Fullmetal Alchemist Fan Fiction ❯ Underneath it All ❯ Slightly Out of Tune ( Chapter 12 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Slightly out of tune
Disclaimer: Nothing but what the plot bunnies deposit in my mind belongs to me and my only profit being the reviews of my dear readers.
A/N: I would like to thank all of you for your patience and reviews as you waited for me to update this fic. I will eventually get around to replaying to everyone but life is hectic and it was something of a miracle I got the update done. So with my sincere thanks and without further ado ON WITH THE FIC!!
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They took the scenic route to Hayden. Country roads, large estates and some prime acres of land dotted the path as they drew closer to their destination. They had been on the road for the better part of the day and Roy was behind the wheel. Ed was sitting across from him humming and unfamiliar tune off and on as he wrote in a notebook Roy had often seen him with over the course of their trip.
Roy didn't consider himself a nosy individual, but he really wanted to know what had the young alchemist so focused. In his peripheral vision, he could see the blond writing furiously for a moment before erasing only to write again. Then he would hum for a moment before pencil once again met paper. Unable to stand it any longer Roy's calls his companions name.
“What is it Roy?”
“What are you working on so hard over there?”
“Three things actually, in one of the sections in this book I am working on a petition to the City of Central about their need to address the space and money shortage at the orphanage. In another section I am working on flushing out this piece of shit, no name alchemist that's been claiming some of dad's research as his own...”
“And the other thing?”
“…uh well I'm trying to write a song for Jean. I would like to sing it to him at the surprise party,” Ed replied softly as a faint blush tinted the alchemist's cheeks.
Roy smiled sadly, as he focused intently on the road ahead of them. He would have never thought he would find himself jealous of Jean Havoc; but there he was trying not to envision the look on the blonds' face as Jean thanked him for such a thoughtful gift. Gloved hands gripped the steering wheel tightly as their owner tried not to think about such things too hard. A change of subject to reroute his train of thought was in order.
“What's going on with the orphanage?”
“The bastards running the city won't fix or expand the small building all of the kids are crowded in. Some of the rooms are the size of the rooms at the barracks and there are three sometimes four kids in a room that size!” Ed all but shouted as he flailed his arms about in the car. His notebook tumbled off his lap as his tirade went on, “Al and I even volunteered to do the work if they would get the supplies.”
“Even with that offer they still wouldn't budge?” Roy asked rather shocked at what Ed was implying. He found it hard to believe the city officials were that tight.
“You've met Ashley and Lena right?”
“Yes,” Roy replied wondering what they had to do with their current conversation.
“You surely noticed Ashley's dark complexion and Lena's reddish eyes.”
After that statement it didn't take Roy long to figure out what the true issue was. Roy gathered that the majority of the children there are Ishvalans or at least part Ishvalan. Roy hated to think that the persons in charge of this sort of thing would be racist to the point of depriving mere children of an adequate place to grow and thrive.
“Surely they must have other reasons Edo.”
“Yeah they do and those reasons come in the form of disgruntled civilians that don't want their tax cens wasted on keeping up some other countries garbage!”
“Edward!” Roy shouted as his head whipped over to look at his traveling companion.
“Not my words Roy, that came directly out of the mouth of some asshole at the last city board meeting. There are precious few of us in opposition of the cities refusal to do anything to improve the kids living situation,” Ed finished in an exasperated tone as he fished around in the floorboard for his notebook. Once he sat up, he folded his arms across his chest and glared out the passenger side window.
Roy hated to see Ed's carefree tone and demeanor slip away over the current subject matter. As much as he loathed doing so, he decided to ask Ed about the song he was writing… the things people do for love.
His companion didn't answer instead he began flipping through the pages of his notebook. Roy sent a sidelong glance at Ed and when the younger man remained silent, Roy reiterated his question.
“It's going well. At least I think it is.”
“Well why don't you read some of it to me and allow me to be opinionated.”
“As long as you promise not to laugh too hard, old man.”
“I promise,” Roy replied as he prepared himself to hear what he thought would be an original twist on the usual happy birthday song, or maybe even something along the lines of what Ed sang at Fidels. These assumptions left the dark haired alchemist woefully unprepared for what he actually heard.
Ed cleared his throat a couple of times before he began humming a hauntingly lovely tune which was followed moments later by Ed's painstakingly written lyrics:
I'll be your dream, I'll be your wish I'll be your fantasy.
I'll be your hope, I'll be your love be everything that you need.
I love you more with every breath truly madly deeply do…
I will be strong I will be faithful 'cos I'm counting on A new beginning.
A reason for living, A deeper meaning… hmmm ….hmmm
Roy was floored. The song in and of itself was starting out beautifully but it was speaking of love…the big L word. When had this happened? Had Roy been so blind that he missed something of this magnitude? He didn't want to think too highly of himself but he really thought he knew Ed well enough to say that he wouldn't write something like this as a gift if the sentiment wasn't truly behind his words.
Roy was speechless, which was a shame, because Ed took this as dislike for his song writing efforts. A heavy sigh from his right caused Roy to look over. Ed's head was bowed and he was absently rubbing a page in his much used notebook with the thumb on his automail hand.
“That bad huh?” he asked and his voice sounded thick and uncertain.
Upon hearing that Roy felt like an ass, he hadn't thought about Ed taking his silence as a sign of not liking his song.
“No, no that's not it at all Edo. I was just a little thrown by the weight of the lyrics. What you sang was absolutely beautiful.”
Ed lifted his head but the smile on his face was weak.
“You can be honest Roy. If it sucks, now would be the time to tell me so I can start working on something else.”
“No, I was being honest Edo. I…I just hadn't realized that things between you and Havoc had gotten so…so…”
“So serious you mean? Yeah they kind of have…or at the very least they could be. A few weeks ago when I stayed at his place for the weekend we got into a discussion about where we stood with each other.”
A smile splits the eldest Elric's face and at the same time Roy Mustang's heart starts sinking at an ungodly rate. Stayed the weekend! Why was this, the first he'd heard of this? He didn't know a lot of things for certain at this point in his life but he did know he didn't like the sound of that one damn bit.
“Well while we were talking he told me how much he enjoys everything about me, my presence, my sense of humor, my laughter…everything. He said at this point in his life he didn't really see himself with anyone else, and well he then said that he could easily fall in love with me.”
Heart now firmly resting in the pit of his stomach with his hands sweating inside his driving gloves, Roy Mustang was having a serious conversation with himself. How did I let this happen right under my nose? Why didn't I see some change, some sign? Those times I would call late and Al would say he was out, why didn't I realize he'd been staying at Jean's? Roy could feel the contortion on his face but lacked the ability or the will to do anything about it.
“Don't look so damn shocked. I haven't mentioned this to anyone…not even Al. I've had a lot on my mind and I didn't want to make any rash decisions.”
“What do you mean by, you didn't want to make any rash decisions?”
“I know it's a small word but the meaning behind it, is colossal. When I just sat there in front of him with my mouth agape he told he didn't expect me to say anything in return he just wanted me to know how he felt.”
“Do you know how you feel,” Roy asked before he thought better of it. Shaking his head, Roy quickly says, “Never mind Ed, I'm sorry I shouldn't have asked that, it's none of my business.”
“Don't sweat it Roy, you wouldn't be a good friend if you weren't nosy sometimes,” Ed answered with a sly grin.
Outwardly, Roy was smiling but on the inside, he was in complete turmoil. He knew there was a damn good chance the young alchemist at least thought he was in love with the lieutenant. The lyric's of the song Ed is writing all but screams that.
“As you well know I don't have much experience to draw from, but I can honestly say I can't recall ever feeling this strongly toward anyone.”
Roy's hands once again tighten on the wheel.
“I miss him when he's not with me. I think about him at random times and for no apparent reason,” Ed said as his tone grew wistful, “The way he looks at me gives me that whole butterflies in the stomach feeling; but I truly don't know if all this adds up to love. It sure feels like more than a crush.”
“Sounds like it,” Roy answered despite the dryness of his throat.
“Does it?” Ed asked with wide questioning eyes Roy couldn't see because he was focused on the road. He then turns to look at the man driving and asks, “Have you ever been in love, Roy?”
If he had been having this conversation over the phone Roy would be beating his head on the closest hard surface he could find; but as it stands that would be horribly undignified and raise a ton of new questions he didn't want to answer. The one facing him already was more than enough.
“I'm sorry Roy,” Ed said sounding remorseful, “I guess it's my turn to be a bit inquisitive, don't feel like you have to answer that.”
“Huh, why'd you say that?” Roy asked curious of Ed sudden change in demeanor and tone of voice.
“Your expression,” Ed began, “it looked so pained, I thought I might have brought up some unpleasant memories or something.”
Roy wanted nothing more than to disappear. He couldn't believe it was that obvious. He didn't want to worry Ed, but he didn't have an answer he felt he could give him either. Maybe I can answer…just vaguely, Roy thought. Determined to say something and not give in to the feeling of melancholy that threatened to consume his soul, the General clears his throat and says, “Love for me is looking at that person, seeing a smile on their face and knowing you put it there, makes the world right as rain. Love is when their well-being supersedes your own feeling, the law, duty… whatever may be in the way. Love is knowing that as long as they are there beside you nothing else matters.”
Roy glances over to see Ed has fallen back in his seat with an awestruck look on his face. The blond is staring out the windshield and looks lost in thought.
“Uh, you ok over there Edo?”
“Yeah I'm fine, just sitting here thinking.”
“Well for one if that's love I am apparently still in the falling stages,” he said with a chuckle.
“And two?”
“Whoever it is you're in love with, is or was lucky. That was deep.”
For someone that had so much they needed to say Roy found it easy to remain silent. The comment hung in the air between them holding both their tongues until they reached Hayden.
* * *
The city of Hayden was much more alive than B'Lina and they had no problem finding a lodge. When Roy strolled up to the receptionist and asked for two rooms Ed was surprised but said nothing. He had gotten somewhat use to them bunking together on this trip and was enjoying the “sleepover” type atmosphere and camaraderie it had created between them. It was obvious to Ed that something he'd said during their last conversation in the car had upset Roy, because the man had yet to utter a word.
Thinking he needed to apologize, Ed set his mind to coming up with a way to do so without making things more tense or the situation worse. When the lady at the desk walked away to get the keys Ed was further disheartened when Roy didn't bother to turn around and make small talk with him, instead the older man stood there with his elbows on the counter staring at nothing. Saying nothing.
Mad at himself for upsetting Roy, Ed held his tongue and all the questions on it, as they waited for their keys. When the smiling lady returned she gave both keys to Roy saying that rooms 318 and 320 were side by side, on the third floor and to the right. Roy gave the lady a solemn thank you that made Ed cringe inwardly and shoved one key in his pocket. When Roy turned around, he refused to meet Ed's eyes, held the other key out to the blond and as soon as Ed took it, Roy headed for the staircase.
Ed stood in the lobby speechless, as he watched Roy ascend the stairs. His automail hand curled around his key and his teeth worried his bottom lip. With a grim face, he stooped to pick up his bag and when he did, he felt a hand on his shoulder, “It can't be that bad.”
Ed's head whipped around and he came face to face with vibrant green eyes.
“Preston!” Ed exclaimed partially from shock and partially from relief. A friendly face was definitely a welcome sight.
* * *
Ed's shout of the print shop owners name reached Roy's ears just as he stepped on the second floor platform. He turned in time to see the other man pull Ed into a hug. Dark blue eyes narrowed at the pair. He could tell they were talking but he couldn't make out their words. He could see Ed's slack posture and glum face and Preston seemed to be asking him questions because every so often, Ed would shake his head or shrug his shoulders.
When Preston looked up at Roy, motioning a thumb in his direction, the flame alchemist adjusted his bag on his shoulder, turned and continued to climb the stairs.
* * *
“What's up with him?” Preston asked as he glanced up the stairs.
“Not exactly sure, but I think it's my fault.”
“Wow, care to tell me your woes over dinner and coffee?” Preston asked.
“Make that coffee, wine and you might have a deal,” Ed replied.
“I aim to please,” Preston said as he gave an exaggerated bow.
Ed laughed and almost followed the man out of the lodge. However, one flash of Roy's somber face across his mind stops him dead in his tracks. With a sigh Ed asks, “Is that invitation open for two? Regardless of his mood I know he has to be hungry and I wouldn't feel right just ditching him.”
Preston gave him a screwy look.
Ed glared at him and said, “Besides I told you it's my fault anyway.”
“I'm having a hard time believing that Blondie, but whatever you say.”
Ed arched an eyebrow at the nickname and told Preston to have a seat in the lobby while he took his bags to his room and talked to Roy. Ed was hoping the promise of a decent meal would lighten the man's mood a little.
When Ed reached his room, he tossed his bag inside, flopped down on the bed and tried to come up with something to say to Roy. He knew he was to blame for Roy's mood but he had no idea exactly what it was he had said or done to cause his friend to act this way. He sat there on the edge of his bed, staring at nothing, for quite a while before he came up with a plan.
Words in mind, he rose from his seated positioned, walked out of his room, into the hall and over to Roy's door. He knocked on the door but received no answer. Turning the knob, he was shocked to find it locked. He waited for a few moments before knocking again, only a bit louder. Foot tapping in nervousness and impatience Ed stood there staring at the numerals 320.
When Roy didn't answer from the second knock, without thinking, Ed lifted his right hand and knocked again…and even he cringed at how loud it was.
Seconds later the door swung open. Ed opened his mouth to apologize only to have the action cut off by Roy's irritated voice, “I was in the bathroom Fullmetal. What is so urgent?”
The use of his title instantly crawled under the young man's skin and he forgot the words he'd so painstakingly put together. So instead of apologizing he just stood there staring into angry eyes. Mouth agape and a little pissed at Roy's reaction Ed was glad for the distraction when it came in the form of a low whistle and the word, “Sweet!”
Both men turned to see Preston standing just down the hall from them with a broad smile on his face, “I knew you were in the military Blondie but you never even gave me the slightest hint you where the Fullmetal Alchemist!”
Ed glared at Roy and at least the man had the decency to look remorseful. Ed had never intended on telling his long distance, green-eyed friend exactly who he was. Ignoring Preston for the moment, through clenched teeth, Ed said, “I knocked with my right hand before I thought about it.” When the man continued to look sheepish Ed sighed and asked, “You hungry?”
Lowering his eyes, Roy shook his head no.
“You sure?” Ed questioned with a sigh, feeling somewhat guilty for barking at the man a moment ago.
“Go have fun with your friend, Edo. I'll be fine.”
Ed looked at Roy skeptically and after another nod from him, he turned and walked toward Preston. Sea green eyes sought Roy's and held them in contemplation for longer than the General felt comfortable with, before the man they belonged to turns to follow Ed down the hall.
Roy closes the door and when it clicks he allows the pent up emotions from the car ride to wash over him. As he stands behind the door with his head pressed on the cool wooden surface he thought, maybe more time with Ed wasn't such a grand idea. This and many other things were weighing on his mind as he trudged away from the door and plopped down on the corner of his bed.
Head in his hands he keeps thinking about the look on Ed's face as he gave him the key as well as when he berated him for pounding on the door. I won't fault him if he doesn't forgive me for that last one, Roy mused as he began unpacking his bag, I should have known it was his automail hand hitting the door. How could I have been so foolish? He's self conscious enough without me making it worse. With this last thought, Roy flung his bag off the bed and it hit the chair that sat at the small desk in the room hard enough to tip it over. The chair crashed to the floor but Roy couldn't bring himself to care. As it stood, he wanted to set the damned thing on fire.
* * *
A warm, late summer breeze whips around the two men, as they made their way through the busy streets of Hayden. One man was all aglow and talking animatedly while the other, shorter man walked along almost solemnly with his hands shoved in his pockets and his head held low.
“I can't believe I am friends with a living legend!” Preston declared as he threw his arms out wide in wonder.
Ed didn't respond he had too much on his mind to take joy in Preston's wonderment. The print shop owner noticed Ed's lack of enthusiasm and sighed before saying, “Would you please smile?!”
“Sorry,” Ed replied as the corners of his mouth turned up weakly.
“What the hell happened between you two? The both of you looked like death warmed over standing in the lobby of that lodge.”
Ed's eyebrows knit together before he responds with, “I'm not exactly sure.”
“Then why do you think it's your fault?”
“Because we were talking in the car and after I made a statement he hasn't spoken since.”
“Wow…mind if I ask what you said? Not just to be nosy but I want to make sure whatever it is never passes my lips.”
Ed glared at his companion and increased his pace.
* * *
Dinner between the two was pleasant even if Ed was a bit on the quiet side. Preston didn't bring the topic of him and Roy up and Ed didn't volunteer anymore information. When they finished eating Preston walked Ed back to the lodge he was staying in and they made plans to meet up after breakfast tomorrow. When Ed disappeared up the steps Preston wandered over to the receptionist's desk and asked her to ring room 320.
When the phone rang in his room Roy looked over at the clock, noting it was half past eleven. Figuring it was Ed he answered with a hello. When the receptionist's voice answered back and told him his presence was requested in the lounge on the first floor he thanked her, gabbed his key and left his room.
When he got to the first floor the lady behind the receptionist desk pointed toward the lounge, with a nod and a thank you, he entered the area. When he saw Preston seated in a booth towards the rear he was a little disappointed, he had really expected the summons to be from Ed. The young man waved him over so Roy obeyed and took a seat.
“Don't look so let down, he's in his room and you can go talk to him as soon as you're finished having a drink with me.”
Roy didn't comment, he simply slid into the booth beside Preston. He didn't like the fact his expression was so easily read by someone he'd only met one time before. As soon as he was seated, bourbon on the rocks was sat in front of him and he said, “Nice guess on the drink.”
“Wasn't a guess, Ed said something in a letter a while ago about you, him and a guy named Maes putting away a bottle of the stuff.”
Roy smiled as he sipped his drink. He remembered the incident fondly. When he sat his glass back on the table he noticed that Preston was staring at him intently. The younger man seemed to be contemplating something. Roy was sure that something had to do with Ed therefore; he was in no hurry to rush the man's words. Taking another drink, he motioned a waitress over and ordered a sandwich. He had skipped dinner and that fact was now catching up with him as he took in the bourbon.
“Whatever goes on between the two of you is really none of my business.”
“No, it is not.”
“However…as Ed's friend I feel the need to say this.”
Preston paused long enough to make Roy's eyebrow arch in wonder. The suspense was killing him. Had Ed said something to him? Was he fed up with Roy due to his attitude? Had Ed figured out the reasoning behind it? All of these thoughts drifted through Roy's mind as he waited for the man to say something. As he lifted the heavy glass to his lips, his companion finally speaks.
“You know you could make this easier on the both of you if you just told him how you felt.”
Roy almost choked on his drink. Sputtering a little at Preston's forward nature, Roy wipes his chin and looks at the man sitting across from him. Roy could only imagine the look on his face; it must have been comical because his guest started chuckling.
“Don't worry Roy, he still has no clue. I wasn't sure myself but it was the best conclusion I could draw from some of the things he's said.”
Still coughing Roy rasped out, “Exactly what did he say?”
“I won't go into any detail on that but, from what he said you sound like you've got it bad. Plus your reaction just now was a pretty good indication I wasn't wrong in my assumptions.”
Roy glared at the green-eyed man but he only chuckled in response. Roy's sandwich arrived and he took a bite without hesitation. The conversation was making Roy more than a little uncomfortable. When he finally looked up at Preston, the Hayden City native was shaking his head and smiling.
“Regardless of what you do about however you feel for Edward, I think you should do something to ease the guilt he's feeling over this. I'm not saying you need to kiss ass but at least let him know you're not pissed at him for whatever slight he's imagined he's made against you.”
With that said the younger man stifled a yawn and started sliding out of the booth, “if I know him Roy he's still awake. If you wolf down that turkey and Swiss you can make amends with him and you both will be able to sleep better.”
Roy sat there quietly chewing away but before the other man could walk away he says, “Thank you, Preston.”
“Not a problem Roy, what are friends for,” the man said before he stifled another yawn, waved at Roy and walked out of the lounge.
Roy finished his sandwich, paid his bill and did the same. As he walked up the stairs toward Ed's room Roy tried to figure out exactly what he was going to say to Ed. He knew he needed to explain his cold actions and attitude but he wasn't ready to come clean with Ed in that manner either. He didn't know what he was going to do but he knew if Ed was awake, he was going to do something. Preston was right he would sleep much better if he did.
Roy stepped up to Ed's door and right before he knocked he heard Ed talking to someone.
“…yeah we should be back in Central in a couple of days.” Ed said his tone tired.
Roy couldn't make out the mumbles of the other person and surmised Ed was on the phone.
“No, no I'm fine just a little tired, it's kind of late.”
More mumbling.
“I'm not lying, I am tired, and it's just been a long day that's all.”
Roy strained his ears to make out the other side of the conversation, but it was all he could do to hear Ed clearly.
“He's fine…we've been fine, today was just… just hectic that's all.”
Ed was not sounding very convincing to Roy's ears at all. Probably even, less so to whomever he was speaking with.
“Well you see…calm down Jean, it's nothing like that.”
Oh so he was talking to the Lieutenant. Great. Just great.
“No, he's not making my life hell. He's actually been really good company for most of the trip.”
Roy didn't know how to feel about Ed defending him to Jean. On one hand, he felt proud Ed wouldn't allow someone to speak ill of him out of context, but on the other hand, he didn't feel like he deserved it.
Laughter shook Roy out of his thoughts, leaning closer to the door he heard Ed say, “Don't worry about me I'll be fine and I'll see you in a couple of days ok?”
More laughter.
“I miss you too and I'm looking forward to that warm welcome when I get home. Sleep well Jean. Goodnight.”
When Roy heard Ed hang-up the phone, he opened and shut the door to his room before knocking on Eds. The sound of soft footfalls came from the other side of the door before it opened slightly. Tired golden eyes were surprised to see Roy but their owner opened the door wider before stepping aside. Roy smiled at Ed while stepping across the threshold. Roy took a deep breath however, before he could speak, Ed blurts out a jumbled mess of words that sounds like an apology of some sort.
Roy calls the blonds name several times before he finally got Ed to quiet long enough to make an apology of his own. Once Ed processed the words, an immense look of relief settles on his face and he flops on the bed with a lopsided grin gracing his lips.
Nothing like knowing, I put that smile there, Roy thought wistfully.
“For a while there I thought I had really done something to tick you off at me.”
“I'm truly sorry Ed I shouldn't have acted the way I did.”
“It's ok Roy we all get like that sometimes. We're all human.”
Not wanting to talk about his indiscretion any further, Roy swiftly changed the subject.
“So what are our plans for tomorrow Edo?”
“I thought we would grab breakfast and then track down Preston at his print shop.”
That sounded like music to Roy's ears. If Ed was willing to put this whole sorted incident behind him and move forward he was going to do the same. It was only a matter of days before he had to hand Ed back to Havoc and he would be damned if he would spend any of those remaining days like this one.