Genre: romance, drama, comedy
Rating: R Word Count: 5813 this chapter
Pairing/Characters: Roy/Ed, plus Team Mustang and the ensemble
Warnings: some sexy stuff, swears, a little sap.
Summary: Three and a half years after the Promised Day: Roy has finally made it to the top. Now, as he and his team struggle to reform Amestris, behind the scenes he and Ed are facing a very different kind of challenge: learning to live with each other while living in the public eye.
Notes: Written for FMA Reverse Bang 2013, from a gorgeous and inspiring prompt illustration by kiiroiyumetobu, included in the fic. Please follow the links to sing the artist’s praises! Betaed by a_big_apple: thank youuuu <3! And thank yous also for sky_dark and tierfal for invaluable fic brainstorming. <3
“This headline,” says Victor the press office intern, waving the newspaper, “is apocalyptically bad.” Everyone’s heads turn. “Well,” he says. “Potentially, anyway.”
"Actual end of the world, or metaphorical?" Ross says.
"You might want to consider other analogies," says Clara. She’s the Fuhrer’s aide: twenty-three, law graduate — and hand-picked by Vice-President Hawkeye. With all that that implies.
"Actually, we have a standing press office rule," Breda says. "No apocalypse metaphors in the house. What are you even doing in the press office?”
“Waiting to catch the Fuhrer before his twelve o’clock and give him this breathlessly exciting white paper on trade.” Clara waves a fat dossier. “What’s the headline, anyway?”
“Our Eligible Fuhrer. The Globe Probes Mustang’s Romantic Conquests and Asks If Democracy’s Champion Could Finally Be Ready for Love.”. Victor holds it up.
“That’s really not an apocalypse,” Ross says. “By anyone’s standards.”
“It’s hyperbole!” says Victor. “Everyone does it in this office all day long, how was I supposed to get your attention otherwise?”
“You got a point,” Breda says. “If you said this headline is a cause for minor concern, I would have ignored you and told you to make me a coffee. Speaking of which.”
“Are you going to look at it?”
“Yes. Well done. Go make me a coffee.”
“Can I at least —“
“Kid,” Breda says, “You got my attention. I like to run a nice loose ship in here, so I might need to remind you: you’re twenty and you have an honorary rank of private. Go make me a pot of coffee.”
“Yes, Mr. Press Officer, sir,” Victor says. If there’s a note of sarcasm in his voice, it’s only appropriate to his place of work.
“Power sort of highlights your jerk side,” Ross says. “Have I mentioned that today yet?”
“No, but you said it three times yesterday,” says Breda, “so it all evens out.”
Ross, Breda and Clara pore over the paper again. Breda scans it rapidly, looking for points of interest. It’s pretty complimentary; the Globe like Mustang, or at least they do this week. Dashing bachelor, blah blah blah, many have speculated — so, they’re speculating now? Speculating is the order of the day? Speculating about Mustang’s love life?
Well, that’s going to be a pain in the ass. A pain in the ass that it is the very definition of Breda’s job to deal with.
Breda sighs. “Well. It’s not good, that’s for sure. They never would have stood for this in the old days.”
“Nostalgia? Really?” Ross raises an eyebrow.
“Well, Hakuro didn’t even have any suave, dashing, heartthrob whatever to gossip over,” Clara says.
“No, but the papers could never shut up about Bradley and his wife,” Ross says. “Their romance, eternally golden! The spark, still burning! Their wedding portrait, on page eleven every time it’s a slow news week.”
“To the point,” Breda adds, “where you wanted to beg them to shut up about it. I’m telling you this because at the time you were reading pony comics —”
“I’m only eight years younger than you,” Clara says. “And that’s different, anyway. And married people flirting is gross.”
“What do you make of this bit?” Ross says, poking a finger at the newspaper. “The then-Colonel Mustang’s charms were much talked about by the servicewomen of East HQ — and by some of the men.”
“Unnecessary use of the passive voice, semantically awkward,” Breda says.
“What do you make of the implication?”
“What implication?” Breda shrugs. “All it says is some guys noticed.”
Ross cocks her head. “You don’t think this is major? I mean, they’re obviously aware, and they’re arguably implying —”
“Come on.” Breda looks back at the article. “I think you’re reading too much into this. It doesn’t even say they had the hots for him, maybe they mean the guys just noticed him stealing their girlfriends and got mad.” Ross shakes her head; Breda barrels on. “I don’t think they’re even saying he dated guys, the most you can get out of this is that there are guys who would date him.”
“But he did. Date guys. While he was at East. Right?”
“Why does it m–”
“Because,” Ross says, “what’s next? This is a great story, potentially: politics, celebrity gossip, sex and revolution. If I was a journalist I’d be sniffing out everyone who slept with Roy Mustang while he plotted his way to the top.”
“He did, right?” says Clara.
“Discreetly,” Breda says. “Apparently. There were a lot of girls too!”
Clara taps a pen against her teeth. “I think they might see how far they can push this,” she says. “Mustang’s been so public about freedom of speech and openness and democratisation. The press are testing their limits more and more. This is ideal because it’s not so much public criticism. They can spin it as flattering when really it’s just salacious.”
“Are you press secretary, now?” says Breda.
“No, but if you get kicked upstairs and you want to recommend me as your successor —”
Breda snorts. “Maybe in twenty years, pipsqueak —”
“Eight years younger than you —”
“I get honorary extra age points for revolutionary experience —”
“Well, excuse me!” Clara folds her arms. “I carried messages for the rebels in my bicycle handlebars every day for six months! I got arrested three times, I got a Medal of National Resistance, which you can suck on —”
“Well, I plotted two coups, spent eight months in jail for the cause —”
“Is this top trumps now?” Ross says. “Why is this top trumps, and would you shut up if I reminded you that the people who would win this game are, by definition, dead?”
They shut up. But only for a moment. Victor walks back in, deposits a pot of coffee on the meeting table, and takes a careful look at everyone.
Breda grabs his mug, loads it up with caffeine, and takes a meditative sip. “Okay,” he says. “Supposing that you’re both right and the press go hunting for Mustang’s conquests, guys included. How are they going to find —”
“Simple.” Ross holds up her coffee mug. “East City has six gay bars. At least two of those you wouldn’t walk into if you were a soldier. I would walk into the biggest of the remaining four, which is Gracie’s, I would start buying people drinks, and then at some point, I would start up a round of ‘who’s the most famous person you’ve ever screwed’?”
The door of the press office bangs.
“Hey,” says Edward Elric, “I see his Excellency is late for his twelve o’clock, what a surprise.” He looks at the little group clustered around the newspaper. “What’s everyone talking about?”
The press office is directly on the way to Roy’s private quarters upstairs, so it’s a highly convenient place to meet someone discreetly during business hours: the sort of thing that makes Roy glad that he chose to live above the shop. The visitor signs in to visit the press office, and waits for him there in a small office occupied by a small team of trusted members of Roy’s staff. Roy, meanwhile, lets it be known that he’s dropping into the press office on his way to lunch. It’s a beautiful system, which he uses almost entirely to sneak in the government’s top alchemical science consultant for lunchtime quickies.
“Okay, we got fifty-five minutes. Let’s roll," says Ed, bouncing on his heels. Roy puts a hand to his glasses.
"Keep 'em," Ed says.
"Jar!" says Breda.
Ed wheels round. "It's only dirty because your mind is dirty!" he says. "I'm not paying."
Roy sighs, reaches into his pocket, and pops a twenty-cen coin into the open jam jar. It's less hassle this way, and also, Breda accused him the other day of being too far into the bubble to carry cash any more.
"Why couldn't you just keep picking on Havoc and Catalina?" Roy says.
"We already know everything," Breda says. "It's too late. You guys, on the other hands, have all kinds of ways to burn our ears."
"I can't believe you busted this guy from jail," Ed says to Ross.
“There are way too many stairs here,” Ed says, after they’ve climbed the grand staircase, passed the guards on the door, and finally reached Roy’s private apartments. “Why isn’t there an elevator again?”
“Security hazard, apparently. Take it up with Lieutenant Colonel Catalina. Why do I have to say this to you once a day?”
“So I’ll wear you down. How long before you have before you’ve got to be back?”
“Forty-five minutes now,” says Roy, checking the wall clock.
“Shit! Why are we still wearing clothes?”
Ed’s ditched the jacket and shirt before he reaches the bedroom. Roy has to jog to keep up with him. In the bedroom (too grand for Ed’s tastes, and too old-fashioned for Roy’s) Ed toes off his boots while he works on Roy’s dress uniform jacket. The second he’s done on the buttons, Ed yanks it down Roy’s arms, spins him around, pulls it off.
And that’s it: Ed rough with him, restraining him with his own clothes, mauling him about. Roy is instantly hard, and he celebrates by tackling Ed onto the bed, cupping Ed’s face in his hands, kissing him roughly again and again.
“You know,” Roy says, “I quite like all this sexy urgency.”
“Fuck sexy urgency,” Ed says, “I want to have sex with you sometime without an invisible stopwatch ticking in the background.”
Roy frowns, and Ed sees the guilt kicking in behind his eyes.
“Don’t,” Ed says. “I’m not blaming you, I’m saying we’re both too busy. How ‘bout you schedule a morning off in the next few days? You need to anyway, you can’t work without a break forever.”
“All right,” Roy says. They’ve had the argument before, and Roy and Hawkeye have had it with each other. You need to take a break, Roy, and recharge before you get so exhausted you get sloppy.
“You can sleep in really late,” says Ed, although for Roy this now means eight o’ clock, “and then I’ll bring you breakfast and give you a good working over.” He runs his hand over Roy’s crotch, works on the catches to his uniform pants, strokes him again. “How’s that sound?”
“Bliss,” Roy says, and they both know they’ve got the good mood back.
“How’s that for integrative negotiation?” Ed says, with a dumb little eyebrow jiggle.
“I thought you said negotiation theory was bullshit politics bafflegab?”
“You asked me to read that book when I was hungry! I get cranky when I’m hungry.”
“I’ve noticed,” Roy says. “You actually read it?”
“Yes,” says Ed. He finishes hauling Roy’s pants off, drops them on the floor.
"Tell me more," Roy says, "you sexy beast."
“Integrative negotiation gets results where other sorts of bargaining can’t,” Ed says, “because instead of assuming there’s only so much pie to go around and we’ve all got to fight over it, it sees the lack of enough pie as a shared problem and works out how we can all make more pie. I think I see what you’re getting at now with the trade negotiations.” He leans in, kisses up Roy’s neck. “I got really into it, actually."
Roy spreads his legs and pulls Ed on top of him bodily. He says in Ed's ear, "You can have anything you like. Anything that takes thirty-eight minutes.”
Ed rolls them until Roy’s on his back, kisses his neck and mouths a wet trail down his chest. He reaches Roy’s briefs, noses the bulge at the front, rubs his cheek along it, grins. He circles Roy’s wrists with his hands, and holds them down hard while he mouths and sucks on Roy’s dick through the cotton. Roy breathes out explosively and Ed looks decidedly smug, like he knows he’s pushed Roy’s buttons just right. He raises his mouth and lets Roy see the wet circle of cotton he’s made. He looks Roy in the eye, lowers his mouth again. He feels his way to the head of Roy’s dick with his lips, closes his mouth around it and gives it a hard suck through the cloth. Roy groans and rubs a leg against Ed’s side. Ed moves down again, licks and presses at the cotton over Roy’s balls.
“You smell good,” Ed says. “I could keep this up all day, if we had all day. Schedule a morning off.”
“Definitely,” Roy says, feeling very pliable.
Ed tightens his grip on Roy’s wrists, raises his head enough to kiss Roy just below the navel. Then he closes his teeth around the waistband of Roy’s briefs, and pulls.
It’s long after nine when Ed hears Roy’s footsteps heading up those endless stairs. He had a research afternoon scheduled, so after Roy returned to work, Ed went into Roy’s library, flopped on the sofa with his feet up, and disappeared into his books and notes. He’s been at it ever since. Even with the prospect of Roy home, it takes him a few moments to pull his mind from study. He rubs his eyes, marks his place, and heads for the kitchen.
Roy meets him in the apartment’s front hall, jacket already unbuttoned and hair ruffled out of the slick. There’s something especially beautiful about Roy when he’s a little worn, tired, rumpled. Ed kisses him on the cheek, and they head into the kitchen.
Ed hits the icebox and the cutlery drawer, and emerges with two bottles of beer, a jar, and some chopsticks. He sets it all down, thumbs the tops off the beer bottles with the automail, and hands one off to Roy.
Roy opens up the jar, grabs his chopsticks, takes a generous wodge of spicy cabbage pickle, and washes it down with a swig of beer. Ed follows suit.
Roy taps their bottles together, smiles at him, says, “Cheers. Hello.”
“Hello,” Ed says. “Here’s to a wild Friday night. We should probably eat actual dinner. Someone came by and put a pie or something in the icebox. We could heat it up, but it’s good ’til tomorrow so we could also be lazy jerks and just make cheese sandwiches.”
They’re lazy jerks. Sandwiches it is. They eat them in the kitchen, lick sauce off their lips and don’t bother with table manners. Roy talks about today’s negotiations. Ed tells Roy he had a good research day. Under the table, Ed’s foot curls around Roy’s calf. Soon they’ll go to bed.
They’re a gift: these moments of ordinariness in this flat, this little space they’ve carved out every day, where they can gradually set down the weight of who they are elsewhere and become simply two people who love each other. This is what they can do for each other to stay grounded and human, mostly happy and mostly sane, while Roy tries to fix the country and Ed tries to fix science. This, Ed thinks, must be kind of what it’s like to be married.
Except for the part where Roy is a dashing and eligible young bachelor Fuhrer, and Ed’s only official associations with him are strictly professional, and nobody knows that Ed lives here at all.
Okay, so it’s not strictly true that nobody knows. The staff knows. Roy’s inner circle knows. They know up at Briggs, too; and rumours swirl discreetly around the rest of the military. But the press are silent, and the public are innocent. And Ed uses the tradesman’s entrance to Roy’s official residence, and the policeman winks at him.
“Remind me,” Roy says, as he gets undressed for bed. “Remind me to remind Clara to get my evening suit laundered for the Yule Ball.”
Stretched out on the bed watching Roy get semi-naked, Ed frowns and cocks his head. “The Yule Ball? What’s the rush?”
“It’s this weekend,” Roy says.
“Wait, this weekend? I thought it was next month!”
“Next month’s Yule. This month’s the ball.”
“Since when is this month the ball?”
“Oh,” Ed says. “‘Kay.”
“So now,” Roy says, “you have to work out if you’re going to attend.”
Ed cocks an eyebrow. “If I’m going to attend? If I’m going to attend a stupid couple-y fancy date thing full of business bigwigs and generals and journalists and other assholes we want to like us? On your arm?”
“If you’re going to attend in your capacity as Consultant to the State Alchemist Programme. Of course.”
“Of course,” says Ed, and he tries to not to make it sound sour. “Do I take a date?”
“If it’d make it easier. You should probably warn whichever female friend that you’re likely to get photographed and end up starring in the gossip pages as putative lovebirds.”
“Great,” says Ed. “Are you taking a date?”
“Of course I’m not,” Roy says. “Don’t start this, Ed, it’s too late at night —”
“I’m not starting—”
“And don’t interrupt either, you know how annoying —”
“You just interrupted —”
The corner of Roy’s mouth twitches up. Ed’s mouth follows, like it’s on strings or something. They both start laughing at the same time.
Roy sits on the bed, rubs Ed’s stomach. They curl into each other, quiet for a moment. Ed says, “It’s too late for this.”
“The conversation, or dealing with the situation?”
“The conversation,” Ed says. His stomach twists. “I can deal with the secrecy okay.”
The secrecy: when it started, it hardly supposed to be secrecy at all. Roy took power, and they cleaned house in the military, freed political prisoners, tallied the dead, pulled the economy from crisis, calmed international relations, opened the borders of Ishbal, reformed laws, freed the press: and these were just the first steps of the path they had to hack towards democracy. They moved the government to the old Ducal winter palace right in the centre of town, and Roy moved into what he called “a flat above the shop.”
It had honestly not occurred to either of them, to any of Roy’s people, how soon the newly free press and people of Amestris might spare a thought for the new Fuhrer’s love life. Apparently, even a country emerging from crisis can’t go long without gossip.
It was done so quickly. Was the Fuhrer a single man? What should Roy’s press office say to that? Nothing, said Riza. Surely they have more important things to write about. Nothing, said Breda. Fullmetal’s been in the army and in the news since he was twelve. Sorry, Chief, said Havoc, but right now is a bad time for people to start speculating when the affair started. Nothing for now, said Ross. But we’ve got gay politicians, gay film stars. Let’s test the waters when the country’s calmed down a little. Nothing, said Roy. You deserve to keep your privacy, Ed. Nothing, said Ed. This is too complicated. I don’t want you to have to deal with all this horseshit, on top of everything, just because of me.
And there it was, in the papers. Roy was a bachelor. One day, it was an omission of fact; the next day, it was a lie. The day after that, they shrugged and got back to work.
Ed should have remembered how hard it gets to carry a secret on your shoulders, every single day.
“I’m sorry,” Roy says. “It doesn’t make it any better, but I am.”
Ed ruffles his hair. “Don’t do that. It was my decision too. We decided together. Hasty decisions ‘r’ us.”
Roy laughs again, shortly. Then he’s quiet. Then he says, “Do you want to talk it over again?”
Ed says, “Not right now. It really is too late. At night.” Every time they talk about this, they end up arguing. Arguing or sitting in silence, exhausted by the conversation and the dozens of political considerations, the hundred things that could go wrong, the thousands of other problems and upheavals they’ve dealt with all day at work.
It’s too late at night. It’s always too late at night.
“I love you,” Ed says. “Think of all the shit we’ve been through to get here, in this bed, in the presidential residence of what is definitely soon gonna be the democratic republic of Amestris. We’re not going to let a bullshit little thing like this defeat us.”
“You’re right,” Roy says. He brushes Ed’s hair out of his eyes, kisses each eyelid in turn, curls them together the way they both like the best. He switches off the light. “I love you,” he says in Ed’s ear. Ed fidgets, then drifts; tomorrow is another day.
“Lemme get this straight,” Al says, at lunch the next day. “So you’ve got to decide whether or not you go along to this big black tie thing —“
"White tie thing," Ed corrects. "Black tie is tuxes, white tie is tailcoats."
"I know," says Al mildly. What he means is: it's hilarious that you know. Dating the leader of the country has succeeded where all else, including Al, has failed: it has actually rendered Ed sophisticated.
Ed picks a roast potato off his plate and tosses it into his mouth like a peanut.
“Well,” says Al, “It’s just a party. If you wouldn’t like it anyway, why not stay home for the weekend? Forget it, come to the cabaret with me and everyone on Saturday, have a good time.”
Ed shuffles in his seat. “It’s going to be this big stupid thing,” he says, “It really is. It’s the most romantic night in the Amestrian social calendar.” Ed makes aggressive little quote marks in the air with his fingers as he says it. “They have compulsory, organised fun. They have competitive ballroom dancing. Like, every couple goes out on the floor one by one and people have to score them on their harmony. The Bradleys announced their freaking engagement at this thing.”
“Sounds awful,” Al says. “Come to the cabaret instead.”
“I should,” Ed says. “I really fucking should.”
“So why don’t you?” In other words, what’s really going on, Ed?
“I dunno,” Ed says. “I just — the goddamn press. They took all those risks to be free to write what they want. Some of them did jail time, people got killed. And now we’ve got freedom of the press and what do they want to write about? Roy’s fucking love life.”
“They write about important stuff too,” Al says. “People like gossip.”
“Tell me about it,” Ed says. He crunches another potato.
“So …” Al says.
“So if I don’t go, it’s — I dunno, it’s like I don’t exist or something. And they’re just going to matchmake Roy all night, and he won’t be able to get out of it all, and then I get to read about it all in the papers on Monday.”
“That’ll still happen if you go, you know.”
“Yeah, but — at least I’ll know what’s coming. And I’ll be there, and — you know, at least I get to sneak into his suite at the end of the night. At least I’m the one who gets to go home with him. Even if no one knows it.” Ed sighs. “Fuck, okay, talk me out of it.”
“It’s gonna be awful. It’ll be worse if I’m there. I’ll have to watch it all, and lie my head off, which I suck at anyways, and fuck, I just — sometimes it’s so hard not to lose my shit, it’s so hard not to just open my mouth and say it, lance the freaking boil —“
“But you’re not going to, right?” Al says. “You’re not going to do anything hasty, are you?”
“Of course not,” Ed says. “Roy and I agreed. We’re private.” He swigs on his lemonade like it’s half gin. “I made my bed, and now I get to lie my ass in it. Story of my life.”
There’s a quiche in the icebox. A quiche, a covered dish of salad leaves, another one of tomatoes, and a fresh pat of butter. None of it was in here this morning. Ed hasn’t even left the apartment all day! He’s been researching: researching as a method of procrastination to avoid the duller but more urgent tasks on his to-do list. He heard nothing, saw no one — but apparently someone has nevertheless ninjaed in and left food.
Ed pulls out the quiche, sniffs at it, looks it over. There’s some kind of green stuff in there, and he thinks he sees bacon. Why can’t the food pixies label the goods when they wave their wand and deposit it? He only went to the icebox for a root beer, anyway.
Ed didn’t even want quiche for lunch. Who asked him anyway? Nobody, that’s who. He wants — what does he want? He wants a spicy tuna melt from Wex and Durham’s on Unification Square. He wants to walk along the East Canal. He wants to go to a bookshop. He wants to get out of this stupid fancy apartment and out of government land and into the city. He doesn’t even know what the weather’s like outside.
He goes to slip his research notes into a bag, then thinks, no, if he’s going to read anything, he should take the latest version of the draft proposal for Alchemical Research Fellowship programme. He should have red-penned it and returned it days ago, but his irritable mood has been sucking his motivation for dull but important tasks. Then he decides he probably shouldn’t take a proposed replacement for the State Alchemist system, stamped Top Secret in red on the front, to a hundred-seat cafe on the biggest square in the city.
He takes nothing in the end, and ends up reading the menu from cover to cover out of boredom.
Still, he’s out. Out of the presidential bubble, back in the real world. He’s got a window seat, and it’s a sunny day, and the tuna melt is every bit as good as he remembers it. If there’s one upside to secrecy and privacy and discretion, this is it: Ed might spend a lot of time in the bubble, but he’s not trapped there the way Roy is.
Back in the first few months, when he and Roy had both been constantly exhausted, the bubble had been pretty appealing. It had its obvious charms at first, this magical appearance of food and coffee and clean laundry and even people who made your phone not ring. Especially as compared to life in exile at Briggs.
Roy started to chafe against the whole thing pretty soon, though. Roy loves the city. He still lives in the middle of it, but now he’s fenced off by security and fifteen hour working days and the whole presidential circus: he can’t really go there anymore. He tells Ed about the coffee shops and bookshops he misses, the restaurants and parks. Ed tries to bring him stuff back, when he can: takeout, new records from jazz bands he likes. Maybe today, he’ll stop by the chocolate shop just down a side street from the square, grab Roy a bag of those toffees he likes. Roy will like that. But most of all, Roy misses people; he misses being ordinary. And that, Ed can’t bring him.
On the plus side, Roy's loathing for the bubble has made him, for the first time in Ed's memory, willing to talk about a future beyond his time in power. The plan has always been the same: five years as Fuhrer instigating democratic reform, followed by the first Presidential election in Amestrian history, followed, if the people were willing, by a single term as a civilian president. Ten years: then, the transition to democracy would be done, and Roy would be done too. He rarely talks about what might come after that. "You'll be obsolete," Ed has said to him, "and so you'll be free." He doesn’t know if Roy believes him. But Ed can handle that for him. Ed still means those words he said, the bargain he closed with Roy that day five years ago, when he sat in Roy’s car with his hand closed around five hundred and twenty cenz. Even if back then he didn’t quite realise where he was going with it, or why. Ed owes Roy money, and he is holding Roy to a promise. Make it to the top. Then make it a democracy. Then live a good long life.
Half a year down, nine and a half to go: then they can think about the rest of their lives. How hard can it be?
Ed gets back to the Presidential Palace at twenty to four, a little guilty at his time-wasting. He guesses it’s ingrained, after the years of his quest; he can never quite shake this feeling that time is slipping through his fingers, that it’s dangerous to slow down. Well, he should cool it. He might have wasted a couple of hours, but he’s energised, refreshed, ready to tackle that proposal draft and red-pen it into oblivion.
Roy is sitting at Ed’s desk.
Ed blinks. His stomach twists, and then a half-second later he questions his own reaction. Wasn’t he reminding himself only minutes ago of how much he loves this man? Shouldn’t this be a good surprise?
“I didn’t realise you were out,” Roy says. “Am I interrupting?”
“Nah. You just surprised me.” That’s not it, though. “Hiding?”
“Reading.” Roy gives him a mock-offended look, and holds up a stack of paper as proof. “I thought I could do it quietly, and say hello.”
“Hey,” Ed says. He flops in the chair the other side of the desk, pulls the toffees from his pocket and puts them on the table. “Got you these.”
Roy opens the bag, pokes his nose into it, grins.
The fire in the study is lit. Magical ninja pixies again. Ed pulls off his jacket. “About this weekend,” he says.
Roy looks up, and most of the smile drops from his face. Ed’s stomach twists again. Oh. That’s why he felt weird about seeing Roy. The Yule Ball. The stupid goddamn ball. Ed still hasn’t managed to make his mind up.
“About it,” Ed continues. “Hawkeye phoned me this morning to say I should specifically make sure you arrive at the country place in the dress uniform. Press are gonna be there already.”
Roy pulls a face. Now that he has to wear it nearly every day, he hates the dress uniform. He’s not even wearing the long jacket right now, and it’s November. “You two are joining forces now?”
“Yes,” Ed says. “You’re screwed.”
Roy blows a breath up into his bangs, theatrically put-upon. Ed feels fond. “So,” Roy says, “did you decide whether you’re attending, or are you still vacillating?”
He sounds irritated. Ed guesses that’s reasonable. He hunches down in his seat, looks off to one side, then back at Roy. “What would you like?” he says. “You never said.”
“I said you were welcome.”
“You didn’t say if you wanted me there.”
“I want you there if you want to be there. At least, if you decide you’d rather be there and not. I don’t want you there if you’re going to be sitting in a corner all night, feeling miserable and radiating the desire to be elsewhere.”
“You don’t want to end up fighting.”
“I don’t.” Roy fixes him with that focussed, intense glare: the one that means he’s either turned on or pissed off. Unfortunately, right now it’s the latter. “But actually, Ed, I mainly want you to do whichever of the two makes you less uncomfortable and less unhappy.”
Ed sinks a little further into the chair. “I don’t know which.”
Roy rubs a hand down his face. “It’s been three days. I’m here with a pile of documents to read and in half an hour Clara’s going to hunt me down and take me to a series of meetings with people who’ll be assuming I’ve read them. Make a decision, Ed. I’m really sorry, but you’re just going to have to.”
“I get it. JFDI, Elric,” Ed says. Just Fucking Do It. “It’s only a dumb party, right?”
“I’m sorry. This situation isn’t fair on you.” Roy frowns, looks inward, takes a breath. Ed sees the next part coming. Roy says, “Look, should we —”
“No!” Roy looks startled. Ed reaches out, squeezes Roy’s arm, shakes his head. “Sorry. Just, no. I don’t want to talk about it again later.” He doesn’t want to see Roy starting to consider if Ed can take another nine and a half years of this. “I’m here. I’m committed. I’m in. It’s fine.”
Fine, for a value of fine that means this sucks but we’re together and our lives are mostly comfortable and compared to everything, it’s really no big deal. It sucks but I can see your guilt machine gearing up and we always fight about this and how ever much it sucks to be your secret, how much more would it suck if it broke us?
Roy draws his arm back, takes Ed’s hand, squeezes it. It’s Ed’s right, so of course he doesn’t feel a thing beyond vague proprioception; but somehow that always means even more. He curls his fingers around Roy’s, strokes the back of Roy’s hand with his thumb.
Roy draws a breath. “We still …”
“I know,” Ed says. He digs out a couple of toffees from the bag, holds them out to Roy. “Okay, how about this? Walnut toffee says I go to the Yule Ball, chocolate says I stay.” Roy’s nose scrunches disbelievingly; this expression on him is always dorkily charming, and Ed melts a tiny bit. “As in,” Ed says, “put them in your fists, and then I pick a fist blindfold.”
“Like a coin toss?” Roy raises an eyebrow. “Since when do you make key decisions like this?”
“No,” Ed says, “hear me out, it really works. Haven’t you ever tried the coin-toss test? If you really can’t decide between two options and you don’t know what you want, you flip a coin or something, and then you see how you react to the result. Like, are you disappointed, are you okay with it? Your gut reaction tells you what you really want.”
“But you always seem so in tune with your gut.” But Roy is smiling, just a bit, with one side of his mouth. He swings his chair around so his back’s to Ed for a moment. Then he swings back, fists closed, and holds them out to Ed.
Ed peers at his hands, really considering it for a moment. What does Roy want? He’s right-handed, would he put the option he himself preferred in the right? Gah. Why is Ed even second-guessing this? The whole point of the thing is it doesn’t matter.
He taps Roy’s left hand with two steel fingertips.
Roy opens his hand.
Well, Ed’s gut says, fuck that.
There’s no way he’s staying in Central. He’ll take humiliating dance-off bullshit and lies of omission and sneaking into Roy’s suite at two in the morning. He’ll take that over exile, over being so officially marginal he isn’t even there, over being red-penned out of Roy’s life altogether.
“So,” Ed says, “I guess I better go out and buy myself a penguin suit.”
To be continued!
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