At A Cost

Roy’s choices, soon after the end. Drama, I-4.

“A price is something you get. A cost is something you lose.” —Shards of Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold.

Roy nudged a piece of rubble with his toe.

“How is the clean-up coming on the buildings that were destroyed?” he asked.

“It’s on schedule, Sir,” Hawkeye reported. “The ones out in the city are almost finished; I left the ones inside Headquarters for last, as you said.”

Roy weighed the value of disturbing his generals by leaving the military buildings in wreckage for a bit longer against the drawbacks of disturbing his men by doing so. With only a faint twinge of regret, he decided that the men were more important. After all, he didn’t want any of them to start agreeing with the officers who were displeased by Roy’s ascendance. And while he was thinking of common welfare…

“Have we located everyone who actually met the Homunculi?”

Hawkeye nodded. “Yes, Sir. A number of them had to be hospitalized, especially those who were present at the end.”

“Not surprising,” Roy murmured.

“No one still alive knows what they really were,” his aide finished.

Roy ran a hand through his hair. “Well that’s one concern out of the way.”

Now to see if he could take care of another concern, he thought as they continued on toward their new offices.

Roy stood at the window with his back to the room. It didn’t particularly help. He had worked with Fullmetal too long; he could see the boy’s expressions in his mind’s eye quite clearly, hear them in the flex of his voice.

“What do you mean, none of your business? Everything’s your business now, isn’t it?” Fullmetal added, more quietly but still loud enough to hear, “God help the world.”

“Not this,” Roy informed him coolly. “The State Alchemists are no longer associated with the military. I’ve given the Dean of Central University oversight. That,” he flicked his fingers at the silver watch lying on his desk, “is not my concern. I’m not the person you need to return it to, if you want to be rid of it.”

Fullmetal snorted. “Well, isn’t that convenient. Speaking of getting rid of things.”

Roy smoothed the twist out of his mouth before turning around. “Why should it concern you? You have no reason to stay here now, or worry who controls the State Alchemists. You have what you need.” Roy looked pointedly at the arm and leg that he knew were no longer automail, though Fullmetal still wore his concealing gloves.

Fullmetal looked at him narrowly, puzzled. Roy should have known he wouldn’t get the boy to leave without some kind of explanation. He sighed, plucked the watch off his desk, and tossed it back to Fullmetal.

“I did not spend this much effort freeing the State Alchemists from military control only to see it wasted. Turn that in or not, as you please. But you have no more business here. So take your brother and go.” Roy turned back to his window. “You are no longer my dog, Edward Elric. Go.”

He could almost hear Fullmetal’s teeth grind at that epithet he had hated and spent so much time and energy circumventing. Roy had, after all, chosen it to make him angry.

“Whatever you say,” Fullmetal growled. “Dai-Soutou.” He bit off the title like an insult, and Roy heard him spin around and stride out the door. His steps never paused or hesitated, and one small thread of tension unwound itself from Roy’s shoulders.

Two more safe.

Hughes found him that evening, still at his desk.

“Are they away?” Roy asked, knowing it wasn’t beyond Fullmetal to decide to stay for sheer pique.

“Lock, stock, and baggage,” Hughes confirmed. “It was a good idea to assign a car and driver to see them back to Riesenburg. Al is still a bit… edgy.”

Roy sniffed, amused at his friend’s talent for understatement. Alphonse Elric had spent the first month of his recovery constantly on the raw edge of breakdown. It was only recently he had stabilized enough to even consider traveling. Roy hesitated to imagine what a trip by train would have been like to his reawakened senses.

“As long as they’re gone.” Roy rubbed a hand over his eyes and leaned back.

“Roy, are you sure it was a good idea to send them away?” Hughes asked quietly.

Roy shook his head. “They had to go now, while the remaining confusion will keep anyone from asking questions. Enough of the State Alchemists have left, now that the direction of research the State will fund has changed, that it won’t seem strange for them to leave too.”

“I meant, is it a good idea to send them away at all?” Hughes’ eyes on him were sharp.

In front of this man Roy let himself slump, let himself scrub his hands over his face, let his impatience and anger show.

“Hughes, you can’t possibly be suggesting that I keep them here! Ed has no reason to do as I say now that his brother is restored, and I’m going to have enough on my conscience without continuing to use a child as my tool.”

“What if you told him what the point was?”

Roy dropped his hands with a thump and glared. “Impossible,” he stated flatly. “Edward is brilliant, but politically naive and far too hot tempered.”

Hughes’ mouth quirked. “Ah, you’re afraid you couldn’t control him, is that it?”

Roy’s hand came down on his desk with a crack like a gunshot. He barely managed to close his teeth on the stream of abuse that rose to his lips. Needing to do something, before he truly lost control, he shoved away from his desk and paced a few furious turns through the room before managing to stop himself. He heard Hughes sigh at his back, and felt his friend’s hands close over his shoulders.

“This is why I asked, Roy. You’re wearing yourself too thin; you need someone to help you hold all this together.”

“What,” Roy asked, turning his head slightly, “are you saying you aren’t going to be here?”

Hughes gave him a brisk shake. “Stop that. I’ll always support you, and you know it. And your people will follow you to Hell as many times as you choose to go there. But is there anyone else who can do what he did? Ed the Amazing, Traveling Trouble Magnet, Problems Solved at No Extra Charge?”

Roy leaned on his desk and laughed himself breathless. He must be overtired, it hadn’t been that funny. His coat appeared in front of him and he blinked at it.

“Put on your coat, Roy, it’s time to leave,” Hughes told him in the same tone of voice he used when convincing his daughter to eat her lima beans, a process Roy had witnessed several times.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Roy sighed, “I still have a ton of work to do…”

He trailed off as Hughes started stuffing his arms into the sleeves willy-nilly. For several crucial moments Roy was too surprised to resist.

“Hawkeye says you’ve done more work today than you really need to, and Gracia gave me orders to bring you home for dinner,” Hughes declared as Roy gathered himself to protest. “Are you going to argue with both of them?”

Roy thought about that for a minute, considered how tired he was, and meekly followed Hughes out the door.

“You’re right,” he said as they emerged into the cool night air, “no one else can do quite what Ed did. But why would he? What drove him is done now. Our exchange is over.”

Hughes shot him a sidelong look before gazing up at the sky. “If you asked him, I think he would do it. Especially if you said why.”

“And take him away from his brother? Now?” Roy asked, softly.

Hughes was silent.

Did a person have to be dead before you could have her beatified? Roy couldn’t remember. He would have to find out, because he was seriously considering nominating Gracia for sainthood. She had kept Elysia from decorating Roy with her dinner, and was the only person who made coffee better than Roy himself. That was two miracles right there, and the coffee was a miracle of healing, he was sure. Could that be counted twice?

Roy cradled his coffee cup in his hands and inhaled deeply.

“Roy? Are you all right? You look like you haven’t been sleeping.”

She had even let him savor the first cup before beginning her inquisition, which was the most mercy anyone had shown him in months. Definite saint material. Saint Gracia, patron of… really stupid men who thought they could save the world. Pray for us.


He started slightly as she touched his wrist, and dredged up a smile for her.

“I’m sorry, Gracia, my mind was wandering. Transported by the quality of your coffee.” He saluted her with the cup, and she laughed.

“Flattery will get you everywhere. Except out of the question. You haven’t been sleeping, have you?”

She speared him with a stern look and Roy sighed. He could, he supposed, try to weasel out of it, but Gracia often knew when he was lying. He was sure the skill would come in very handy when her daughter started dating. What had she asked? Ah, yes.

“Not much,” he admitted.”It will be better after a while, but there just hasn’t been time to get everything done. Most of the generals still hate my guts, but even Hughes can’t find reasons to discharge many of them. The population of the city is still shaken up, and I don’t have enough people who can keep order without causing the mobs they’re trying to prevent. Rumors are running through the backcountry twice as fast as official news, and God only knows where that will end…” Roy stopped himself with an effort.

Gracia looked a question at her husband, who nodded.

“My own area is bad enough, since His Excellency here,” he waved at Roy, who glowered back, “made me head of the entire Intelligence branch. But some of the generals are recovering from their shock and starting to get creative.”

“Still,” Gracia admonished, “you won’t do anyone any good if you drive yourself to collapse.”

Roy stifled the laugh that he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop if it started. “What makes you think I’ll do any good anyway?” he asked his coffee cup.

“Roy…” Gracia said softly, frowning.

Hughes, who had heard him say this more than once in the last week, only tightened his mouth.

Gracia slipped off the couch so that she could sit on her heels in front of Roy and make him look at her. “Do you remember when you got stuck over the seasonal codes of the Twelve Gates?” she asked.

Roy felt a small grin tug at his mouth. That had been the first year he had known Gracia, the first year he had lived in Central City, studying toward the State Exams.

“You told me to get out of the library for a look at the actual Spring. I recall,” he added, “that you smacked me with a lexicon when I protested.”

Gracia smiled, and took his face in her hands. “And do you remember when you were panicking, a week before the Exams?”

Roy closed his eyes. “You told me you believed I could do it. And that you would be there with me to make sure I did.”

“I still believe in you, Roy. And I’m still here with you; we all are.”

“Thank you,” Roy whispered, lifting a hand to cover one of hers.

“You need to sleep,” she told him gently. “Do you want to stay here tonight?”

If he did, Roy knew she would make sure he slept. And while he didn’t doubt Gracia’s wisdom for a moment, there were still things he had to do. “No, I think I’ll sleep better if it’s in my own bed.”

He opened his eyes to see Gracia and Hughes exchanging on of those silent spousal communiques that sometimes made him briefly envious.

“All right,” Gracia agreed. “Maas will take you home.”

Roy thought he really must be slipping, because he didn’t suspect a thing until Hughes joined him at the door with an overnight bag in hand. He looked at Gracia, who kissed her husband good night and smiled sweetly at Roy. Remembering the lexicon, Roy closed his mouth on a protest.

“You should drink something besides coffee,” Hughes told him, watching Roy wander aimlessly around his kitchen, trying to find the coffee grinder. He was sure it had been in the cabinet by the stove. Things never held still when you needed them to. Not people, not science, not coffee grinders.

“I need coffee to stay awake,” Roy pointed out very reasonably, opening the icebox. No, not there either.

Hughes caught him as he went by. “Roy, you need to stop.”

Roy looked up at his friend seriously. “I can’t stop. If I stop, I’ll fall.”

“If you fall we’ll catch you,” Maas said, voice low and soothing.

Roy could only shake his head. He couldn’t betray them all by falling. By failing. Maas sighed and pulled Roy against him.

“Stop now,” he ordered quietly.

Roy rested his head on Maas shoulder. Maybe that would stop the spinning. “Maas…”

“Hush. It’s all right, Roy.”

Roy felt Maas’ hand settle lightly on his hair, and let his eyes fall shut for a moment.

Roy woke up warmer than usual. He felt rested for the first time in months. Someone’s arms were around him. He lay, contemplating these bits of information, in that borderland between sleep and true wakefulness. The arms tightened a bit. Who…?

Oh, yes.

Roy had only dim impressions of Maas supporting him up the stairs, but he did remember being amused that Maas remembered Roy liked to sleep on the inside.

Still drifting, Roy moved closer to Maas, who obligingly shifted to transfer Roy from the pillow to his shoulder. That was better.

He’d felt better the last time he’d woken up like this, too, Roy mused sleepily. After that worst night in Ishvar. Maas had held him until he slept and been there when he woke up. And Roy had felt a little cleaner for his presence, as he felt a little calmer now. Roy lay, listening to his friend’s heartbeat, until the brightness on the other side of his eyelids finally registered.

“What time is it?” Roy muttered.

“Almost noon.”

Having half expected it, Roy did not sit bolt upright at this piece of intelligence. Instead he pried an eye open and directed a faintly accusatory look up at Maas.

“You needed the sleep, and Hawkeye can handle things fine until you get there,” Mass told him. “Possibly better, she’s a lot more direct than you.”

While the vision of his second calmly backing some obnoxious officer out the door at gunpoint had a certain appeal, Roy was awake enough to remember how long his To Do list still was. He sighed, stretched, and hauled himself out of bed. He squinted back at Maas as his friend followed suit.

“So, can I have more coffee now?” Roy asked.

Maas snorted. “You think I’ve lost my mind enough to try and keep you away from it in the morning? Think again. Does this mean I can have the shower first?”

“You think I’ve lost my mind enough to let you make the coffee?” Roy shot back. “Towels are in the hall closet.”

“I’ll see if I can find you some troubleshooters for the field,” Hughes said as they entered Headquarters.

Roy nodded, remembering their discussion yesterday about what Fullmetal had been able to do.

“That would be helpful.”

They were almost at his office before he touched Hughes’ shoulder and spoke quietly.

“Thank you.”

Hughes looked at him steadily for a silent moment.

“You’re not doing this alone, Roy. Remember that.” And then he winked and swept a deep bow. “It’s my duty and pleasure, Your Excellency, Sir.”

Roy growled and snapped a tongue of flame alight. Hughes fled in mock-terror, laughing all the way, and Roy was smiling as he opened his office door.