damp skin, and metallic sweat and panted breaths--
And then, a single moment poised at the top of the leap, weightless in space and utterly peaceful in that instant before the fall.
Some time afterwards, Roy dragged his hand up to his eyes, looking curiously at the tiny bottle still clutched there. "Do I want to know why you have this?" he murmured, smiling faintly.
Ed grumbled, and slit open one eye. "Hawkeye said you w're likely gonna be here today. I thought that maybe-- just in case, I mean--"
Dropping the bottle to the side, Roy used his freed fingers to press against Ed's lips, silencing him-- and he also found himself smiling, really smiling, for maybe the first time in three years. He shifted around, pulling the younger man closer against him, feeling Ed relax as the one golden eye slipped closed again.
"Missed you," Roy whispered suddenly.
Ed hummed something incoherent, before his breathing lapsed into the slow and steady rhythm of sleep.
Roy watched him for a moment then, his smile fading, and ran a hand through the shortened blonde hair. It barely brushed the younger man's chin, now, and fanned across his face in a way that Roy wasn't quite used to.
His attention slipped downward, to the arm draped over his chest-- the metal arm, slightly cooler than the air, which was very obviously not the work of Winry Rockbell. Which meant that at some point over the course of the past three years, that arm had been replaced-- and it was possible, considering the overdue growth spurt, that he'd simply outgrown the old one, but-- Roy carefully traced his fingers over the pink lines of new scars, briefly touched the dark shadows that lay under his lover's eyes.
What happened, Ed? What aren't you telling me?
Unanswered questions were still chasing themselves through Roy's head when he finally closed his eyes, but he did his best to ignore them. And eventually, lulled by the even sound of peaceful breathing and the faint motion of Ed's chest rising and falling, they did become quiet enough that he could drift off into an exhausted sleep.