Seasonal

i. Spring

Fullmetal’s first military crush is Lieutenant Hawkeye, which comes as a surprise to no one, except perhaps Fullmetal himself. He is not obvious about it; that is not his way. But he smiles more for her than anyone else, except his brother, and makes an effort to be more polite in her presence.

Hawkeye is charmed enough by Fullmetal’s affections, but does nothing to outright encourage them. She tells Roy, one night, as she is preparing to leave, that she thinks it’s simply that Fullmetal is looking for a strong mother figure, and in the first flush of hormones and puberty, he has fallen in love. With a history like his, she says, it’s not surprising.

Her observations echo Roy’s own, and he watches Fullmetal thoughtfully. There are more difficult women to win than Riza Hawkeye, but at least Fullmetal is self-aware to realize the dividing line of personal feelings and professional behavior. He treats Hawkeye with the respect of her station, and never oversteps his bounds.

Still, the moment the first flowers fight their way to the sunlight after winter ends, a neatly-tied bundle of them appears on Hawkeye’s desk. There is no note, but Fullmetal has a conspicuously-timed absence, vanishing for an assignment two hours previous. She puts them in a handsome vase and keeps it on the corner of her desk.

By the time Fullmetal comes back, they’re already wilted and gone. Havoc mentions their presence, though, which pleases him for days. The office teases him about it, subtly, but Fullmetal is more subtle than he is often given credit for, and the nuances of their jokes are clear to him.

Roy finds him out on the parade grounds one afternoon, as afternoon begins to shade red, and the remainders of winter still sting the air to a lingering chill. Fullmetal has gathered some weeds, which have previously escaped the notice of the grounds-keeper, and is drawing an array in the dust with chalk.

In spite of himself, Roy stops to watch. Some distant part of him is surprised that Fullmetal still remembers how to draw an array properly, now that he no longer has need of one–but that’s only foolishness. For those born to the science, whose lives and blood are sworn to principles no man could ever hope to fully catalogue, the array is ingrained–as much of life as bone and breath.

He stands behind Fullmetal and knows his presence is noted, then ignored. Fullmetal sketches in the last line and sets his fingertips to the array, watching the reaction flare to life. A moment later, the weeds have been transmuted–three long-stemmed red roses are there, and now Fullmetal turns around to glare at him, eyebrows drawn and mouth set in a challenge.

“Ah,” Roy says. “You know, she prefers sunflowers.”

Fullmetal blinks at him, then hunches up, his young face set in a decisive scowl. “What makes you think you know who these are for?”

“Didn’t you realize, Fullmetal? I know everything.” Roy bends, so that he’s crouched beside the boy. Up close, the lines of the array are bold and strongly done; being out of practice does not weaken his hand. “Roses are fairly serious, don’t you think?”

“Shut up,” Fullmetal murmurs, and his gaze slides to one side, almost guilty. “I–”

“Sunflowers, Fullmetal,” Roy tells him, and takes the chalk from his hand. It takes only a few strokes to change the array accordingly: and his lines are not as powerful as Fullmetal’s, but in his defense, he thinks that it has been longer since he’s had need for a proper array.

Fullmetal rocks back on his heel and just watches as Roy works, says nothing to argue when Roy puts his one hands onto the array and the roses shift and expand and change. They are small sunflowers, and there are only two, but they shine like coins, like Fullmetal’s hair, after the energy of the reaction fades.

“She’ll appreciate these better,” he says. “It’s also better if you give them to her directly, instead of sneaking around the back.”

The boy blusters at him, and snatches up the flowers as though they are wilting on the ground. For a moment he clutches them to his chest like some kind of ward, then turns on his heel and marches off. Roy watches him go, and waits until he goes inside before chuckling.

It has been a long time since he was that young, he thinks, as he strolls after Fullmetal, back to the building. He can remember when he didn’t understand about flowers, and poured over the right words to make a pretty girl smile at him, and realizes it has been nearly as many years as Fullmetal has been alive.

On another day, at another moment, this might have given him pause, the weight of unfulfilled ambition heavy on his shoulders. But in an evening that smells of spring and growing greenery, he only shakes his head ruefully as he goes inside.

ii. Winter

That year Winry visits him again in time for his birthday. He smiles at her, and through impulse unexpected, offers her his arm. She takes it with wide eyes and a small blush, and he realizes: she is beautiful. Al finds a convinient excuse to bow out for the night, and they are the only two left in the little dorm room.

They go to dinner together, in a small resturant that Lt. Fury suggested to him months ago. There are no candles or dim lighting, but the booths are small and intimate, and for what feels like the first time in years, he can talk to her freely. Between them, the subject of the future remains taboo, so they speak instead of the past–the birthdays he spent in Rizenbul, Al’s one disasterous attempt to learn how to cook, and the memory of three kids joined together against the world.

During it all, Winry smiles and laughs and talks back, and she is completely unselfconscious now, glowing in the ambiance of the resturant. It makes Ed happy to see her this way, with her burdens temporarily shed. This is the girl he remembers–changed in places, modified in parts–but still herself.

Central is having an unusually cold winter; it is too far south for snow, but gray heavy clouds gather low in the skies, and rain freezes to slush on the cobbled streets. After dinner, they walk back to his dorm together, arm-in-arm, through these cold streets. Sometimes they speak, their breath misting briefly and gone, but for the most part, they go in silence.

Ed only has a vague understanding of how these things are supposed to end, and he’s willing to bet that most of what he knows is bad advice. Lt. Havoc takes a great delight in trying to “educate” him–usually when Lt. Hawkeye is busy elsewhere–but after the first two or three times, Ed has learned to tune him out.

Romantic advice is not quite so believable when it comes from a man with a steady strike-out average.

Still, he thinks that perhaps Winry expects something from this, the two of them walking closely together to share heat in the evening. A streetlight flickers to life above them as they pass, and they pause. Winry’s cheeks are flushed pink and her eyes glitter brightly as she looks up at him.

“Winry,” he says, and is surprised at how difficult the name is to pronounce. He’s known her all his life; it should not be hard to acknowledge her, not when she’s standing before him, and her body is a line of warmth against his. “I–”

She reaches up with a gloved hand and presses two fingers over his mouth. There is something almost sad in her eyes; he can see it, now, with her face so close to his. Ed tries to finish his sentence, and Winry shakes her head, hushing him. The sound is softer than the voice of the wind around them, cutting cold and sharp through his coat–and hers too, he’s certain; Rizenbul has cold winters, but they’re gentle with pristine, picturesque snow, not the gray and the sleet and the wind.

“Happy birthday, Ed,” she tells him. Her other hand comes up to curl loosely around his shoulder, and the blush on her cheeks darkens. She really is beautiful, he thinks–not in a fragile, fleeting way like his mother, but strong and quiet, in a way that he has not quite noticed before. “I have a present for you. I don’t know if you’ll like it, but–”

“Winry?”

“–actually, I’m pretty sure you won’t. But this is as much for me as it is you.” She seems to be steeling herself for something, and that strikes him as wrong, somehow–that Winry, who has so often bent but never broken, must prepare herself for this now.

“Winry?” he asks again, before realization clicks into place. Her gloved palm is carefully gentle against his cheek, and he knows what she means to do in the split second before she leans up and touches her mouth to his.

Someone told him once before–he thinks it may have been Al, though how Al would know this escapes him–that a “first kiss” is very important to girls. He’s not quite sure what protocol goes for boys, but it’s strange and warm against the cut of the wind. He thinks, idly, that he can smell traces of machine oil in Winry’s thick hair.

Her mouth is very soft, softer than he would have ever expected–he’s well-used to the strength of her arms and her body, knows very well the corded wiry tension of her arms and hands. Hesitantly, not knowing what to do, he puts his hands on her hips, holding her loosely. She is warm, but there’s too much gentleness in it, and while it stirs within him, it does not take hold and stay there.

More than anything, he thinks, he’d like to keep her–he’d like to stay with her, because she is comfortable and warm and loves him, because she is willing to be his if only he’ll be hers–but all he can do is hold her loosely, and consider this kiss.

A moment later, she pulls away, and he sees now her eyes are bright–she is not crying through sheer force of will. He licks his lips, and says her name again. His voice sounds peculiar to his own ears.

“I wanted to,” she tells him quietly, still holding his face. “Just once. You’ll forgive me, right, Ed?”

Ed draws in a deep breath, and mirrors her touch with his automail hand. Any other girl might have been insulted by this–but this is the arm she has given him, the only thing she can give him, in the end. “I’m sorry,” he says, softly. And he is–she is beautiful, and in all the world, she is the woman who is closest to understanding him.

“I know,” Winry says, and lets her hand fall away. She leans her face into his palm and closes her eyes for a moment. “It’s all right.”

There is a pause between them that stretches delicately out. Before it can tip into true awkwardness, Ed offers her his arm again, and smiles at her.

“At least let’s walk back like this,” he says.

Winry scrubs at her eyes with the sleeve of her jacket, then gives him a tired, hopeful smile.

“All right,” she says.

iii. Autumn

It is autumn when Alphonse’s body is restored to him, autumn when Fullmetal lays his hand upon a small red stone and faces the gateway to the truth for a third time. Roy has deep, bruises on his arms and legs from when he held Fullmetal back afterwards, dragging the younger man away from the heart of the reaction that exploded to life around the armored soul of Alphonse Elric.

Until the day he dies, he thinks he will remember that scene: the gigantic double array sparked to enormous, violent life, so that even Alphonse’s tall broad body is completely dwarfed and gone–the sound of electricity and power, reverberating like a giant bell, the echoes of it rolling through his heart and the pit of his stomach–and the way sheer presence crackled on his skin, so that his entire body felt like some overly sensitized wire, one more piece of a giant conductivity puzzle.

He will also remember when Fullmetal finally pulled free of his arms, and dashed after his brother, screaming Alphonse’s name. He will remember how the reaction flared to life again, and how Fullmetal turned and looked directly at him before the light pulled him into itself.

Roy is still not quite sure what that look means, only that it was honest, stripped clean of the usual attitude Fullmetal gives him, and for all that they have argued and been only marginal friends over the years–this look was for him alone, without doubt or reservation. It’s not something that’s made to be pondered or analyzed; it just is, and Roy sees it, sometimes, when he wakes from dreaming.

Fullmetal stripped of his characteristic automail is … not a man reduced, but a man changed. If he seems smaller at first glance, that is only until Roy helps load him onto a stretcher, and sees that this is a body heavy with muscle and experience; there is a solidness and permanence to his restored limbs that seems somehow contradictory. Automail can be replaced, flesh and blood–normally–cannot. Roy watches as Fullmetal is taken away, and sees an adult where a young boy used to be.

Weeks later, in the hospital, he is by Fullmetal’s bedside when the younger man’s eyes finally open. Alphonse is there as well, dozing in his uncomfortable chair, holding onto Fullmetal’s–Edward’s–right hand, like it’s some kind of lifeline. Roy is there to watch as those golden eyes go from hazy to focused, and Edward sits up far too fast in his bed and moans in lingering pain.

He watches as Alphonse wakes immediately to the sound of his brother’s voice, and he has to look away at their semi-reunion, when Edward puts his arms around Alphonse’s neck and bursts into the first set of true tears he’s shed since he was twelve, and a little girl became a chimera and died. Instead, to give them some measure of privacy, he goes to the window and looks outside.

After the storm passes, he hears Edward say his name–his title, actually, but between them, it has become a name of sorts. He turns, and sees that Edward is now actively clinging to Alphonse’s hand, rather than limply accepting the hold, as he had for weeks. Professionally, Roy knows there is still distance to maintain, that the young man in the bed is still a State Alchemist and therefore his subordinate–but he cannot help but smile, and for once, he does not give it any sort of sardonic edge or twist.

“Congratulations, Edward Elric,” he says. “And you too, Alphonse.”

Edward’s eyes go wide at that, like he’s hearing the things that Roy does not say. He smiles back, with the same fierceness that has always characterized all of his emotions. When their eyes meet, there was still an honesty in Edward’s eyes, a slate washed clean. Alphonse is smiling as well, and it’s good to see what the young man should look like, an open human face and gentle eyes.

“Thanks,” Edward says, and that word is more than enough.

iv. Summer

Despite himself, he’s surprised when he opens his door one night and finds Edward on his doorstep. It has been nearly a year since the Elrics packed up and left Central, returning to the quiet, sleepy little village of their birth.

“You should have called,” he says, as he steps aside and lets the younger man inside. “I could have met you at the station.”

“Eh,” says Edward. “I wanted to surprise you.” He grins sheepishly, sharply, like he’s unsure of his welcome. “Surprise.”

Roy chuckles, then makes a gesture. “Make yourself at home,” he says. “I’ve already eaten, but if you’re hungry–?”

“Nah. Ate on the train.” Edward prowls into the house, looking around with unveiled interest at everything. Roy closes the door and thinks, ah, that’s right, Edward has never been in his house before. “Nice place you’ve got here, Colonel.”

“That’s General, to you,” he says, mildly. “The promotion came in about two weeks ago.” And you would have known, he doesn’t add, if you’d bothered to write and ask.

Edward glances at him, eyes wide and surprised. A moment later, he grins, but there’s unease behind that smile, a prickly sort of wariness that only time can eventually ease. “Still grubbing up that promotional ladder, aren’t you? Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” he says, and watches as Ed moves around his living room with the nervous grace of a worried cat. The only thing that really gives him pause is a single framed photograph, there on the mantlepiece–himself and Hughes, shortly after their graduation. Edward picks it up carefully.

“How are they doing?” he asks at last. “Mrs. Gracia and Alicia, I mean.”

Roy sighs, and comes to sit on his couch. “They’ve gone back to the country,” he says. “To stay with Gracia’s mother for a while. She hasn’t mentioned selling the house to me, though, so I’m sure they’ll be back. They’ll be sorry they missed you.”

“Yeah. About that.” Edward turns, and doesn’t quite look Roy in the face. “Hey, I was wondering–you know–”

He leans back into his couch and waits. He can guess what Edward is about to ask, but this is not something he will force. As before, he will wait and see if Edward will voluntarily; there is no satisfaction in obtaining someone against their will, even if it’s secondhand, through suggestion.

“… I want to come back,” Edward says, at last. He scrubs at his hair with the heel of his left hand and turns his face away from Roy. “I like being at home, with Al and Winry and Auntie Pinako, but–” He shrugs once. “I’m so fucking bored. Winry kicked me out and threatened to cave my skull in if I tried to transmute her tools one more time.”

“Ah,” says Roy. “And I was thinking that you’d missed me.”

Edward glances at him sharply, then grins at him. The expression is tight, controlled, like the shrug of his shoulders. “Yeah, maybe there was a little of that, too.” He says it so very casually, like it’s no big deal, but Roy has known and watched him for years; he can see the suggestions of tension in Edward’s shoulders, stiff against the summer humidity.

Roy smiles. “You’ll have to retake the test, you know,” he says. “Since you missed this year’s evaluation.”

“That’s fine,” Edward says, immediately brightening. Now he looks at Roy, his expression bright. “That’s just great.” He bounces a little on his heels, and then claps his hands together; sparks jump between his palms, but dissipate when he simply lets his arms drop back to his side.

In spite of himself, Roy smiles. When he holds out his hand, Edward comes to him willingly and quickly, shedding his customary red coat in the process.

He left the windows open in the hopes of catching some passing breezes, but Edward’s body is hotter than the night, and when he moves his hands, Roy’s skin feels oddly cold. They shift until Roy is lying back against the couch with Edward pulled over him like some awkward gangly blanket.

The rest is easy–it is not fast, like Roy halfway expected it to be; it seems time has taught Edward some measure of patience and restraint, and those coupled with his inexperience makes it slow, languid, an open mouth on his throat and hot damp hands on his skin. A couch is perhaps not the best place for this, but Roy noses the soft weight of Edward’s braid, kisses the soft spot below his ear, and watches as Edward’s face changes–and he thinks that, perhaps, this is the best place.

Later, after, they lie together in a sticky tangle, and Roy lifts his head a little, feeling one of those illusive evening breezes slide lightly across his cheek. Edward’s cheek is pillowed on his chest, and his breathing is slow and comfortable, one more backup instrument to the orchestra of crickets outside.

Pleased, Roy smoothes a hand down Edward’s back, and closes his eyes to sleep.

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