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First Few Desperate Hours

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yeah when cloven hoof-prints turn up in the garden
we keep up the good fight
we keep our spirits light…

Statistically speaking, they are eating lunch together about the same amount of times a week as they were before.

It's ridiculous of him to keep track of these things but he's too used to understanding the world in equations and ratios to stop. Maybe twice a week. Sometimes three times. They can hardly walk down from the office together any more but he knows the time of day she always seems to eat, can carefully sidle over to her table, make some blithe remark.

Hawkeye looks smaller now, though perhaps it's just that she's further away. She eats her yoghurt with a teaspoon to make it last and their conversations are small, meandering things, never leading anywhere important. Falman sent her a letter from North City complaining about the cold; Roy thinks of the man's spiky, regimented handwriting and bites his lip.

"I don't know how you can stand to eat that stuff without any honey."

"I'm not the one who manages to swallow the mud they call coffee here, sir."

He smiles, as much as is appropriate for two people sitting opposite each other at the cafeteria table. "Something has to get me through all that work on my own."

She sits up slightly, tapping her index finger against the side of her mug absent-mindedly and for a moment he misses her more than he has words for, misses her although she's barely a foot away.

"How's the dog?" Roy pulls his chair in closer, just barely. Nothing for anyone to remark on. Under the table their knees are almost touching, and Hawkeye looks down into her water.

"I think he gets lonely," she says, as if drawing the words up from a great depth. Outside it's cloudy and the light is hesitant to cast shadows, colouring the planes of her face in shades of grey.

"That's too bad."

They carry on eating but under the table she shifts her foot and rests the toe of her boot on top of his, her expression calm and neutral, the smallest point of contact like a dash of light.

Stupid, stupid, to want her even more now that she's been taken away.

Fuery calls every so often; Roy imagines he does the same with his parents, telling kinder stories than the southern front really gives him. They don't talk about anything of real consequence but Fuery coughs into the phone and manages to bring up electromagnetism more often than Roy thinks would be normal in most conversations.

Hughes' death left sharp absences all over his life and now there are a thousand more, silent fragments like shattered glass. He wakes in the small hours of the morning and wanders the streets around his flat when he can't get back to sleep, the pale gas light lending the city a ghostly hue. Everything seems to be the wrong shape, as if the geometry of the buildings has been corrupted.

He climbs the fence of the military cemetery at 5 am and squats in front of Hughes' grave, picking listlessly at the dewy grass.

"You always had to have the last word, Maes, you bastard," Roy says, but there's nothing he could take as a reply, no distant noise carrying through the still, cold air.

When he picks up his post that evening there's a small card with a crude ink wash painting of forbidding mountains printed on one side. It's addressed to 'Colonel Mustang'.

'Had not fully appreciated temperature difference- be sure not to take a holiday in the North Area without adequate preparation, sir! Hope you are well.'

Roy pins it to his rickety bookcase and brushes it with his shoulder when he walks by.

They rarely cross paths in the corridors, though the two occasions it has happened have him taking every blonde soldier of approximately the right height for her almost every time he steps outside the office.

He has been overusing the word ridiculous.

Hating paperwork is one of the few things he's never had to pretend to; when he manages to get ink on his face after his pen starts leaking from just about everywhere but the nib he starts to wonder if this wasn't the real point of getting rid of all his subordinates. All dissent will be crushed under the weight of unnecessary personnel forms.

Sometimes sitting at his desk he feels an itch between his shoulders like when Hawkeye would stand behind him with some dossier or message or just to keep him from slacking off. She always seemed to enjoy acting his minder but he remembers the soft rush of cloth whenever the door opened, her hand moving to the gun at her belt.

Now he sits with his back to the tall window, open and exposed.

"The casserole isn't going to hurt you, Lieutenant."

Hawkeye looks up at him through her fringe with some scepticism, her fork still aimlessly wandering after a lump of potato on her plate.

"If you say so, sir."

Roy looks down at his own lunch as he slides into the seat opposite. He's made better himself, but then never for several hundred military officers at a time. It does smell a little unusual.

"What's new?"

"Oh things are fairly regular in the Fuhrer's office." Hawkeye keeps her eyes down, reluctantly spearing a chunk of meat. No new information. They have an old system of codes and signals that he knows she can't have forgotten. It's been over a week now since he last saw her and he's torn between frustration and a sense of relief; if she doesn't know anything, at least she's no further threat to them.

He can't think of anything innocuous enough to say so they eat in silence for a while, and he almost starts out of his chair when she slides her feet across under the table so the toes of their boots nudge together. Her face is utterly impassive, as if there could be nothing more interesting than the roll she's buttering, but her right foot is sliding alongside his and it ought to be the most innocent thing but Roy feels a tremor run down his back as if she had her hands on his bare skin.

He wishes she really did. He wants to reach across the table and grab the collar of her jacket and pull her towards him just to feel her breath on his skin, to be certain that they're both still there. He shovels a forkful of the (genuinely bad) casserole into his mouth and tips his foot up to press the toe of his boot against the inside of her ankle, holds it there. He's not sure exactly what this counts as code for, what he really means to say, but they sit like that for the next ten minutes, eating and passing empty phrases back and forth.

Eventually Hawkeye draws her foot back and stands up, looking him in the eye properly for the first time.

"I'd better head back, I'm running late."

Roy tries not to watch her as she leaves.

He sits up late with Flamel's Exposition and half a packet of biscuits, as if he was twelve again and drawing simple circles on the barroom floor to fix broken glasses for his mother.

So it wasn't a waste spending all your pocket money on those books then, Roy-Boy! She'd ruffled his too-long hair the way he'd already started to wish she wouldn't.

Reading books had been the only thing he was at all good at, and alchemy was a way to make himself useful. It's probably how it begins for everyone, apart from the idiots in it for power from the start. He could help his mother, or the elderly couple who lived the floor above, or the greengrocer down the road. It was a seamstress from the building across the street, a dabbler in alchemy to assist her work, who told him he had talent enough to need a proper teacher.

He'd managed to blow up his original copy of Flamel, along with several other unfortunately important books, at the age of fourteen. The volume in his hands now is heavy and leather-bound, the pages soft with wear and annotated here and there both in his own hand and a hastier, looping script. The bookplate inside the cover reads, 'From the library of Jan Hawkeye'.

She had let him take most of her father's books after the funeral, though it had seemed almost pointless next to what he really learned those last four days in the tumbledown house. Some of them are barely legible in places from the old man's furious notes and corrections- there's an entire chapter of Maier's Canticles almost blotted out with scribbled objections and derogatory remarks about the author's grasp of the subject. Roy had studied under the man for two and a half years but it's only really in reading his books that he's ever felt any insight into Jan Hawkeye. The candle flames flutter slightly as Roy exhales.

…as the student of ruder sciences so too the alchemist must work amidst uncertainty, for even the very grounds of the practice are glimpsed only as in a fleeting reflection, and never entirely made known. With this in mind it is best to account in calculations for variables of three distinct qualities…

The smell of old books and hot, melting wax suffuses the flat. That night he dreams of rough things, steel and stone and the heat of palms pressed against his skin.

The next time he visits the hospital he asks Havoc about the price of digestive biscuits.

"We charge extra to the military," Havoc drawls, flicking the new lighter Fuery bought him and staring at the flame for a few seconds.

"How unpatriotic," Roy says. "And you should stop smoking, you sound like an old man."

"I'll quit when you do, sir," and he smiles, his lips quirking around the day's cigarette. "Besides, it just adds to my rugged veteran persona. I'll have girls all over me when I get home."

"They say miracles do happen."

Havoc doesn't rise to the bait. "As long as you don't come down there and lure them away from me, Colonel."

"I doubt I'll be able to leave Central any time soon." Roy leans back in his chair, the window behind him rattling in the wind. "You know, Havoc, If you're really retired you don't have to call me Colonel any more."

There's a pause, nothing he thinks anyone else would take much notice of, but Roy's been hearing Havoc talk (too much) for more than five years. "I don't know, sir. Maybe it won't be too long before I can call you something else."

When he's back in the empty office that afternoon it doesn't seem that certain. The sounds of footsteps and voices pass by the closed door like the dull thrum of the weather.

It's half six in the morning and he's been walking around the city for more than an hour when he realises he's in Hawkeye's district. It's hardly the nicer end of town, but this early even the slums would look special, wreathed in mist and the edges of dawn.

His feet take him left and around another corner and he's standing opposite her building, only one streetlamp on and flickering fitfully; the city gas mains are old and notoriously unreliable. All the windows are dark and he's not sure which ones are hers anyway.

They've kept keys to one anothers' flats for years but only for safety's sake; Roy slides his hand into his coat pocket and touches the spare key on the ring. Stupid, stupid. There's hardly anyone else around and he doesn't think he's been followed but his instincts have hardly been a reliable guide in this entire debacle. Just standing here is idiotic enough.

There's a clatter somewhere in an alleyway behind him and the sound of a cat hissing. In Hawkeye's building a light flickers on at a window on the third floor, an indistinct shape moving behind thin curtains. Roy pulls his scarf closer around his neck and starts walking.

It feels peculiar to be solving the chess puzzle in the Thursday paper without Breda making excuses to wander over and tell him he's doing it wrong.

White to move and mate in two. Roy lets his pencil wander around the blank edges of the paper, doodling the outline of a rook. One should be careful in anticipating the opposing forces. Breda always prefers to play Black, to watch and respond. Roy's had no letters from Western HQ, no cheery postcards, and only a brief phone call about a book Breda had accidentally packed and taken with him. Roy told him to keep it.

A well-constructed defence is crucial to success.

The shortest possible checkmate takes two moves, but relies entirely on the opponent's weaknesses. He hasn't seen Hawkeye for several days and wishes that could either be a good or a bad thing and not a tangled mess over whether she might have any information and whether that was useful or just dangerous.

Somewhere in Bradley's defences there's a crack, something Roy can draw out and exploit. White seizes the offence. But only an idiot strands his queen behind enemy lines.

The chequered puzzle square swims in his vision. This is hardly a strategy game anymore; this is far beyond the clever manoeuvres and politics he's been relying on since Ishval. When the time comes it will be all or nothing. The lead in his pencil snaps against the newspaper and Roy squeezes his eyes shut.

Queen to Q4, Bishop x Queen, Knight to KB6 mate.

There should always be more than one solution.

He goes out into the city early one afternoon to buy a new pen when the one he brought from East City finally gives up the ghost. It's something he probably should have sent an assistant to do but a pen's personal enough to be able to excuse not passing the job on to some faceless grunt, and he finds himself breathing easier every time he steps past the outer wall, illusory as the feeling is.

He's two streets away on his way back, a small box tucked under his arm, when he looks up and sees Hawkeye on the other side of the road, walking in the opposite direction. With her usual timing she glances up too and they lock eyes. On a sudden impulse Roy jerks his head slightly to the left and steps through the next door he comes too.

It turns out to be a second-hand bookshop, high shelves climbing murkily to the ceiling and heavy with the smell of leather and old paper. He wanders further in, apparently the only customer, though the place is labyrinthine enough to cover a multitude of sins.

It's only a few minutes before he feels a light touch on his elbow, and a low voice saying, "I had no idea you had such an interest in Cretan literature, sir."

Roy blinks and looks properly at the shelves in front of him. There are several translations but most of the books have titles in the weird, half-familiar Cretan alphabet that he's always struggled to read.

"I hadn't seen you for a while," he mutters, not turning his head. Out of the corner of his eye he can make out Hawkeye a little to his left, running her fingers along the spines of the books.

"There's no reason for us to see very much of one another now," she replies, her tone soft but bitter.

"I worry about you." At first he thinks he's spoken too quietly for her to hear, but her fingers have stilled and her breath seems louder in the quiet recess of the shop.

"I read this once," she says, after what feels like a very long pause, and it takes him another moment to realise she's talking about a book. He glances over at her very quickly; she's touching a slim volume with something illegibly foreign written on the spine. "It's about a man who persuaded birds to build him a city in the sky."

"That sounds distinctly impractical."

"Except that it enabled him to challenge God." She clears her throat. "After a fashion."

The door chimes as someone else comes into the shop and Hawkeye moves a little closer to him, further into the shadows of the shelves. She looks down at her feet.

"I'm more worried about you, sir."

Before Roy can try to put together some kind of appropriately nonchalant response he realises there are footsteps coming closer to their little hideaway, and reflexively he grabs Hawkeye's arm to pull her right to the end of the corridor of shelves, dropping his new pen with a clatter that sounds horribly loud. There's very little light and he can't see her as much as he can feel her, their bodies suddenly pressed together in the darkness.

She has been so far away. The blood roars in his ears.

"Colonel…" Hawkeye exhales hard and he's released her arm before he recognises the tone of her voice. This close he can feel the tension in her body like a cocked pistol, readying herself to fire or flee. There are footsteps further up on the other side of the shelves and she reaches back and grabs his hand.

If anything happens too quickly he'll certainly make a noise, and that would be a very bad idea. The footsteps are coming closer, sounding more and more like military-issue boots on the dusty wooden floor. Roy closes his eyes and leans forward, breathing in the clean, plain smell of Hawkeye's hair starting to come loose from her bun. He wonders if he's imagining the feeling of the heat of her skin or the way she seems to be leaning back against him, ever so slightly, the holster at the back of her belt digging into his thigh. She squeezes his hand harder. The footsteps have stopped, maybe four feet and a layer of books away. A floorboard creaks.

There's a sudden clatter followed by a loud crash somewhere on the other side of the shop, and the footsteps stop and then hastily recede. Roy sighs with relief, opening his eyes, and Hawkeye releases her death grip on his hand but doesn't move away at all. In the low light he can still see the way her dark uniform collar sits over the pale skin of her neck.

"This is not a good idea, Colonel," she whispers, her breath ragged at the edges.

"A terrible idea," he agrees, his mouth inches away from the back of her neck. The air between them feels denser, harder to move through the closer he gets to her.

"It's not safe to meet like this," she says and finally steps away from him, ducking her head and straightening her uniform though it's hardly moved out of place. He picks up his dropped package and follows her for a few steps until she puts out a hand and touches him square in the chest, almost right over his heart.

"I'll leave first, sir. Give me at least three minutes." Her fingers close and open again very slowly, pulling at the fabric of his jacket, and she turns back to look at him over her shoulder with a very deliberately calm expression. "You could use your spare key."

When he goes to the cemetery in daylight Roy stops at one of the carts outside and buys a little bundle of flowers like you're supposed to. He can hardly tell one kind from another but they're the same colour as the ones he remembers from Hughes' wedding, petals that dropped from their displays into little pools of red on the floor.

They sag from his hand as he stands in front of the grave. Out in the open the wind catches the bottom of his coat and sends it fluttering against the backs of his legs. The ground is damp and soft under his boots.

"You know, I even miss you babbling on about Elicia." There's a fresh bunch of flowers already lying in front of the headstone, little fussy pink things. "You already knew what the future we talked about was going to look like." The wind carries the sounds of regimented feet from somewhere over the curve of the hill, somebody else's friend going into the ground.

Roy looks at the flowers in his hand again. He could just set fire to them and it wouldn't make any difference to Hughes now, but cemeteries aren't really for the dead anyway. The white stone looks as clean and honest as the day it was laid.

He crouches down and lets the flowers drop onto the ground, startlingly red against the grass. A few cautious spots of rain are starting to fall.

He drops Vanessa off at the end of her road and waits until she's closed her front door before moving off from the kerb. Her friend's sister is a clerk in Southern headquarters and is a far faster and more reliable source than the official military channels, though he still reads through the casualty lists with gritted teeth, waiting for familiar names and feeling a sick sense of relief at every page of strangers. He hasn't heard from Fuery for far too long.

It's cloudy overhead and night is settling in around the city like smog, a thick, enveloping blanket. Roy slows the car down to let two men in shabby clothes cross the street ahead and drums his fingers on the steering wheel, feeling inexplicably restless. The hairs on the back of his neck are prickling as if there's a storm on the way.

He drives home, parks the car, walks up the stairs to his flat. He sits down at the kitchen table without taking off his coat and steeples his fingers, half waiting to hear thunder in the distance.

All the streetlamps on her road are out tonight, the murk only penetrated by the light from a few windows. City maintenance ought to have done something about it by now but for the first time Roy feels a little gratitude for standard Amestrian bureaucratic incompetence. At the street corner he slides his hand into his pocket again and draws out a plain, pristine key. He counts to ten, then twenty. There's nobody else on the street.

He keeps his head down but there don't seem to be many other residents around in the corridors of her building, though he can hear people moving about on the floor above, someone two doors down from her playing the violin. At her door he pauses for a moment, wondering if he should knock instead. No. The key slides smoothly into the lock. The door creaks very slightly as he opens it.

Hawkeye is standing with practiced insouciance at a right angle to the door, her revolver raised in one hand. She breathes out heavily with relief when she sees it's him and lowers the gun, pushing the cylinder out of position. Roy locks the door behind him instinctively. He can still hear the violinist from down the hall, slow arpeggios dropping into the quiet night.

Hawkeye takes a box down from a shelf near the door and shuts the gun and bullets inside, replacing it carefully. They're a few feet apart and she takes a few more slow steps towards him, a sudden hesitance that seems unnatural on her sharp, straightforward face. Her hair is loose around her shoulders, though he's never thought it made her look any softer.


His mouth feels as dry as the Great Desert. He shrugs off his coat for something to do, and drapes it over the low cupboard just inside the door. Black Hayate is curled up on a blanket in front of it, his tail twitching as he sleeps. The silence stretches out like a long note.

Finally Hawkeye bites her lip and looks down with a little huff of breath. "We should probably talk, I could make some tea if-"

"No." It's the uncertainty in her that he can't stand seeing, Hawkeye whose arm is always steady, the shadow who follows behind him into the dark. Roy tries to ignore the sudden fluttering rush in the pit of his stomach and closes the space between them. His hands feel awkward and he clenches his fingers slightly before bringing them to rest lightly on her hips. He wants to be close enough to make up all the distances, wants her to draw him in.

She doesn't have to look up very far to meet his eyes, and he watches her hesitant expression shift into a hungry determination that's both familiar and entirely new.

When she reaches up to kiss him it's light as air, like particles meeting and separating, her thumb softly parsing the loose ends of his hair. He doesn't have time to open his eyes before she kisses him again, and he slides his hands around to the small of her back, pulling her flush against him. Her lips are chapped and warm, almost comforting, until she tilts her head and grazes his bottom lip hard between her teeth, sending a fierce jolt all the way through his bones. Her hands on his shoulders fist in his shirt collar, holding on tight.

The violin is rising in sharp little crotchets. Hawkeye slides her tongue into his mouth, shifting her weight forwards so he finds himself stumbling back, still holding her against him. She has always been perceptive, fitting herself into necessary spaces, but somewhere in the devolving abstractions in his brain he's sure this is how she wants it too, one of her hands slipping down to pull at his shirt buttons with martial ferocity. Roy almost trips over a box and she breaks the kiss suddenly.

"Careful," she whispers against his mouth, with a smile that makes his blood feel hot, "you'll wake the dog."

"Oh that would be bad," he mumbles and when she's tugged his mouth back down to hers again he lets her guide him backwards through the little flat until they're standing in her poky bedroom, his shirt almost entirely unbuttoned and his hands sliding up under the back of her polo neck. He's still vaguely aware of the half-distant violin making its swift way through a piece he doesn't recognise.

Hawkeye suddenly slows and stops, and when she looks him in the eye again the hesitance is back in her face.

"I miss you," she murmurs, like a confession. "I miss you every day."

Roy splays his fingers against her back and she loops her arms loosely around his waist, brushing against his newest and still tender scars, and leans her head against his shoulder. He buries his nose in her hair.

"I feel like I lost my shadow," he says. "It's not natural." She turns her head to kiss him just above his clavicle. His body is still humming with arousal and he breathes in sharply, running his thumb over a thin line of scar tissue.

"I've wanted this-" he shakes his head slightly, his voice hoarse "-I've wanted you for years."

Her hands tighten in his shirt again, pressing closer to his skin. "This is incredibly dangerous."


"We're probably both being watched."


"I don't care." They've both been talking very softly but her tone is suddenly edged with steel, smooth and deadly as a gun barrel. She lets go of his waist and undoes his last two shirt buttons.

Her bed is unexpectedly messy, the blanket half rolled up and the top sheet untucked from the mattress and untidily folded back; it's soft but not as soft as her skin and the ends of her hair trailing over his chest. The light from the small lamp beside the bed colours over everything with warm yellow tones, like stained glass. Hawkeye is running a finger along the line of his cheekbone as if she's reading, trying to commit something to memory.

She sees him looking and retracts her hand, looking slightly embarrassed. "I… normally I turn out the light."

"Oh," he says, and a moment later, "oh," when he understands. There's a whole reel of clichés that he could respond with but none of them are really true and 'beautiful' seems like such an awkward, inadequate word for her anyway. He runs his hands up her sides, skimming his palms over her breasts. The violin has faded away almost to silence now, leaving the rhythm of their breathing in the still air.

He wants to tell her all the ridiculous things he still hasn't got around to telling her, about wanting to found a university and that weird story about horses from the city paper last week and how he managed to let a bit of bacon catch on fire when he'd picked up a book in the kitchen and lost track of time. With their naked skin pressed together he wants to say love, love, but it sounds too much like a promise and they both have much bigger ones to keep.

Hawkeye kisses him with words incoherent at the back of her throat, fragments of meaning, arches her back off the bed and suddenly it's so simple, like something they should have been doing for years. Her heart is beating frantic time against his, he's there and inside her, and then, then, hearing her pant, "Roy," with her eyes wide open and full of light, drawing him in and in.

He is woken up rather unceremoniously when she has to climb over him to get out of bed. It's still dark outside so Roy switches the lamp on and he's weighing up the relative merits of getting up to check his watch when she reappears in the doorway with a glass of water. She's still naked and he smiles in drowsy approval, shuffling over to let her back under the sheets.

Hawkeye takes a long swig from the glass and settles back onto the pillow, staring up at the ceiling overhead where there's a damp stain spreading out from the wall.

"You should leave before it gets light."

"I know." He sighs, and slides a hand across her stomach. "This probably shouldn't happen again- not while…"

"Not while I'm working for a homunculus," she says, her mouth in a grim line. Roy wants to kiss her again but the thought of leaving is difficult enough as it is.

"You won't be there forever."

She's silent for a moment, still staring up at the ceiling, but when she turns her head her expression is almost frightening in its intensity. "I know. I trust you."

This time he can't help himself. Her mouth has the metallic tang of tap water and she winds her fingers into his hair. He wants to leave the door locked and the curtains drawn and stay in her bed for the rest of the day and make love until neither of them can think, but it wouldn't stop the world from pressing in. He slides his mouth away slowly and sits up.

While he's picking up his scattered clothing Hawkeye pulls a man's nightshirt over her head and perches on the edge of the bed, her arms loosely folded. She's put on the same familiar look of deliberate calm, a tight lid on whatever she's keeping underneath.

"If you turn right at the end of the corridor there's a back staircase that takes you out towards the alley, and someone usually leaves the door unlocked," she says as he starts buttoning his shirt back up. "It's less likely someone will notice you."

"Thank you." He flicks open the cover of his watch before putting it back in his pocket; it's a little after four. Hawkeye stands up and follows him back through the flat, leaning carefully over her still-sleeping puppy to retrieve his coat. He touches the back of her hand very lightly as he takes it. They stand facing one another in front of the door, maybe two feet apart.

"Will I see you at lunch?" he asks, trying to keep his tone light. Hawkeye looks down at the floor, scuffing her foot across the bare boards.

"Not today."

Even with the memory of her body freshly burned into his mind the distance between them aches like an old wound. Roy clears his throat. "Be careful, Lieutenant."

She lifts her head and a small smile plays about her mouth. She raises her hand in a lazy salute, the baggy sleeve of the nightshirt slipping down her arm.

"You too, Colonel."

When he's blundered down the thin staircase and through the unlocked door he finds the alley is narrow and damp, but overhead the clouds are clearing and over the dull glow of the city lights he can see the bright, distant pinpricks of stars. Roy puts his hands in his pockets and steps around a puddle, heading out into the dark streets. Beyond the sleeping buildings and the scuffling sounds of the night the dawn hangs just below the eastern horizon, a soft and waiting light.