Next chapter of Collared is being mended and ironed, so have the second part of this in the meantime.
Title: Between This Moment and the Next (2/2): With Time and Peace
Genre: Romance (yeah, somehow that happened out of the angst)
Warnings: End of series (manga) spoilers
Summary: Two years and a handful of months. It felt like a lifetime.
Notes: Slight AU; Roy's sight isn't fixed.
Two years was not a long time, all things considered. Just long enough for Al to get his strength back and get comfortable with having a flesh-and-blood body again. Just long enough for Ed to come to terms with being ordinary. Long enough for them both to get restless.
Long enough, maybe, for Ed to work up the nerve to see Mustang.
They'd spoken briefly right after the Promised Day. But with all the destruction in Central, the wounded, the confusion over who was going to be named Fuhrer, his dad taking off—there'd hardly been time for more than formalities.
No chance to ask Mustang if he had meant what he'd said on that morning—no chance to even acknowledge that that night had even happened. It hadn't seemed right to bring it up when Mustang had just had his entire world upended and shaken to the core. He'd had other things to worry about—and so had Ed.
Two years and a handful of months. It felt like a lifetime.
Mustang was staying in a town on the edge of Ishvalan land, near the military outpost. Less than a day's journey from Resembool. Ed thought he probably should have written ahead—then immediately wondered what good it would do—then immediately felt bad because of course Mustang would have some way to deal with written material.
Ed decided he was thinking too much.
He was directed to a small room just to one side of the outpost, where it looked like a meeting was wrapping up. It was weird seeing Mustang out of uniform, especially in a group of soldiers like this. Still, Mustang was the one who looked calm and collected, while the self-important uniforms looked disgruntled. Ed stood to one side while the latter filed out of the room, leaving it all but empty. He chewed his lip, watching Mustang gather up papers with a small, undeniably pleased smile on his face, like a cat who'd found the cream. It was typical Mustang, but something seemed . . . different, now. Ed considered for a second or two, then finally walked in.
Mustang paused, his posture attentive. But just as Ed drew in breath to announce himself he smiled and said, "Well, this is a surprise. I was starting to think you wouldn't leave Resembool."
Ed froze. "How did you—"
Chuckling, Mustang closed the flap on his bag and stood. "You realize you have a very distinctive walk. I've known it since you were twelve."
Ed glanced down, tapping his left foot against the floor. "Huh. I guess I don't think about that."
"So then? What brings you out here to civilization?"
"Resembool's civilized, jackass."
"I'm sure it is for the sheep."
"Listen, you bastard. . . ."
Ed couldn't hold onto the rant. Mustang was still smiling; not the smug, I'm-getting-one-over-on-you smirk that had always made Ed want to punch his face in. Smiling like he was happy about something. Ed huffed and shuffled his suitcase. The old patterns he had expected just didn't fit. "You're not exactly in the hub of urban living yourself," he muttered.
Mustang inclined his head in acknowledgement. It was less like he was trying to get a rise out of him and more like . . . teasing. He picked up a slim cane from the table before crossing the space between them and clapping Ed on the shoulder, his aim surprisingly precise for someone who couldn't see his target.
"You have grown. Guess I just lost a bet."
"Hey! You've got a lot of nerve, betting that I'd—I'd—"
"I was not microscopic!"
The man was laughing again. It was such an odd and . . . pleasant sound that Ed once again found his irritation evaporating.
"Come on; my apartment isn't far from here. We can order dinner and catch up."
Ed fell into step beside him. "You paying?"
"My salary isn't nearly what it was, you know."
"Mine's even less."
Four hours later they were sitting in the tiny space that passed for Mustang's dining room, with empty take-out boxes shoved to one side of the table and papers covered in charts and diagrams on the other. The papers being for Ed's reference, of course.
Ed had—out of politeness' sake and perhaps a bit of curiosity—asked what the meeting had been about. Turns out a potential mining site had been discovered recently that could bring some much-needed funds to the Ishvalan people. But the project had a number of hurtles, including the fact that the caves needed to be made breathable.
Ed might have predicted that they'd start arguing. He never would have guessed he'd actually enjoy it. When had Mustang ever actually sat down and argued out alchemic theory? Never in Ed's presence, at least.
"You're making this far too complicated—"
"It's a complex problem."
"Only because you're over-thinking it!" Ed started sketching out arrays as he argued. Not that Mustang could see it, but it helped focus his thoughts.
"Transmuting gasses happens to be my specialty, Fullmetal."
"And you've gotten pretty mired in your thinking, old man. You're used to dealing with, what, two, maybe three gasses at the most?"
He looked politely amused. "And the mine has an unknown mixture of gasses, some potentially harmful. Yes. I'm well aware."
Ed rolled his eyes. He wondered if Roy could tell. "But you're used to dealing with gasses individually. Once you start grouping them the array gets much simpler. Three groups: beneficial, harmful, and neutral."
"How do you propose we anchor the groups in the array if we're to keep it simple?"
"Here, like—uh—" Ed's pen hovered over the paper. Equations were one thing, but how could he describe an array? Mustang's quiet sigh has a resigned sound to it, and the younger man winced. "The basic structure's pretty easy," he tried again. "It's—um—well, here." Finally Ed grabbed the other man's hand, and traced the foundation structure of the array on his palm. "Got that?"
"I believe so." Roy was looking amused again, but at least now Ed had piqued his attention.
"So you have the three sections, and you mark them this way. . . ."
Ed traced out the glyphs for each group in turn, explaining their function and placement in the array, and how the array could be used to detect and control the levels of each group. By the time he was done Mustang was looking impressed.
"Well. It'll need to be refined, of course, but . . . you've gotten us a lot closer than we were."
"I told you you were over complicating it."
Roy chuckled, neither an acknowledgement nor a refutation.
Ed suddenly realized that he still had the other man's hand between his own. What had been merely pragmatic a moment before now seemed . . . intimate, and he wasn't sure that's where they were right now. He didn't know where they were at all. He cleared his throat and awkwardly removed his hands. "Well—it's—it'll get you started. Wait, would the Ishvalans even want to use alchemy?"
Mustang had an odd smile on his face, like he'd just figured something out. "After the Promised Day their elders decided that certain uses do not violate their religious laws. For example, rearranging the composition of gases in an area is fine, as long as you're not changing one gas into another." He pushed back from the table and stood. "I think we're overdue for a break. Can I interest you in a drink?"
Watching him in his own home, Ed could almost forget that Mustang could no longer see. The cane had been left in the umbrella stand by the door, and now the only tell was a slight reaching out for the edge of a counter, or moment or two to feel for the knob of a cabinet door.
"So what's your poison? We have whiskey, brandy, wine. . . ."
"Did you memorize the liquor cabinet?" Ed immediately grimaced and resolved not to blurt out anything else dumb and probably insulting.
Mustang chuckled. "Most of the bottles distinct from each other, and I make sure to keep them in order. So in a way, yes, I have."
Ed followed him into the small kitchen. "Sorry. It . . . I don't mean to be an ass. Brandy's fine."
"It's all right, Ed. I don't mind a few honest questions," he said as he poured the drinks. "And because I know you're wondering, the sound a liquid makes changes as the glass fills."
"Huh. I didn't know that."
"I hadn't realized it, either." He held out one of the drinks for Ed to take. "There's a lot I hadn't taken note of that suddenly took on a whole new importance."
Ed studied the other man, as he had wanted to since he came. As he had wanted to for two years now. "It must've been hard. You had to quit the military on top of that, didn't you?"
"Medical discharge," Roy confirmed. He sipped his drink and then added, "Grumman thought I could still be useful, so he's letting me work here in a civilian capacity. He couldn't make too many changes too quickly, but perhaps someday I can reenlist."
"Are you sure you'd want to?" Ed blurted out, startling the other man up from his drink. It was erie, the way he could still meet his eye. "I-I just mean—I dunno—being out of uniform seems to agree with you."
Amusement flickered across his face. "Oh? How so?"
"I . . . dunno." He took several swallows of brandy to cover his floundering. "You just seem . . . more relaxed. You're not acting like everyone's out to get you."
"You mean I'm 'less of a shit'?"
Ed's heart did a little skip and he grinned. "Nah, you're still a shit. You're just less of an uptight shit."
"I'd hate to think I was slipping." He drained his glass, then found the counter to set it down. "I admit, there are some benefits to being out of the military."
"But there's a lot of things you lose, too," Ed ventured.
Roy merely sighed.
Ed set his drink down. "Why'd you turn down Marcoh?"
The former soldier turned and leaned back against the counter, his face a complex of emotions. "I'm only one man—and I wasn't dying. Too many others could be helped by that Stone, after all. I wanted to . . . sometimes I think I was a fool to turn him down. But I can live like this. Others injured that day—or before—can't say the same."
"It's not fair, though. You were forced though the gate. It isn't right that you have to live with what it took."
"Whereas you gave up your alchemy—the thing that all but defined you your entire life—willingly? Does that make it easier to live with? No." He raised a hand just as Ed opened his mouth. "Don't answer that. I know you would do it over again." He sighed again. "None of us chose our injuries that day. It would be arrogance to place a greater importance on my own." He let out a small, humorless laugh. "I suppose that does make me a fool."
Ed ran a hand through his hair. "I dunno. I don't think it's about being a fool or not being a fool. It's about making the choices you can live with."
Roy—burst out laughing. "The wisdom of the ages from a man not yet out of his teens."
"Hey! What d'you mean by . . . that. . . ." Ed's rant petered out because Roy was cupping his cheek. The smile he was getting seemed not just happy, but content in a way that he hadn't seen before. Ed let out the last of his breath, then returned the smile as he leaned into the hand. "You are such a shit."
"I'm glad you stopped by. I've . . . been thinking about you."
"Oh yeah? So. . . ." He closed the small distance between them and reached out to touch his hip. It seemed the natural now. Roy's other hand came up, the fingertips skimming lightly over his face, and that seemed natural, too. "You still think we'd kill each other?"
"Maybe. You're still a brat."
Ed chuckled, sending puffs of air over his fingers.
"But I'm not the only one who's more at ease now." Roy finished the exploration of his face, one hand sliding to cup the back of his neck. "The last time I saw you, you were barely on the edge of manhood," he said, softly. "You've grown up so well . . . I always knew you would. Oh? What's this?" He started to grin as he stroked Ed's cheek. "Did I make you blush?"
That only make his cheeks heat up more. "You . . . shut up, you jackass." He ducked his head, but as close as they were standing that meant his head hit the other man's shoulder. Roy drew him in, wrapping his arms around him. He was chuckling now, but it was a warm, pleasant sound and Ed found he didn't mind at all. "Jackass," he muttered into his shoulder.
"Should I stop with the compliments, then? Because I was going to mention how well the ponytail suits you." He tugged on the hair for emphasis. "Quite elegant."
Ed wanted to squirm. "Are you trying to make me want to strangle you?"
"And the coat is very dapper."
Ed sputtered into a laugh and drew back. "What the hell did you just call me? You can't even see my coat."
"No, but I can feel the collar." He drew his hands down the front, then out to the shoulders. "And I can tell the cut, and how well it fits. I can even make an educated guess about the fabric. Wool, isn't it?"
"Of course it's wool." The young man grinned. "No shit. You can tell all that?"
"Mm. And that you're wearing a nice waistcoat underneath it. All I'm missing is the color."
"Well, it's not red. I stopped needing that when we got Al's body back. It's brown. Uh, kinda medium brown."
"Mmm . . . the color suits you."
Ed wondered just what Roy was picturing, how close his mental image could get from touch and descriptions. He wondered if it mattered.
Roy's hand was against his jaw again, his thumb brushing over his lips. And he knew Roy could feel his smile, probably hear it in his voice. He leaned forward, and the other man met him part way, their lips brushing almost delicately before engaging. They felt each other out, giving and taking tentatively until they found a rhythm. When they broke apart, after a long, pleasurable moment, they stayed with their foreheads pressed together and noses touching, enjoying the proximity.
Roy's fingers were traveling over his face, as to cement the topography in his memory. "How long are you planning to stay?"
"I dunno . . . I don't really have a schedule," Ed mused. "I'm just planning to poke around Amestris and look into some of what we had to pass by while we were searching for the Stone."
He pressed a kiss to Roy's fingers as they skimmed by. "I'll stay for a bit. Gotta make sure you get that array down properly. And I'll come back by . . . whenever I'm in the area . . . after all, we've got that experiment running."
Ed grinned. "To see if we'll kill each other."
"Ah, yes. We're going to need quite a bit of data for that."
"Shall we start one now?"
Ed answered by kissing him.
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