Ice upon the Water
Winter waltzed in on the tips of frostbitten dandelion fluff. Stumbled and tripped, maybe, like too many shoppers on the black ice outside the market. Slush piled up on the corners of the streets, gray and cold. Roy stayed inside, reading books about important things that really werenít all that important and drank his hot chocolate with a generous splash of rum. Edís nose turned red and peeled.
Days were slow; the management didnít seem to realize that not turning the heat up far enough didnít actually cause the men to shiver themselves into action, but more like put them in a half-dazed state of hibernation. Roy had planned for this in advance, sent in his request for leave as soon as he noticed the trees outside his bedroom window edged with tendrils of frost in the mornings.
Ed showed up at Royís house sometimes, mostly to yell. Roy didnít much mind.
There were moments that seemed to drip into infinity, like when Roy decided to find out once and for all if it was really true that your tongue would stick to the lamppost outside in the winter (it did), and Ed laughed and said, I told you so, as if he hadnít done the exact same thing when he was thirteen years old, only on his own automail.
Youíre a fucking moron, and sometimes, yes, that was true. Roy remembered the house he grew up in, with its elegant friezes and sprawling lawns. Heíd gone sledding maybe once, but it just wasnít the sort of thing you did there. He pondered, with a kind of scientific detachment, on what the texture of snow really felt like up close and personal.
Not so detached, perhaps, when Ed grinned and shoveled a handful down the back of Roy's coat.
There must have been an instant, a little skip in the time stream, when Roy forgot to care about his personal boundaries, you know, that three foot circle that everyone had around them that other people werenít supposed to go into. Ed pushed him down a hill and Roy grabbed onto Edís coat, pulling them both down until they rolled to a stop at the bottom. The fuck, you asshole, Ed said, grinning, and Roy magnanimously decided not to point out exactly which of them it was who had started the whole thing.
Ed stood in front of Roy with one of Royís too-big-on-him sweaters hanging off one shoulder, his hair still damp from the shower, and Royís mind suddenly latched on, there, to one of those extra special epiphanies that unfolded along the lines of well, flip me over and fuck me sideways. He narrowed his eyes and reached up, a tug on the edge of cloth in a pre-Raphaelite painting.
Damn, Ed muttered, you make me nervous.
Well, Roy said, what are you going to do about it?
Roy would watch, sometimes, out of the corner of his eye, when Ed shrugged off his coat and left it in a damp puddle on the floor (tile, so it didnít really matter, but still), took off his outer sweater and left it sprawled across the top of the couch, hopped awkwardly out of his over-pants and draped them across the coffee table, flung his hat on top of the radio, his mittens on the space heater, and his scarf on the antique lamp that was a present from Royís grandmother.
Roy looked at his own hands in these moments, absently rubbed the calluses on the tips of the fingers together. He pretended not to notice when Ed excused himself to go to the bathroom and jerk off, with fingers still chilly from the cold. It was just one of those things.
Of course he saw Ed watching him back; he hadnít survived a war by not knowing how to feel somebody elseís eyes on the back of his neck. Ed looked like he wanted to say something utterly ridiculous, so Roy told him to go sit by the fire before his fingers froze off.
In the half-light, Edís hair ran over his shoulder and down his back like strands of warm apple cider.
At night, the city was lit up with the dull yellow eyes of the gas lamps, and the cold twined around their ankles like a whispering cat. Sometimes Ed would stand under them and grin, sickly light spilling down the contours of his face. He looked a little bit crazy. Letís go to the park, he said.
Roy tapped his nose and thought about paperwork and machine oil. How about you go home and get some sleep, for once, he said, by way of derailment.
Fuck off, Iím going to the park. They clambered over the wrought-iron fence that encircled the bony trees. Moonlight bounced off the snow and got caught in the branches, empty and delicate. There was an old bench on the pathway; inscribed was In Memory of Andromeda and Horatio Thackarley; They Are Lost but Will Never Be Forgotten. Roy picked up a piece of newspaper and put it in the trash bin.
Ed clomped around in a circle and grunted. This sucks out loud.
It was a fairly idiotic idea, Roy agreed. What exactly were you hoping to find here?
Nothing, Ed said sullenly. Roy watched him flop on the ground with a sharp whuff and start moving his arms and legs back and forth to make a snow angel. He wanted to go back inside, with his fireplace and his kitchen with its hot cocoa.
Nothing, like the blinding whiteness of the Drachman mountains and the emptiness of the cabin. There hadnít been anything to say, back then, but sometimes he had tried speaking into the abyss anyway. Imagine how surprised he was when it spoke back.
You can stay at my place tonight, Roy said, extending a hand. Itís closer than yours, anyway.
Ed was small and rangy, and he bit, like an overeager puppy. He slid through Royís hands and ended up winding himself around Royís body, arms and legs everywhere, cold where automail met skin. He tasted like salt and smoke and snow, that bitter acidic ozone.
Roy wanted to ask, important things like where were you, how did you get here, and how did you find me, but the words settled down somewhere in his belly, not forgotten, but put to the side when winterís soft hands tapped themselves against his windows. He winced as sharp teeth caught his nipple, and laughter bubbled up from above. And it was okay, just like this, really it was.