The hurry of the day was a hiss. No, it was more like a buzz. Like insects swarming. It was background noise to Roy, like the noise of sudden sunlight. He had never liked waiting but now he had no choice in the matter. He would wait whatever it took, he thought in his own melodramatic way, as he watched nurses and doctors and familiar faces pass by. Soldiers, mostly, and then some unwitting bystander caught in the fire. Nothing too horrific: the dead were dead, and those who survived this day would live on and see tomorrow and days to come. By his side a young surgeon stopped for a moment to wipe the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand and then walked on.
Roy watched this, then turned around and found Edward Elric staring at him.
The boy looked a bit surprised – no, a bit wrong-footed, to find him here. Like a kid eating food he shouldn't be eating, speechless, mouth stuffed.
`You haven't come for your money. Have you?´ Ed asked, suspicious.
Roy felt his fatigue as his jaw slacked into a grin. He shook his head, no ironies.
`No. You hold on to that a while longer. How are you?´
He said “you” in a way that Ed understood he meant to ask about Alphonse.
`We're fine,´ he replied trying to look impervious, trying to contain happiness and wonder. He gestured towards a room on the other side of the floor, past the waiting room. `They are making all sorts of tests to Al, but he just has to eat and rest.´
`I'm glad to hear that.´
He looked into Ed's eyes and thought he looked young, old, tired, clear-eyed, and not completely believing everything just yet.
Suddenly Roy grabbed the boy by the wrist and held his right arm to the light, examining it.
`Wha- what are you doing?!´
`It looks so weird,´ Roy commented, holding on to the arm and studying with an amused look on his face. `Does it feel weird? Creepy?´
`What kind of question is that?´ Ed shook him off, rubbing his elbow. He squinted. `Yes, it feels weird. I missed it, and at the same time I have trouble believing it's my arm at all. You know?´
Roy nodded, marvelling at the quick change in the expression, how Ed could go from high pitched-voiced brat in one second to pensive young man the next one. It was entertaining. Hopefully he wouldn't have to lose that quality.
`It looks paler,´ Roy said.
`Your arm,´ he explained. `Paler and thinner. All these years... all true. It's amazing.´
Ed got exactly what he was saying and replied with a little smile of wonderment
`At least it's not rotten,´ Ed pointed out, Roy understood what he meant and they exchanged a quick grin. He spread his arm and wriggled his fingers: `All it needs it's a bit of exercise.´
Then a nurse passed their way, tapping gently on Ed's shoulder and gesturing to follow her.
`I'm going in,´ Ed told Roy. And looking away, `You should come back later. I mean- Al would like a visit, I guess.´
He shrugged and his cheeks turned a darker shade of pink, but only for a moment before he turned away and down the corridor.
He waited the customary hour – as instructed - before trying again but no luck yet.
He was rubbish at waiting. The day had been busy enough – the busiest most trying of his whole life – and he had been caught up *doing things* and now when it all came down to something as simple as *waiting* he found himself incapable of it. This wasn't new information, but he was frustrated nonetheless. He felt happy but restless. The doctors had other patients and the nurses were understaffed and overworked and Roy should stop being a pain in the ass, he knew that.
He decided to buy something to drink – he needed something to do with his hands.
Either life indeed was particularly wonderful that day or the coffee in this hospital had got better since the last time he was here. Roy was pondering this, particularly, when he spotted Izumi Curtis and her husband marching his way down the corridor.
`Ah,´ he waved at them with disarming enthusiasm. `Were you visiting Alphonse Elric just now?´
They nodded and reached his side.
`He is too busy eating,´ Izumi sighed, fondness and absolute joy dripping from every word. `And you, Mister Mustang? You're recovered, I see?´
She searched his eyes. He made a point not to notice she hadn't use his rank.
`Yes, thank you,´ he nodded.
She didn't ask how but Roy noticed an alchemist's natural curiosity tugging at her. Roy felt tired just thinking about it; he'd explain it later.
`I don't think we have been properly introduced,´ he said promptly. He offered his hand and the man was the first to shook it: `Mister Curtis, I guess.´
`And of course, before this all started,´ Roy said to Izumi, `I had already heard what a great teacher you are, Izumi Curtis.´
Izumi crossed her arms in front of her.
`I've always known who you are. You are the one who convinced my student to become a dog of the military.´
Roy flashed her a tense but blinding grin. The woman was scary. She had also saved his life.
`Ah, can't say I regret that,´ Roy offered, rather recklessly. Then, thoughtful: `I doubt I could have made it today without the Elrics.´
He watched as something in Izumi's face changed.
`Maybe I could say Ed and Al would have never got their bodies back if they hadn't been caught up in all this. You're off the hook.´
`Thank you so much for being so magnanimous,´ Roy told her, the tone only slightly mocking. Then he bowed to her and said, now in complete honesty: `And thank you for taking care of me.´
She looked at his eyes and for a moment she seemed baffled by all that formality and politeness. Roy had learned a long time a ago that most people could not object to good manners, specially as gracefully exemplified as he himself usually managed. Izumi could not quite argue with that, either.
`Would you care for a cup of coffee?´ Roy offered the couple. `It's not horrible.´
He knew he should probably be doing something more productive than stay here and bother the poor people who are just doing their job.
As if to intensify his feeling of uselessness right now Armstrong (and his sister, Roy noticed with dismay) happened to find him.
`Everything alright?´ Armstrong asked gently, a glimmer of *something* in his eyes, but there was always a glimmer or something or other in Armstrong's eyes.
`Yes, yes,´ Roy assured him. `Still no visiting hours, though. Asleep.´
He was pouting.
`Did you have that checked?´ He asked Olivier, noticing the injury in her arm.
She rolled her eyes: `Please, I'm not a baby like you men.´
Roy and Armstrong exchanged a look; if a man like Armstrong was a “baby” Roy was happy to be included in that definition, his manhood not at all insulted.
`What did I miss?´ She asked.
Yeah, where were you, by the way? Roy wondered but decided it was not the time or the place; whatever the reason, he decided to trust her for once.
`My men are still at the Radio, transmitting the official version, coordinating the press... It's going to be a long night. The last thing we want is social unrest now. We need to let people know they are safe now.´
`Yes, it fills me with confidence that your people are in charge of that now,´ Olivier complained but the edge was gone, with all the weariness.
`I guess there's no way we can tell the people Bradley was on the Homunculi's side,´ Roy went on, seemingly ignoring her remark. `But the rest of it... Of course it all would have been much easier if the Briggs party hadn't killed so many Central soldiers, we'll have a hard time spinning that.´
He looked sideways at Olivier, and she huffed. Armstrong's face was dreadful grimace, caught between wanting to apologize to Roy, embarrassed at his own sister, and wanting to apologize to Olivier for not standing up in her defence.
`But where are my manners?´ He offered her hand to Olivier. `Thank you so much for helping us out. I couldn't have done it without you. I am forever in your debt.´
`Why is it that it feels so disquieting to hear you say you owe me?´
She shook his hand in the end, half-heartedly. But as they were to walk away from each other the briefest hint of a real smile passing over her for a moment. Roy replied in kind, truthfully thanking her without words. They lingered, feeling all the things they had in common rather than the ways they were different.
Roy turned around but then thought better of it.
`By the way,´ he called out to Olivier, already walking off with her brother. `I'm going to be very busy from now on, I don't think we can have that dinner now.´
Roy did not wait to see what face the woman was making at that; he walked on.
`It's really good to see you in your own body, Alphonse Elric. I'm happy to discover you are much better looking than your older brother.´
Ed started complaining and then, immediately, also started insulting Roy, but Roy couldn't catch what he was saying, exactly, over the sound of Al laughing at his brother. Roy was already laughing before he realized it, laughing rather openly, actually, and he put it down to the hysteria of the moment, the post-adrenaline state of well-being. All this happiness, however, wasn't artificial.
Then Al made a strangled face and let out a whimper of pain, ouch.
Roy and Ed turned to him at the exact the same time, with exact the same worry in their expressions.
Al held his hand to his jaw: `My muscles, ouch, it hurts when I laugh.´
And then the three of them were laughing again, Ed joining in, already forgetting he had just been called ugly.
`It is really good, too,´ Al told Roy when the laugher died down, `that you can see me in my original body.´
Roy nodded gently, a look between him and with the younger Elric, of gratefulness and mutual, easy understanding. Al still had a long way to go, still had a lot to recover, eat, exercise his muscles - and get a haircut, Roy added mentally – but of all the day's miracles Roy concluded that looking at this boy's eyes, clear and clean and so intelligent, was the biggest one. If he had helped, if he had contributed to this moment – Alphonse Elric was now listing, alphabetically all the reasons why he was better looking than Ed and he, in kind, was punching Al's sharp shoulder in jest – then everything he had done had been worth it.
A nurse came in with Al's third meal of the day.
`Al, you pig, you are just stuffing your face!´ Ed complained.
`I have years of eating to catch up with,´ Al reasoned. `What a cruel brother. This is not stuffing my face. This is for survival!´
Roy let them fight and eat, and slipped out of the door without a further word.
When he came out finally he saw the door open and a nurse gave him the “okay” sign.
What stroke him was that she still looked incredibly strong, even in these circumstances. Hours of rest and healing had done wonders – even her skin had almost regained all its colour. She looked well. Like she could take on the world as she was. Again. He felt safe just through that. He felt protected.
There it was: she looked incredibly strong even lying on a hospital bed and with the saline drip to her side. He thought there was going to be some kind of “click” moment when she looked at up and saw him, that somehow it would make all the tiredness and the rush of the day slip from him. It didn't. She looked at him and Roy did not feel as if the world and its worries had been obliterated; he felt the past few days in full force instead, everything sharper, clearer. But he also felt warm and welcome, he looked at her and Hawkeye was there and there was no small amount of comfort in that notion.
He stood at the door and she invited him in soundlessly, a small tilt of the head, and perhaps, if Roy looked hard or if he was feeling hopeful, something resembling a smile.
`I came to see you earlier but you were unconscious,´ he said as he pulled the chair next to bed. `How rude of you, I had to wait.´
He noticed that the walls of the room were white where Alphonse Elric's room was of pale-green tile, and he wondered about that, let himself get distracted for a moment.
`They gave me some painkillers. How long have I been sleeping?´ Hawkeye asked him. She looked well. And strong. She had always looked strong.
`A couple of hours,´ he replies simply, omitting the fact that he'd been pacing outside her door for almost the whole time. The simple “wait” would have to cover that. She knew he was pathetic, he didn't want to volunteer further proof of that. `I met Rebecca outside, she told me. You still look a bit tired.´
`Did Armstrong give you my message?´
Nothing else. Yes. Just that. Roy wondered what the follow-up to that could be. He found none. He placed one hand over the cover of her bed, next to her hand, at a gentlemanly distance from her hand, fingers light and loose like soft-voiced question marks.
`You look tired, too. You look happy,´ Hawkeye pointed out, almost disapproving.
He had been smiling since he entered the room. He hadn't noticed.
`Yes, and I don't have the excuse of the drugs.´ He frowned for a moment, almost pained by how easy he found opening up to her, because he said honestly: `I'm really excited about everything that could happen to this country from now on.´
`What's the plan then?´ She asked.
`It's hard to say,´ Roy replied and sat back slightly, mostly unconsciously, as if to put some distance between them, but his hand remained on the bed. His voice tried to sound formal, proper, older, like they'd just met. `So much to do. I'll be meeting with Olivier Armstrong and with Grumman in the next days at some point. We still have our hands full with patching up things right now. Nobody knows what's going to happen. It's going to be quite another battle, I'm sure.´
`You are not about to ask me if I'm sure I want to stay on.´
The humour and the stubbornness in her voice were a shared history. Roy liked that – their old contract: they made sure to choose each other over and over again.
`It is a lot of work,´ he said. `We are going to be very busy.´
She looked so determined then. Roy couldn't help himself. He leaned across over the bed – the crispness of the clean linen sheets under his hand as he propped himself – and kissed her. A part of him thought this was ludicrous: he knew her so well, this was Hawkeye, it was almost absurd to be kissing her, to be brushing his lips against her mouth gently, like a question that uncurls on its own. There were things, there were these things that they didn't do. But a part of Roy also wondered how it had taken this long, how he had been able to help himself. Because it was only incremental, it didn't change anything, he was Roy Mustang, she was Riza Hawkeye, they had already meant everything else to each other, he hadn't walked into this hospital room with this in mind, yet now nothing could have felt more natural.
Hawkeye didn't seem surprised, either, when he broke the kiss and had the chance to study her reaction. He realized, only in hindsight, that she had kissed him back, shifting in her bed and pressing against his mouth. She had kissed him. She had wanted him to kiss her.
They looked at each other for a moment after the kiss, faces still very close but slowly drawing away. When they drew apart her hand was suddenly in his.
`Thank you,´ Roy said, and yes it was a silly thing to say, he knew, but it was what he was feeling.
`What?´ Hawkeye frowned. `You didn't know?´
He seemed to be thinking about it. Hawkeye's expression softened when she realized he was not being coy, or falsely modest.
`Know? Mmmm. Yes, I guess I knew,´ Roy shrugged. `But still, a guy has his doubts.´
He felt how she squeezed his hand. He had forgotten they were holding hands, as if it were a most habitual gesture and their bodies had simply eased into it immediately.
`Don't,´ she said. `Have doubts, I mean.´
She looked away for a moment, half-embarrassed by her own eagerness. Suddenly Roy became aware that the noise of the day was still buzzing around them, he had forgotten for a moment, forgotten about wounds and scars and the footsteps of doctors outside. He brushed his thumb along Hawkeye's palm.
`I should really let you rest now,´ he said.
But he looked pained as he started, very slowly, to convince his body to withdraw and stand up.
She held his hand tightly. Looked at him, too, the meaning behind her stare clear, no misunderstanding, no interference in the line. She tried to compose herself immediately.
`Every time I let you out of my sight you cause a lot of trouble for both of us,´ she argued, Roy could tell she was making an effort not to sound too lame. `You might as well stay.´
All the struggle of the day washed over Roy, tingling in every nerve end, wearing him out and at the same time making him smile. It was a moment of perfect tiredness, like an explorer not when conquering the top of a mountain but upon reaching home. He drew Hawkeye's hand closer to him and held her with both his hands, and touched his lips to her knuckle very lightly. He sat back in his chair, finding the least uncomfortable position, and never letting go.
`I'll stay,´ he said.
And he did.