In the bright lit room there are signs of what went on the past couple of hours; there are knocked-over beer glasses, chairs in disarray, a variety of lost, forgotten objects over the tables – a woman's shoe, lipstick, Havoc's watch. The last song played – "I won't dance" with Astaire's tap solo – has ended minutes ago and now the noise of the needle scratching the record fills the room in the same way the sound of tree branches against windows in storm days does.
Despite their merry manners the Company had not lingered, eager to catch as many hours of sleep as they can before the jump tomorrow, and the dancing floor had cleared just as swiftly as it had filled at the beginning of the night. The vague smell of cork and champagne.
It feels like the last night on earth here and maybe that's just about right, if Roy is feeling melodramatic.
Fortunately, he is not the only one who's decided to stay back here, now that party is over, and Riza Hawkeye's presence will make sure that he tones down the self-pity to the minimum.
Roy turns around, taking the whole picture of the ballroom in; he walks across to the empty stage – red velvet curtains but no microphone tonight, tonight was all about popular hits and private collections, records shifted from Lieutenant General Grumman's own personal array of RKO soundtracks – resting against the step.
He brushes the lapel of his coat for invisible creases until its perfection looks forced.
`Good boys. They didn't complain when we sent them to sleep,´ he says, as if implying he was their father and Hawkeye their mother. `Despite the...´ he gives her a sly look. `Company.´
Hawkeye walks up to him. They stand side by side, leaning on the dais, back to the stage.
`They are a good bunch, sir.´
`Yes, they are a good company.´ But he wonders how is it that the reward for training the best paratrooper company in the battalion is making them more likely to be killed? Skills put you on the first line, hard work won't save your life, quite the opposite.
Hawkeye shifts a bit. It's imperceptible to the eyes but Roy feels a pressure on his right arm, where their shoulders meet and brush. If this is Hawkeye's own and surreptitious way of comforting him Roy thinks it's a god-damned good one.
`What is it?´ she asks him.
`Very well, sir.´
She uses that tone that means she knows he is not telling but that she won't press further. She knows what's going on through that mind of his, anyway. She knows that slight frown on his forehead perfectly and millimetrically by now. He is thinking about tonight and how this last, lingering impression before tomorrow's jump might all Roy has left of some his men, were they not to survive D-day. He would remember the gala uniforms and the clinking of drinks, the way Major Armstrong's company stormed the place and Maria Ross gave Breda a hand behind the bar by the way of an apology; the way Falman recited all the names of villages north of Saint-Lo when he got a bit tipsy. The way everybody danced – everybody but him and Hawkeye, officers shouldn't... - and there was just a tiny glint of desperation in the way everybody laughed and lived for one night.
It's as if, in one night, through such brightness and exhilaration, these people and their drinks and their dancing and their bravery - 101st Airborne, say that with a mouthful of pride, son - had stopped being his company, like they no longer belong to Roy but to the world at large.
Hawkeye knows that the tight line of his mouth means Roy is thinking: `I can't protect them anymore.´
`First call at 0900 tomorrow then?´ he comments to fill the silence more than anything.
`Let's hope there's good weather and no more delays. Waiting's the worst.´
They stand like that for a while, propped against the stage, not touching and not not touching.
Roy puts his hands to his face for a brief moment and exhales.
`Actually. I was thinking how many of those boys will be dead by this hour tomorrow,´ he adds without drama.
He never calls them boys, Hawkeye knows this – not just because they are roughly the same age as Roy (it's a rank thing, not an age thing) but because he doesn't want to appear patronizing; they're not boys anyway – well, maybe Fuery is - and Roy would want to appear inaccurate even less than that.
He looks down at the hardwood floor, the tiny scratches left by heels and boots donning it now, the unrecorded, invaluable remembrance of objects.
`I was thinking other things, too,´ giving Hawkeye a certain look.
`Really?´ She sounds cynical. It makes him smile.
`Yes. I was thinking how good you looked in the gale uniform. In fact I've thought a lot about that through the night.´
`That's okay, lieutenant,´ he assures her. `Be at ease. It was just a comment.´
`Please refrain from making that kind of comments the night before the jump.´
She has a point.
`I promise...´ he starts, looking at her long skirt. `I will try.´
Hawkeye glares at him.
`Do I make you nervous?´ He asks.
`Good,´ he mutters. `That's good.´
She pretends she hasn't heard.
`Oh and sir...?´
`Make sure you don't fall too far from the drop zone,´ she tells him. `I don't want to have to search for you through all the invaded France.´
He chuckles; he remembers two years of training for this, Hawkeye always behind him on the plane, second from the door, Hawkeye always the one to say "two, okay" before patting his shoulder and maybe without her hand he'd never have the courage to say "one, okay" himself. Maybe without her hand on his shoulder he could never really jump.
`Would you search for me?´ He asks.
Hawkeye shifts in her position – the contact between shoulders, arms, knees, legs is not completely broken but it is loosened – and screws her face into a little girl's frown.
`How can you ask me that now?´ She says, simply.
Roy gets up, straightens his jacket and goes all tense and salute-position. It's a reflex that Hawkeye gets up as well, like her body has its own resolve to follow, always follow.
`Lieutenant?´ Roy calls out.
He offers his hand.
`Dance with me?´
She sighs, `Please, sir-´
`Just one little tiny song. There's nobody here.´
`Is that an order? Are you going to pull rank on me?´ Her lips curl upward in the beginning of a smile.
`Do I have to?´
She shakes her head.
`Okay. As long as I don't have to tap dance, sir. I don't think these shoes are fit for that duty.´
Roy smiles and goes to the record player. He quickly chooses the song and lets the needle fall in the appropriate place – the cracking noise starts again, but somehow Hawkeye thinks this time is different, it's kind of haunting, like the breath you draw before you say something very important and painful.
The song starts, slowly, quietly, the sly bass notes.
Roy places his hands on her hips with initial reserve but when she nods he presses harder and slips one hand up her back. She takes a couple of moments to catch up but when she does she slides her arms around Roy's neck with confidence, like accepting a challenge.
They try the first couple of steps and discover that, as much as their bodies are used to one another (exercise, marches, running the hill at the academy, the simple, permanent nearness of one another), not like this and they fall out of synch.
So they dance awkwardly, not knowing what to do with feet, knees, arms. They dance slowly and intently. They smell of the party, of recently-ironed uniforms, fabric softener, Havoc's cigarette smoke. They smell of each other.
`I was thinking...´ Roy tries.
`Always a dangerous course of action, sir.´
Her humour makes him regain some perspective. Even if his mind is screaming Oh God we're all gonna fucking die Hawkeye always brings him back to the comfort of the little things. Small things. Her hand is small in his.
`I was thinking you'd better not break your fingers in the jump tomorrow, you're the best damn shot this company has.´
Which is shorthand for please don't die on me. But that's just fine, she is just as apt at reading the Roy-English dictionary as he is at reading the Hawkeye-English one. He also knows shorthand is not the really thing and someday he will have to use proper words. Preferably before one of them is dead, or both are.
They both find even harder to pick up the rhythm of the song after moments like this, it's to difficult to dance and be so close at the same time. They try. Now they sway rather than dance. Her hand is small in his. His hand presses against her back and Roy can feel himself starting to sweat.
This the first out-of-character thing they've done in two years, the first selfish thing – it doesn't cancel the rest, it rather validates it, what's come before.
(two years of bad coffee and running a hill day in day out, night and rain, and hearing Breda – always the last to make the top – complain about it, three miles up, three miles down, two years of topography lessons and the watchword is "war is hell" while they never question how that's more than one word, actually, and none of them know what that means; two years of having their weekend passes revoked, Havoc moaning about it – he had a girlfriend, once -, and hushed voices of Mustang always stays in the base anyway which he had no idea if was said in reprobation or awe; two years of watching Cary Grant films on Saturday night and he and Hawkeye silently wondering if, had they not met before the camp, they'd still be Mustang and Hawkeye – days and then months and then years of playing perfect soldiers, perfect weapons in the high rank's hands)
Roy has been holding her closer and closer as they dance, and Hawkeye is surprised and she is not at the same time. She goes stiff at the shoulders but then again so does he. (bad coffee and bad rain together, two years of private jokes at the commanding officer's expense; that day in manoeuvring exercise where he discovered that she could read maps and count steps with enough precision to save lives, the pure happiness of running up and down that hill twice a day with her, hi ho silver)
He buries his face in her shoulder.
She says "sir" like it really is his name and not a common noun, like it's unlike any other noun in the language, and belonged to him singularly. She says "sir" like she would say "Roy" or "Mustang" or maybe even with more intent.
His lips brush her neck.
He says: `You know this is not because we are going to jump from a plane tomorrow and if we don't break our heads landing chances are the Germans are going to shoot us on the spot anyway.´
(whatever "this" is Roy knows there's no shorthand for it, so he leaves it intact, in silence)
It's like everything stops. Not the dance. Inertia still pulls them softly, tugging at them left and right. Her breathing stops for a moment, she draws a long one. Roy is aware of her eyelashes fluttering against the side of his forehead. Then she puts her hand on the hollow of his shoulder and pushes him gently – she doesn't push him away, she just wants him to look in her eyes.
`I had hoped you trusted me enough to know- You know that's not what I think,´ she states.
Now the distance between them is almost non-existent but enough to breathe in – at least they are not touching everywhere and Roy's hands have stopped sweating now, although they still feel hot.
`I do,´ he nods. `But even company XOs do get insecure sometimes.´
The lopsided smile is a bit pathetic, now. Hawkeye regards it with a hard look.
She steps closer.
She kisses his cheek.
(Roy doesn't know what to do with that)
`Your secret is safe with me, sir.´
He would laugh at that, but she is too close – one hand resting on his chest like an afterthought – and he can see every bit of colour in her eyes, tiny dots that look like the ones on well-loved wood bitten by age and use.
`The music has stopped,´ she points out.
They are not dancing. But they stand like that (hand on her back, hand gripping his shoulder) for what seems like ages. It could be a minute. Or three seconds.
`You'd better get some rest,´ she says.
`So should you, ´ He teases her. `After all, if you are going to wander through Normandy searching for my misdropped ass tomorrow, you're going to need all your stamina.´
They say these things but still they won't move.
Roy runs his fingers across her elbow in a way that feels more intimate that such a simple gesture is expected to and Hawkeye goes limp. He knows he is making her uncomfortable again, he knows first comes first and there have been years of "yes, sir", "no, sir" and then there's tomorrow. He doesn't want to upset her.
He sighs and retreats – he is the first to step back, just a bit, still in each other's personal space well beyond military regulation – and then Hawkeye clears her throat and straightens her skirt even if there's no need for that.
Roy lets her withdraw from him.
`0900 tomorrow, uh?´ He repeats.
It takes her a minute to react.
`I'll be at your tent 0830,´ she replies.
`I will have your coffee ready.´
She smiles easily at that.
`Is that all, sir?´
The needle keeps on scratching the record, like an electrical storm in the room, thunder caught in a glass. Roy smiles back at her.
`For now,´ he dismisses her, tone full of meaning.
Hawkeye salutes and walks away.
Roy watches – can't help but watch, stare really – her leave and thinks, quite simply, "shit" because here he is, the last night, the day before the day, and there's still the warmth from placing his hand on the small of Hawkeye's back and then there's the war, and if he puts those two on balance he very well knows what will come up winner, and that's no way for a soldier to be thinking. No way at all.
Or maybe he's found a good reason to come out of all this alive.