Contrary to popular belief, heroes do not always age gracefully.
Time is sometimes colder to them than the ordinary layman, and there is always a point where even the glamour of fame wears thin. Edward doesn’t walk quite as fast as he used to; he no longer vibrates with suppressed energy when standing still. In cold weather, he often rubs at his right elbow, as though he cannot help but imagine an ache there.
His mind is just as sharp as ever, though. And if he speaks more slowly, that’s indication of how much he’s grown. It will still be years yet before Alphonse can convince him to come back and stay.
Roy uses his automail hand to hold the walking stick, which is long and black, with a lion’s head of silver. It’s mostly for show, but he knows soon it will be necessary: the mornings have put aches in his joints that were not there the previous year. These are old memories of finished wars, and they are as much a part of him as the limbs which remain.
Central City has not changed much over the years; she is vast and set in her ways, down to the core of life that flows through her veins. Leaderships have changed, regimes toppled and governments rebuilt, but life continues as always. Time flows, and all men are carried forward with it.
And Central, beautiful and hovering somewhere between innocent and corrupt, takes them in and forgets them; her scars heal and she is whole again, as though no blood stained her streets, and no horrors wandered freely. Once the dust cleared and the earth settled, Central picked herself up and carried on without second thought.
Roy’s memory is longer. He remembers. Every time he passes the automail hand over anything, he remembers.
When the rain comes, late in the winter, washing away the remnants of snow, Roy dresses in full regalia, slicks back his silvering hair, and walks slowly down to the cemetery. Edward sometimes meets him there, or comes across him halfway, and they go together, memories that have not yet faded as time grinds them down.
It’s strange, to see the new young faces that are appearing in the military every day. The Ishbar War, the War of the Stone–these have both become grandfather-tales, legends in their own time, and there is not a single student who doesn’t look at either of them without hero worship. Roy tries to discourage it as much as he can. Sometimes it works, but it’s harder now, so much more than when Fullmetal was that age, and younger.
A new generation turns shining eyes to Roy Mustang, and all they see is the glitter and trappings of a war hero. Except for Edward, who has carved his own path, his own way, everyone underneath and below Roy has been obscured.
War alone does not always send a man to sleep, Roy thinks, as they walk. Time lays him equally low, and is, perhaps, the more insidious presence. You do not think of time until the long, silent moments when you are the only thing moving.
Or not moving, as the case may be. They stand together on a street corner and watch a few cars drive slowly past.
“Are you going to Alicia’s graduation?” Edward asks, without looking at him. Mist gathers in his golden hair, and his bangs hang low in his face. “Ms. Gracia wants to know.”
Roy looks at his hand, and the cane he holds there, and then at Edward again. “I don’t know,” he says. “I have a lot of work.”
“You always have a lot of work, sir,” Edward snorts, but there is no sting in his voice. It is too early in the morning for arguing, and Edward is not old, but he is no longer young. Roy climbed to the top to realize his own goals, but Edward, as always, has done as he pleased.
Farmer, colonel or head of the country, it matters little. The Fullmetal Alchemist respects those whom have proved his faith well-placed. And nothing, Roy thinks, will teach you the ways of a single man more than fighting with him.
“Perhaps,” he says at last. “It really does depend.”
Edward looks at him sharply for a moment, and then shrugs. “Fair enough,” he allows.
They walk forward when the light changes, down to the graveyard. A grand statue of King Bradley has been erected, the man noble and stern, one of his swords drawn and lifted in salute to anyone who walks past. At the base is a plaque with a list of names, those who have gone through the gateway and not returned. Roy helped oversee the project himself.
Some crimes cannot be redeemed. However, some sins are more easily forgiven than others.
Down the path, to the right and then straight: and there is where Maes Hughes sleeps, so many years abed. Roy’s footsteps slow as he approaches that place, but Edward walks faster, until it is almost the pace of a young man. His chin is lifted, like he’s defying ghosts to rise up and stop him as he walks.
Maes Hughes’ grave is neatly-kept as always; there are fresh flowers sitting upon its grass-covered mound. Roses, lilies, and a small framed photograph of Alicia and Gracia, identical smiles and bright eyes. In Alicia’s eyes are all the years that her father has never seen.
Gracia, Roy thinks, and feels a fleeting pang of sadness; of them all, she and Alicia have lost the most. Gracia smiles more these days, especially when her daughter is involved, but her sadness is lingering, underlying–she knows very well what was taken from her.
Edward stops in front of the grave, jams his hands deeply into his pockets. Just for a moment, Roy slows further, to give him a few split-seconds of privacy before he is there, and stands before the grave as well. A breeze makes the flowers nod towards them, as though in greeting.
Time has turned the dials down on Edward’s master volume control, but even with that, his voice is hushed in the graveyard. “Whadaya think he’d say, seeing us here?”
Edward asks this question every year. Roy shifts his weight against his stick, considers it thoughtfully, as he always does. This is important every time. “He would say that it’s about time,” he says. “Neither of us come often enough, I think.”
That is the way of things, and of life, he wants to add, but refrains. Edward already knows this; there is no point in beating a dead horse, a dead idea. Time gets away from every man, the trickiest lover to court. Neither of them can afford to be idle men, if ever they were before.
Shoulder to shoulder, they stand and say nothing, and the wind blows quietly through the heavy stones all around them. Hughes had always understood the value of silence, Roy thinks, though one would never guess, only knowing him for a short while.
“I keep thinking I should bring, I don’t know, flowers or something,” Edward says quietly, as though to the wind. “But it seems stupid until I get here. Flowers aren’t for the dead, they’re for the living.”
“And the living keep the dead alive in their memories, and so don’t truly die.” Roy smiles quietly, pulls off his hat with his automail fingers. “It’s the storytellers and historians that hold the true power in this society, Edward.”
Edward hums quietly in agreement; his golden eyes are narrow and thoughtful. “Alchemy has studied for thousands of years, and new life is still the one secret it can’t unravel,” he said. “Mothers, storytellers, the people who remember–they’re the ones who do everything we can’t.”
“There are some things,” Roy says, and does not look at Edward’s arm or leg as he does, “that mankind was never meant to understand on a scientific level.”
“That doesn’t stop us from trying,” Edward replies, and he does look at Roy’s hand when he says this. “Maybe we’re stupid that way.”
Roy moves his hand, places the flesh hand over the automail one. “Maybe we are.”