Roy dreams about Hughes’ ghost, sometimes, and it is not as painful as it could be. Hughes stands at the edge of his bed in military blues, everything monochrome in the darkness, moonlight glinting off of his glasses and teeth when he smiles. He looks heartbreakingly solid, except at the edges were he flickers in and out of focus like a faulty reel in a late-night picture show. Roy’s sheets pool at his waist when he sits up, bleary, confused, but Hughes waves him still and smiles again. His mouth moves, words forming like static on a two-way radio; all Roy can make out is his own name, I’m happy for, and Take care of them.
When Roy wakes up there are tear tracks down his face, flurries on the streets, and two warm bodies next to him in bed. The salt disappears under their tongues but the warmth remains.
This is how it could be, in the mornings, but most of the time he is too scared of what it means to stay.
Hello? Hello General Mustang?
Ah! I’m terribly sorry, but we won’t be able to make it in today. Brother’s sick, and I –
It starts snowing around noon. There is a certain calmness to it, snow drifting slowly down, back and forth, melting on contact with the ground. People move the same way on the streets, sluggish in the cold—all except the children in their bright downy coats, bobbles on their hats flying up and down in their excitement. They turn their bright faces toward the sky. Roy taps his pen thoughtfully on the edge of his desk.
There has been some kind of bug going around the office recently; Breda’s been out all week, Havoc sneezed into the coffee, and even Hawkeye has been trying not to sniffle too loudly over her paperwork. They move around from desk to desk to coffeepot, the rustle of documents and shifting of cloth. The pile of papers on Roy’s desk that he needs to go over grows steadily smaller over the course of the morning, until he reaches the one report he needs Al’s work on to complete. The room exhales quietly, pens scratch over forms, and he leans back in his chair to watch the snow falling outside his window.
He tells Hawkeye he is going home early and doesn’t question his choice of words until he is already out the door.
He follows the power lines on his way there. They loop up and down in his peripheral vision, skinny black against a grey sky. The snow is sticking now, at least a little bit, painting a white edging on grass that still hasn’t lost all of its green. People nod at him as they pass, absently polite, preoccupied with keeping an eye on their children. They brush past him, barely perceptible, somewhere to go, somewhere to be. Gentle ripples against his consciousness. The trees creak in the wind and his nose begins to turn red.
The Elrics live in an apartment complex not too far from military headquarters, a nice neighborhood, nothing too fancy. In the summer months there are cats all over because Al can’t help leaving out bowls of food even when his brother tells him not to. The stair railings are wrought iron, curling quietly under his gloved hands as the stairs themselves creak alarmingly. The nameplate over the door reads only this: Edward and Alphonse Elric, faded letters on yellow paper mounted in rusty steel. He stands in front of it, fiddling with the key ring in his coat pocket, thinks about his own house with its sprawling lawns, painted windows, and too many empty rooms. The safety of cold sheets.
Ed gave him a key, but he almost wants to knock anyway.
Al runs into him as soon as he steps inside. He looks harried—tousled hair, swollen lips, most decidedly not looking where he’s going, and Roy’s arms immediately shoot out to catch him as he stumbles. The air inside is warm, roasting really, heavy with humidity. From where he stands, Roy can see shoes lined up neatly in the foyer, papers and books tossed haphazardly over the living room, worn furniture and a cup of something steaming lightly on the coffee table. An obese cat glares at him distrustfully from an overstuffed armchair.
Ed appears around the corner just as Al manages to disentangle himself, flush high in his face and eyes fever-bright. “’m not fuckin’ sick,” he mumbles, catching sight of Roy. “You tell ’im.”
“Brother—” Al begins, but Ed slips between them, fisting his hands into Roy’s overcoat and burrowing. He feels impossibly small, head tucked under Roy’s chin, hair loose and curling from the moisture in the air, standing there in his oversize pajamas. Roy’s hands go to the small of his back automatically, under his shirt, and the heat is palpable even through his gloves.
“You smell like snow,” Ed tells Roy after a moment while Roy tries to think of something to say. All of his vague intentions to ask after Al’s report have slipped away like water, melted and dripped down into puddles at his feet. “It’s nice,” Ed adds. Ed's hands move slowly and Roy realizes he’s trying to undo the buttons down the front of the coat.
Roy captures his wrists and he makes a disappointed sound. “He always gets like this,” Al murmurs, tugging gently at Ed’s shoulders. “Come back to bed, Brother, you’re sick.”
Always? Roy thinks, distracted by the way Ed is leaning into him and nuzzling his collar. He lets go of Ed’s hands and they wind themselves around his shoulders. Al shrugs.
“I don’t like being sick,” Ed whispers thickly. Roy takes a deep breath, smells something spicy and crisp rising from the heat of Ed’s skin. Tiger balm. It clears his lungs and his head, menthol and camphor, cloves and cinnamon with just a hint of illness. There’s a thin sheen of sweat across Ed’s face and he starts shivering. The breath comes out on a sigh and Roy feels something let go, something like coming home but not quite, a haphazard family where he is still feeling out his footing.
He catches Al’s eyes, which are grey and patient and understand far too much, and says to Ed, “Let’s get you to bed.”
What happens later is Ed pulls them down on the bed with him, one on each side before Roy can do anything more than shrug his jacket off, scorching skin against soft cotton. Roy on one side, Al on the other, and their arms brush together behind him where they support his weight. Al uses his free hand to feel Ed’s temperature and tsks softly.
“Al,” Ed says, “Al.” He shifts restlessly and reaches for his brother, fingers tangling in Al’s shirt. Al shushes him and starts stroking down his side, like soothing a nervous animal. After a moment’s hesitation, Roy lets his hand join Al’s, resting tentatively on Ed’s chest next to the automail port. It rises and falls under his palm, shaky with rattling breaths, still alarmingly warm. Al looks up at Roy from under his bangs and laces their fingers together.
“He’s even worse when I’m the one who’s sick,” he says, nudging Ed’s head over so it rests on Roy’s shoulder.
Ed’s eyes snap open. “I am not.”
“Are too,” Al returns amiably, and Ed scowls. “What’s even worse is you have no idea what you’re doing, so you just fuss uselessly. Mom had to teach you that the cough medicine is not actually applied topically to the chest.”
Roy gets the sudden image of a five-year-old Ed trying to pour a whole bottle of cough syrup over his brother and has to hide his snicker in Ed’s hair. “Shut up,” Ed says, and it isn’t clear whether he’s saying it to Al or Roy or both. The smell of tiger balm is all around them and the humidifier whirrs in the corner. Al moves their joined hands down to the bare skin of Ed’s belly.
“Al,” Ed tries again. More urgent, this time, eyes wide and fixed on his brother. It’s like the morning Roy pulled him out of his basement, pale and small, holding on to consciousness by sheer willpower, eyes focused only on the smoking transmutation circle that held his brother’s new body. He’d finally passed out when Roy brought his brother to him, unable to even find the strength to grasp Al’s hand. “If I’m sick, who is going to—”
Roy exhales sharply and presses his hand against Ed’s stomach, feels the muscles jump under the skin. “I will,” he says, surprised at the volume of his own voice in this tiny room. Ed lets out a startled cough. “I can look after him.”
Al doesn’t say anything to that, just leans over and kisses his brother’s temple, his jaw, moves their hands under the waistband of Ed’s pajamas and leaves Roy’s there. Ed groans and shifts his hips up, turns his face into Roy’s neck and shuts his eyes again. His forehead is sweaty and his hair sticks to him in clumps, the ripe smell of illness under the balm. It’s hot in this room, too hot, heavy air, but it doesn’t bother Roy, because he’s got Ed against him. Ed who is holding on to Al with all his might and making desperate, rasping noises as Roy slowly fists his cock. Ed, who is sick and stubborn and just. Just.
“I want to thank you for doing that,” Al says afterwards, after they’ve slipped out of the bed and tucked the blankets around Ed’s unconscious form. He shepherds Roy towards the couch in the living room and motions that he should take a seat. “Brother can be a little impossible when he’s sick. Would you like me to put some tea on while we go over my report?”
“Alphonse,” Roy manages, and it comes out a bit more strangled than he meant it to.
“Yes, sir?” Al smiles.
“You cannot be serious.”
Al smiles wider. “Perhaps,” he says, but allows himself to be pulled down onto Roy’s lap anyway. He’s tall, too many bony angles, awkward folded up like this with Roy’s arms around him and Roy’s nose under his ear. He sighs and goes limp, tucking his legs up and licking Roy’s mouth.
“How long have you been up?” Roy asks.
“Two in the morning,” Al admits.
Roy snorts. The both of them. He shifts around, pushes Al back against the couch and fumbles his pants open. Al presses up against him, digs his fingers into Roy’s back and makes a low noise deep in his throat. Roy thinks about the soft clink of silver on porcelain in the mornings, the smell of tea brewing as snow falls outside. Reads his quiet epiphanies into the soft insides of Al’s elbows, the heat of Ed’s forehead in his neck.
So will you be staying the night?
Don’t be a prick, sir. To help me take care of him?
I – yes. Yes, I suppose I can do that.