The colonel is lying, very nearly not moving at all, in the hospital bed.
The lieutenant is sitting there, in the battered chair that looks like it's seen more battles than she has. She's reading a newspaper, quietly reading the opinion pieces praising the colonel's bravery out loud to him.
You walk into the room after knocking lightly on the door.
She pauses when she finishes the current letter.
“I thought the doctors said...”
She smiles weakly. “He's not awake yet. They're keeping him sedated out of his mind until he's healed enough that he can't hurt himself. He tries to come out of it sometimes.”
She looks distinctly uncomfortable at that last admission.
That's when you finally get up the nerve to take a good look at him.
They have restrained him.
He's lying on his side, wrists loosely bound to the bedrail and it's fairly evident from the angles of the sheets that his ankles are the same way. His left shoulder is huge from all the bandages on it, and if it weren't for his other injuries you'd have thought that was the reason he was lying on his side.
But no, you don't. Because it's clearly not the reason.
The entire visible side of his face is one massive bandage. His nose is visible, past the edge, but the gauze wrapped to secure the padding goes over his ear and around his head.
“What happened?” you ask, trying not to figure out the answer to that question yourself. 'Trying' only, of course, because your mind has decided to run through all the combat injuries it's ever seen in an attempt to match wound patterns.
“The fuhrer sliced him up,” she tells you, voice barely betraying a sob you know she won't let out in front of you... or him, unconscious or not. “Muscle damage to every limb. The doctors don't know how he managed to walk out of there.” She coughs slightly, and you're sure she noticed the emotion in her voice and is trying to hide it.
Trying to appear strong and untouchable, despite the situation and despite that sling her gun arm is currently resting in.
“And then he and the brick wall he was standing in front of were impaled.” The throat clearing didn't work. You can still hear the sob waiting to break free, even through the emotional shock that's washing over you. “That's the shoulder wound. They think he pulled the sword out himself.”
That's when you notice that yes, there's a tear forming at the corner of her eye, and yes, she's still fighting to hold it all in.
They've only been superior officer and subordinate officer ever since the war, after all. And it's not like half the military hasn't already realized that they were likely to end up together eventually.
“If it had been a little further over, he'd have died.” And that's when the tear finally rolls down her cheek.
“Damn,” you mutter, voice quavering. Somewhere, beyond the look of clean gauze and the smell of that antiseptic every military hospital in the country uses to clean the floors, you realize your hands have started trembling.
You don't like that, don't like knowing that emotion can make even your hands shake and don't like the way it pulls on the wound in your hand that only happened...
It seems like more than two weeks. There's more there than could possibly fit in two weeks. Too many trains, too many fights, too much of the damn hospital smell...
Too much of the slow even breathing from your superior lying helpless, who doesn't even know what happened to him.
He doesn't even know we won, you realize with a shock that sinks to the bottom of your gut and stays there.
There's a stillness so deep you can hear the drip of the IV line. It's as maddening as the smell.
“What else happened?” you ask softly when the hospital noises and smells get to be too overpowering.
Her shoulders tremble. “Archer.”
You tilt your head. “I thought... The news was he was critically injured in Liore. 'Not expected to...'”
She shakes her head. “No one knew automail could be that extensive. Or be adjusted to that fast. Enough people saw him for the word to get out to civilians – the non-military automail mechanics are circulating a petition to parliament condemning it.”
You can't help but snort. “We haven't even selected any members of a parliament yet.”
“I know, but it's their way of establishing themselves...” She sighs. “Archer finally got his five minutes alone with him. No witnesses, no one to stop him. I got there too late.” Her voice fades to nothing.
“Hawkeye, you did what you could,” you tell her. “He intended to fight alone.”
“I know that,” she reminds you weakly. “The colonel must have turned his head right as the bullet fired.”
You feel the blood drain from your face.
You know exactly what that means.
“Archer thought he'd been killed. I got there just after it happened.”
You can't stop the images coming. Not from the four times you've had someone turn, not from the training sessions where you visualized what that would be based only on a training instructors' description...
The shrieking the time someone was knocked conscious again on the way down...
You shake yourself, and understand what just happened with a shudder.
You've had nightmares before, most of your fellow sharpshooters do too. It's what happens when your job is the sort of thing that wakes you up screaming because you had to be silent when you lived it in the waking hours.
But you've never had waking visions like the colonel does (rarely, but enough that he can't hide the fact) before.
She points to the other chair in the room, one you hadn't noticed, and you sit, quaking inside.
There's a stirring in the bed, and you understand after a moment that the yell she used to snap you out of the vision also was enough to get through the sedative haze.
Instead of stopping after a few seconds, it progresses to mumbles and whimpers, an ineffectual tug on a piece of cloth as he tries to move a hand to cover a wound.
The lieutenant reaches over, holds his fingers with the hand sticking out of the sling despite her own injury. “Sir, you need to lie still.” Her voice is firm, and louder than the nearly-whispers you've both been using. “You're safe in the hospital. Everything's going to be fine, but you need to lie still.”
He stops trying to struggle, but he's still making the noises.
“That's worked the last five times,” she says quietly, meeting your eyes with a worried gaze. “He's supposed to be on as many painkillers as they dare.”
You get up again, even though your ankles feel shaky. You grab his other hand the same way, holding onto the fingers, and now that you see the bandages wrapped around the backs of his hands you understand why she chose that grip. “Sir, it's me. Havoc. Everyone from the office is fine. Falman and Armstrong are fine, too. You don't have to worry about us, just yourself.” It's true – Ed never was a true member of the office staff.
You could swear he stills a little.
“The girls are unharmed as well,” she tells him, following your lead. “Sheska's wading through military paperwork. Pinako and Winry are shaken up, Sir, but nothing happened near them.” She reaches with her other hand and carefully tousles the hair at the top of his head. “And you're in the hospital, not in custody. You don't have anything to worry about but healing, sir.”
His fingers move a little against yours, and against hers, and a moment later he's breathing evenly again, unconscious or close enough that the difference doesn't matter.
It's too much, suddenly.
The IV drip, the breathing, that damn antiseptic smell that never fades into the background, the way there isn't the smell of smoke clinging to the colonel, the way he's lying there still when he's never still—not even when he's dodging paperwork, not even when he's fallen asleep at his desk on rainy afternoons....
You slip away, nodding at the lieutenant as you go. “I'll be back later,” you tell her, and you can tell she knows you mean days or weeks from now, when he's fit to be awake.
When he's in a lot better state than he is now, when you won't be taking chances on another damned waking vision.
You head downstairs and outside.
You catch yourself walking toward a bar you know opens at lunchtime, and stop in your tracks.
You know, now as you only thought you knew before, just why the colonel drinks so much on his days off.