Setting: Fullmetal Alchemist, mangaverse, post-series, slight ending AU.
Characters: Roy/Ed, Havoc/Rebecca, Riza/Miles, Al, Winry, ensemble.
Rating: NC-17 overall, this chapter a mere PG-13
Word count: 8163 this chapter
Summary: Two years on from the Promised Day. Amestris is without a Fuhrer, the military is teetering on the brink of civil war, and Team Mustang search urgently for the opposition's secret alchemical weapon. Any day now could be the first day of the war, and everyone is feeling the pressure. So is it any wonder that Ed and Roy's growing friendship just kindasorta combusted on them?
Notes: Direct sequel to No Small Injury. Illustrated by me, betaed and edited by enemytosleep and a_big_apple.
Chapter One: Blue Monday | Chapter Two: Make Your Mind Up Time | Chapter Three: Something Stupid | Chapter Four: Two Plus Two
Chapter Five: Inbetween Days | Interlude: Test Drive | Chapter Six: Go the Distance | Chapter Seven: A Grin Without a Cat
Chapter Eight: the Home Front | Interlude - TGIF | Chapter Nine: Charm Offensive
“You know what your problem is, Roy?” Hughes raised his beer glass and gestured with his pinkie finger. Roy narrowed his eyes at him.
“No, I really don’t,” he said. “Lucky for me you’re about to tell me in great detail.”
“I am, indeed,” said Hughes. “Your problem, Roy, is that you’re stuck.”
He just let that one sit for a moment, taking a pull on his beer and looking Roy in the eye. Roy refused to give Hughes the set-up line for his big speech. Instead he said nothing. He looked across the square, watched the passers-by in the May sunshine.
Hughes, of course, continued, just as if Roy had said what do you mean? or do go on. “How many relationships have you had that have gone over the three month mark?”
Ah, this again. Roy leaned back in his chair and pretended to think about it, ready to give Hughes a little shit about this. “One? Two?” He took a sip of beer and ostentatiously checked out the couple two tables over. “Does regular fucking count here?”
Hughes rolled his eyes. “Stop it. I have a serious point to make -“
“- About how marriage is the pinnacle of human happiness, it will ensure I achieve all other life goals, and by the way, your wife looks gorgeous pregnant -”
“- a point about you. In fact.”
“A point about me about that.”
“So what are your goals? Apart from the one we can’t mention at a street café?”
“Isn’t that one enough?”
“Why does that one have to consume everything else?”
“I’m twenty-five, Hughes, where’s the fire?”
“You’ll be forty-five and exactly the same if you don’t watch out.”
Roy pinched the bridge of his nose. “What brought on this unannounced, non-consensual therapy session?”
Hughes shrugged and grinned. Roy shook his head. Hughes always had to just launch into serious things without warning. Of course, the problem with Roy knowing this was that Hughes took it to be a licence to launch.
“What do you want, though? You want to settle down with someone?”
“I hadn’t thought about it.”
“I know you have.” Hughes had trapped him, of course: a dozen drunken conversations back in Academy, the beautiful future.
Roy looked at him, looked out at the sunny street, looked back. This was a conversation for two in the morning, not for a summer’s evening.
“What changed?” asked Hughes.
“You know what changed,” Roy said.
“Yes,” said Hughes, “but. I can’t work out if given the Grand Plan you just don’t want to give hostages to fortune, or if you think you have to kick yourself out of the Human Club for misbehaviour.”
There was a long silence. Roy’s summer mood was far from him now. There was a sick weight in the air, in Roy’s stomach.
Roy took a breath in and out. He looked at Hughes. He said, “I don’t know which. Does that help?”
“One more question,” said Hughes, “then we can talk about football. Do you think I shouldn’t be starting a family?”
Roy managed not to flinch. Hughes’ tone was firm, shut down. He wasn’t asking Roy if this was the right thing; Hughes brought to his family the same devastating certainty with which he approached all his endeavours.
Roy looked at the bowl of sugar cubes on their table, at the rings left on the top by other people’s cups. “Of course not.”
He meant it, and he knew the hypocrisy of the thing, and it changed nothing. He still couldn’t square his opinion of Hughes and his view of himself, and he still couldn’t reimagine that former, private future.
The officers’ bathrooms at HQ always let you down if you were getting ready to go out on the town. They were cramped, the mirrors were tiny, and the lighting sucked so much that one time, Rebecca had gone out with so much blusher on she’d looked like a showroom dummy.
She smoothed down her dress and twirled experimentally. “You sure it’s not too short?”
Riza popped her head out of the cubicle she was changing in, and shook her head curtly. “Still not too short.” She emphasised still by just a fraction. “Why are you worried? I thought the point was to show your legs off to the groom.”
Rebecca nodded. “Right. Just checking. Again.” She turned to the mirror, reached into the front of her dress and readjusted the neckline. “What about the cleavage? Not enough, too much or just right?”
The lock of Riza’s cubicle rattled, and then she emerged again, to dutifully inspect the cleavage. “The right amount.”
Rebecca was short on time, so she ignored her instinct that Riza was saying whatever it took. She twirled again and smoothed down her skirt. “How about the thigh holster? Can you see the line of it?”
“Practically undetectable,” said Riza. “Don’t forget to keep your champagne in your left hand so you can draw with your right.”
“Duh,” said Rebecca.
Of course Havoc’s hair wouldn’t lay flat. The one time you want to look that slick is your wedding day, right? But it was too late now to fix now. He was up front in a function room in city hall, with Breda standing next to him, and behind him on rows of chairs were his boss, his mom, his friends, comrades, and soon-to be in-laws.
“Am I jittering?” he whispered to Breda. “Stop me if I’m jittering.”
“You just started.”
“Well, you’re tapping your foot. It’s making me nervous. More nervous.”
“What if we both look ahead and stop fidgeting?”
“Good plan. You got the rings?”
“Yes. They’re still in my pocket. It’s amazing how I managed not to lose them since the last time you asked, two minutes ago.”
“Great, great. Okay, just one more thing. Do I smell like elevator?” Breda shook his head, and Havoc took a deep breath. The city hall’s service elevator had had a vaguely dank smell to it. It was not the most glamorous way to arrive at your own wedding, but it turned out the city hall had thirty grand, imposing and impassable marble steps out front, and that they didn’t take well to offers of alchemical remodelling. Havoc would have loved to have fought that one all the way, but they’d only had a week to plan this wedding, and there was a real war to be fought beyond it. He could lean on city hall after the coup, provided that Mustang made it and he made it and they weren’t all dead, or sitting in jail cells twiddling their thumbs waiting for the firing squad.
Now he really was nervous. Dammit.
And right there, the pianist in the corner started up. The chattering started to die down. Havoc’s system got another, frankly unnecessary adrenaline shot. He managed to keep looking ahead for another few seconds, then he couldn’t help himself: he turned his head and swivelled a bit and saw Rebecca.
Her dress was white and kind of slinky and it showed her knees. There was a big red flower in her hair and a smile on her face like she was about to bust out crying. Havoc blinked himself. Dry eyes, deep breath, stay cool.
She reached the front, and sat in the empty chair next to him, and slipped her hand into his. They looked at each other; he squeezed her hand. Then they both looked ahead, and the big room got very quiet.
The ceremony was, frankly, a blur. It was short; or maybe Rebecca’s nerves just made it seem that way. Afterwards, Rebecca just remembered how she’d stumbled through stage fright for the very first time in her life. She repeated a bunch of words. She stared into Jean’s lovely blue eyes. At the end they kissed for a good few seconds to the crowd’s applause, before they remembered that both their moms were sitting six feet away.
A quick ride in a weird smelling elevator later, then they were in the pub three doors along holding glasses of fizzy wine, and it was done. There was a ring on her finger. Wow, Rebecca thought, watching the crowd chuckle dutifully at one of her dad’s bad jokes. We’re married.
“And now,” Breda said, when her dad was finally done with the cute childhood anecdotes, “you might want to clear a large space for this next part, because it involves leaving Captains Havoc and Catalina in charge of a sabre.”
Jean narrowed his eyes at Breda. Riza and Maria brought out the table with the fruit cake Jean’s mom had brought. Jean and Rebecca made their way out front. Mustang stepped out of the crowd holding a sabre. He offered to Jean with a grin and an unnecessary raised eyebrow. Jean took it; Rebecca crouched and put her hand over his.
Jean aimed the sword at the cake, experimentally. “Okay,” he said. “There is really no way this situation could possibly go wrong.”
There were a few whoops of laughter. Rebecca said, “At least we got through the important part first. If we trash this cake and maim a couple bystanders, at least we get to go to jail as husband and wife.”
The laughter was a bit more uncomfortable this time. Good job, Rebecca thought to herself. You had to mention jail.
“Cut the cake already,” someone shouted.
Jean grinned and tilted his wrist, and there, the cake was cut, without a single casualty. And it was delicious, too.
“Just look at everyone,” Al said to Ed. “It’s great. I can’t remember the last time I saw everyone in such a good mood.”
Ed looked around the room. “Hawkeye’s dancing,” he said. And she was, shimmying with Catalina to some goofy song that everyone there over thirty seemed to go crazy for. “It was a good time for a party, I guess. Give everyone a chance to blow off some steam. Before, you know.”
Al exhaled. “I guess that would be why. One last big fling, huh?”
“Well, that’s the mood killed,” said Al. “I’m going to the bar. You want another glass?”
“For sure.” After Al got up, Ed looked around the room some more. Hawkeye and Catalina were still on the dance floor. So was Fuery, and he was surprisingly good on his feet. Catalina’s father was slapping Havoc on the back; Miles and the rest of the ex-Briggs contingent were sitting at a table in the corner, laughing their asses off. And four tables over, Roy was chatting to Ross. He had two shirt buttons popped and his sleeves rolled up: relaxed mode.
He always did that first thing when he got in the door, Ed thought. He pictured Roy slinging his jacket neatly over the arm of the couch, then running a hand through his hair. Ed felt expansive, a little tipsy. Roy looked happy, he thought, at least in this moment. Those brief flashing grins were Roy’s real smiles, not the game face.
I kissed you in a library, Ed thought, suddenly. Then, I like you. Saying the words in his head gave him a little rush of delight. He did it again. I like you, I like you, I like you. How amazing was that? That Ed had discovered Roy the human being behind his public self, that distant and fascinating acquaintance. Ed had found Roy; then they’d found that they liked each other. And Ed liked him a lot! He was funny, he meant what he said, he had beautiful eyes and Ed felt like he could fuck him forever and never get tired of it. It just felt right, all of it, so right that Ed almost didn’t notice it sometimes. Sure, this thing between them was supposed to be casual. But it wasn’t so much anymore, was it? Ed thought of the alchemy lessons, the long talks in the night. He thought of how he spent more nights at Roy’s place than in his own bed. They were being pulled towards each other without any effort at all, as if some law of physics was involved. All Ed had to do was observe.
After he’d had two glasses of wine and at least one conversation with every person in the room, Roy found himself alone for a moment, and realised he was dog-tired. Havoc and Catalina would be heading out soon, though; he wanted to stay to see them off. He got up, and as he headed for the pub’s back door and some fresh air, Ed caught his eye.
And few moments after he’d stepped outside, there was Ed: bumping shoulders with him, flushed with wine and cheerfulness, grinning delightedly, beautiful.
“So,” said Ed, “you want to head home after this?”
Roy raised an eyebrow. “How many glasses?”
Ed shrugged, and the smile mostly dropped away. “I got two metal limbs, I get buzzed easily.” He reached out and casually cupped Roy's cheek. One corner of Ed's mouth lifted; the pad of his thumb stroked the skin under Roy's eye. "You look tired," he said.
Something jolted inside Roy, a little rush of alarm. He turned his cheek away, not quite knowing why.
“Oh,” Ed said. “Public. Forgot.” He shrugged again. “My bad.”
Roy shook his head. “It’s fine. No one can see us here. Besides, I’m not sure how secret we are; I have a feeling half the office knows by now.” We. Roy’s insides rolled again.
“Okay then,” said Ed, and kissed him. A soft, long kiss and a cool automail hand on the back of his neck. And when they parted, and Ed looked at him, Roy knew beyond doubt what was wrong.
Ed frowned at him. “Is something up?”
He should say nothing, he thought. Roy shook his head. He hadn’t hidden it well enough. “Nothing.” They should both just carry on, pretend this wasn’t happening. This wasn’t the time.
“No, what’s up?” Ed smiled at him again. “I don’t mind, just say.”
“No - no, it’s fine. It’s probably not a good night for you to come over, I’m sorry. We’ll talk another time -” And Roy turned away and would have walked out and escaped it all, if Ed’s hand hadn’t closed on his arm.
“What?” Ed said. “What?” Ed's eyes had turned wretched, his mouth set. He was starting to realise what was coming. It hurt Roy’s chest to look at him, but he forced himself.
It was awful, but now it had to be done. Roy said quietly, "We've got a problem, haven't we?"
Ed's mouth set into a line. He said nothing for a moment. His hand pressed Roy's cheek. "Look -" he started, then paused, seemed to catch himself. "I didn't start this out planning to -" He stopped short again, and took his hand away.
"This is my fault," said Roy. "I've been a complete idiot.” He looked down, shut his eyes for the moment. “No, sorry. Look, this just isn’t the time. We can have this conversation - after everything. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
Ed was staring at him, he could feel it. “No, say the rest,” he said. “You got halfway.”
And now Ed was going to get hurt. Meeting his eyes was unpleasant, but Roy did it. “This wasn’t a good idea.”
“You want us to stop?” He had hurt Ed already. “You don’t act like it.”
Roy shook his head. “That’s not the point. This can’t go anywhere.”
“Why not?” said Ed. His voice was firm, flat. “What?” Ed frowned at him furiously. “So - you think I like you too much, and that’s it, just like that?”
"I think -" Roy started. And then he stopped, because he didn't know what he thought. He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Ed. I've dealt with this very badly -"
“Why can’t this go anywhere?” Ed tumbled the words out quickly. “Let’s just do it.” Out of nowhere, he grinned, energetic and desperate, and his eyes stayed sad. “I know it’s a bad time, I know you’ve got more important shit to do, but. You - we - if.” He inhaled. “I like you and you like me and I think we should just go for it. I don’t care how hard you have to work, or if it’s dangerous, or if we have to be apart sometimes. I’m fine if -”
“We talked about this at the start, Ed.” Roy hardened his expression, went for the game face after all. It was all out now, and his path was clear. “I thought you were mature enough to -“
“What do you want to do?"
“This was never realistically -“
“What do you want to do?" Ed sounded young, repeating himself. Young and hurt and angry.
"It's not about what -"
"Yes, yes it is. Fuck, so, we're in the middle of the end of the world, okay! So you should know even more what you want, what's important, when it’s all at risk! Just tell me, fuck, tell me what you want, what's so hard about that?"
What did Roy want? He wanted a lot of things that he shouldn’t want, and he wasn’t going to get. He couldn't say it. Somehow, his hands had found their way to Ed's shoulders, and they tightened, and he froze and pulled in a breath.
Ed put his hands in Roy's hair and kissed him, as if that was just what naturally happened when Roy’s hands were on his shoulders. And Roy kissed back, because that was what naturally happened when Ed kissed him.
The kiss made both of them calmer. Ed pulled back and looked at Roy after a while. His hands slid down to Roy’s shoulders, and he seemed like he was waiting, miserable. Roy felt like there was a lump of something cold and painful sitting at the bottom of his ribcage. He knew that in his carelessness, he had let this happen to both of them. He’d fallen hard, and that was exactly how it felt: like falling onto concrete and dragging someone else down with him. Because he couldn’t do this.
He took a step back, until they were too far away to touch. He didn’t say anything. He tried to look cold.
It didn’t work. Ed’s eyebrows scrunched together and his eyes went wider. “Do you want to be with me?” asked Ed.
“Yes,” said Roy quietly, because they both knew anyway. “But -”
“So why wouldn’t you even try?”
Roy wanted, of course, to reach out and touch Ed and pull him to him. He didn’t. He thought of a dozen things to say, none of them right. He looked down.
There was a long and horrible pause. Then Roy heard himself break it. “Because. You deserve better.”
Ed said, low and angry, “What the hell does that mean?”
“It means that -“ Roy really had no idea what he was going to say. “That you’re a good person.” He sucked in a breath. No, shit. “That’s not what I meant,” he added quickly. “What I mean is, is you’re young, and I’ve already got a goal I can’t give up, and if, if, if we get through this revolution, this war, then I’m going to be so damn busy with it that there’ll be no time for anything else. And you deserve much more than that. More than I’m going to be able to give you.”
“Bullshit,” said Ed. “More bullshit.”
Roy snapped his head up and looked him in the eye. “It’s just the truth,” he said. “It doesn’t get any less true because it’s hard to hear.”
Ed stayed still for a moment, then he looked down and breathed harshly. Roy braced himself for the explosion, for Ed to walk out or scream in his face or even punch him in the eye. This was horrible and it was inevitable. Roy should have known himself and Ed better, should have known things would end up like this, should have never let it start. And now Ed was hurt, and Roy had hurt him. This should be the last time he ever did this to anyone. He -
“Why,” Ed said quietly, “are you the only person in the revolution who has to be alone?” His head was still down.
Roy knew immediately that Ed had to have the question wrong. But he couldn’t tell how. “The people working for me -" he tried. “They came on board of their own free will, and I ask a fuck of a lot of them, they’ve sacrificed enough for me, of course they have the right to whatever happiness -”
“Then why not you? How are you different? What makes you so fucking special?”
“I’m not alone,” Roy said, ignoring him. “I have a family. I have Riza. I have my people.”
“I know. You’re not stupid enough to send them away, so why me?”
“Because I refuse to drag you into my generation’s mess!”
Ed threw his hands out to the sides. “You see this uniform? I’m in this mess and you know why? It’s not because you recruited me, either. I could have left, Al could have left, you know why we stayed? ‘Cause it’s the right thing to do. Because we give a damn about what happens to this country, because we’re people and we live here and we want to help fix this goddamn mess. But you know what I don’t get? How making yourself miserable gets you one inch closer to fixing it.”
Roy opened his mouth. Ed glared at him, big-eyed. He sucked in one shaky breath. Then Ed’s right fist hit the wall, and as Roy jumped Ed was already out the door and gone.
Roy pulled in a breath, let it out. Again. He touched the corners of his eyes, and found them dry. Then he turned and walked back inside.
The crowd was clustered around the door in a horseshoe, cheering and applauding. Roy strode to the front, just in time to see Catalina hop into Havoc’s lap, shoes in one hand. He spun, and, cheek to cheek, they gave the crowd a victory salute. Roy grinned and waved, and the crowd whooped, and Breda held the door open and waved them out like a butler. Then they were gone out into the night, married, off to a fancy hotel room and a fragment of the joy they deserved.
Inside the pub, the crowd dispersed. Ed wasn’t among them. Roy saw Riza, her arm around Miles’ waist. He tucked a bit of hair behind her ear and she leaned into it, happy and ordinary. Now Roy did feel the corners of his eyes stinging. He had the sudden impulse to tap Riza on the shoulder, to take her to the bar and confide the whole wretched thing. She would be there for him, as always. He could confess his mistakes, they could remind each other of the pact they shared, of the plan that always took precedence over private fulfilment.
She turned around, looked him right in the eye, and cocked her head in question. And he instantly knew he couldn’t do that to her. She deserved her piece of happiness too; but she sometimes didn’t think so, and he’d be damned if he was going to remind her of that. He raised his hand, and gave her his best boyish grin. She cocked her head again - she saw through the smile, of course - but then she waved, and nodded, and turned away again.
Roy walked home alone in the warm summer night: tipsy, melancholy, and only a little self-pitying.
Havoc was woken, slowly, by Rebecca moving around on the bed. He shoved his face back into the pillow, thinking vaguely about work.
Rebecca’s hand ruffled his hair. “Go back to sleep, honey.”
“What time is it?”
“Doesn’t matter. We’ve got the day off.” She pressed a kiss to his forehead.
He smiled without opening his eyes. “Oh, yeah.” His hand wandered over the warm, smooth skin of her back, her side, her butt. "Can I persuade you back into bed for a while?"
"You can persuade me anywhere, honey," she said, and slotted herself into his arms.
They stayed like that for a while, but Havoc didn't really sleep. Becky fell asleep almost immediately, spooning back into him. Havoc curled his arm around her belly and enjoyed the warm skin of her back, the crisp, fancy-hotel sheets, the rare chance to lay around and just be there. Life was funny. Two years ago, he'd checked into this exact hotel room, up in Central for the weekend to visit his old army buddies. He'd thought he was invalided out for good; he'd had no idea what he was going to do with the rest of his life. Now that he looked back on that time, he could see how he'd found things piece by piece. Opening up the throttle on his car for the first time, feeling the wind and the speed and the road peeling away behind him, and thinking I can go wherever I like. A job that needed doing, and that no one else to do, and that, it turned out, he was really pretty good at. A beautiful, funny girl who liked him enough to wear stilettos for his first day back at work; a girl he could talk to like he'd known her all her life; a girl who could obliterate a rifle target and rock a little black dress; a girl who looked at him like she couldn't believe her luck; who looked at him the way he looked at her.
And now here he was, married: very, very happily married if he could go by the first twenty four hours.
The future might be pretty fucking uncertain, but the present was pretty damn good.
Rebecca stirred next to him, stretched like a cat. "Hello, wife," Havoc said.
She sat up and ruffled his hair. "Hello, husband. I'm gonna order up a coffee, you want one?"
Havoc considered it. "I might. I don't know, maybe I could sleep more. It's not like we get the chance much."
"Hey, go for it. Yesterday was pretty exhausting, and today we’ve got a whole day in a hotel suite with nothing to do but order room service and be merry.” She wiggled her eyebrows at him. "That was an innuendo, by the way."
"I got it," said Havoc, and pulled her in for a good morning kiss. When they pulled away, Rebecca came back in and gave him a quick peck on the nose. Then she hopped off the bed.
Havoc closed his eyes again for a moment, then opened them. He turned onto his back, decided he was awake now for sure, and hauled himself up in bed. He glanced over to get an eyeful of his lovely, naked wife.
Rebecca was standing by the door of the hotel room, the morning paper in her hands. She was staring at it. She did not look happy.
She looked up, then walked over to the bed without saying anything.
The newspaper landed on his lap, a little too hard. Havoc picked it up, turned it over.
The headline said World’s End Stars Jailed. Controversial show banned, director and actors charged with inciting treason.
“The World’s End Revue,” Havoc murmured. “The cabaret? Treason?”
“Well,” Rebecca said, “shit.”
She joined him on the bed. He spread the paper out, and together they read the whole story. It had happened last night, right around when they cut the cake.
“Hakuro’s charging people with treason now?” Havoc sighed forcefully. “This is stepping over the line so far, the line’s in another county.”
“Plus, acting like he’s Fuhrer already,” said Rebecca. “That can’t be good news.”
Havoc thumbed the sleep out of his eyes, wrapped an arm around her waist and gave her a little squeeze. “I guess it’s a work day after all. You think we can get that room service breakfast to go?”
“But how can we? We don’t even know where the Homunculus is right now!” Al was nearly shouting. Outside of a fight, Havoc didn’t think he’d ever heard the kid raise his voice in anger.
“Because - ah, Captains Havoc and Catalina.” Mustang turned to them. “I see you heard. I’ve opened this up for five minutes’ debate. Permission to speak freely and frankly.”
“We’re in minute three,” Hawkeye said. “Major Miles, you were next.”
“Thank you,” said Miles. “Look, regardless of the Homunculus situation, we’ll need to take action.” People made room for Havoc and Rebecca around the big meeting table. Someone passed Rebecca a chair. “Hakuro is calling Brigadier General Mustang’s bluff. If he doesn’t move, he’ll look weak. Hakuro knows how much military support we’re gaining, and he knows that if Mustang doesn’t act, it’ll make Hakuro look like the stronger leader.”
“Captain Ross,” said Hawkeye, pointing.
“Yes,” said Ross. “And if the Brigadier General doesn’t act on this, he could lose a lot of the people’s support too. You saw those pamphlets I passed around, and the papers. That’s just how far the protest has got this morning. The World’s End Revue are turning into heroes.”
Fuery raised his hand. “There was graffiti on Parget Bridge this morning. Free Harry Valentina. Someone must have done it overnight.”
“We saw that too,” said Ed.
“People are taking risks, real risks, to speak up about this,” Ross said. “We’ve actually got the power to do something about it. If it looks like we aren’t prepared to take those risks ourselves -” She shrugged.
Rebecca stuck her hand up. “Am I missing something here? I mean, we came in late and all. Why are we even debating this? Why wouldn’t the Brigadier General just step in and get them freed?”
“It’s a debate,” Hawkeye said, “because if Brigadier General Mustang does this, the provisional government is done. It loses its last scrap of credibility, the pact with Hakuro is broken, and we have to move for power. Immediately.”
“Well, Hakuro broke the pact already,” Havoc said. “Remember when he had my wife’s roomie murdered? Remember the gangs, and the assassins, and the freaking baby Homunculus? He’s playing chicken with us, he’s been doing it for months. Why wouldn’t we -” He stopped himself. “Okay, wait. We are missing something, aren’t we?”
“Yes,” said Hawkeye. “We’ve speculated as to why Hakuro might have done this now, and our best answer is, he’s gained confidence. We think he knows the location of Chrysalis and the Homunculus. They might even be back in Amestris. He’s close to gaining an unthinkable firepower advantage.”
“So why not just the full coup already? Why not sic the Homunculus on us right now?”
“We’ve been over that. He can’t have possession of it yet. But he’s losing military support fast, and he needs to take some action while he’s still a credible candidate for Fuhrer.”
“So, again, why are we debating this?” Rebecca threw her hands up. “Let’s get him before he gets ahold of his secret creepy alchemy weapon!”
“Because we’re not there yet!” Mustang said. He leaned forward, frowning furiously. “Two more weeks, just two, and we could have been in a position to take power without a drop of blood spilled. We're working on South and West, and we're getting somewhere. But if we take power tomorrow there’ll be civil war in the West, there could be civil war in the South. Not to mention that, as Major Hawkeye says, the Homunculus has to be close. If he got a hold of it while we were still fighting him -"
“The casualties could be huge,” Ed said. “To give you an idea - some of you saw the last Homunculus in action. The rest of you got to experience what it was capable of. This Homunculus is smaller, but it’s more mobile. And it’s totally under the influence of its handler, but even he can’t control the scale of its attack once he’s sicced it on someone. Imagine a four year old kid with the power to level a city. This thing changes everything. It’s got to be our first priority. It -”
“Five minutes,” said Hawkeye. “The floor is closed. As you were.”
Ed tapped two fingers to his forehead. “Permission to speak freely!”
“Not granted,” said Mustang. “The floor is closed, Major Elric.”
Ed glared. The room was silent for a moment.
“Thank you, everyone,” said Mustang. “Major Hawkeye, Major Miles, Captain Havoc: stay where you are. The rest of you are dismissed for now.”
Rebecca squeezed his shoulder as she left with the rest of them. After Fuery had filed out last and shut the door, Havoc said, “A hundred cenz says a few people are gluing their ears to the partition wall.”
Mustang ran a hand through his hair. “It’s not important. They’ll find out within the hour anyway, when we have to hand the order down.”
“So,” said Miles, “what options are on the table?”
“First option: we do nothing. Leaving aside questions of injustice, the practical risks are that the Brigadier General will look weak to the military and lose the public’s trust. And then there’s the high chance that Hakuro might gain charge of the Homunculus before we can,” Hawkeye said. “The advantage is that the provisional government might last a little longer. We could continue in our holding pattern and prioritise locating and targeting the Homunculus.”
“Or, second option. We free the World’s End Revue Seven and ride the surge in support for a few days until we can move for power cleanly. The risk is still very great that Hakuro might obtain custody of the creature before then, in which case we’d be looking at a bloody battle and probable defeat. The potential gain is that if we’re lucky, we can have our bloodless coup.” She paused for a moment. “Final option. We move directly for power. The risk here is probable civil war. We don’t have enough military backing to avoid it. The advantage here is that this option carries the least risk of Hakuro gaining the Homunculus before we move.” She shrugged fractionally. “It’s still a substantial chance, of course, but it’s the best we have. Does that cover everything, sir?”
“Yes, Major.” Mustang pinched the bridge of his nose. “That was admirably thorough.”
The room was silent for a long moment. Havoc massaged his temple with one thumb, trying to think it through. Any way they sliced it, they could be screwed. “Okay,” he said. “I’m probably still missing something here. But it seems to me like do nothing is the option that will most definitely screw us over. In my opinion, sir, we’ve got to man up and take the risk.”
“I agree,” said Miles. “And there’s another angle we could look at this from. What are the risks and advantages of what Hakuro’s done, from his perspective?”
“Advantage,” Mustang said, “he knows we both wanted to avoid a war. Myself more than him, apparently. He’s playing on that, hoping he can humiliate me.”
“Risk,” Hawkeye said, “the general public start seeing him as a tyrant.”
“The Amestrian people are used to tyrants,” Mustang said. “I’d imagine he’s banking on that and believes they’ll see him as a strong leader. From what I can see, he’s got that wrong for a start.” He waved at the pamphlets and newspaper clippings littering the table. “The people have had a taste of freedom, these past two years. It looks like a lot of them like it enough to risk their necks for it. The wind’s changing in Amestris. The people are ready for something new.”
“Advantage,” said Hawkeye, “this is a lower risk way to challenge your authority. This way, he can look like he’s taking charge, with the good that does him, but still play for time until he gets charge of the Homunculus.”
“Risk,” said Havoc. “He knows we can pull off a coup, because we did it already. We’ve got form.”
Mustang held a hand up. “All right,” he said, “do nothing is off the table. Major Miles, after we’re done here, I want you to take an armoured car and ten soldiers to the Central Regional Correctional Facility, obtain the release of Harry Valentina and her colleagues, and have them escorted to Safe House B. We’re moving for power. The remaining question is how long a countdown we set. Opinions?”
“Twenty-four hours,” said Miles.
“A week,” said Havoc.
Hawkeye looked at Mustang. She said, “Why not play it both ways? You said the wind was changing in this country. My sense is that Hakuro still doesn’t realise how fast it’s changing. If we wait more than a day, he’ll be expecting a week.”
“How long should we wait, in your view?” said Mustang.
“Long enough for the mood to shift and support to swing our way, but not a moment longer, to minimise the chance that the Homunculus is in play. Forty-eight hours?”
Mustang rested his hands on his chin for a moment, and looked down. “Forty-eight hours.” He raised his chin, then pushed back his chair and stood. Miles and Hawkeye followed him up; Havoc set his shoulders. “It’s an order. Major Hawkeye, set the clock.”
Hawkeye snapped a salute. “Sir.”
Mustang raised a hand. “One last thing. You all realise, don’t you, how severe a risk we’re taking? These are far from ideal conditions. I’ll expect you all to check and double-check our contingency plans for retreat. If I’m taken out of action, command reverts to Major Hawkeye, then Major Miles, then Captain Havoc.”
Havoc snorted nervously. “We all better start praying I don’t end up in charge of the revolution.”
Miles twitched a grin. Mustang and Hawkeye stayed stony faced. Tough room. Havoc realised, belatedly, how very bad a sign it was that the Chief, for the first time in Havoc’s hearing or memory, had acknowledged the possibility that they could get killed doing this.
In single file, they headed back into the main office. The crowd of Mustang’s department frantically attempted to stop milling around obviously and look busy. Then, as Hawkeye walked over to her desk, they gradually all stilled again and just watched her.
The silence in the office was heavy and absolute as Hawkeye picked up the little alarm clock from her desk. She flipped on the alarm switch with a demonstrative gesture. She set the hour hand to four, the minute hand to eight. She raised the clock, then placed it on her desk.
Mustang stepped forward and looked around the room. Rebecca had found her way over to Havoc, and she put her hand to the back of his neck.
Mustang said, “I’ll be counting on all of you.” That was all. But that voice, that tone, took Havoc back: back to the day two months after his transfer to Mustang's unit, when the Chief had sat him down in the back office to tell him what they were really aiming for.
Every soldier in the room, from Miles to Ed, snapped to attention and saluted in unison.
Roy debriefed with Riza at his mother's place, and walked home watchfully, with his gloves on. It was past eleven by the time he got in, and he hadn't had dinner. There were eggs in the icebox for an omelette, but on due consideration, he found that he couldn't be bothered. He put a couple of slices of bread under the grill and slumped at the kitchen table. They had checked and refreshed the plans exhaustively; now the details swam uselessly in Roy's head as he tried to wind down. The flat was so damn quiet. How odd it was to sit in the middle of his mundane clutter, knowing what was coming. The eggs in the icebox were stamped with a date a week from now. There'd be a new government by then. Perhaps it would be Roy. Perhaps he would be dead.
If only that conversation with Ed could have been avoided. Right now, they both could use the relief, the respite, the pleasure of each other's company. They could have worried about the meaning of it all after the revolution. Roy thought of the smell and the warmth of Ed's skin after a shower. He thought of his forthrightness, his unexpected patience as a teacher, of the athletic grace of his movements and the muscular swiftness of his mind. He felt sick with it all. This was why he'd tried not to make a habit of attaching to people. Now he'd given Ed and himself a broken heart to nurse. On the plus side, at least now Roy wasn't ruminating about the coup. But those things Ed had said, last night: could they be right? Why not try? True, it might fail, and that would cause them both pain - but weren't they both in pain now? The thought of putting a name to the sweet and nameless thing between them was uncomfortable, frightening even. Roy was a hypocrite, but perhaps there was nothing to be done about it. And in any case, Ed had left. Today, they hadn't spoken privately. It was over, most likely. Ed would never again come here to debate theory and leave candy wrappers on the study floor and eat takeout and pin Roy delightfully to his own bed.
A smell drifted through the room: burning bread. Roy swore, and retrieved the toast. It was beyond scraping. Roy threw it in the garbage. He removed himself to his bedroom, to lie face down on his bed in his shirtsleeves, and try and sulk himself to sleep.
Ed felt like a creep, looking up at Roy’s window from the dark street. He felt like an idiot. But, he asked himself, how would he feel tomorrow if he didn’t go up? He’d say his piece, he thought. And then if Roy didn’t want him there, he’d leave right away. If Ed had learnt anything from the last time he'd lived through a great battle and the time before it, it was make sure you say your piece while you've got the chance. He'd bickered aimlessly with Greed and then they'd never spoken again; he'd assumed Hohenheim would be around to bug him forever, and he'd been wrong.
Roy opened the door: eyes shadowed, hair ruffled, in his shirt sleeves, just like it was any night. Then Ed noticed he was wearing the glove.
“Just me,” Ed said. “Sorry about this.”
Roy folded his arms and just looked at him. He was staring Ed down, but all Ed could think was that he looked tired and sad.
“I wanted to see you,” Ed said.
Roy stepped aside and opened the door wider. “I have an early start,” he said. “As I’m sure you’ve guessed.”
Inside, they stood facing one another. Ed stuffed his hands in his pockets. He said, “Look. I know I shouldn’t have come here. I just don’t want to leave on a bum note, what with everything. You know?”
“It’s okay,” Roy said. He smiled and put out a hand. “Friends?”
Ed just stared at the hand. Friends? Was that really how Roy felt about this thing that they had, the way their brains tuned to the same frequency, better and better with every meeting? It sure sounded like friendship. Friendship plus sex: that was what it was supposed to be. Ed couldn’t articulate what it was that illuminated it into a whole that was more than its parts. He felt like he wanted to open his chest and show Roy this feeling, to heave it out and say look at this, this is what I’m talking about. Don’t you have this exact thing too?
The hand was still held out. Ed shook his head. “I know it’s probably over,” he said. “I just - I came here to say some stuff. Because of what's going down the day after tomorrow. There were things I didn't say to people before the Promised Day, and after - well, they died, and, I've got some regrets about not saying those things."
Roy turned his face away for a moment. He said, “Are you sure you won’t regret saying them too? Sometimes it’s better. Not to.”
“It won’t take long. If you don’t want me to talk, I can go.”
Roy’s voice was low. “I really don’t,” he said.
Ed looked at Roy, and his chest hurt, and then Roy put his hands on Ed’s shoulders and hauled him forward, and Ed met him halfway. They kissed until they couldn’t breathe, and Roy walked them backwards, and Ed had them both mostly naked before they hit the edge of the bed.
Afterwards, they lay tangled together quietly. After a while, Ed said in Roy’s ear, “You’re not doing a very good job of pushing me away.”
“I guess not.” Roy stroked a warm hand down the skin of Ed’s back.
“Do you think it’s going to make you better at your job, being on your own? Because it won’t.”
Roy pulled back, looked Ed in the eye. “Do we have to talk about this now?”
“Yes. Because if I die, or if you die, or whatever, I’m going to feel like a dick if we never talked about this.” Ed pulled in a breath and looked at Roy, but Roy didn’t say anything. “Can I say it? It won't even take long.”
“Okay. I thought about it all last night, and today. If you don’t want to be with me it’s not gonna happen. I get that. I'm not expecting anything. But, it’s not about me, am I right? You won’t be with anyone.”
Roy had gone still next to him. “That’s probably right.”
“You’ve got the goals you’ve got because you fucked up. So you’ve put everything else on ice, right? I was the same.”
“Yes,” said Roy. “But you reached your goal. Mine might take my whole life.”
“So you’re putting everything else on hold forever. Is that it?”
Roy shrugged. “That may well be it.”
Ed swallowed. “Okay. Then this is what I wanted to say. You have to live in the world to do some good in it, Roy. Distancing yourself from people isn’t going to make you a better human being, it’s going to make you a crappier one.”
Roy was silent for a moment. “Hughes used to say that,” he said. “Incessantly.”
“Well,” said Ed, “I agree with him.”
Roy shook his head. He laughed, but there wasn’t any malice in it. “So, you’re giving me the benefit of your life experience?”
Ed went up on one elbow. He poked Roy in the shoulder. “Don’t patronise me, you aging pervert!”
Roy just laughed again.
“Actually,” said Ed, “I got that one from my old man. Who had about three centuries of life experience, so suck on that.”
That stopped Roy short.
Ed said, “He said to Al one time, revenge doesn’t lead anywhere, even when it’s revenge against yourself. And he should know. He’d fucked up even bigger than either of us did.”
Roy was quiet for another moment. He put his hand into Ed’s hair and stroked it. Ed relaxed a little, and after another moment he put his cheek on Roy’s chest. Now the tension had gone out of him, and Roy’s skin smelled good, and he felt like he was home.
Roy said, “He was a remarkable man. I wish I’d had the chance to know him better.”
Ed said, “Me too.” And he meant it.
They didn’t talk again for a long time. They lay in each other’s arms, and dozed. When they woke, Roy said, “Will you stay?”
“Yeah,” Ed said.
“I’ll get us some glasses of water,” said Roy. He kissed Ed on the forehead and went out.
When he returned with the water and handed one glass to Ed, Ed said, “Will you try this for real, with me? After the day after tomorrow, if it all works out, whatever.”
Roy pulled in a breath, and he frowned, and he seemed to draw inwards for a moment.
He looked at Ed.
“Yes,” he said. “I’ll try, for real. With you.”
They slept in each others’ arms, slotted together with satisfying rightness. As he drifted off, Ed heard Roy’s heartbeat and imagined his heart muscle, squeezing in rhythm, pumping the blood around his body.
They had one more day.
On to the next chapter!