"Forty Names for Snow"
It was funny, really, the degree to which she'd become acquainted with Roy's habits. Not funny ha-ha, really, but – well, not funny weird, either; just funny. Here: she saw that his door was closed, and so knew she could go in. If it had been open with him out, he wouldn't want even her in there (being a dog of the military, he was quite territorial). And if it were open while he was in there, then he was working on something, some bit of paperwork, and wanted to prove it to her with full disclosure of his activities. Were it later in the day, the closed door might have indicated secrecy, some rare bit of something to which even she was not to be privy, so she might have knocked. But before lunch, a closed door meant that he was off-task or idle or (impossibly) done with everything to be done, and so would either need her prodding or want her company.
He was asleep now, stretched out on the desk with papers before him, the door likely closed last night before he nodded off while reading. A quick glance revealed that he'd been reading of Ishvar; the gloves stretched out on the desk beside him (the perfect distance for study – too far for him to want them there in the event of an emergency, and too close for him to have forgotten them) revealed that this was no assignment. Her money was on reminiscence, obsession on days in the desert, poring over accounts of his deeds, of the greatest heroes and the greatest murderers of the war and searching for his own name in both columns. And there was no half-empty bottle of comfort before him, and a quick glance at the liquor cabinet revealed that it had been drained. He hadn't wanted to go out to the corner store for some reason, and it had rained last night. Fear, then, had kept him in.
And he wouldn't want to sleep in with thoughts like that. Yes; his brow was drawn; his sleep had doubtless been haunted with half-formed phantoms. So Riza placed the work for the day – only a few papers to be signed, so Roy would be happy – before him, then pulled the curtain back and watched the Colonel. His eyes squeezed shut just a bit more, and he drew in a noisy breath just short of a snort, and his long hands sort of stretched out as though of their own volition until they cracked. Then he let out the breath he'd drawn in, rested his hand a moment on his brow, mussed his hair a bit, and only then opened his eyes and sat up.
"Hawkeye," he greeted thickly, then cleared his throat. There seemed to be an odd note of relief in his voice, though that might simply have been the sleep.
"Good morning, sir."
"What time is it?"
"Just after eight, sir," she replied, busying herself with sorting a few papers on top of the stack near him.
"Hmm." He squinted against the light from outside. "Did it snow?"
"Last night," Riza confirmed. "About six inches."
"Six inches," he repeated thoughtfully. "That's...positively historic, isn't it?"
"It's certainly more than we got last year."
"How much did we get?"
"My memory's going, Hawkeye, but not quite that much," he said, smiling nevertheless. "How much did we get last year?"
She shrugged. "It never got cold enough. Plenty of rain – plenty of rain – but no snow."
"This is rare, then.," he said, with that particular subdued half-smile that always settled about his lips when he was about to do something kind. "Well, I don't see why it should be wasted. Give everyone the day off."
Riza smiled, but shook her head. "I'd say that's a graceful gesture, sir, but I suspect they're already on their way over."
"They are?" He frowned thoughtfully. "I mean – they usually get here after I do."
"They all believe, sir, that if they're the first to greet Lieutenant Colonel Hughes he'll be distracted enough by everyone else that they'll get their photo-album obligation out of the way relatively quickly."
The frown melted into an unreserved grin as she explained the entire thing. "The more fools they. God himself couldn't get away with less than three hours of Elysia. God damn you, Hughes, for your exuberance."
Riza wasn't entirely certain what prompted her to reply, "She is quite cute, sir."
Roy laughed, not a little delightedly. "Why, First Lieutenant!" he exclaimed. "That was the last thing I expected you to say."
"I like children," she replied calmly.
"Do you? I never would have thought so."
"Of course you wouldn't, sir," she said, and instantly regretted her tartness when his eyes flashed a particular hurt.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"For what?" she replied. Dammit, she shouldn't be so terse.
He was silent for a moment. "For not knowing that. I should know those sorts of things."
"You don't need to, sir."
"I know I don't. That's why I want to." He paused again, staring at her as though somewhat unsure of what he was looking at. Finally, uncertainly, he asked, "What's your favorite color, Hawkeye?"
She raised an eyebrow. "Blue."
"Is it really?" he marveled, smiling again. "That works out well." Again, the scrutiny, the pause. "What's your favorite weather?"
What an odd question. He probably just had snow on the brain. "What?"
"What's your favorite weather? Sunny, or windy – "
She shrugged, hesitant in the face of her answer. "Rainy."
His smile turned rueful. "Well, that doesn't work out nearly so well, does it?"
"It works fine for me."
"I know, but..." He cut himself off, shaking his head with a small laugh. "You know what, Hawkeye? I'm a self-centered bastard. Of course you're fine in the rain. I'm the one who can't function." His second laugh was patently forced. "God! Look at me. I can't think about other people except in conjunction to myself."
Riza shrugged. "No one can, sir. In conjunction to themselves, I mean, not to you."
"I'm glad you clarified that. I was this close to having a swollen head."
"I think you're far beyond the point at which you have a swollen head, Colonel."
"A hit!" he cried. "A very palpable hit." Then again the abominable, pensive silence. "I just – sometimes – I can't think of you as anything but what I know you as. I wish that I knew more about you. I wish I knew more about Riza, rather than First Lieutenant Hawkeye. And – and Jean, rather than...You're the one I know more than anyone else, and I don't know anything about you."
"I'm not very interesting."
"But you're wonderful," he exclaimed. He ducked his head as soon as that was out of his mouth, and Riza found herself blushing a little. Somehow – he hadn't intended it, he wouldn't have meant to – but somehow, it came out incredibly heartfelt, almost devoted. So she cleared her throat and tried to make a bit lighter of the whole conversation.
"Besides, we're not even supposed to know each other, right? It's against the rules."
Roy nodded, clearly glad for the opportunity to cover his embarrassment. "It's a miserable failure of a policy, though, isn't it? It doesn't matter to me whether you're Riza, enamored of rainy weather and the color blue – " he tapped a point on the desk somewhere to his left – "or Hawkeye, who's at least among the best snipers Amestris has ever seen – " he tapped to his right – "because one implies the other." He tapped somewhere between the two points. "Riza, Hawkeye, Riza Hawkeye – the two are inseparable." He settled back in his chair and stared fixedly at the floor. "Just because they keep me from knowing you doesn't mean that I don't..." He shook his head and sighed. "I mean, is your boyfriend going to be any less likely to fight to avenge your death than I am?"
"Not everyone is like that, though, sir. You're remarkable like that. You're able to see every person as a person, regardless of who they are." She pointedly looked at the Ishvar file before him. He glanced down at it, and flipped it closed.
"That's not true, Hawkeye. I'm a self-centered bastard. We've been over this."
"You're not, though. That's why I..." Good lord; she could never say that. "That's why I respect you, sir."
"You respect me?" He actually looked startled at this. "Even though I don't work hard enough. You still respect me?"
"Of course, sir."
"Even though – " He forced a laugh, but his face drew into the same expression she had seen on his face as he slept. "I've killed?"
"We've all killed, sir."
"Not like I have."
"Yes, we have, sir. And even so..."
"Don't tell me it doesn't matter, Hawkeye."
"Of course it matters. It can't not matter. It's who we are. But – did you enjoy it?"
"Killing?" He smiled, traced a circle on the desk before him. "I can't help but wonder."
Dammit, Colonel – how could she respond to that? "Stop being self-indulgent, sir."
And it was funny how well she knew him. That, indeed, made him laugh, self-deprecatingly, yes, but laugh nevertheless and offer a rueful, "Sorry." "I suppose you're right," he sighed, then laughed again. "Of course you're right, Hawkeye. You always are." He smiled when she didn't respond to that. "Sometimes, I sort of wonder – what I would ever do without you. Not – not that I'd ever think of getting rid of you – God, no. You're like the air to me. It's a masochistic sort of thing, wondering what I'd do without air, you know?"
"I'd like to be that vital to you, sir," she said.
"Like to be, hah. You are. If you weren't – there – If you weren't with me..."He smiled at the desk. "I don't know what I'd do. I mean – don't take this the wrong way, of course, but – I don't think I could live without you."
She could only stare at him, astonished, unable to help but take it (at least in a cruel little corner of her) in the wrong way. He laughed again at her gaze and shrugged. "I dreamed – last night, or – this morning, I suppose...I dreamed that you were gone. It was something that I did. I killed you, somehow. And...I'm sorry. This is stupid."
She shook her head. "No." Then, on an impulse, she went over to him, and put her hand on his shoulder and kissed his forehead. She had to restrain herself from saying what she wanted to, and instead settled on, "That's really very sweet, Roy."
He caught her hand in his and smiled – brilliantly, genuinely, even lovingly – up at her. "Stay with me?" he asked her, his voice soft and vulnerable. God, he was never vulnerable. God.
"There isn't a damned thing you could ever do to make me go away," she whispered back to him, feeling strangely...luminous, really, if that made any sense. They stayed like that for a moment, hand upon hand, eyes upon eyes, until a snatch of conversation outside broke the moment. Roy dropped his hand, and Riza turned away, and the catharsis was complete as Roy laughed, light now, not tense, not hurt, as he'd been before, as she was only now realizing that he had been.
"Crap," he said. "We were going to give them the day off, weren't we?"
They weren't, really, but it didn't really matter. So she nodded, and smiled, and was suddenly overcome with the urge to clarify something earlier. "I don't have a boyfriend, by the way." She did manage to keep herself from wincing, but only just – that sounded uncomfortably close to an invitation.
Still, Roy, for all his flirtatiousness with others – all his flirtatiousness with every other, ever – merely sat back, and sort of blinked. "What? Oh...Oh, I see. No love-struck knight to avenge you. I see. Still." He shrugged, and smiled as though at some private joke, and then sort of looked back at her. "Really?"
"There's no – you know – no other man?"
"I just don't have time for one," she said defensively.
"Oh, of that I have no doubt. I'm sure that if you wanted one, you'd have him. You could get any man you wanted, for sure."
She nodded. "Thank you, Colonel."
He looked as though her thanks had been vaguely unsettling to him, then seemed to shake it off. "Yes."
There was a cough from the door. Mustang jumped, then motioned Havoc in. Havoc, however, looked between the two of them with a slightly raised eyebrow. "Am I interrupting something?" Havoc asked.
"No. God, no. No, um – Riza – pardon me, First Lieutenant – First Lieutenant Hawkeye and I were just...talking." Roy finished that syntactical train wreck with a defiant glare at his subordinate, who shrugged.
"Whatever. I was just coming in here to say – and I come as an emissary of the people – "
"The people being, of course, you, Fury, Falman and Breda – " Mustang interjected.
"Just me and Breda, actually, we're the only ones here yet, and please take note of that, First Lieutenant Hawkeye, and they're about a foot and a half away so the two of us got up way earlier than the two of them. Anyway – to say that it's totally crappy for us not to have the day off."
"I was actually just about to call everyone to tell you just that."
Havoc rolled his eyes. "Brilliant timing, Colonel. We're already here. What's the point of having the day off if you can't sleep in?"
"I guess there isn't one. Sorry." He didn't sound very sorry.
Havoc shook his head. "Well, whatever. Probably better this way. I'm relatively convinced that the longer you avoid Hughes, the worse he gets. Like getting wisdom teeth pulled, you know?"
Roy smiled to himself. "Frankly, the very thought of anyone being able to avoid Hughes is astonishing to me."
"Ahh, it's easy enough for us. You two, though – you know each other too well to not be able to find one another."
This, too – this innocent comment made his brow furrow. After a moment, he sighed. "I guess that's true." Then he collected himself. "Look, I feel bad about you coming to work, even though you could have and should have called the office – "
"But that would have been intelligent," Havoc grinned.
"Heh. So it can be a light day. Still get paid, not much work. Sound good?"
"Sounds brilliant, Colonel."
"All right, then. Tell everyone else, won't you?"
"Will do." Havoc sketched a salute and left the door open behind him.
Riza smiled as she looked at the Colonel. "And I suppose that will go for you as well, sir? A light day?"
He smiled in return, leaning back in his chair, twisted around to see through the window. "The weather's too nice to waste on paperwork – wouldn't you agree?"
"Will the weather be too nice to waste on paperwork tomorrow, as well, sir?" she asked, not unkindly.
"Today's a special occasion." She could catch his meaning easily enough – special for the weather, special for the rarity, special for Hughes.
"I suppose it is. I'll just leave this – " she held up the papers – "on this corner of your desk, then, just in case..."
"Thank you," he said with only a bit of a laugh in his voice. Then the phone rang, and he shrugged and picked up. "Mustang," he greeted, and sighed loudly. "Hughes! Go a bit slower, why don't you?" He looked up at her, and smiled, and she hid a grin of her own.
"Where are you?" he was asking as she shut the door behind her.
Havoc was the first one out the door. "Ho-lee," he whistled.
Fury was only a step behind him. "Wow," he agreed. Then Roy himself was able to see what they did, and good God, they were entirely right. In between his descent from his office and his arrival at the front doors, the sun had settled at just that angle where the snow is lit as from within, tracing everything with light and silver. Everything – everything – was rimmed with diamonds, bare trees and high walls transformed in crystalline beauty.
"Poor Lieutenant Colonel Hughes, though," Fury was saying.
"Why 'poor'?" Breda snorted. "It's a damn nice sight out here."
"Oh – oh, yes, it definitely is, but – he was saying how much he was looking forward to escaping Central's cold."
"He was complaining about it already when I talked to him," Mustang agreed. "I said it was his own fault, but he wasn't really keen on that argument."
"When did you have occasion to speak to the Lieutenant Colonel, anyway?" Falman asked Fury.
"On the phone," Fury admitted.
"Oh, don't tell me – Fury, don't tell me Hughes conned you into hearing all about his darling daughter!" Havoc moaned.
Fury shrugged. "He seemed pretty enthusiastic."
"He's always enthusiastic. You're such a pushover," he snorted, kicking snow at the younger man.
Fury dodged, and the snow hit Breda, who scowled. "Do you mind?" he asked, kicking it back.
"I wasn't aiming at you," Havoc replied, grimacing as he bent down to brush the powder from his pants. Breda scowled at him, then turned away. A snowball hit him in the back of the head.
Breda snapped back toward Havoc, who looked at him innocently. A touch of white on his hand, for all his innocent demeanor, betrayed him.
"It's war between us," Breda growled, then dipped down to scoop up an armful of snow. Another two snowballs hit him on the head as he was bent over, but he shrugged off the barrage. His first counterattack wasn't well enough packed and broke apart in the air. His second missed entirely.
"Oh, come on, Breda!" Havoc laughed, landing another hit to his shoulder.
Another snowball hit Havoc squarely in the back of the head. He turned around to glare at Roy. Havoc scowled as the Colonel made it clear that he wasn't attempting to put a stop to the battle, as he smirked and packed another bit of snow between his leg and left hand.
"You were winning," Roy said. "It's only fair to level the playing field."
"Don't think I won't fight back just because you're in charge of my pay, Colonel," Havoc warned pointedly.
"My entire childhood was spent in snow," Roy snorted. "The thought of you fighting back isn't exactly terrifying to me."
Havoc's only reply was to dive for another handful of snow and dodge the lobbed missile. He was packing down another snowball as Breda's attack hit him in the back, but he kept focus on the target before him. He threw, and Roy smirked and snapped with his right hand, and the snowball melted.
"No fair!" Havoc cried. "No fair! You can't use alchemy – "
"I wasn't aware that there were rules," Roy snickered, again packing a snowball against his thigh.
"Unspoken rules! Gentleman's agreement!"
"Agreement?" Roy lobbed, and Havoc dodged.
"Yes. Or – whatever. Dammit, it's not allowed! Someone help me out here!"
"It does seem a bit unfair, Colonel," Falman agreed. A moment later, a snowball splattered against his chest. "Would you like help, Lieutenant Havoc?"
"Absolutely," Havoc said, grimly lighting a cigarette. A moment later, a well-placed bit of snow had knocked it out of his mouth.
At this point, even Breda turned against his Colonel, their alliance forgotten with Roy's unfair advantage. It took a bit of cajoling, but the others managed to convince Fury to join in their total war – but to no avail. Their combined distractions might have made a few of the Colonel's snowballs go wide, but not a single one got past his flames, and within minutes, the four were covered in white and crouching for shelter behind the same snowbank.
"Come on!" Mustang laughed. "Don't tell me you all give up?"
"Go on!" Breda nudged Fury, who had a snowball ready. "Get him!"
Fury stood up, quickly threw it, and ducked back down again. Roy laughed and snapped – and a second later, snow splattered against his upraised hand, drenching his glove. He turned around to receive a second snowball in the face. He wiped the ice from his eyes to stare at Hawkeye, looking back at him with a tiny smile.
"Insubordination!" he cried. "Insubordination of the first degree!"
She calmly stooped down to pick up another handful of snow. "I'd say it's only fair to level the playing field, Colonel."
He scowled at her, then snapped back around in time to dive to the side in time to avoid Havoc's well-timed missile. He couldn't help but laugh as another snowball arced from behind him to hit Havoc.
"But you'll still help me," he called to her.
"Now that there's no reason not to..." she said.
"You're not on our side?" Falman cried.
"I stand behind the Colonel," she replied as a snowball sailed over his white head.
Mustang grinned and scooped up a double handful of snow. This – this was how it was supposed to be, with Hawkeye behind him.
He didn't have long to savor it, though.
"You all look ridiculous," Hughes proclaimed from the wall.
"He started it," Mustang responded promptly.
Hughes walked toward the group, laughing. "Which one?"
"Take your pick." He felt compelled to make an addendum: "For the record, we all sort of unofficially have the day off."
"Because of the weather?" Hughes asked, finally reaching Mustang and dropping one of his suitcases to salute.
Mustang nodded and returned the salute. "Lovely day, isn't it?"
"You made it cold just to spite me, didn't you?"
"Maybe you just carry bad weather with you wherever you go."
"Did you pack for the cold, Lieutenant Colonel?" Riza asked, knowing that to be just the sort of comment to precipitate an argument.
"I did, First Lieutenant," Hughes said. "I predicted it all along. Incidentally, I was surprised to see you involved in that little debacle..."
"Can't I have a bit of fun, as well?" Hawkeye asked sardonically.
Hughes shrugged. "Of course you can. Permission's there – permission's always there. I just don't expect you ever to exercise that right."
"So you're saying that I simply don't appreciate it."
Hughes adjusted his glasses, glanced to the side, and coughed. "Sure is cold out here, isn't it?"
"Haven't we been over this?"
"Yes. Yes, we have. And I sure would like someone to help me carry my bags inside," he said.
Breda and Havoc engaged in a little staring war. Breda blinked first, and so went over and picked up one of Hughes' suitcases. He grunted. "Good God. What do you have in here? Lead?"
"Photo albums," Hughes said gleefully. "Elysia is talking. She's so brilliant!"
"And that brilliance will, of course, be revealed in photographs," Mustang drawled.
"Don't be ridiculous. Her cuteness will be revealed in photographs, of course!" Hughes replied.
"Of course. How foolish of me."
"Although," Hughes amended, "sometimes I can't help but wonder if she isn't so brilliant that you can see it. I know, I know – " he said, as though anyone would attempt to contradict him on the subject of his daughter. "It's impossible. But it doesn't keep me from wondering – you know. Now, Breda!" he cackled. "Ahead! I know you're all dying to see pictures of my darling daughter."
And God help them, they did follow, but Roy dropped back a bit. Riza, seeing this, went to join him. Still, he didn't speak for a long while, merely looking upwards, watching a bird circle overhead.
"I like the rain, too," he said suddenly.
She smiled. "Do you?"
"I do. Thunderstorms in particular, but all rain. I guess that makes me a bit of a masochist, doesn't it?"
"We all know that you're a masochist, Colonel." She smiled. "Don't worry about it, though. Enjoy the rain. I'll be there to protect you."
"I'm glad," he said simply.
He knew there was nothing for her to say to that, but he didn't need her to speak. All he needed was her presence, wonderful walking beside him, loveliness on the loveliness of snow. All he needed was her, his water and his air, vital.
(A/N: Ohh, sap. Trees would be unable to live without you. In all honesty, I'm not much pleased with this one, particularly in comparison to my other two Fullmetal Alchemist fics, but even though I rather like the dialogue I write, fics with dialogue always end up cheesier than anything else I write. Meh.)