Series: Fullmetal Alchemist
Words: 4,350 (14,956 total)
Warnings: Lame title, swearing, implied sex with a minor.
Status: In progress.
Spoilers: We'll be safe and say yes, for the full series.
Summary: After a decade apart, war with Creta brings Roy and Edward together again, and they discover that nothing between them has been resolved. Sequel to Can't Be, but you don't need to read it to be able to follow the plot here.
Previous Chapters: Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3
Miles blew out a heavy breath. “Shit, Roy. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that.” He dragged a hand over his face and shook his head. “I can understand why that might be awkward as all hell -- though honestly, I never pegged you as the type-- but you need to settle things between the two of you before we lose him.”
“I know,” Roy said, slowly lacing and unlacing his fingers. If things went badly with Zira, they were going to need Ed and Al like a drowning man needed air. Roy understood that, but he had hoped that giving Ed a wide berth was the best solution. Miles obviously did not agree, and he was probably right.
Roy glanced up from his hands to find Miles peering at him strangely. In his experience, the older man was remarkably non-judgmental, a rare trait in a military man. Miles had the gift of being able to accept people as they were, but he wasn’t an idiot. It wouldn’t be long before he put the numbers together and realized something didn’t quite add up. “I’d never have guessed,” Miles said at length.
“Edward was the exception, not the rule,” Roy said, smiling slightly when Miles laughed a little too loudly, awkward. Roy felt a bit of sympathy; it was a hell of a thing to spring on a man, but well... Miles had asked.
“That’s one hell of an exception, General. So--” Miles stopped suddenly, brows furrowing in a thoughtful frown. Roy could practically hear the gears turning in his head. Finally, Miles shook his head slightly and pinned Roy with a solid stare. “How old was he?”
Roy took a breath and reminded himself that Miles was one of the few people in his life who would probably understand. Probably. “Fifteen.”
Miles was still for a long, long moment, his usually expressive face giving no indication of his thoughts. At length he said, “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t lay you flat on principle.” His tone was mild, and Roy knew Miles wouldn’t actually hit him. At least, he was pretty sure he wouldn’t.
“It was completely consensual, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Roy said, knowing that it didn’t make things any better. He had to resist the childish urge to add that Ed had started it, which wasn’t entirely true anyway. Edward might have been the one to kiss Roy, but it was Roy’s fault that the young man had the opportunity to do so.
Miles relaxed slightly, shoulders sagging as his shook his head. “Gods above, man. Consensual or not, he was just a kid. What the hell were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t,” Roy said dryly. Miles was echoing the question he had asked himself a thousand times. “As soon as I came to my senses I ended it. Edward was angry.” Roy shook his head. That wasn’t right, Ed was beyond angry. “Furious,” he added, voice dropping slightly. “I found myself on the wrong side of his temper more than once, but I had never seen him that angry.”
--Such fierce and overwhelming rage, barely concealed hurt, and Roy wondered briefly if he was making a mistake. Edward would never forgive him--
“Essentially,” Miles began, and Roy shook the memory away, “what you’re telling me is that we might lose the best alchemist we could hope to have because he’s still pissed that you dumped him?”
“Essentially.” Roy couldn’t help the smile. It was a bit ridiculous really. “I doubt he’s still genuinely angry; I’m sure it’s just the principle of the thing at this point.”
Miles drummed his fingers on his knee in agitation. After a moment he snorted and said, “My oldest grandson is fifteen, you know. When I think--” He aborted the thought with a shake of his head. “I’m having a hard time reconciling the idea with the man I know. Generally speaking, I don’t give a damn what people choose to do behind closed doors --it’s none of my concern-- but this...” He trailed off with a sigh.
Roy had hoped the conversation wouldn’t go so far, but he wasn’t surprised it had. “I was in love with him, Miles.”
Blue eyes softened and Miles leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “You can’t fall in love with a child.”
That was probably true, but in spite of bouts of immaturity, Edward was never a child. Not really, not even in the beginning. “He was young, but Edward wasn’t a child.” He searched for some way to make Miles understand. “It wasn’t one of my best moments, and it isn’t something I’m proud of. Not because Ed couldn’t handle it, but because I knew I wasn’t any good for him and I let it continue anyway. When I broke off our relationship, it wasn’t because I wanted to, it was because I knew that it would be best for him --and for myself-- in the long term.”
Roy dragged a hand through his hair. The conversation was dredging up old feelings that he’d thought properly buried years ago. Ever since he had learned that Ed would be serving under him again, he had discovered that those feelings weren’t buried as deeply as he would have liked. Roy supposed he had always known on some level that he still loved Edward. Maybe it was because feelings that strong never really went away, or maybe it was just because he was an idiot that couldn’t let go. Working with Ed wouldn’t be easy, but he supposed he deserved the emotional beating for letting himself get so entangled with Ed in the first place. “I wanted to do right by him.”
Miles nodded once, slowly. “I believe you. Unfortunately, it’s come back to bite us in the ass.” He smiled wryly. “There’s a reason they have rules against fraternization, you know.”
Roy arched an eyebrow. “This coming from a man with a deep and abiding respect for rules and regulations.”
Miles grinned, and Roy knew he had been forgiven.
Dark brows dipping into a deep frown, Vander shook his head. “This is very bad news, sir. We can’t stand up against a full-scale assault.”
Roy nodded wearily. Vander wasn’t saying anything they didn’t already know. His captains were the only two aware of his meetings with the enemy commander, and he had just finished reporting on his conversation with Zira. “We always knew this was a possibility, and she’s given us valuable time to prepare if nothing else. Miles,” he said, turning his attention to the other man.
“Already ahead of you, General,” Miles said, propping his feet on Roy’s desk and tipping his chair back on two legs. “I’ve got Edward working on repairing guns and equipment, and Alphonse is taking care of making sure our ammo stockpile is up to snuff. I don’t plan on letting the Cretans catch us with our pants down.”
Roy smiled briefly. “Good man. Vander, I want you to double the security detail and start organizing more drills. We’ve been letting discipline get pretty lax around here, and we can’t afford to let things keep going as they have been.”
Vander nodded. “Sir.”
“Miles, have someone get a message out to Western HQ and let them know about the situation.” He paused, then added, “Might as well ask for more supplies while we’re at it. We can’t rely on them, but if they do come, it’ll help.”
Roy studied his men, and for a moment he envied Miles his lack of ambition. Some days he would give anything to be the man following orders instead of the one giving them. It was impossible to be unaware of the lives that rested on his decisions; a burden that seemed to grow progressively heavier the longer the war dragged on. “Dismissed.”
Both men saluted, but Miles hung back after Vander had gone. “You should go now. Get it over with.” Roy sighed and nodded. He hadn’t forgotten his promise to speak with Edward. Miles offered him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. “Warehouse two.”
Miles left, and after a moment Roy followed. He wasn’t looking forward to it, but it was something that needed to be done.
The alchemical reaction faded, and Ed tossed the newly repaired rifle onto the stack with the others. He stood and stretched, rolling his shoulders to work out the kinks. Spending three hours repairing years worth of rusted, busted old rifles wasn’t exactly his idea of a good time. At least he had it better than his brother. Poor Al was stuck making ammunition from raw materials and whatever useless old junk would serve. At least his task had required some thought, examining each rifle and figuring out why it was defective or otherwise less than useable. Alphonse was just performing the same transmutation over, and over, and over. Ed wouldn’t be surprised if his brain had melted from sheer tedium and fled through his ears by this point.
Edward tugged at the shirt sticking uncomfortably to his back and grumbled. Stupid uniform rule anyway. He hadn’t even bothered with the jacket; not many of the others seemed to wear them, and the rest of it was miserable enough in the sticky heat. One would think the military might give some consideration to the men working in hotter regions of the country. He snorted at the thought. Right.
Winding his way around pillars of boxes stuffed with who-knew-what, Ed poked his head into the space that Miles had appointed Alphonse and asked, “How’s it going?”
Al offered him a tired smile. “If I never see another bullet, it’ll be to soon. Remind me why I thought this was a good idea?”
Ed pitched his voice in a passable imitation of his brother’s. “We have to do our part! The Colonel’s letter said they were desperate for alchemists, and--”
“Ha ha.” Al cut him off, and Ed grinned. “That was a rhetorical question anyway.” He clambered to his feet, bending backwards and cracking his back with a satisfied sound. “I’m starving, want to take a break and get something to eat?”
“I thought you’d never--” Ed paused, cocking his head at the sound of footsteps. Probably the captain checking up on them. “Come to give us a reprieve?” he called.
The owner of the footsteps appeared a moment later, and Edward choked back something that sounded suspiciously like a squeak. Mustang didn’t seem to hear, and greeted them with a nod and smile. “Not quite.”
Edward wished vaguely that the man didn’t have such an amazing smile. It made it harder to remember that he was a bastard.
Dark eyes traveled to the neatly stacked boxes of ammunition and he asked, “So how’s it going?”
“Well enough,” Al said brightly, saving Ed from having to answer. “It’s more tiring than I expected though.”
Lips twisting in a wry grin, Mustang said, “Don’t I know it. This was actually my job when I could make the time. As you can see, that wasn’t often.” The smile faded. “I’m grateful that you’re both here,” he said sincerely.
“We’re happy to help, General,” Alphonse said, and Edward swallowed a snort. ‘Happy’ wasn’t the word he’d have used. Al glanced at him before returning his attention to Mustang. “Ah, we were just about to take a break for lunch...”
Mustang nodded, “I’m sorry to keep you, but this won’t take long.” His gaze shifted to Ed, and the blond had to resist the urge to cringe. “I just wanted to speak with Edward for a moment.”
Oh, no. Absolutely no. Private conversations were dangerous territory, and frankly he had no faith that he would be able to keep his head on straight. Ed steeled himself and brushed past the other man, “Yeah, well we’re starving, so it’ll--”
The word stopped him cold. It wasn’t demanding, or pleading. Roy just sounded... tired, and Ed felt his resolve crumble. He heaved a sigh and turned, looking at his brother. “Go on ahead, I’ll be along in a few minutes.”
Al glanced uncertainly at Roy and then at Edward before nodding a slipping around Mustang. He squeezed Ed’s shoulder briefly as he passed, and then he was gone.
Unable to avoid it any longer, Ed folded his arms defensively over his chest and met Roy’s eyes. “So what do you want?” he snapped.
“I wanted to ask you stay.”
Edward sighed. He should have seen this conversation coming. “I can’t.”
Ed bristled, scowling at the other man. He hated arguing semantics. “That’s right; I won’t.” He didn’t want to be there, and that was all that mattered.
Roy shook his head, sitting on one of the dusty boxes and staring at Edward imploringly. “Don’t do this because of me.”
Edward snorted. “Someone has a high opinion of himself,” he muttered. It didn’t matter if it was true, he didn’t want Roy to know that he still had such an effect.
The general gave him a pointed look, and Ed realized he wasn’t fooling anyone. “This isn’t about you and me. This is about them,” Roy gestured vaguely. “I know Miles told you something of our situation, but I don’t think you realize just how badly you’re needed. Supplies from HQ are so erratic that I’m struggling to keep my men fed. This is supposed to be a military outpost, but we’re spending more time hunting and gathering food than we are scouting. I’ve received intelligence that we’ll start seeing real combat again, and soon. Without alchemists to bolster our supplies, that’s going to put us in a very dangerous position.”
Roy leaned forward, and Ed could see the weariness in his eyes. He looked like he hadn’t seen a good night’s sleep in too long, and Ed felt a twinge of sympathy. “We’re all stuck out here in this godforsaken patch of jungle, and all we have to rely on is each other. The government is too disorganized to count on; it’s a miracle they sent you here. I know you’ve never cared much for the military, but this isn’t about politics or personal conflicts. This is about defending our land and our people.
“There are twenty-six villages between here and the next military outpost. Thousands of people live in those villages; women, children, the elderly. We are the only thing standing between them and the enemy. They are depending on us to protect them.” Shoulders sagging slightly, Roy said, “We’re all they’ve got.”
In the face of Roy’s earnest words, Edward couldn’t help but feel guilt over his selfishness. “One alchemist can’t make such a big difference,” he protested weakly.
Roy smiled slightly. “You more than anyone should understand exactly how much a difference one alchemist can make.”
Edward stared at his shoes. The bastard was right, and while it chafed, Ed had to admit it. He was being selfish and petty, but it wasn’t about him. It was exactly what Al had tried to tell him last night and he hadn’t wanted to hear. “You’re right.”
The admission clearly caught Roy off guard. “What?”
Edward looked up with a small self-effacing grin. “You’re absolutely right. I was so concerned with what I wanted that I forgot why we came here in the first place. We’ll stay.”
Roy seemed completely taken aback, and Edward mentally congratulated himself on surprising the other man. “I...that’s very mature of you.”
Ed shrugged, offering Roy a cautious smile. Maybe working with him wouldn’t be so bad after all. “It happens, but don’t get used to it.”
That earned him a quiet chuckle, and Edward shifted uncomfortably in the silence that followed. Roy stood, brushing the dust from his backside. “Thank you.” He made as if to take a step and paused, looking sidelong at Ed. “Are you still angry with me?”
Ed was surprised by the question, though he supposed he shouldn’t be. He resisted his first impulse to snap out some snarky reply, instead giving the question some thought. Was he angry? No, he didn’t think he was. Not even he could manage to nurse his anger for ten years. He was hurt and more than a little resentful; the anger had faded but the heartbreak never quite had. He couldn’t tell Roy any of this however, so all he said was, “No. Doesn’t mean I want to spend much time around you though. No offense.”
Mustang inclined his head slightly. “None taken,” he said, and Ed believed him. “Sorry to keep you.”
Edward watched him walk away. “Hey,” he called, and Roy stopped, half-turning. “Get some sleep, you look like shit.”
Roy flashed him a smile, and it hurt to see. “I will.”
“How much do you know of our history?”
Roy started at the sudden question, spinning in a circle before he spied Zira sitting beneath one of the tall trees. He took a deep breath and willed his hammering heart to slow. He had been too busy the last week to keep his promise to Ed, and the lack of rest was beginning to tell. She peered at him from under raised eyebrows, but didn’t comment. After a moment Roy sat beside her. “I grew up in the east. We didn’t really learn much about Creta beyond the fact that it was there.”
She nodded. “I suspected as much. Before I tell you what I have learned, I think perhaps you will need to understand us a bit better.” She unfolded her legs and stretched them out before her, pausing a moment to gather her thoughts.
“Our kingdom is a young one. When I was a child, Creta was a nation of warring tribes. We had no central government, no leader; each tribe governed itself as it saw fit. We each had our own rules and our own laws, ones that often put us at odds with each other. A thousand tiny civil wars, all starting and stopping and starting again. That was way we lived, how we had lived for hundreds of years.”
Zira glanced at him, and Roy nodded to show he was listening. He knew very little of the Cretans as a people, but he recalled hearing something similar from Miles once. “Creta is a beautiful land,” Zira continued, and she smiled, her fondness of her homeland evident. “Mostly, it is a sea of grass and sky, going on as far as the eye can see in any direction. The nations around us had never expressed any interest in us before; we kept to our own lands and we had no resources of any note. You know of Jarda, yes?”
Roy squeezed his eyes closed briefly, thinking. Jarda was a small coastal nation to the west of Creta if he recalled, one Amestris had little to no dealings with. He opened his eyes, and it was much harder than it should have been. He made a note to catch a couple of hours when he got back. “I know of it.”
“Jarda is a very small nation, but a rich one. They trade with lands across the sea, and it brought them a great deal of wealth, made them arrogant. Even though my people vastly outnumbered the Jardans, they felt that divided as we were, we would be an easy mark. They sought to expand their small country, and so they began an incursion into Creta.
“In the beginning, my people stood no chance against the organized forces of Jarda. Tribe after tribe, village after village, they marched eastwards.” She sighed. “My people are proud, and very few chose to surrender and so very few survived. Despite our disorganization, the news of the Jardan advance speared quickly, and within a month of the first attacks, word reached even my village, so close to the Amestris border. I was very young then, but I remember that the concern was not great. The plains were vast after all; surely the Jardans would not march so far?”
Zira laughed a little at that and shook her head. “They were fools in their complacency. Time passed, and the enemy continued its advance unhindered. Every now and again we would receive news of another village razed, another tribe decimated. If things had continued along that path, my people would be nothing but a memory.”
“Obviously that isn’t what happened, though,” Roy said.
Zira nodded. “One day, a young man and a handful of warriors came to our village. He claimed to be building a army to fight the Jardans. He asked if any would join him. They laughed at this man, this boy that would make such an outrageous claim. He remained calm in the face of their scorn, and he said something I have not forgotten in all of the years since. He said, ‘Have our people grown so complacent that they are content to wait for slaughter? Have you no pride, no honor, no fighting spirit? I would rather fall fighting for the lives of my people than sitting at home waiting for death to come to me.’ They were powerful words, and the people grew silent upon hearing them, shamed. Amidst this silence my mother stood and told the stranger that she would fight.
“A few others followed her lead. I was left in the care of my grandmother as my mother went to fight a war on some distant front. They passed from village to village, their numbers swelling steadily until they had built a true army. My mother became his right hand, his first commander. By the time they reached the front, they had a force three times as large as the Jardans, every man and woman a true warrior. The Jardans crumpled under the force of our combined might and they fled; running back to their rich cities like scared children.” Zira grinned viciously.
“That man, then known as the General, had accomplished something no one in our history had; he had united us with nothing more than the strength of his will. At that point, the people might have dispersed back to their homes and things might have returned to the way they were before, but he would not allow it. Never again would he allow his people to be weakened by division and petty squabbles. He took my mother as his wife, and began working toward truly unifying our people.”
She chuckled slightly. “My mother told me once, years ago, that he’d never had any intention of becoming our king. She said that he’d had some vague notion of being an advisor or some such. That lack of desire for power was what made him such a good leader, I think. He always had the best interests of the people at heart, and because of that he was an easy man to follow. As soon as I was old enough, I began training as a warrior and served in his personal guard for many years. I have never once regretted that path.” She fell silent, and after a moment said quietly. “I had such high hopes, but it seems that the son is not the father.”
Roy silently digested what he had been told. It was a fascinating story, certainly, but he didn’t see how it related to their current situation. He was about to ask precisely that when a thought struck. “You said your mother married the king?”
Zira raised an eyebrow. “Yes.”
Roy knew that the man currently ruling was not the one she spoke of, but rather his son. “Then you’re related to the king?”
Zira cocked her head slightly, a second eyebrow joining the first. “He is my brother. Does it matter?”
Roy’s head spun with the possible ramifications of the information. “Of course it matters!” he said, wondering how she could not realize that. He dredged up what little knowledge he had of the royal family. The king had taken the throne shortly before the start of the war; he had no wife or children. Roy had also been under the impression he had no siblings, but he supposed no one had bothered in check into a half-sister on the mother’s side. Which meant… “You’re the next in the line of succession,” he said dumbly.
She blinked. “Yes, I suppose I am.” They stared at each other for a moment before she frowned, “I have no intention of deposing my brother, General, so you can get that notion out of your head right now.”
Roy winced, a little embarrassed that she had seen right through him. “You have to admit it would resolve our situation nicely,” he said with a small smile.
She snorted. “It would do nothing of the sort. You don’t seem to understand how much the people loved my stepfather. If I attempted to steal the throne from his son, they would sooner see me dead than follow me.”
“But if he died?”
It was hard not to squirm under her hard stare. “I do not like where this conversation is going.” Suddenly her shoulders sagged, the fight draining out of her. She sighed heavily. “My sword has always fought for the will of my king and the good of my people, but now those things are no longer the same. My king no longer seems to have the good of the people at heart, and I find myself with divided loyalties. The thought of betraying him makes me ill, but it might come to that for the sake of the greater good.”
Roy studied her. For the first time in their acquaintance Zira looked her age. She seemed so weary, and Roy knew exactly what it was like to lose faith in a government you once believed in. It must be even harder for someone like her, a woman defined by her morals and her sense of honor. Whatever it was she had discovered, it must be dire indeed. Roy took her hand a gave it a comforting squeeze. “What did you learn?”