Rating: PG-13, Ed's potty mouth
Notes: Spell checked, unbeta'd.
Part One: Candor Part Two: Veracity.
The phone call had him clear his schedule. He requested privacy and silence and it was granted because he had the rank to back it up and the people who would make sure it happened. Alphonse Elric was shown into his office that afternoon. Tea had been set and the door was closed after him. Al stood with his coat over his arm and he and the General surveyed each other across the floor of his office.
Roy got up, came around his desk, extended his hand. Alphonse shook it and they both adjourned to the table set for their comfort and sat down. The general poured and Al lay his coat over his lap and for a bit they got their tea to the perfect discussion temperature.
"I start my assignment in a little more than three weeks," Al opened up with. "I'm heading south this weekend to look for a good place to rent."
"I see, so you decided to live in South City, I think that is an excellent decision," the general said, eying the shortbread cookies, knowing he shouldn't.
"I haven't seen Ed since I told him this yesterday morning," Al said, and sipped his tea. "Have you heard anything from him?"
"I haven't, but that doesn't mean I won't," the general said, giving in and pulling the shortbread plate closer. "How has it been with the two of you lately? I've only heard from him once since the last time he stayed over at my place and he was so drunk I couldn't properly understand him."
"Not good," Al said with a sign, sitting his tea cup on the table. "Not good at all. General...Roy, I don't know what to do, I really think I'm getting at the short end of my rope. Everything I try backfires in my face and he's just resentful and I try so hard to talk to him and it's like he's so afraid to say anything to me about how he really feels. Does he think I don't know? You know, I think sometimes that it's bad I got this body back," Al's voice dropped to a whisper. "All that time, everything that happened did something to my brother and I just want to fix it, and it's not about the automail. I think maybe sometimes I shouldn't take this project, I should stay with him," Al's eyes got a little wet, "but that's not going to help him is it? Or is that my own, selfish justification because I want some freedom and I want this project. I love him so much, why can't he see that? Was this something I've done? Is this my punishment for my part of our sin?"
The general offered his pocket handkerchief without comment on it, then leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs, rested his elbows on the arm rests and laced his fingers together before him.
"You and he both are so hung up on forgiveness, but from whom I wonder?" the general said with a sigh. "Alphonse, was not your whole journey based on this very moment? Having a life again? I think you are fulfilling everything your brother strived and bled for, I think it would be the saddest of moments in either of your lives if you just gave up now."
Al seemed to hunch into himself, then he bowed his head and the general was quiet so that the young man could collect himself.
"I shouldn't have to ask for help," Al said, not looking at Roy, "I should be able to handle my own brother. We shared everything, we've lived everything. How can someone who is part of my soul be such a stranger now? How?" Al covered his mouth with his hand.
"It's alright, Al," Roy said quietly, "I haven't seen you boys this far to turn my back on you now. You go and live your life, and someway, somehow, between the two of us, we'll help Ed find his. Alright? It's going to be ok. You just go this weekend and find a place to live, Ed will turn up, I'll be here."
It took a few minutes before Al was composed enough to think about leaving. He stood and Roy stood, Roy escorted him to the door and rubbed his back. It was easy to see how difficult this was on Al, and it was ironic to think of the two of them, Al was infinitely stronger.
"Thank you General," Al said, voice a bit hoarse, "I'll call you when I get back to let you know how it went."
"Good luck, Alphonse," Roy said and watched him walk off down the hallway.
Not a peep.
Roy had listened to Al's voice on the phone the morning he left and heard the pain lacing it. Damn Edward and this insane need to disappear when he couldn't cope. So Roy, in a fit of anger, sent out feelers. He had some of the men stop by in Ed's known dives, watch the apartment, hell, even watch his own house. But when Ed wanted to be invisible, it seemed like he could do a damn fine job.
He was caught between the need to shake Ed so hard his teeth would rattle and consult a psychiatrist to see if Ed was certifiable. It was Riza who brought him the news, thrusting a paper at him from her straight backed post in front of his desk.
"We've found Edward," she said in clipped tones.
Roy took the paper and scanned it quickly, then looked up at Riza, then down at the paper again.
"Do we have enough in petty cash to cover his bond?" Roy asked resignedly. "I know Alphonse will pay us back when he comes back in town."
Riza thrust and envelope at him then, because she was always a step ahead, no she was always twenty steps ahead.
"Why do I have to go bail him out?" Roy almost whined.
"I think it was mentioned you're the only one insane enough to want to bail him out," she said smoothly.
It was a good point, maybe Roy should consult a psychiatrist about them both.
Edward didn't even have the decency to be locked up within a reasonable distance.
It took two hours of travel by car one way just to get to there. As Roy drove into the town he noticed a gaping hole in a line of small buildings leading toward it's center. It looked like a giant had dropped his dentures and one of the false teeth had popped free. Roy could see why this town would not only want to club Edward to death, but also be more than happy to fob him off on the first person who showed up to ask after him. He pulled up outside the police station, got out, made sure his uniform was straight and his rank was evident and marched up the steps and into the building with the air of a man who knew what he was doing, (when he knew good and well he wasn't).
The policemen there eyed him warily and a superior was fetched. The man checked over Roy's credentials, made a phone call, shuffled some paperwork and finally relented. Roy handed over the bail and in return was given what looked like a heavy mailing tube, it had some weight to it and Roy looked around for somewhere to sit. He sat in a wooden chair near the entrance as Ed was supposedly fetched and picked at the tape holding the plastic cover of the tube shut at one end. He got it peeled off and used his fingernails to pry the lid open and peer inside.
His mouth was dry for a moment and he turned the tube absently as he sat there with it propped between his legs.
He'd never seen Ed's automail arm without Ed attached to it before.
It was creepy in a way, to be sitting there, holding part of a person in a tube. Removable, disposable, fixable, mechanical; these were not terms that should be associated with the human body. But here the evidence sat, in dull and marred metal in a heavy cardboard tube while it's owner sat behind heavy iron bars.
He poked his hand in, his fingers brushed one of the metal fingers and it bent suddenly and Roy jerked his hand back, tell himself that rationally there was no way this could move on it's own. He hated this, he didn't like to see this, this was unnatural and it should be attached to Ed. It was an intrinsic part of Ed and on it's own it was just a horror.
Roy looked up as he heard shuffling down the hall and then two policeman appeared with Ed between them. His arm was behind his back because his remaining wrist was cuffed to a belt around his waist. He was still in jail uniform and his hair was unbound and mostly in his face. But when he lifted his head and saw Roy there he went absolutely bloodless. The two officers were surprised when Ed turned abruptly and tried to push them before him back down the hallway. There was some scuffling and grunts and Ed was dragged every inch of the way and made to stand there before Roy, panting and silent.
Roy stood slowly, looked Ed up and down once like he were a blond bug and nodded to the two officers.
"Where are his clothes?" Roy asked and one of the officers pulled a brown paper wrapped package from under his arm and offered it to Roy.
"Any reason why he wasn't allowed to change before you brought him out here?" Roy asked again. Roy might be able to treat Ed like an insect, but no small town cop with a grudge about the only good bar in town being transmuted into nothing did.
"He's combative," one of the officers said, "We're afraid to club him anymore, we might damage him," but the way he said it made it sound like he wished he'd been allowed to damage Ed.
Roy wasn't sure he could blame them.
"You can release him," Roy said, indicating the belt and cuff, "I'll take full responsibility. Where can he get changed?"
The two officers exchanged a glance, but one pulled keys from his pocket and the other nodded toward a set of dark brown doors on the other side of the room.
"You can use that men's room," the officer said, "just give a shout if he tries anything," the officer was still looking for his chance to damage Ed it seemed.
Ed yanked his hand around when it was released and tried to push his bangs up out of his eyes. Roy hefted the tube and indicated with the package containing Ed's clothes about which way Ed should be going. Ed said nothing, but went where he was herded and stood in the flickering flourscent light of the men's bathroom as Roy propped the tube up against the wall and started to unwrap his clothes.
"Is that my arm?" Ed said hoarsely, finally breaking his silence.
"Yes," Roy said, shaking out Ed's shirt and unballing his socks. "They forgot to give me your boots," Roy grumbled.
Ed pulled at the prison top, craning his head to see his port. He poked his fingers into the hole and Roy pointedly busied himself with shaking out Ed's pants. How the hell was he suppose to put an arm back on?
"I think the fuckers ripped some of my wiring when they yanked it out," Ed said again, voice still gravely. "I sure hope not, fuck, I hate outside mechanics but no way in hell will I tell Winry how this happened."
"Oh, so you DO have some sense of propriety," Roy grated out, "so nice to hear you'll spare some of us your behavior."
"Look, I didn't ask you to come and get me, now did I?" Ed snarled back. "If I were you, I would have just left me the hell in there."
"Oh, leave you for Al to deal with, is that it? For Al to come home, find you in jail, deal with getting you out and dealing with all your passive aggressive bullshit while you try to make this decision as hard on him as you possibly can," Roy said, offering Ed his shirt.
"Shut up, shut the fuck up, no one asked you for your fucking opinion," Ed said, snatching the shirt from Roy's hand. "I'm not Al's responsibility, I told him that! Fuck, I don't need no fucking babysitter in a blue uniform either. I'm an adult now, remember, I can handle my own fucking messes!"
Roy watched Ed grip his shirt in his teeth and work the prison shirt off over his head. He threw it at the floor, then got his own shirt on and glared at Roy. Roy threw his pants in his face and Ed stumbled back, but then turned his back to work the prison pants off and get his own pants on. Roy hefted the tube and stuffed Ed's socks in the opened end.
"We'll get your boots on the way out, you can just go barefoot, come on," Roy said, slamming out the men's room door. Ed came after him at a half trot.
"What about my arm?" Ed said as they went toward the main desk.
"Earn it back," Roy tossed over his shoulder. But the mistake had been realized and Ed's boots were waiting on them when they came up. Roy grabbed the sack and turned, walking past Ed toward the doors leading out and Ed wheeled around to follow him.
Roy made a show of opening up his trunk, tossing the tube in and slamming it shut. Ed just stood and stared at him. Then he gaped at him as Roy came over, grabbed him by his flesh arm and stuffed him into the passenger side of the vehicle.
"You...you can't keep my arm from me," Ed said as Roy climbed in and pulled the driver's door shut. "You can't do that. It's my arm dickhead, I need it!"
"Really?" Roy said, cranking the car. "What do you need it for? You going to do anything with it? You seemed to want to stay here without it, so what does it matter if I have it instead of the police chief? That arm is a luxury, not a necessity. You just think you need it, like you think you need someone to mop up your messes. Like you think you need Al to stagnate right along beside you. If you're so set on scrapping the bottom of humanity's barrel, then why take that automail that some young woman made you out of love along with you? It is patently obvious that you think you just don't deserve it, so I might as well find someone who does." Roy put the car in reverse and looked around before backing up.
"Quit talking about Al," Ed screeched. "Don't you fucking lecture me about Al! You can't keep my arm, it's illegal! It's MY arm! You know what I'll do with it? I'll knock your fucking head in with it! I don't even need it to do that! Leave me the fuck alone! I don't need your fucking help! Stop talking about Al, damn you damn you, who needs this?!"
Roy reached over and slapped Ed in the back of the head. Ed gasped and jerked forward, almost hitting his forehead on the dash and Roy rolled his shoulders and gripped the steering wheel with both hands again. There was silence for a while.
"You're going to give it back," Ed finally said, "you wouldn't keep it." He risked a glance at Roy.
"I hear a bug buzzing," Roy said. "It keeps talking but it makes no sense. I would think, if it wants to be heard, it might talk about gratitude and apologies. I really think that the bug needs to get it's priorities straight because the bug is being a self-centered prick. Bugs who are self-centered pricks get swatted, as was demonstrated."
"Bugs can't talk," Ed spat, then went silent again. The first hour of the ride remained so; Roy looking straight ahead and Ed looking out the side window.
"Did Al call you or something?" Ed asked, opening the second hour. "How did you even know I was here?"
"He came to see me," Roy said, also tired of the silence. "And yet again you underestimate my powers of knowing all there is to be known."
"Do you know why I'm such a self-centered prick?" Ed asked quietly. "I'd really like to know myself."
"I'm not sure," Roy admitted, "but you're a genius and I'm almost one. Between the two of us, we're going to figure that out."
"Ok," Ed said, sounding tired, sounding worn. "I'm sorry. Thanks for...not leaving it for Al to deal with."
"I'll tell Al he's welcome when I see him again," Roy said.
Upon arrival at the house, Roy unlocked the trunk and removed the tube. He then carried it into the house with Ed trailing along behind him. He opened the hall closet and set the tube inside it, leaning it into the far back corner.
Ed stood staring at the closet after Roy shut the door, but he didn't move to open it. Finally he shuffled into the living room and dropped onto the couch. Roy came in and sat a glass of water down on the end table next to him and a plate of cold left over chops. Ed looked at it for a moment, then he just fell over on the couch. He wrapped his arm around himself, gripping the edge of his visible port.
Roy sat down in his chair and toed off his shoes. He laid his head back for a moment and closed his eyes.
"Tired of it yet?" he asked the couch's occupant. "Tired of running for the cliff's edge at full speed? Tired of dragging us all with you?"
"All you have to do is let go," came Ed's voice from across the room. "Just let go. Just let me crash and burn, why do you care so much?" His voice quivered. "I wasn't suppose to make it this long, I wasn't suppose to come this far. See? I'm a freak of nature, I'm bucking the system. The world knows natural order, it's only trying to put right it's mistake."
"Maybe the world put me in your path so you wouldn't be the mistake," Roy said, opening his eyes and regarding the ceiling, "or maybe the world has it out for me, I haven't figured it out yet."
"I just wish it would all stop," Ed said, muffled into the couch. "I just wish it would all go the fuck away and leave me alone. I hate this, I hate you, I just hate everything."
"You are to old for the 'no-one-understands-me' age, Edward," Roy sighed.
"FUCK YOU, I can be any fucking stage I want because I didn't get a fucking stage, ok? I didn't ask to be here, you can give me my fucking arm and I'll get out of your damn hair, ok?! Just fuck off!"
"I am really interested in knowing why you think it's alright to treat people the way you treat them. I'm serious, you seem to have no differential between people, with the exception of Al, but I think he's the exception to your rules," Roy laced his fingers and kept studying the ceiling. "I wonder just what your rules are?"
"You're not even listening to me! Why the fuck should I be here, what fucking business is it of yours?! I just want you to leave me the hell alone!" Ed shouted, the shoved himself back into a sitting position, the side of his face showed the lines of the fabric in the couch and his hair was flat on one side now.
Roy pointed behind him toward the arched entrance and foyer beyond.
"There's the door, you are free to walk out of it at any time," Roy said, not raising his voice. "Just get up and walk on over, turn the knob, open the door and step out into the world. Oh don't worry, Al will waste all his good opportunities picking you up and brushing you off every time you feel you're not being given your proper due from him or the world in general. Go right ahead."
Ed got to his feet, half rushed Roy, slamming into him. The chair tilted back but thankfully didn't fall over and Roy managed to shove Ed off of himself and Ed stumbled back and landed on his ass on the floor in front of Roy.
"Why do you keep bringing up Al," Ed choked, "don't bring him up, it has nothing to do with him! It's about me and what a total useless, worthless fuck up I am! Al's perfect, he's going to be happy, keep his name out of your fucking mouth!"
"You know, someone has to think about him, seeing as how you don't. You're a self entitled whining brat sitting here on my floor feeling sorry for yourself. Ed, why do you want so desperately to push us all away? Why is it you try so very hard to alienate me? Do you want me to leave you to your own devices? Is that it? You go out of your way to catch my attention then you do your damnedest to push me back. I want to know why?"
"Don't delude yourself thinking I need you or some shit like that," Ed hissed. "I don't need to be anyone's fucking charity case. I don't want your pity. Maybe I'm pushing you away because you're so fucking nosy you got to be in my business all the time. It's not my fault, what, you feel responsible? I'm not a relative of yours, I'm not your problem. Neither is Al, I take care of Al," but he sounded more uncertain now, his voice faded a bit.
"So you're saying, because I'm not a relation of yours, I don't care about you. So to you, the only people who can care about each other are those who share blood. Me, Colonel Hawkeye, Havoc...those relationships are superficial. They don't mean anything because, according to the rules of Edward Elric, only family members can care for each other," Roy said.
"N...no, stop twisting what I'm saying," Ed said, "that's not what I mean!"
Roy spread his hands.
"That seems to be the gist of your whole tirade. That I'm only nosy and condescending to you with pity because I couldn't possibly care about you," Roy said.
"But...but you don't! I came here, you know, I came here and I literally begged you to be with me and you wouldn't, so you know, you don't want me. Why the fuck should you care what I do or where I'm at! You don't want me; you know if you cared about me or you wanted me or...I offered and you said no!" Ed cried.
"Where the hell did you pick up on sex equates love?" Roy asked. "That concept is a very popular misconception, how did that get on your list of rules? I'm fairly certain I kept pretty close tabs on you until you were 21," Roy said.
"What? The fuck, you were spying on me, still? Even after I was out?" Ed gaped.
"And I don't really know of a relationship that would have taught you that misnomer," Roy mused.
"That doesn't matter! I just know that you know, you turned me down and I thought...well never mind what I thought, but you're a bastard so what do I care? Fine, so you care, big deal," Ed sniffed.
"Let's talk about Al," Roy said.
"NO," Ed shouted, "Let's NOT."
Roy leaned forward in his chair and Ed scooted back on his butt a bit until he hit the coffee table and could go no further.
"You see Al moving away as total abandonment. You see Al going on with his life as a betrayal. You see Al as your whole reason for being. Al is your entire support structure. You depend on Al in ways that children depend on their parents. You think it's unfair that Al can pick up his life and move ahead and not waste away wishing for everything he missed but can't get back. If you can't trust Al you can't trust a single solitary soul on this planet, and you think, because Al has dared to stand up to you and move ahead, that you can't trust Al. It's shattering you, isn't it? Al not being dependant on you is rotting way your whole foundation, isn't it?"
"I will kill you in your sleep," Ed said, low and gravely. "Don't you open your fucking mouth again, don't you say another fucking word. I will kill you, do you understand?"
"So, a rule on the Edward Elric list: If you can't trust Al, you can't trust anyone. Only, see, Al isn't betraying you or your trust. Al is living; something you apparently are having a hard time doing. You can't keep a job, you won't seek a job. You want to portray yourself as a loner who can handle anything, but you run to bars where you surround yourself with people who need you, or rather you perceive as needing you. You like to be needed. Ah, another rule, and very important one! Edward Elric must be needed. Is that right? Let's combine that with something you said earlier. Edward Elric, when not needed is a worthless, useless fuck up."
"You don't...you don't know anything," Ed got out, teeth gritted. "You think you're so smart and you know nothing. You're just as fucked up and useless and good for nothing...you are! I don't have to listen to this, I don't have to listen to you."
"You always have the option of leaving," Roy said with a shrug. "Alright, you know, you have a trial coming up, don't look so shocked. You were arrested for causing some huge fight and destroying a building. You're going to go to trial and need a lawyer, and you know, you're probably going to need some money to pay for all those damages. But wait, you don't have a job," Roy tapped his chin. "Now why is it one of the most brilliant minds of our time doesn't have steady, meaningful employment? He could be putting his vast talents to such good use, too. Ah ha! That loner image he wanted to foster. There is another rule and that rule goes: Edward Elric listens to no rules but his own."
"BULLSHIT, I worked under you for years! I was in the military!" Ed shrieked.
"Correction. You used me for years on the military's dime and depended on me to keep you from getting court marshaled. Don't pull that card Ed, I was there, I know what went on," Roy returned.
"If...if you knew I was using you then why didn't you stop me," Ed said. "You know, if you knew then you deserved it!"
"Edward, I know good and well our working relationship was a two way street. I know I used you, I planned on using you. I admit it freely; but you knew it, too. So I guess you deserved it," Roy shrugged again.
"I don't want to talk anymore, give me my arm," Ed said, not looking at him. "I want to go home."
"I think, in summation, we've learned quite a bit here. You can't function without Al, so you're bound and determined to sabotague him in any way possible to keep him from leaving. You think you are to good to work for someone because they can't possibly have rules that are reasonable. You use people but leave yourself open to being used in return and oh yes, you can't trust anyone. Do you think that's a fair summary?"
"Shut UP you CONDESCENDING FUCK HEAD," Ed screamed. "I LOVE my brother! I would never do anything to hurt him! I love him I LOVE HIM, I would never make him unhappy! I want him to be happy! I don't need him here to babysit me! I want him to have a good life and you can't tell me that I'm doing anything wrong to hurt him! I'M NOT I'M NOT! I can take care of myself and I don't need him or you or anyone! I saved him! ME! I did it! I made him so he can go and have his life and I gave up everything and I gave him everything and he will be happy and I'm not doing anything to him that makes him be unhappy..." Ed stopped to pant for breath. "Except I AM and I'm fucking useless and he doesn't need me anymore and you don't want me and I just...I just can't... if he leave me what am I then? I'm nothing, I'm not saving anyone, what's the point of me being here?" Ed fell over onto the floor. "What's the point of anything?"
"The final rule: Edward Elric is fundamentally unlovable. I think I might understand that one the most. I think I know why that is one of your rules. How can you be so brilliant and so stupid at the same time? What makes you think that once you saved Al he was done with you? What makes you think that once you resigned your commission I was done with you? Alphonse loves you, he made that very clear to me in my office when he came to ask for my help. He needs you, and why you don't see that, I don't know. And me, have I ever pushed you aside? Oh, I know, I won't sleep with you. I won't take advantage of you in this bitter and vulnerable state you've worked yourself into, how horrible of me. Never mind I see you as a close friend and confidant. Edward, what has happened to your faith? Did it all fade away when Al's body was restored? Did you not need it anymore after that point? You are surrounded by people who love you despite yourself, and yet, you'd rather live in your secluded and delusional little world where you can play 'oh pitiful me' to anyone who'll listen. Well the only one listening...is you."
And Edward Elric began to cry. Not loud wails and sobs, but just tears, rolling down his temples. He turned onto his side on Roy's floor and curled up and looked like he was wishing the world away. And Roy sat with him, because it was no time for him to be alone. And he watched Edward cry and once, or twice, he almost felt like crying himself.
Part Four: Undaunted