WARNING: THIS FANFICTION CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR EPISODE 25.
I WARNED YOU.
For writing this fic I listened to "We Are" by Ana, "C'mon C'mon" by The Von Bondies, "Careless Whisper (Guilty Feet)" by George Michael, and "Cosmic Castaway" by Electrasy. All of which made for a fic with an interesting approach to transitions and a bit of a neurotic psychosis.
Leaving the wake, the two of them went straight to Hawkeye's apartment. They both knew it was borderline inappropriate given the evening hour, but the lieutenant didn't trust him to be out of her sight and Mustang was too weary to argue. She promised tea and quiet, two things he felt he could handle without screaming.
Hawkeye's apartment was fiercely tidy, but for all her cleanliness she'd never managed to make the apartment look much better than the poorly constructed and cheaply purchased place it was. As a first lieutenant her pay grade allowed for better, but for whatever reason she'd declined to move. Roy figured she participated in that general apathy of career officers: a house was the place you slept; the office was home.
Still, it was nice to see the inside for once. Roy had been to the door or passed by several times, but never crossed the threshold. It felt like Hawkeye: simple décor with simple colors, but little touches of the personal rebelling against the stock and customary. An ornate desk in the corner caught his eye, and he wandered over to examine it.
The wood was oak, dark with age and varnish, and cut in a design at least seven decades out of style. It was in pristine in condition. "This is beautiful," Roy said softly, running a hand along the smooth surface. Even for acknowledging something worth complimenting, he didn't feel the strength to rise above a monotone.
"Yes," Hawkeye said, passing by him to set her purse on the dining table. "It was my grandmother's. The rest of the set was sold, but we managed to keep the desk. I've had it for a few years now, since my mother left Central. I'll get us some tea."
"Thank you," he replied, eyes moving from the intricate woodwork to the items resting atop it. Two books and a box of tissue. Paper, pens, chalk. An unadventurous container of dark ink for the pens.
"Carmen's True Black," the label proclaimed with neatly printed letters on a dusty yellow backdrop. Roy picked it up and scrutinized the little bottle, feeling the shape of it in his fingers and the taste of sand in his mouth.
Do it, you cowardly fuck! Cut the damn skin and make sure that you live to escape this nightmare country!
Roy blinked. He heard the clink and rustle of Hawkeye getting the tea in the kitchen, and the delicate whir of the puppy snoring in the armchair. The ink weighed down his hand and he could almost see the door to the barracks.
It doesn't have to be pretty, it just has to work.
The hand holding the ink bottle began to shake. The dust was in his nose and his eyes and he couldn't breathe. He felt saturated with it. He needed to drink something, fuck Gran's rules. Where was Marco? Marco always had booze.
In Ishbal you couldn't be drunk and still fight. Not if you were an alchemist. Too many variables, too much math: one thing goes wrong and you could massacre your own people as easily as you do the "barbarians." It had only taken them a few weeks for the generals in the field to realize this, and then alcohol was banned from the alchemists' barracks permanently. It got in, of course; when one belongs to an army marching in a foreign country nothing is really banned, but daring to appear for duty with liquor on your breath got you thrown into a makeshift brig and stripped of any array that wasn't permanently attached—there was always another soldier who was a little cleverer about hiding his poison available to take your place.
Roy had done exactly as he was ordered not to when he heard the punishment for breaking prohibition—anything to get off the battlefield—but as soon as he was coherent again Basque Gran had thrown the twenty-two year old against a wall and told him that if he was caught a second time he'd be executed on the spot and any family back at home sweet home would be stripped of their livelihoods and thrown in prison for breeding deserters. No alchemist went to the brig for drunkenness twice.
It is for these reasons (or something resembling them) that Roy is dead sober when he sits on his bunk in front of a neat arrangement of ink bottle, a dirty long-handled razor not fit for shaving a rat, and a stack of rags. The process should be simple: dip the razor's tip in the ink, then carve. A few hours of pain repeated every night for a week, and he'd have a pair of tattoos, homemade and fit to last.
No more worrying about getting his hands wet, no more worrying about tearing the gloves and marring the circles that make up his best protection. Just a lighter and two hands and no more weaknesses. Be a better soldier, and stay alive a little longer. Be a more efficient weapon, and someday you can go home.
Kimbly had done it, and no one could touch him now. Wasn't that all that mattered in the end?
"Come on, Mustang. Cleaner alchemy means your men don't get shot as easily."
Some of the others had come to Ishbal with arrays already permanent on their bodies; tattooing was common for alchemists. It was fucking fashionable.
Roy picks up the razor and dips into the muddy colored bottle. Carmen's Inks & Paints! Guaranteed not to fade or wash away! He wets the tip with black blood and holds it above the back of his left hand.
It was just skin. He lost some every day.
"Do it, you cowardly fuck!"
A noxious black drop falls from the tip of the blade and splashes on his knuckle.
"Jesus Mustang, you murdered two doctors. And now you're scared of your own blood. Just cut the damn skin and make sure that you live to escape this nightmare country!"
His hand was shaking, but he was still holding the razor. He could do this. He could make sure no one could touch him out there because the alchemy would always be right at his beck and call.
"It doesn't have to be pretty, it just has to work."
The door keeping him from the other barracks bursts open, and an envelope lands his lap. With a bang the soldier with the mail bag is gone and the door is closed again.
Hands still trembling, Roy sets down the razor and picks up the flimsy, wrinkled sheath. Inside is a single sheet of paper, full of writing. The name Hughes is scrawled at the bottom in barely legible cursive.
Knocking the razor and the ink bottle aside with a hasty sweep, Roy stands and clutches the letter tightly, each sentence a lifeline.
Hughes, his greatest friend.
Hughes had saved him. He would have scarred his hands that night and he would have been just like Kimbly and oh, god, he might never have left that place.
How many times had Maes rescued Roy from his own self-loathing? When he failed the alchemy exam for the third time and nearly drowned in a bottle. In the middle of a war, with only his words and his almost divine timing. After all the battles were over but Roy couldn't stop fighting the war inside.
Hughes would never save him again.
Hughes was dead. Hughes would never write him another letter to magically rescue his friend's soul from a hundred miles away.
Roy still had that letter, filed away somewhere. Where was it? He could only remember where he'd kept it at the base camp. He could still see it in his mind. He could still see the dirty razor and the ink bottle and Kimbly's hands.
An ink bottle. Just like this one.
The sound of his birth name in Hawkeye's voice tumbled into his comprehension, and he jerked his eyes away from her desk. That's wrong—Lieutenant Hawkeye did not call him Roy. He didn't think she ever had.
She stepped forward and gently pried the bottle of ink from his grip. He was surprised at how hard it was to let it go, but eventually his grasping digits yielded to her persistence. She set it on the old oak surface without looking away, and he was almost afraid to move. Riza gathered both of his hands in hers; he was not a big man, and she never had been petite, but somehow his hands still seemed so much larger than her own. When he blinked, they were covered with ragged, inky circles.
"Roy. Look at me. Look at my eyes." He did. She squeezed his fingers, an expression of resolve settling on her features. He waited for her to speak. She opened her mouth, but stopped. She tried again with the same result. Giving up on finding the words he needed to hear, Riza dropped one of his and hands pulled him by the other toward the nearest window. He watched in soundless question as she bent over and stepped through it one leg at a time until she was standing on the fire escape, one hand still stretched through the window and connected to him.
"Come on," she said.
"Why?" Then, before she could answer, because the meager distance between them was already giving him new granite for his crumbling wall, "It's late, Hawkeye. I've got to get back to the office; I can't waste any more time now, even one day. I've wasted so much time already and now he—"
"You've got to get sleep," she interrupted, "not go back to the office, but I'm not going to let you do either yet. Come on. Climb."
The world ahead divided into two possible futures in front of Roy, like double-vision laden down by a mess of emotions keeping him from the clarity of thought he was prided for. He could follow Riza Hawkeye out onto the fire escape for God—and Hawkeye—knew what purpose, or he could let go of her hand and walk away. He couldn't lie to himself and say he didn't want comfort and companionship tonight, whatever the kind, but his cynical nature (one of many demons to follow him home from the desert of its birth) was busy pouring more worry and guilt into the air around him, till he breathed in thoughts of work, duty, necessity. No time for rest now, no time for companionship. Maes was dead. How could he stand by a window wasting minutes on thoughts and indecisions when Maes was dead and his murderer was free and someone in their own military might have given the order? Roy had made a promise, hadn't he?
It was a blood promise now. He couldn't be here. He had work to do.
"Roy Mustang, look at me!" He met her eyes across their joined hands, and all the sound rushed back into the room. He hadn't even heard her voice calling to him.
"Trust me. Climb."
Without another word he fumbled over the window sill and out onto the red metal grating, then up the grate steps. Guided by her hand, he ascended the side of the building and landed, eventually, on the rooftop. Tired but curious, he kept his grip on her fingers. Part of him imagined that if she let go, he'd drift away into the air and over the edge as if his body held no substance. God knew he felt empty enough. But she didn't let go, merely pulled him across the brick toward a huge vertical pipe, probably attached to some kind of venting system, that stood near some wooden crates in the center of the roof. She sat gingerly down in front of the pipe, and Roy was forced to do the same or risk letting go and losing the one intimately human connection he had left.
To his surprise, the surface of the pipe was warm against his back. Combined with the summer air, the night suddenly seemed a less hostile enemy. It took a long time to speak again, but eventually he asked quietly, "Why did you bring me here, Lieutenant?"
She shrugged a little and looked out at the cityscape. "It's my favorite place to be."
He could think of nothing to say to that, so he said nothing. With fingers entwined and shoulder against shoulder they sat and watched the night sky, warm and silent. Later, when the moon left the shelter of the clouds and lit every rooftop in Central like distant miniatures of the great city it ought to be, Roy cried for the friend he lost and Riza cried for all the things she couldn't change.