I'm back at my computer and I owe a whole bunch of emails and responses. For now, this - bittily-scribbled fic. I don't know if I'll be replying to comments, my week has the potential for a lot of argh, so really don't feel obliged to leave one ^^;
Disclaimer: They're still Hiromu Arakawa's characters and situations, I'm just - expressing my love by twisting them to my own ends, as fangirls do.
Warnings: AT - set post-series but not; contains spoilers, anyway.
Summary: Ed's got one night to save Roy Mustang's life. (Who knew he would ever want to . . . ?)
It's not a sturdy sort of truce. It stands, barely, on three shaking legs: one, the twitchy-trigger-fingered ceasefire, which could break with any loud noise; two, the promise that General Mustang will come personally to negotiate the matter through; and three, the voluntary hostage in the heart of the camp, the reason that General Mustang has to come personally to negotiate. And really it feels so inevitable, that this should happen and of course it's on Roy's shoulders. Really he knew before it even happened. Really he's known for half his life already that this is coming, and maybe he can smell it in the air, sand and burning buildings and the past . . .
At the wood and wire gates he hands his gloves to Riza, ghost-pale in the dying light with her skin and hair lit faintly orange by the fires still burning. Roy smiles for her, says, "I won't be long." and turns to the two Ishballian men just inside the gate, holding their rifles ready. He unbuttons and opens his jacket for them - unarmed, he rarely carries a gun anyway - and one of the men jerks his rifle to tell him to step inside. Roy walks in, buttoning his jacket again, and with great distrust and unease on both sides of it, soldiers and Ishballians close the gate behind him. Roy feels something in the pit of his stomach, he doesn't know what. It's hollow or it's heavy or it's alive but what it mostly feels is dormant, full of the possibility of waking.
The men on either side of him walk in a straight line between the tents and leaning boards and breezeblocks of the camp. Officially the residents were to be moved out, dispersed to designated towns throughout Amestris, but what they want is to turn this shanty town into a permanent city, into a new home. They want water, electricity, telephone lines. They want the chance of their community continuing, because to scatter them is to kill their future. If their children are to remember who they are and make their world anew they must do it within a community they can recognise, not on streets where no-one speaks their language, in schools where no-one knows their prayers . . .
The men turn sharply left. Roy walks between them with his gait relaxed, his face calm, still not quite able to name what he's feeling, possibly because he doesn't want to. Ed hadn't even wanted this assignment, Ed didn't want to pack people up like livestock and ship them off to places they didn't want to go to, but Roy had no choice about the order and better to send Ed than more soldiers and guns, because if things turned nasty Ed could achieve so much more than more soldiers, more guns, and was so less likely to turn things nasty by his mere presence. He was nearly seventeen and calmer now he'd restored his brother, if he would never quite be calm. All he had to do, Roy had pointed out, was serve out the end of his military term. He didn't have to like it and he didn't have to do any more than that. Just get the job done, and in no time at all he'd be heading back to Riesembool and his brother and he need never answer to a rank again for as long as he lived.
What had happened exactly was still hazy, but the basics were obvious enough. The Ishballians had refused point blank to move. Ed had discussed, wheedled, negotiated, argued, for a full four weeks before last night something sparked off between two soldiers at the fence and a group of young Ishballian men, and within hours this had happened - smoke still spirals into the air, and Roy can hear the arrhythmic snapping of a fire close by. The only ceasefire Ed had been able to effect had been negotiated on his own neck. And now Roy is here, because the price rides on his neck as well, they want him here, they asked for him to come here.
He knows why they asked him to come here. Of course he knows. Every cell of skin in his body sings its knowledge. Of course, of course, he knows.
He's shown to a particular tent. The men neither touch him nor speak to him, open the flap and gesture, glaring at him with cold red eyes. Roy inclines his head respectfully, and walks in not knowing quite what to expect.
It's a large tent, a long rectangle, lined by Ishaballians. Ishballian men, no women, who go very quiet and then begin speaking in hushed tones at the sight of him. Roy looks right between the rows of men to the end of the tent where sitting on a rug, against the generator powering the giddy amber lights hanging overhead, is Ed. One sleeve of his jacket hangs empty. He raises his head at the quiet, blinks almost sleepily, looks up at Roy and his face bleaches with horror and incomprehension.
"What are you doing here? What the hell-" He turns to a tall, heavy-set man with a moustache beside him and chokes out disbelieving Ishballian, and Roy doesn't need a translator to guess, What the hell is he doing here?
A man with a red-brown beard says something, gestures with a slash of his arm for Roy to join Ed. There are by now more guns than there previously were at the front of the tent, so Roy inclines his head politely to the man with the beard and walks to Ed, through the watching lines of Ishballians, the skin of his back prickling with anticipation of bullets. Ed starts to stand as Roy approaches, hisses, "What the hell are you doing here?" again and stumbles, clumsy finding his balance one-armed. Roy raises his hands to help and Ed jerks back, snaps, "You bring more soldiers? Like that's gonna help, Mustang-"
His wrist is tied to the generator. Roy tries not to stare, tries not to let his face change, tries not to grab for the rope and tear it with sheer force of rage because binding Ed is like stuffing the sun in a bag. He keeps his voice so very low and level. "It was specifically requested that I come to help negotiate an end to hostilities. Are you alright?"
"Insurance. I gave it to 'em, no-one made me. It's just -" He strains his wrist against the rope when he shrugs. "Insurance. I know they don't wanna hurt me."
Everyone else in the tent has been silent for some time, but now one man - the bearded man - begins speaking, loudly, harshly in the heavy silence of the room. Ed gives him a blank look for some time, trying to understand, before comprehension hits his eyes and slackens his mouth. His question blurts out of him in clumsy Ishballian and he looks at Roy, looks back at the man as he speaks, looking Ed in the eye, raising his gaze to give Roy a long, piercing glare that Roy returns in silence and calm (his stomach is quivering like a bowl of water on a railway platform). Roy speaks a pathetically small amount of Ishballian, but Ed's loud and curse-scattered denial speaks to a very universal level of human discourse; Ed is denouncing the bearded man on bullshit, denouncing him loudly and roundly.
Roy's heart runs fast in his chest. He murmurs, "I didn't know you spoke Ishballian."
"I speak it bad, Mustang, but no-one seems t'speak Ames-" But he has to stop again to deny vehemently whatever the bearded man is saying. The man beside them, bald head and a moustache, says a few quieter words and Ed stares at him in frantic incomprehension until he repeats himself slower, softer still, and Ed pales further as understanding sinks in.
Roy says, though he doesn't need to be told, "What are they saying?"
Ed stares at the man with the moustache for some time, then swallows, then raises his face a little and says, "Th. They're calling this a trial. They say-" And he breaks off to yell at the bearded man in Ishballian. More voices answer, loud, raucous now, and Ed keeps shouting but he doesn't know where to look and can't follow all of these voices and an old man standing in the wings steps forward and opens his shirt. The burn is massive. It's a silvery curved diagonal line, a comet's trail down his chest and around his side, gleaming like rough amber in the oddly rich light the humming generator produces. Ed shakes his head, his voice wobbling now and his lips stumbling but denying and denying . . .
"Whatever they're saying," Roy says quietly. "I'm sorry, Edward. It's probably true."
"No," Ed says, frantic. "No -" He rattles off some quick Ishballian and turns to Roy again. "No. You don't understand. They're talking about - they're saying you murdered-"
"No! They're saying - they're talking about killing you! It was a war, there was fighting, this is a roomful of people talking about killing you! They can't-"
"Ed, a heavily armed and well-trained military doesn't go to war against a city of normal people. What it does is commit genocide."
Oh his stomach shakes like an autumn leaf and it will not hang on long. To say this to Ed, and there are so many things he'd believed Ed would never have to know - his lips are numb and every time this memory is a shock to him, that he did this, really, how could he? Hasn't he always known better, thought himself a better human being than a man who could do this? "I believe the death toll I am personally responsible for - not merely that I facilitated and ordered but killed with my own hands and alchemy - is somewhere in the triple figures. And I'm standing here now in front of these men and I'm sorry, but I can't possibly plead innocent. I can't, Edward."
"But they're talking about-"
The man with the moustache says something in his rough-edged low voice, rumbling like it comes from under the earth, and Ed turns to him, violently jerking his tethered arm as he cries out - not denials anymore but just refusal, repeated and throat-cracking refusal, to accept this. His teeth clench, his Ishballian fails him, cursing and shaking now he says, "It's not, this isn't, I don't know the fucking word for it, it's not fair! I don't mean justice, I don't care about justice it's just not fair t'get you here an' I'm the only person who can speak for you an' I can hardly speak an' be understood-"
"I'm sorry that you got dragged into this." Roy says quietly.
"Why did you come?" Ed shrieks at him. "If you knew they would do this - you must've known, you always know - if you knew they would do this why the hell did you come-?"
Roy is silent for a moment, because there are two ways to word this. He chooses the least selfish route. "It was made fairly clear that we wouldn't get you back if I didn't come. It's not your fault, I know you didn't know this would be twisted this way, you were just trying to keep the bloodshed as low as possible."
(Because they have you and I would lay my head on a block for you in a heartbeat; you are worth ten thousand of me, if you suffer because of me then I really am the worst man on this world. I came for you. How can you look right at me the way you do and never notice it? I came for you. You idiot.)
The breath audibly leaves Ed. He looks around the tent, at the men watching him and Roy and murmuring with their neighbours, and the hatred is alight and bonfire-bright in his eyes in that second. He was betrayed, and he knows it. He offered himself to keep these people safe, because in the end they were the ones who would suffer the most, and they accepted him and used him and now -
"Don't be angry with them." Roy says quietly. "Anger isn't going to help either of us now."
Ed swallows, and licks his lips, and finds some trembling Ishballian to speak with. A youngish man sitting in the front row slices his hand in the air, casts Ed's fumbled words aside in almost a sneer. But a man beside him disagrees, and someone else disagrees with him, and then the argument is heating inside the tent, and Ed's hand is a shivering fist at his side.
"He says it doesn't matter if you could speak for yourself," Ed says, and licks his lips again. "Everyone knows you're guilty so what you say doesn't matter. The, the other man disagreed, he says - even you got a right to speak, we all got given tongues for a reason. They got pretty fixed ideas about justice. They gotta talk it all through before they can do anything. And they gotta get the teacher to agree." He nods at the man with the moustache standing next to them, watching the argument make its jagged way through the tent. "But if the majority's overwhelming he has to agree with 'em anyway. And bullshit you came here 'cause of me. Why did you come if you knew-"
"If this situation isn't resolved peacefully then every person in this camp could die," Roy says softly. "I'm not quite so selfish as to set myself against those scales and ignore the outcome, Edward."
"Peacefully fuck. If they kill a General the military'll-"
"You'll speak for them," Roy says calmly, and puts his hands behind his back, squeezes his wrist hard to keep them from shaking. "Tensions were high. I was being threatening, unreasonable, the ceasefire's so fragile - our war against Ishbal began because a child died at the military's hands. If they thought a child in the camp were under threat - just a mistake. An accident, a mistake. In the very worst scenario a handful of responsible men will be imprisoned or killed but at least the rest will get their lives back. Ed, every single person in this room, you and I included, is currently living on borrowed time. We have to be sensible if we want to get as many people as possible through to the sunrise. We have to-"
"- let them kill you? This is fucking barbarism. Your fucking military do it too, you're all sick, you sit down an' discuss killing people-"
"I would like to see a world under the occasionally-benevolent fuhrership of you," Roy murmurs, and smiles.
"Why did you come?" Ed looks at him - looks betrayed by him - his eyes hard, his mouth flat, and says, "You knew. You knew and you - did you want this to happen?"
Roy is saved from having to answer that question (his entire life since the war he has been trying to answer that question, every sleepless night, every pause in his breath that falls down into the cavity of his empty guts) by another argument starting up. Ed watches it carefully, then his mouth twitches in the corner with his particularly evil brand of humour.
"What are they discussing?"
"Me," Ed says, and ducks his head so he can reach to rub his nose. "That guy in the green shirt, in the back, he wants me dead too. Alchemist." He shrugs.
It's like being punched in the stomach. It is utterly not what Roy wants, utterly the opposite of how this should work -"They can't kill you."
"No-one else wants to," Ed murmurs, his eyes flicking about as he follows the argument. "We had this talk already, guy in green's been giving me the evil eye ever since. They won't kill a 'kid'," he says, and snorts. "I told you they got fixed ideas about justice. I was too young to've done anything about the war either way, they got no real problem with me. He just said something about slaughtering lambs," he added, eyes narrowing at a well-meaning Ishballian man in pale beige.
"They're not going to kill you." The words feel unreal, cottony on his tongue.
"They haven't laid a finger on me. But if they try to kill you they are gonna have to come through me-" And he says that again, loudly in Ishballian, and a couple of men laugh. Roy keeps the wince off his face, imagining the rage on Ed's face as he stares at them - the tethered, short, one-armed boy, not yet seventeen, speaking so boldly - but the man in the moustache says something, and Ed shrieks his furious reply back, and the man in the moustache just pours him some water; Ed's voice is ragged from all this talking. He offers Ed the beaker and Ed glares at him, and swallows, and takes it with bad grace, muttering in Ishballian, lowering his head to drink from it. Afterwards he licks his lips, stares into space for a moment, then raises his eyes, raises the cup, offers it to Roy.
Roy doesn't know how much longer he has to live now. Minutes or hours, but he'll never see the sun again. He takes the beaker, looks into Ed's old, young, hopeless, furious eyes, and drinks from where Ed's mouth touched the clay. Dust-tinged almost-cool water is the most delicious thing he's ever had on his tongue.
Ed draws his breath in, draws his head up, begins to speak. His voice is still faltering, he repeats himself often as he searches out the right words, stumbling to say - well, Roy doesn't know. He listens to Ed speaking on his behalf and can feel his throat wobbling at it, because Ed sounds so desperate and so sincere and Roy knows it's all for nothing but he's still saying it, still working so hard to find the words -
He never gives up. Roy loves him for that.
It's the last night of his life and he is allowed to say this to himself: oh god, he loves this ridiculous, proud, wounded, wise almost-man, and if life had been different then he knows what his peace would entail. What he has is this tent and a little more talk, and then he is just going to have to be brave, even though his stomach is shivering as if new born and god he wants to reach for Ed -
Ed who has created dissention in the room. Everyone was silent for his wrecked, wracked speech, and silent for a moment after it, before someone tries to rubbish it, someone else speaks quietly, shaking their head, they begin arguing, others join in -
"Edward, what on earth did you say to them?"
Ed sniffs hard, and he looks away from Roy, at the hard-packed ground to the side of the generator. "I said that they've turned me into the weapon that kills you. I said that's not fair, they got no right, that's no justice in the world that I get turned into that. I gotta live the rest of my life being that, knowing that, and it's all their fault, they got no right." Roy is amazed by the clumsy clarity of the argument, his stomach allows itself a little dip and soar of (don't think it too loud) hope and lord the boy should have been a lawyer - "So I told 'em if they're killing you they gotta kill me too, that's the only thing that's fair now."
- what. "What. The hell-"
"They don't wanna kill me," Ed snaps at him. "If it's two-for or nothing they might pick-"
"They might very well kill you, you idiot, tell them - tell them I acknowledge all of my guilt even in dragging you into this and you-"
Ed's grin is really more of a sneer and Roy hates him in this second. "You gonna make me tell 'em that how, exactly, Mustang?"
"Fullmetal-" Roy wants to slap the sense into him, his hands clench at his sides to stay under his control - "I have killed more people than I can count because I was ordered to and has it occurred to you for one second that maybe I deserve this?"
All the humour is gone from Ed's face instantly. "No."
"I roasted people in their homes. There was no differentiation, fighting men and families and people trying to flee-"
"Because what, Ed? In what the hell way am I not a war criminal? In what the hell way do I not deserve this?"
"Because you're sorry," Ed snaps back at him. "Aren't you? You're sorry an' - an' that's gotta mean something or else - how do I keep going-?"
Roy blinks. "Ed . . ."
"People fuck up. No-one in this room can't say they never fucked up an' someone else paid for it and you're sorry an' you wouldn't do it again, if you had the time again you wouldn't, would you? An' it won't bring anyone back an' it won't make the world a speck better just to kill you too - and it's fucking sick that they're arguing your life, every last one of them's worse than you right now because you're sorry an' they're discussing murder like they got a right. No-one's got a fucking right! An' I won't let it - I can't let it - if you're so fucking determined to get yourself killed they're gonna have to take me too, fuck this for fairness, they wanna kill people an' call it righteousness then they're gonna have to learn how sick an' wrong they're being an' if I have to use my head t'do it-"
"God you are infuriating - you're sixteen years old. You've restored your brother, you have just over a year left on your military contract, this time next year you will be packing, so nearly going back to join him in Riesembool, and why the hell would you throw it away in this damn tent just to prove a handful of people wrong-?"
He looks into Ed's eyes - Ed's almost on the verge of tears, though probably due to rage more than anything else, and his breath comes shivering and sharp out of him. Roy is terrified of what Ed's stubbornness could achieve in this tent. Of all the crimes Roy's committed, getting Ed punished for them as well will be by far the worst of all.
"Tell them that if you die and it's my fault, I will be doubly damned." Roy says quietly. "I've sinned enough already and I can't bear that as well. I ask for that mercy, at least."
Ed stares up at him, fist shaking, and Roy sees his mouth break, he closes his eyes quickly against the tears and turns to the man in the moustache. He mumbles to him, he clearly couldn't manage to speak for the whole room right now, and the man in the moustache quietens the arguments and repeats Ed's words. Men look at Roy, who holds his head high, tries not to swallow under their gazes, looks at the far wall of the tent and just wishes -
He doesn't know what he wishes. That it's all over. It will be like sleep, he tells himself - he closes his eyes, no, it will be like nothing, it will be nothing. Nothing feels like a blessing against all this feeling. He just wants it to be over. He's not a brave man, and he's terrified, and he just wants it to be over. For a second he wants to cry but he won't. He doesn't think that in this tent he has any right to cry anyway.
The room is quiet enough that Ed can speak rough and low and everyone still hears it, but voices shout him down by the end of it and Ed puts his hand over his eyes, head hanging. Roy says quietly, "What did you tell them?"
Ed swallows hard, and Roy offers him the cup again - the man with the moustache leans forward, refills it from a jug, smiles in a strange way for Roy as he hands the water to Ed. Ed takes a trembly gulp, wipes his mouth, leans back against the generator looking pale and drawn, and Roy resents so badly that Ed has been dragged into this. Ed feels everything so much and he's being forced through this, and all these things he never wanted Ed to know - oh god it's not fair to bare the most shameful parts of his life in front of Ed of all people -
Oh god, what right does he have to speak about 'fair'?
"I told 'em how can you make up what you did if you're dead," Ed says, very low, close to hopeless now. "I said you got a right to live an' make it up but-" He waves a hand at the arguments. They disagree. Roy closes his eyes again, draws his breath in, sighs it out. He'd wanted to 'make up' for what he'd done as well, but it seems life has a different plan for him, and he is very tired of fighting by now. He doesn't have Maes by his side to convince him to keep going anymore, only himself, and he can't convince himself that he's worth all this effort. He puts a hand on Ed's shoulder and Ed blinks up at him, damp-eyed and exhausted, and Roy says quietly, "I appreciate your speaking for me, Edward. But you really don't have to. You don't have to put yourself through this. I think - I've known this would happen for a long time. I don't mind. I really don't mind. If the alternatives are death or living with what I've done for the rest of my natural life, I - there are nights that I honestly couldn't tell you which is the worse option. I don't mind. I have some sort of peace with this, I promise you."
The man in the moustache is speaking to the room but Ed's ignoring him. "No," he says. "No, no, no, you gotta - you gotta live, you have to-"
"You won't need me anymore anyway. You'll be moved to a different command but you only have a year left, if you just keep your head down and do your assignments-"
"You fuckwit no, that's not what I-"
Roy's breath draws in, staring at Ed staring miserably back at him, and he whispers, "There are so many things I wish I could tell you, and I wish I didn't have to . . ."
The man with the red beard says something loudly and Ed's head raises, his face pales. "They're taking a vote," he whispers, and jerks around, wrenches his wrist, yells in Ishballian. Not yet, Roy translates to himself. Not yet, not yet. Ed has more to say, Roy knows, Ed has an ocean of words inside him, and as terrible as it is to pour all of this down on Ed it is the strangest, saddest honour, that Edward Elric is the one speaking for him now. It almost makes him feel that he does deserve to live, to have Ed speaking for him . . .
And then there's an explosion.
The walls of the tent light white, there's an empty feeling in the air and then the boom and the ground hops under their feet. Ed is knocked sideways into the generator and Roy catches his arm; the Ishballians stand, shouting, panicked - a few men run outside and shout through the flap, they can hear gunshots now, and yelling -
"Are they coming for you?" Ed says blankly.
"They don't know what's happening, they think I'm negotiating the ceasefire," Roy murmurs. "Which has just broken, god knows why."
There's a rattle of machine gun fire and someone screams from a distance.
"Damn." Roy starts forward, the plan in his mind to get out there and yell everyone to stop (he is a fucking General and he told them to wait and what the hell do they think they are doing) but there are very quickly Ishballian men barring his way, guns held high, and Ed has grabbed his jacket from behind.
"No - Mustang what're you-"
"I'm the highest ranking officer in this area," Roy says. "Tell them that. I can make this stop. I will make this stop and then come back and we can continue when people aren't dying out there."
"They won't let you-"
"People are dying now! We are wasting time! Tell them!"
Ed's breath chokes in his throat, and hoarsely he shouts for the room - and sneering laughter cuts him down very quickly, but he shakes his head and shrieks back at them.
"They won't let you go. They don't think you'll come back."
"Of course I'll come back. You're here."
Ed blinks at him, his face breaks, Roy can see the tremor in his throat. He whispers so low, so cracking and quiet that no-one else can hear it, "Don't come back."
Roy smiles at him and oh god it hurts. "You don't win that easily, Fullmetal."
The man with the moustache has been talking to the room while they've been talking, and there are two Ishballians with guns approaching them. Ed is very quickly in front of Roy, his wrist straining the rope, his back against Roy's chest and trembling, he can't fight them off but he can use himself as a shield - but the man with the moustache speaks to him quietly, and there is more gunfire, more screaming outside.
Ed's body tilts against Roy's as he turns his head up, looks up at him from Roy's own chest. "He says they'll go with you. He says make it stop and come back." His eyes say, Don't come back. They are such bright gold in this lighting, molten, amber-edged and bright as hissing embers. And there are so many things Roy has never told Ed, and now he's never going to see the sun come up again.
He leans down, catches Ed's face in his hands and kisses him. Ed's breath gulps in his mouth. The room is silent.
He will remember for the rest of his life, the last little time he has left, the sound of his mouth parting from Ed's, and the sight of Ed's wet-bright eyelashes flickering on his face.
"Of course I'm coming back," he says softly, and steps around Ed, nods to the men with guns. They begin walking through the tent.
He can't turn around to look at him. He's so close to breaking, he can't possibly look at him now.
"Mustang, Mustang what - the fuck -?"
Ed's legs go as Mustang leaves the tent. He hits the rug he was given to sit on with a jarring thump and puts his hand over his mouth, his wrist rubbed to speckling blood by the rope. He stares at the floor, feeling his heart pumping hard, and he can't believe tonight, he can't cope with tonight, he can't, he can't -
The man with the moustache crouches, and Ed understands Ishballian better than he speaks it, but still there's a lot he just can't follow. "Are you alright?"
"Why the mating dog am I alright?" He drags his hand off his mouth, gasps in the close air of the tent. "Please. Please I am praying now. Please you listen, please, please-" Louder now for the whole tent, over the gunfire outside and the fear trembling in his own guts. "When I was small I did bad thing. Did such bad thing, very bad, broke my life." He chokes at the air, his throat is agony, he has to make them understand - "Broke my little brother's life. Broke forever but he - he he - gave me-" He waves his hand to try to communicate, yanking his own wrist hard - "Luck? Choice? Chance - he gives me chance, he gives me chance, gave me chance, and I fix my brother life and my own - my life is because of him, my brother life is because of him - I debt him two lives." He wipes his cheeks with his palm, hiccups and curses and struggles for the words, the right words, he has to find the right words, he has to save Mustang's life with these words - god, words, how can something you can't touch save your life? "You take me. I debt him two lives. He lives, take me. Take me please. I debt him two lives, take me for him. Please, please, please." There's no point now in pretending that he's not openly crying. "He is good - he is good -" He chokes. "Strange, and good. Please, please, please, I debt him forever - take me, please, please, let him go. Please. I prayer you. Please."
"The _____ isn't good, he's a ______ dog." one man mutters from the side.
Someone says, sounding so lost, "I lost my daughter. To die like that - in fire and ______, so little to die like-"
"I take his guilt - he sorry, sorry, sorry, he pay with, with self-guilt, I prayer you - I live and he die, I die of self-guilt, please take me. Not justice, I live in self-guilt forever. Not justice. Please take me."
The teacher, the man with the moustache, kneels beside him, takes a handkerchief from his robe. Ed is struggling to get his sobs under control, choking into his hand, "What can I say, how can I make you understand - I can't walk out if you kill him, I can't live if you - I can't make you understand and it's not fair, it's not-"
"Even in the same language we struggle to make people understand. But I do think they understand your pain, now."
Ed takes the handkerchief because he really doesn't have a choice, blows his nose and sniffs hard and - opens his eyes dumb to the teacher. "What?"
"Would you like some more water?"
"What. The living. Fuck. You speak Amestrian."
"Plenty of us do. I'll pour some more just in case."
"What the - why did - you let me choke myself hoarse makin' no sense at all an' all along you could've-" Ed stares open-mouthed at the teacher (the word in Ishballian is some combination of teacher and priest, but Ed senses that teacher is a closer approximation, given how their religion and their community works), who smiles at him under his moustache and says, "You were a thousand times more eloquent than any of us could have been on your behalf. Rest, now. Let me speak."
Ed is a shaking, weak-limbed, wet-eyed mess. There's no question of him speaking any further. He wipes his eyes on his raw wrist, and sniffs, and watches the teacher as he stands, and turns to the watching men in the tent.
"The boy is innocent. He was a child in the war and is ____ more than a child now, and Ishballa will never forgive _______ the blood of a lamb. We are in agreement over this - agreement enough. We do not permit alchemy. But he is not one of us, and in these years we have learned how we must treat each other if we are to live. How can we ask them to respect our beliefs if we _______ their beliefs? Alchemy belongs to them, and we respect their right to it. We ask in return that they respect us, but Ishballa's teachings tell us that we must ask it. We are not to take up guns."
"We'd all be dead ______ if we'd never fought back-"
"But now we have the chance to talk, and listen to what we have done instead."
In the silence, gunfire, and Ed's choking little breaths as he tries to get them back under his control.
The teacher glances down at him, and up at the men in the tent again - and he smiles. "The boy is innocent. _____ your arguments, I know none of you would ____ a weapon against him, none of you would ___ his blood because I know that you are good righteous men, and understand what Ishballa has taught us. You know I have ________ of this from the start, I have repeated the teachings to you. Ishballa does not permit us to try a man to death; death is His ______ only, His right, when He chooses the time. But to disobey one teaching of Ishballa is to disobey them all. If you kill that man for taking something precious from your life, then you will take something very precious from the boy's life. And if you call it justice then you know what justice ______. If you kill the man for taking something precious from you, you offer the boy the right to kill you for taking something precious from him. They repeat it in the _____, have you forgotten? 'If the blade keeps being passed around, will the last man want to live in the world that's left?'. The _____ you begin is not justice, and it will make no-one more holy."
"I don't want kill anyone." Ed says quietly to the rug.
"The boy follows the teachings of Ishballa better than anyone who calls this justice. I know my ____ as teacher, I know my ____ to my community and I will ______ to any judgment you agree on. But I know this as well: this trial was never holy. The man willing to carry it through will never approach Ishballa with clean hands again. What we have lost we will never ______. Every day we create the world, and I believe that the General will help us create a better world if he lives in it, because he understands his debt to us."
"He won't come back! Our chance is gone-"
"He will come back. The boy is the _____ of his soul, of course he will come back. I don't believe the world we create tomorrow will be better if he is dead. Our souls will suffer. Our community will suffer. Their community will suffer for not making peace with us. And the boy will suffer, forever, and be on your souls, and weigh you down far more than he will be weighed down himself. If you are in pain you can at least sleep, but those who inflict pain cannot sleep. We have ______ inflicted so much pain tonight. And now we must ______ what world we want to create with the dawn."
The room is silent. They respect the teacher, but what Ed doesn't know is if they agree with him.
"So we will vote," he says, and Ed's heart drops through his stomach.
It involves a great deal of shouting. Finally, still standing inside the closed gates of the camp, Roy receives his report from Riza; one of the fires made a generator explode, and everyone simply panicked, both soldiers and Ishballians shooting into the smoke.
"There's no-one injured on this side of the fence." she says, her eyes fixed on him like she can't look away.
"Any word from the Ishballians yet?"
"Not yet, sir. We've been having communication issues. I believe that many of them can speak Amestrian but simply won't."
She says it coldly, and Roy gives one of the men guarding him a thoughtful look, trying to find a glimmer of understanding there. He has a very good stone-face, staring sullen and hostile back at Roy. He sighs, it's almost amusing really, and Riza says, "Sir, where is Edward?"
"We're still negotiating." His guts clench again. "We shouldn't be much longer."
She looks at him with openly desperate eyes now - he's never been able to fool Riza, only delay her, but she's still the finest soldier he's ever known. When he says, "It shouldn't take much longer, Lieutenant." and salutes, she salutes back automatically, and he turns, walks away. He would love so much to look back, get one last glimpse of her, but if he does then she will know what's happening, and selfish as it is he can't go through with this with dignity if he sees the break on her face. He can pretend for Ed, because he has to pretend for Ed. No-one else. He doesn't have the strength to pretend this for anyone else.
He almost can't pretend at all anymore. For a second he is sure - utterly, utterly sure, he almost stops walking - that he's going to throw up; the sweat runs cold on him and dies, his stomach sucks in on itself like quicksand, but his breath suddenly comes easily again, and he walks on. Why did he come? Because Ed had handed over his right arm and walked into the camp, and an hour later there had come the message that if the military wanted him back alive, General Mustang would have to come in person to negotiate the future of the camp. So he came, knowing full well what was really meant. He came because Ed is worth ten thousand of him and Roy can't let anything happen to Ed because of him; he came because he's absolutely aware of what he's done and while he's enjoyed living in a fantasy land where one day he can absolve himself, make this country better, make people's lives better, he knows what harsh reality dictates. Equivalent exchange: blood for blood. It's a few brief hours to sunrise, and he won't see it.
He wonders what Ed looks like in the dawn. Too much gold, he must be blinding.
He draws in a breath of smoky, ash-danced, sand-scattered air, and feels the pulse in his body, sick and frightened and far too fast. He wishes it wasn't Ed caught up as his interpreter. He wishes Ed were free of this, never had to know - he wishes Ed didn't know that he's a mass murderer and he deserves what he's walked into, wishes he could have told Ed a year ago that Roy just adores him, as close to religious feeling as Roy is capable of, his heart looks so far up to Ed that it's dizzy. He wishes that he were braver, that he didn't feel so sick walking to this, that he wasn't going to have to ask Ed who's already endured so much tonight to ask them please, please to shoot him. He's not brave, and he can't face hanging. He knows he has nothing to bargain with, all he can ask for is mercy, a quick bullet, please, he will stand very still and keep his eyes closed but he doesn't want to hang-
For a moment he thinks he's having a heart attack the pain is so intense. But the air clears, he can see again, the agony and nausea quell, and they turn the corner to the tent.
He's breathing very slow and very hard, now. He can hear, feel, every stage of every breath from nose tip to the bottoms of his lungs. Every breath is limited now, he could probably count the last ones he takes. He walks into the tent - he's still not shaking, not on the outside, this pathetic dignity is the last thing that remains to him - and looks immediately at Ed, sitting at the far end of the tent.
His arm has been untied. The raw fibres of the rope have cut uneven freckles of blood all around his wrist, and a woman with a cloth and a bowl of water is trying to clean it for him but Ed's not being very co-operative. The tent has gone quiet at Roy's re-entrance and Ed raises his head - pale and dazed and exhausted - and stares at him, dumb, drained, silent. Roy thinks about walking to him, taking him up into his arms, kissing him until he looks so happy and relaxed - all these things he will never be allowed. Even if there's time to give three quiet words to Ed, he has no right to. What good to anyone is the love of a dead man?
The man in the moustache puts a hand on Ed's shoulder and says something. Ed closes his eyes, pushes himself awkwardly up, and Roy doesn't look sideways, looks at nothing but Ed, walks straight to him as if being reeled in. "A generator exploded, both sides panicked. There are no reported injuries yet."
Ed says roughly, "They voted."
Every cell in Roy's body shocks. He focuses on Ed, Ed so alive, he is ready, he has to be ready, and says with his voice so barely wobbling, "Well?"
"'Well'. You bastard. No."
"No. They aren't killing you."
There is such silence. Roy has been submerged in silence; all the world is silence. "What?"
"I make it too complicated," Ed says, almost swaying with exhaustion where he stands. "They can't work out how they can kill you but not me. And - you came back. They said you wouldn't, where's the point in voting if you wouldn't come back. But you did, anyway, so fuck 'em. So, they're not killing you. They decided not to." He shrugs. He looks completely dazed. "Congratulations."
Roy looks, utterly incomprehending, at the man with the moustache. "I don't . . . understand."
"Don't argue with 'em, for fuck's sake Mustang-"
"I don't . . . I don't know what to - say. I've been - trying to prepare myself and . . ." He's allowed to live? The sudden concept of living - decades spread out ahead of him - seems obscene, ridiculous, unreal. No-one lives for that long, surely, no-one has more than these few desperate precious minutes, surely -?
"Say what you want t'him, the cheating git speaks Amestrian." Ed says, jerking his head at the man with the moustache, who throws his head back and laughs. Ed rubs his eyes with the heel of his palm. "I'm too tired. I'm too tired."
Roy looks at the man with the moustache and what are you meant to say, on occasions like this? Who writes the etiquette for times like this? ". . . thank you."
"You don't sound very sure." the man with the moustache says.
"I'm sure I will be soon," Roy says, still feeling too faint, too disbelieving. "It doesn't change anything I did."
"No. But it can change what you will do, and these things work in circles. Once again we're in your power. If we agree to stop this resistance, what will happen to us?"
A woman walks in holding Ed's right arm at that point, which distracts every man in the tent. It looks a little obscene when not attached to Ed, the elbow and wrist flop as if they're just dead metal, which is really all they are. And yet it's such a part of Ed, and Roy feels a warmth in his stomach, the first true feeling of relief, to watch Ed take it by the upper arm. He flicks open his jacket, looks sourly at his own shoulder, and lines the automail up.
Roy will never be able to describe the noise he makes on reattachment. It's a scream contained, a scream in a box in a coffin in a vacuum, a scream Ed would crack his teeth over before he'd let escape. It comes simultaneous to the most utter collapse Roy's ever seen in a human being - Ed crumples downwards and Roy grabs him automatically, Ed whumping heavy into his arms and knocking him to one knee, and for a second Roy is sure that Ed has just outright fainted in his arms. Then he begins panting, and every breath sounds like agony.
Over their heads, the man with the moustache murmurs some words, and there's a little laughter, just a little, around the tent. Roy looks up at him, looks back down at Ed, scoops the hair out of his face and says, "Are you alright?"
"Just- just- just need a few - minutes-"
"What did he just say?"
Ed's breath gasps out of him. "Nothing."
Roy doesn't understand that but doesn't want to let him go, his body's so hot and quick-breathing and alive, so he holds him to himself with one arm and says to the man with the moustache, "How many of your people would be happy to move to other cities and start again?"
"Perhaps a quarter."
"I think I can persuade my superiors that that's a perfectly reasonable figure."
Ed says breathlessly to his jacket, "He could persuade snakes t'walk upright."
The man with the moustache smiles. "And the rest of us?"
"You'd be amazed what they can decide was really their intention all along."
"We have your word? You will help us?"
"I owe you far more than this, and you know it." He looks down at Ed again, who's closed his eyes in Roy's arms, looks like he might be about to go to sleep against him. "Can you stand?"
Muttered to his chest, "It wasn't my fucking leg, was it?"
"I would like to get him to a doctor, if possible." Roy says to the man with the moustache. Ed puts up a snarl - like he needs a doctor, it's only his arm, he does it all the fucking time - but someone fetches his coat, and Roy stands, lifting Ed with him. His impulse is to carry him, but he doubts Ed would let him and the combined weight of Ed and automail probably precludes that anyway. He stands supporting Ed's sway, staring at the man with a moustache - less than ten minutes ago he was trying to think how best to beg for a firing squad - and he says, "I don't know - how to -"
"Just go. Live a good life, and look after him. No-one could have persuaded them otherwise, if he hadn't been here."
Ed, a sagged and shaking weight against his side, watches the man with the moustache with wary, weary eyes. Roy bows to him, formal, respectful, so grateful his throat is lumping. And Roy now has to live with all of the consequences of his actions, all of them, including kissing the strangest creature he's ever met, the almost-man he owes his life to, clutching hard to his arm as together they walk out of the tent, watched every step by their jury as they go.
The military had requisitioned a hotel in the nearest city for the officer's billeting, and since Roy has the highest rank he gets the best suite. It's just surreal after the ramshackle camp he was meant to have died in; he walks in, stands dumbly on the carpet in the little lounge, kicks his boots off and goes to stare at the bed for a bit but sleep belongs to a different universe to his. He goes back into the lounge and roots through the bar.
He sits, noting the way his knees bend and how the springs of the sofa cup him, noting, noticing everything, because he's still breathing and he doesn't know how. No, he does, he knows perfectly well how, and why: because of Ed. If any other person had been speaking for him, if Roy had had to speak for himself, he would be dead now, a corpse on the ground, but it was Ed. He draws his breath in and that breath belongs to Ed.
He looks down at the glass in his hand, cut crystal and pale amber liquid, raises it to take a sip and realises he can't because his fucking hands are shaking so much. He puts it down - it rings discordantly on the polished tabletop - and he puts his hands over his eyes, and breathes, and breathes, and thinks, I'm breathing. Just like any other day of my life, I'm breathing. It could have never happened. Except it will always have happened, always -
He opens the curtains, opens the window, breathes in the cool air of the night, and it should make this feel real but it just feels like so much, too much, on his skin, it runs over his nerve endings like electric silk. He clutches the window, stares at the dark blue sky, his mind reeling as he thinks, he thinks . . .
There are two clumsy knocks at his door. It's unlikely to be a maid at four in the morning.
Ed looks as exhausted as Roy feels, and Roy lets him in wordlessly. He shuffles in like the living dead, thumps himself sideways onto the couch, and lays against the cushions staring at nothing. Roy sits again beside him, letting every exhausted muscle slump back and be supported - oh god, having a living body is so, so wonderful - and tilts his head to the ceiling, and sighs.
"I'm so tired," Ed says quietly.
"Your room's just down the corridor. Unless you came to demand a swap."
"Fuck off. Can't sleep. My brain . . ."
". . . I know."
Silence. Roy turns his head to look at Ed, whose eyes are barely open slits of the darkest gold, shadow gold, under the warm glow of the lamp. The bandage around his wrist is so white against his skin. Ed's eyelids fall, dark eyelashes to the curve of light on his cheek, and he whispers, "I've never been so scared my whole life."
"I'm sure that's not true."
"No. It is. I can never - I can do monsters, I can do fighting, I can fight but when people - when just normal people - I thought they were gonna kill you. I didn't know what I could do. I couldn't - make the words come out quick enough, I couldn't get the right words to make them understand - why don't they just understand? How come people don't always understand that it's wrong to kill people? It doesn't make any sense. It never makes any sense."
"No." Ed's sense of morality, Roy thinks, is probably just too rational - it's a scientist's sense of morality and Ed transfers it blind of prejudice between every situation: if x is wrong (where x is killing someone because they've wronged you) then x is always wrong, always, always, always. Ed sees the contradictions and irrationalities that other people don't because they're hurt or angry or vengeful, whereas for Ed the x is immutable, and his utter and unique constancy has made him Roy's pole star, so fixed, so steadfast, so bright. "Ed?"
Exhausted into the cushions, "Mn?"
Ed's eye opens, blinks, he turns his head to look hard at Roy. "I still don't forgive you for walkin' into that when you knew what they were planning."
". . . I wonder." He swallows. "I wonder if really, that's what I want, because I'm lazy and a coward, I just want it all to be taken care of and done. But I made a promise to Maes, to Hughes, and I'm stuck living it through now. I'm glad he doesn't know how close I came to failing."
Ed sits up at Maes' name. "What promise?"
"Oh," Roy says, and stretches, and blinks wearily at the lampshade. "I'm going to be Fuhrer. I've committed so much wrong that I'm going to need a great deal of power to put it right again."
"If you rule the country then I'm emigrating." Ed says flatly, and Roy laughs, startled, at the lampshade. He looks across to Ed again, who grins, watching his eyes, watching him so closely, and Roy does not look at his mouth but he remembers - of course he remembers, he'll remember for the rest of his life however long he has now -
Ed looks at the carpet, kicks a socked heel off it. "He said. When we were kneeling, the teacher. He said -" He squirms on the cushions. "It's the words from their marriage ceremony. That's the position they. He married us. That was - why they laughed, it was like a joke." He swallows at the carpet. "Except he's like their priest an' I dunno how actually legitimate that could've been."
Silence, while Roy wakes up very quickly indeed. "We're - married."
"I dunno, it was, I dunno-"
Roy's breathless, something in him has jumped so hard at this thought - and it's ridiculous, don't let it onto your face, it was a joke, it's not real, but if it were - oh god if it were - Ed is trying not to show how hard he's seeking any clue from Roy's face before he draws his breath in and says, "You're the wife."
And Roy laughs out loud, again, oh god he could never stop smiling. "I suppose I owe you that much, don't I?"
"-don't." Ed takes his wrist, and Roy doesn't understand what he's doing until he feels Ed's fingertips settle on his pulse. "I owe you my life too, right? What'd I be if you hadn't found me an' Al that night? So we're even now. Equivalent exchange."
Roy looks down at Ed, as Ed follows his pulse for a moment before his hand slides down, fingers across Roy's palm, then fingertips to fingertips as if testing the fit, and they both move at once to close their hands together. It's as easy as water coming together. It's strange, how something has changed so utterly between them tonight. They will never go back to what they were. Without talking about it, without really saying anything, they have switched from acquaintances and colleagues to so much potential, and there are just a few lines to fill in and Roy can sense already that what they can be is more than friendship and stronger than sex. It feels so sturdy, this thing they haven't tested at all, that they never knew was resting underneath them the whole time, just waiting for them to pull themselves together, to in the face of immanent death finally risk something.
Ed is watching his face very closely. Roy smiles for him, something he rarely does, and watches Ed's mouth tighten before he leans up and, sort of shy, very determined, kisses him on the mouth.
Pause, in silence and in stillness. Roy lowers his head a little, Ed tucks his chin to his throat and hesitates and relaxes again, closes his eyes, raises his face. Roy's nose touches Ed's cheek, Ed draws his breath softly in, Roy closes his eyes too, and they kiss again gently, curiously, artlessly. They're too tired to take it anything but slowly. Each kiss seems to settle Roy better into his body, because he's alive (kiss) and kissing Ed (kiss) and he has gone from being interested in Ed (kiss) to being infuriated by him (kiss) to being near-obsessed with him (kiss) to being helplessly in love with him (kiss, kiss, kiss), and now . . .
He opens his eyes, blinks wearily. Their reflections are fading on the windowpanes, the sky is paling. It's not going to be a golden dawn, no glorious first sunrise of the rest of his life for Roy, the sun drags itself over the horizon as if it would rather have stayed asleep. The milk-and-water light of morning isn't kind, and he doesn't like to think what it's doing to his own face as he sees how exhausted it makes Ed look, the shadows under his eyes and the forecast of lines to come (when he is older than Roy there will be lines here, and here, from stress, and so many lines here from laughter . . .). But Ed puts his cheek on Roy's shoulder, eyes still closed, and ignores the dawn. There are plenty of dawns left to come, but it's the first time that he's ever been allowed to go to sleep against Roy.
Roy settles his arms around Ed's heavy breathing body, and draws in hard at the scent of his hair. He has been given this as a duty by a man he knows he owes far more than this: Look after him. He will. He will show Ed what they can be and ensure that that's what they are, forever, he will never not appreciate that he owes his life to Ed, not just that it exists at all but that it has all the potential for good that he now knows it does. And it's not going to be easy. He knows they're going to fight, lots, he really can't pretend otherwise; he knows what some people will say when they find out, and he doesn't know what others will say which is even more worrying but -
His nose brushes Ed's hair. He whispers to his bared ear, the other hidden against Roy's body, "You do know that I love you."
Ed shifts against his side, nuzzling comfortable on his shoulder. He mumbles, "Guess I do now."
He doesn't let go. His automail digs in hard on Roy's arm and he squeezes his eyes closed, huddles down against him. He's exhausted, he must be, between all the shouting and stress and the automail reattachment - Roy's meant to be looking after him. He closes his arms closer around Ed's body, lets his head sink against Ed's hair, gleaming almost platinum in the rising dawn, and this will be the rest of his life, remembering that it belongs to Ed.
He dreams of deserts; when he looks back, they've only left one trail of footprints through the sand behind them. Ed takes his hand, and they walk on.