Pairing:: eventual Roy/Ed
Prompt: From my au_bingo card for the prompt "Fantasy & Supernatural: gods and goddesses."
Summary: At the age of forty, Roy Mustang is everything he'd never hoped to be, falling into what his best friend refers to as 'old man syndrome'. After having settled comfortably into his monotonous life, Roy finds himself dragged into a struggle between beings he'd never acknowledged outside of fiction, his life suddenly resembling an ancient Xerxesian epic centering around an unconventional half-god with the fate of all humankind in his hands—not to mention a chip on his shoulder the size of Amestris.
Author's Notes: This is extremely AU and borrows from both the manga and the 2003 anime, as well as ancient Greek mythology. Beta'd by me, myself, and I, though I'm currently in search of a few betas for the remaining chapters.
March rolled in with three straight days of rain, a nonstop downpour that sent Roy to the nearest department store for an umbrella, any umbrella, so long as he could walk five feet without worrying about getting so soaked that water pooled at his feet during his lecture. Listening to the students snickering at him once had been enough.
The university was three red lights from his apartment, made up of a series of intimidating, towering buildings surrounded by twenty-three parking lots of varying sizes—and he'd counted them all, too, refusing to believe the ridiculous number until he'd seen every one of them for himself. Roy sat in the parking lot, numbered eighteen, closest to the Natural Sciences building, and watched droplets spill down his windshield, colliding and mixing until it was all just one wall of water, just one more reason not to move, not to bother.
Outside, students were running for the building, books held over their heads, a few of the better-prepared individuals pulling their umbrellas against the wind and through the downpour. Roy watched them with an empty kind of amusement until a shrill beeping, accompanied by sudden vibrations against his thigh, jerked him back to awareness. His cell phone, he realized numbly. Fumbling with the buckle of the seatbelt, he managed to get a hand in his pocket and get the phone to his ear, muttering a quick Mustang into the mouthpiece.
"The hell are you still doing in your car?"
Roy shifted in his seat agitatedly. "Maes."
"I've been standing in front of your building for ten minutes watching you sit there! It's kind of creepy, Roy."
"So you've said." Roy squinted out the window, caught sight of a rain-blurred smudge waving arms like windmill in front of the building. He rolled his eyes.
"And yet here you are."
"You," Roy said, pressed the heel of his palm against his eye, other hand gripping the phone tighter still, "are completely infuriating."
"So you've said," Maes quipped back, and Roy chewed the inside of his cheek to not rip his best friend a new one from thirty feet away.
"What do you want, Maes?"
"Class starts in five. You planning on coming, Professor, or should I tell your nerds to head home for the day?"
Roy cradled the phone to his ear with his shoulder, shuffling to grab his briefcase and his jacket, fucking hate the rain, why I even bother—"I'm on my way," he said. "Leave my students alone. They have an exam today."
"I didn't know that was on your schedule!"
"Neither do they."
"You are so wrong for that," Maes laughed.
"What can I say? I just hate to break tradition."
He lost three of the five minutes until class began trying to get Maes off the phone, the man jabbering excitedly about something inane. His daughter, mostly likely, but Roy barely bothered to listen when it came to the subjects of family and photography. Slipping the thin phone in his pocket, Roy held his briefcase, jacket thrown over his shoulder and the umbrella left unattended on the backseat as he stepped into the downpour.
It was raining, and he was going to get soaked regardless. Why try to avoid the inevitable?
The halls were empty of students, classes having been in session for two minutes already. Roy took his time, listening to the squeak of rain soaked shoes on linoleum and his own irritable grumbling all the way up three flights of stairs, down the hallway, and into the second lecture hall. He walked inside with the air of a dignified man amidst the snickering of the one hundred-some students littered liberally throughout the towering rows, set his case on his desk and turned to announce, "Clear your desks. I believe you had an assigned reading due today?"
A chorus of groans sounded at the introduction of a pile of scantrons. Roy just loved his introduction to biology 101 class.
"You're pretty brutal." Maes spooned another mouthful of what might have been some leftover casserole, baked with all Gracia's love and tolerance, and snorted. "When we were undergrads—"
"The times were different," Roy cut in blandly. "There's nothing to compare."
"You've become a bitter old man," Maes accused. Roy just shrugged it off and continued picking at the fast food lunch he'd bought on his last break. He didn't feel a thing about any of it, about the looks on his students faces, about Maes and his eternal and youthful optimism, about the goddamned rain every damn morning and waking up to water pouring down his window and choking the sun into shadows. Maes watched him, spoon still in his mouth and handle sticking straight out, parallel with the end of his nose. His eyes went crossed when he finally grabbed the thing and pulled it out, pointing the rounded end at Roy. "You know what you need? You, my good man, need a wife—"
"You can just stop right there," Roy said, tone mild and threatening all at once. "I'm not letting you set me up with Gracia's divorcée friends again."
"You used to date all the time!"
"When I was twenty five and intoxicated most of the time," Roy added. "I'm forty and I'm perfectly fine with dying alone."
"Grumpy old man."
He might be a grumpy old man, but at least he didn't have to go home to a woman he was miserable with like the majority of his coworkers, didn't have to wake up every morning to hair in his mouth and cold feet on his legs, angry as hell because his life disappeared under the weight of a gold band.
"Not everyone gets to marry the perfect woman," Roy said dryly, and Maes just sighed and cupped his chin like a swooning schoolgirl and said, "Nope, just me."
Roy couldn't even pretend to be surprised, just shook his head and graded his papers, red pen shooting across the sheets with a practiced ease, some little part of him thinking is this all my life is? before he managed to squash it down.
Yes, he said to himself. This is it—not the excitement he'd imagined in his younger years, and certainly not the lucrative lifestyle he'd hoped for.
At the rate he was going, he'd probably just be better off dying early.
By the time Roy's day ended, the rain still hadn't let up. Worn out and irritated from a long day of nothing but listening to students complain, he walked out the front door of the building, somehow managing to step past where the overhanging ledge ended and the downpour began, water splashing up from the ground back onto the legs of his pants which had only managed to dry within the last hour.
Mondays, Mondays were always a disaster, no matter how prepared Roy believed himself to be. He hop-skipped across the parking lot over potholes filled with muddied water to his car, mind running over the list of things he had to do before he could close his eyes on the day, gas, food, dishes—
List aside, he was exhausted. Roy wanted to go home and throw himself on his bed and sleep for a week, or maybe two, and then wake up and drink a pot of coffee before sitting in his kitchen and doing absolutely nothing. Nice as that sounded, it didn't change the fact that he was soaking wet in the front seat of his car, sitting at another red light and counting down the seconds until he could move again. Sometimes, Roy couldn't help but think he spent half his waking time sitting in front of goddamn red lights.
It was the kind of day that begged for a change, for a break in routine, and Roy didn't even realize he was asking for it until it happened. When the light changed to green, he was alone at the intersection, the flooded streets empty of even pedestrians. He stomped on the gas and sped right through the light just in time see a flash of red blurred gold step through the curtain of rain and right in front of him. A crash, bang, and before he even knew what was happening, his foot was on the brakes and his heart was stopped dead in his chest.
Car off, keys in hand, he threw open the door and went back out into the wet, to the front of his car where the smudge of gold and red took the form of a boy laying in front of his bumper and staring up accusingly at Roy's soggy form as though to say don't you even look where you're driving, asshole?
Roy crouched down next to him, amazed that there wasn't a crowd gathering. He was all at once thankful for the shitty weather. "Are you all right?"
The boy sat up. "Oh, I'm fine," he hissed, and Roy's mind conjured the image of an angry, wet cat. "It's not like you hit me with your fucking car, or anything!"
Actually—actually, Roy had hit the boy with his car, and yet the boy was sitting up, pushing himself to his feet and wiping the street mud from his face like it was nothing at all, as though he'd tripped off the curb and Roy had just stopped by him with a mild concern. "I—I did hit you," he said, stupefied. How in the hell is he standing? He can't sue me if he's standing!
"Yeah, so?" The boy was on his feet, so Roy stood as well. His head was just at Roy's shoulder, the gold crown of it lining up perfectly with the base of Roy's neck.
"How old are you?" Roy could feel a wrinkle forming on his forehead, felt his eyebrows dipping together. What was a kid doing out on his own? The boy's face darkened and Roy could practically see his temples throbbing as he spit out a quick, "I'm an adult, you shit head!"
Classy. "You're certain you're all right?" Roy asked, ignored the boy's spluttering curses and his own desire to ask where his parents were. "I hit you with my car," he said again, as though it hadn't been clear from the impact, from the moment the boy looked up at him from the soggy asphalt.
"I'm fuckin' fine." The boy was glowering at him, and Roy had the strangest abstract thought, I've never even seen a person with gold eyes before. Staring at the boy's eyes was like reading about someone in a myth, an ancient being come down to Earth, and the moment the thought flickered through his head, Roy slammed on the breaks, berated himself for thinking something so entirely inane.
"Let me drive you home, at least," Roy pressed on, because if the boy was going to start feeling the effects of a concussion, it wouldn't take long to set in.
"Home?" The boy looked at the ground, down to the side, anywhere but at Roy. "Don't got one," he said, "not really. I just go wherever."
So he was homeless, likely kicked out of his parents' house because he couldn't be that old, eighteen, maybe. Nineteen might be pushing it. Roy dealt with young adults every day, knew their pride and their behaviors as if they were his own, and this young man, this boy, would be no different. Roy was tempted to let him go, to get back in his car and pretend he hadn't just fucked up his entire day, but instead he heard himself say, "Come with me, then. I can't let you wander around here, not after I nearly killed you. It's only right," like he was listening to a stranger speak, unable for the life of him to guess where those words had come from or why they were tripping out of his mouth so easily.
The boy looked shocked, the gold of his eyes wide around his pupils like a coin. "Uh," he said, shoulders squared to refuse the offer, but Roy cut him off, unable to let him refuse.
"If I let you wander off and you drop dead somewhere, I'd be held legally responsible. I'd prefer that not happen," he explained, and the boy scrunched his nose and squinted at Roy and finally just slumped, his whole body dropping dejectedly as he muttered, "Yeah, fine, s'too fuckin' wet out here, anyhow."
He watched the boy walk around the car, each step steady and certain, and Roy wondered whether or not he'd hit him after all. It wasn't human, that was for certain. People didn't get up and walk away after being hit by a car—they just didn't. Roy closed the door, waiting for the boy to put his seatbelt on. "I'm Roy," he said, trying not to sound awkward and suddenly feeling strange about the whole idea, inviting a stranger, a self-professed homeless young man barely on the cusp of adulthood, into his home, his life.
"Ed," the boy said back, then, "thanks," in a tone that suggested the word didn't come lightly.
"How old are you?" Roy had to ask, because if Ed really was just a boy, just a minor—
"At least eighteen," Ed said, sounding rather snide about it. "You don't have to worry," and Roy wasn't sure what he meant by that, the tense reassurance serving only to make him worry more.
Maes, Roy thought as he turned the key in the ignition and pulled back into the street proper, was going to have a field day with this.
Ed would only be there a night. Just long enough for Roy to be certain he really wasn't injured, perhaps enough time to point him in the direction of some place that could help him, and then Roy would be free of his obligation, could pretend the entire thing had never happened. When he got to his apartment, he was still all for his plan, would have probably succeeded at it, too, but when he stepped out of the car and into the rain for the final time that night, Ed tailing after him like an unsure puppy, he caught sight of his front bumper and noticed the heavy dent in it, like he'd run into a pole or a mailbox rather than a human being.
Something told him to pretend he hadn't noticed, to let his gaze pass over the strange dent and directly over Ed's head as if he'd just been checking whether his lights were off or not. Roy kept his steps steady and heading in one direction and didn't question who was following him, where the boy had come from, or who he actually was, not even for a second.
But the scientist in him, the small part he'd been sure had died years ago, was standing up straight and sniffing around and demanding answers, and Roy knew he'd have a hell of a time telling that particular part to lay down and play dead again.
Up the stairs and into the hall, Roy's feet went the familiar pattern. Ed stuck close to him and when Roy opened the door, Ed darted in under his outstretched arm and without even having to ask where to go, went straight for the kitchen, soggy sneakers squelching water along the wood floor. It was just hard to believe he was eighteen, that was all. Roy could have believed it from the chiseled face and the look of grave independence, but he'd never met such a tiny eighteen year old.
In the kitchen, Ed was scrabbling up at the counter, tiptoes pointed and the rest of his feet up and off the ground. Roy stepped beside him and reached up and opened the cabinet, let Ed fumble for a glass and scowl up at him, those cat-like eyes narrowed and angry. The top of his head was right at Roy's shoulder.
It didn't occur to him until they'd sat down together in the living room in front of the television sounding off the day's tragedies that Ed had put the meager meal of ramen noodles and iced tea together himself, had known exactly where everything in his kitchen was like he walked Roy's path every day of his life. Roy glanced sideways at the strange boy, tried to observe him casually, not to alarm, and Ed looked right back at him, the hard stare of a man with years of hardships behind that deceptively young face.
Roy looked away first, back to the television. On the east-west connector out of downtown Central, a mother and two children were killed when a semi overturned....
Same story, different day.
Tuesday mornings were unfailingly good, week after week. It was the day Roy appreciated the most because there were no morning classes, no lecture halls filled with kids barely out of their teens with their smug senses of self-entitlement and hands still clinging to their fathers' wallets while the other latched on to Roy. He wouldn't have to teach them about the evolutionary theories, wouldn't have to review the basic anatomy that biology pre-med students should already be aware of because the only class he had on Tuesday was at three o'clock with twenty-eight graduate microbiology students.
They, at least, had days between their stupid questions and blunders, and Roy readily forgave them on the principal that he only saw them once a week anyway.
It wasn't until the clock next to his bed informed him, loudly, that it was nine in the morning and shouldn't he be getting up, that Roy finally detached himself from the cocoon of comforter and sheets and warmth, and stepped back into the world of the conscious, grumbling miserably about it as he went to the kitchen. Long dragging footsteps, knowing he'd have to wait ten minutes for the coffee pot to fill—
In the kitchen, the smell of grounds churning, the sound of the percolator burping out the last bit of fresh coffee into the pot, and tiny Ed banging around with a frying pan in his hand. Roy stood in the doorway and stared and stared, trying to make sense of the who and the what and failing at it, failing miserably.
"Ed," he said finally, because the boy wasn't even looking at him. "What are you doing?"
Ed looked at him with burnt coin eyes and rolled them before answering, in a tone that suggested what he was doing should have been pretty obvious, "I'm makin' breakfast. Figured you weren't getting up for a while anyway, you lazy ass." He threw on the insult almost as an afterthought, the word vaguely fond, and Roy couldn't find the energy to feel insulted. Instead, he just grabbed a mug from the cabinet and poured a cup, found the creamer and sat at the table, the moment surreal and utterly wonderful.
He couldn't even remember the last time someone else had made him breakfast, faint stirrings of a memory of his mother he couldn't quite grasp. "How are you feeling?"
Ed dropped a plate in front of Roy, slightly charred eggs and toast, and took a seat across the table. "Fine? I still don't get what you were all worked up about, s'not like I was hurtin' yesterday, either."
"I hit you with my car," Roy said, the same words from the night before garnering the same deadpan stare.
"Weirdo," Ed said. "Look, I appreciate it, n'all, but I'm fine, right?" He shoveled a mouthful of egg, chewed noisily and scooped up another. "Stop worryin' about me when you've got your own life."
And what that was supposed to mean, Roy had no idea, but he chose to ignore it, ignore his guest's loud, smacking chews, and eat the first breakfast he hadn't cooked in over ten years.
When the table was empty, the plates scraped of the last crumb, Ed put his plate in the sink, put Roy's plate on top of it, and stuck out his hand, looking up at his host. "Thanks for puttin' me up for the night. It was comfortable."
Roy didn't know what else to do, so he grabbed Ed's hand and shook, smiling down at the young man and thinking, again, on just how small he was. "Don't worry about it. It was the least I could do," after I nearly killed you. "Is there somewhere you need to go…?"
Ed shook his head. "I'm fine," he said again. "I got places to go, things to do," a grin, "and so do you."
"I suppose I do."
"Enjoy yourself, right?" Ed said. "You only get this one," and Roy couldn't decide what he meant. Ed didn't seem to be worried about it, though, just let go of Roy's hand and padded quietly out of the apartment, closing the door and walking out of view and leaving Roy standing in his kitchen with his hand still outstretched and holding on to empty air.
It wasn't until several hours later that Roy realized the sun was out and the rain was finally gone.
The thing about people, Ed reasoned, was that they just didn't get it. They went in and out like there was nothing bigger than themselves, like there weren't millions, billions, of other living, breathing creatures on the planet, all struggling and fighting and wanting for the same end. Ed got it, but then, he wasn't entirely sure that he accounted for much, as far as people were concerned.
That guy, though, Roy or whatever, he seemed okay, even though he was too preoccupied with drowning in his own apathy to see anything beyond his own shadow. Ed figured it was people like that, the ones with the potential to change, that he should try to help.
Besides, he'd been sick of the rain, anyway.
The house stood tall against the dreary backdrop of downtown Central, an old style home with two pillars holding up the porch and the fancy trimming, and a giant stained glass rendition of the nation's beginning (as the story was told) right smack in the middle of the front doors. Ed rolled his eyes at the image, just like always, and jumped up the three steps to the door and banged on it and shouted, "AL, OPEN UP, IT'S ME."
Al wrenched the door opened and frowned down at his brother. "You can just come in, you know. I gave you a key," not that Ed needed a key to anything.
"S'not my house," Ed said, "that shit's rude."
Al laughed, and not in a nice way. "You're rude, Ed."
Ed walked around his brother into the house, heard Mei doing something in one of the rooms beyond, pots clanging and water running, and oh fuck, he was starving. It was like he hadn't eaten anything at all those few short hours ago with Roy staring across the table at him as though he'd never seen anything quite like Ed.
"She makin' lunch?"
Al snorted. "I should've known you were here for food. Yes, she's making something. I'll go let her know you're here."
"Don't worry about it," Ed said, cupping his hands around his mouth and wailing, "MEI, MAKE ME SOME, TOO." The sound of Mei cursing in that high, girlish voice was his only response.
Al sighed. "Brother, she might've actually wanted to see you—"
"We need to talk," Ed interrupted, "and I didn't want her listening." Al went quiet then, knowing exactly what his older brother was referring to.
"Let's go upstairs," he suggested. "I have a study, did you know? I have lots of books."
"If all of them are about cats and animal psychology, then I couldn't give any less of a fuck."
Al just laughed a weary, forced sound and shoved his brother up the stairs, towering over him even two steps below Ed. Ed refused to let that annoy him, didn't even acknowledge it, just jumped up the steps as fast as he could and ran down the hall to the open door of the room with walls lined with books and a warm colored desk covered in stacks of paper and pens and a calculator.
"So what's this about?" Al took the seat across from the desk, Ed having already jumped into the fine leather chair behind it. "I kind of thought you'd be at Dante's already. That was last night, right?"
"I, yeah, I got caught up," Ed said hesitantly. Al's eyes shot open, mouth dropping open.
"You have to be kidding me! Ed, you idiot, how are you supposed to be named now?"
"I got caught up, all right? Shit happens," Ed said, defensive. "There was this guy—"
"Dante's not going to care," Al warned. "Dad had to really lay the pressure on her to get her to even agree to an audience in the first place, and you blew her off?"
"It wasn't like I did it on purpose," Ed muttered, sinking down in the chair, arms crossed over his chest and a petulant scowl on his face. "That guy—"
"Doesn't mean anything to Dante," Al interrupted. "You are in so much trouble. Call Dad."
"Like I wanna talk to him!"
"This isn't the time to be difficult, brother," Al warned, rubbing at his eyes. "You've pissed off the wrong woman, I can tell you that."
Ed snorted. "She's just the proxy Lord of Hell. What can she do?"
Al gave him a look. "She can refuse to back you as the true Lord of Hell," he said. "You're only a Halfling, and all she sees is the half of you that came from Mom."
He didn't need to say it for Ed to realize the truth. Among all the gods, Dante was the one Ed should be sucking up to the most. "Maybe Dad can talk to her," Ed said, uneasy. "She can't be that ticked. I was working!"
Al buried his face in his hands. "Ed," he moaned, "at this rate, you'll end up a human—and not by choice. If you ever want to take the place Dad intended for you, if you ever want to drop the stupid title Dante stuck you with, you have to play by the rules."
Ed's hackles rose then, at the reminder of the cosmic joke that was his life, the title that made him the laughingstock of every heavenly being in existence.
The god of small things, he thought to himself. I am a joke.
Calling Hohenheim helped not at all. Ed called three different times, let the answering machine pick up, and then slammed the receiver down so hard it shattered. Al watched on with varying degrees of concern, the tight set of his jaw putting Ed on edge.
"I guess I should just go see Dante," he said, dejected. The old hag would probably try to set him on fire.
"Well, there's no point in hurrying, now," Al sighed. "Mei should be done cooking soon. Stay and eat, and I'll drive you to the Stairs after."
Ed could always count on Al when it really came down to it. His little brother, though not so little anymore, knew Ed better than anyone, and Ed had a hard time imagining life without him.
Mei, on the other hand, Ed could have done without.
"You should have called if you planned on coming here," Mei said, smiling, but the corners of her eyes were tense, strained, reflected in Ed's own face.
"If I'd known, I probably would have," Ed returned.
"I love it when we all get together," Al said, sighing happily. "It's like a family gathering." Al had the amazing ability to skewer Ed with guilt. Mei let out a strangled noise and looked at the floor, similarly affected.
Al, as per usual, didn't seem to notice.
"There's rice." Mei cleared her throat. "I'll get the tea."
"I'll do it," Al offered. "You cooked, you shouldn't have to do everything," and then Mei got that sappy look on her face, the strain rinsing away under eyes full of stars and moons and cats and Al holding a pot of tea with ginger fingers, trying not to let on to the fact that he'd just burned the hell out of himself.
Ed, for once, managed not to laugh.
The Stairs were, to put it plainly, terrifying. Or they were, if the traveler meant to take them heading down. Up, and they went to as nice a place as one could possibly imagine. But down…
Ed stood at the entrance to the platform, set squarely between the main bus station in downtown Central and a seedy looking club with flashing signs that alternately read Topless babes! and Happy hour 2-for-1! Al's car was still parked at the curb and if he turned around, Ed knew he'd see his brother staring out the front window at him with that same look, the one his mom used to get whenever she worried about something but didn't want to admit it. Al had her eyes and her gentle nature.
Ed had Hohenheim's eyes and Hohenheim's looks and Hohenheim's burdens.
The sound of a car honking spurred Ed into motion. Three short, sharp beeps and he stepped through the doorway into what looked on the outside like an abandoned shack, home for the homeless. On the inside, it was a grand staircase leading in two directions, the darker stairs taking the traveler straight into deepest Hell, and the lighter steps carrying the traveler to Paradise. With a longing upward glance, Ed took the first step leading down, his shoes still soggy enough that they squeaked against the dark wood, an irritating cacophony of short, jerky sounds, squeak, screech—
Three hundred and seventy four steps later, Ed found himself in the entrance hall of the home of the Lord of Hell, dark violet eyes regarding him with what could only be referred to as loathing.
"Dante," Ed said, his mouth dry and cottony, heart fluttering nervously in his chest.
"Edward," the Lord of Hell greeted him coolly. "Welcome home."
To part two...