Title: After the Fire
Author: Zalia Chimera
Spoilers: The entire series
Notes: I haven't written a het fic in absolutely ages but one scene in the last episode just made me go 'awww... that's so romantic!' and Hawkeye is so damn cool
Disclaimer: Don't own Fullmetal Alchemist alas. sigh
Hope you enjoy!
Riza doesn't have time to be satisfied about the clean shot when Archer, or what used to be Archer, falls; she's already running across the courtyard towards the crumpled figure on the porch.
"Colonel!" He's not moving. Please, please just let him be unconscious. She shouldn't have agreed to this, shouldn't have let him do this alone.
"Colonel!" There's blood everywhere. it soaks into her trousers when she kneels; she knows most of it is his. Carefully she turns him over, unbuttoning his collar, feeling for a pulse through the blood and fluid from his ruined eye and she can't feel it and he can't die now, can't die, he can't...
"Roy Mustang!" ...and she can feel it... his pulse, thin and weak beneath her fingers but it's there and it's the most wonderful thing she's ever felt.
It hurts to see Roy lying there. Even if he is awake now, it still hurts to see him looking so fragile, swathed in bandages, the patch over his eye a constant reminder of what occurred. He shrugs off remarks about it, calmly says something about it being equivalent trade. Riza isn't sure what he means by that and doesn't really care, she's just glad to hear him speak after the days of waiting silently for him to wake up.
The others have been in and out for the past few days, ever since they returned from the front and the attempted coup. They've all been at a loose end after being put onto indefinite leave; just the brass's polite way of saying that they haven't yet decided what to do with them, and aren't even sure if anything does need doing. Though the fact that they're not under house arrest while Roy recovers is a good sign. Fury had quickly outlined the situation on his first visit, explaining that the military were attempting to keep the entire incident quiet until more information could be found. In the meantime Armstrong and Havoc have been conducting their own investigations. Any evidence that they can find will help their case. They still haven't heard anything about the Elric brothers, although the official search for them has been called off.
Command seems to have agreed with Havoc. He's been more composed since he returned, quieter and sharper eyed. There's a new air of authority around him and Riza wonders if he will return to the military if they allow him. She isn't sure if she will or not. The recent betrayals have soured the idea somewhat.
"What are you thinking about?"
It is still something of a shock to hear Roy speak, especially when his voice is so soft and broken rather than the smooth tone she's used to. Smoke inhalation, the doctors had said before they allowed him to leave the hospital. He won't be able to speak in much more than a whisper for a while.
"Just wondering what I'll do when all this ends."
It doesn't feel strange to be having this sort of conversation with her commanding officer. They've been through too much not be comfortable with each other.
"I could talk to them, explain that you were only follow..." A hacking cough breaks off his words and he clutches at his chest, pain etched onto his face. Riza reaches for the glass of water on the bedside table and brings it to his lips when the coughing subsides a little. He gives her a grateful look but she can sense his frustration at not being able to take care of himself.
"I doubt that any of us will accept you covering for us, Sir. We all know what we were getting into and you gave us ample opportunity to leave."
"I still dragged you into this, just like I dragged Fullmetal and his brother into military affairs."
She glares at him. "We are not children, Sir. We are quite capable of making our own decisions." Her tone softens and she leans towards him. "If people follow you, it is because they want to, not because they are coerced into it. We trust you."
Roy looks as though he is about to argue again so she stops him by grabbing his shoulders. "Roy Mustang." A surprised expression flickers across his face at her use of his name rather than his rank. "Each of us followed you because we agreed with your goals and you have achieved them. Amestris is already changing."
He hangs his head. "The cost was too high. Maes...".
Ah, now she's getting to the real problem. Roy tries to protect everyone under his command even at cost to himself and when he can't protect them, he can only see it as his own failing, no matter the circumstances. "Brigadier General hughes died for you, not because of you. It was his dream as much as yours. He made his own choices. Did you ask him to investigate the matter that caused his death? Did you fire the bullet that killed him?" She doesn't wait for a reply before continuing. "Then it is not your fault. He would have been glad that you succeeded. He would want you to be happy, not wallowing in guilt over a choice he made."
That seems to make some impact and he doesn't reply, lapsing into silence and staring out of the window at the swiftly darkening sky. When the silence becomes too much, she stands, intending to let him rest. She makes it to the door when he speaks, barely loud enough to hear. "Stay, please."
She turns and rushes back to the bed. He's managed to push himself into a sitting position and he smiles weakly at her, although his arms clutching at his ribs prove that it hurts more than he will ever admit.
"You shouldn't move," Riza berates him, concern colouring her voice.
He ignores her and reaches out to catch her wrist in his unbandaged hand, pulling her closer. "It never goes away." She is reminded of the only other time he has ever sounded this vulnerable, standing next to a new grave and telling her about the rain. "No matter how much time passes, the guilt is always there." She closes her eyes in shared pain. She has seen enough, done enough to understand this. "But I think..." Roy continues, "...I think I've found a way to let it go, even if it won't let go of me."
He kisses her and it's nothing like she ever imagined kissing Roy Mustang would be like. His kiss is gentle, hesitant and he still tastes faintly of the medicine given to him.
"Stay, at least for now," he breathes when they part, looking more nervous about this than she's ever seen him.
He flinches when she reaches forwards to trace her fingers across the eye patch but doesn't move away, a gesture of his total trust in her. "I'll stay," she replies, "as long as you want me to.
The brass call them all in as soon as Roy is strong enough to make it to Central Headquarters. Riza is a little surprised that they even granted him this much consideration. He still has enemies in the military who are petty enough to want to see him vulnerable.
A military car has been sent for them but Havoc arrives first, stepping out of the car in his crisp dress uniform, looking every inch the professional. Even his ever-present cigarette has disappeared. He grins at her and announces that he's here to collect the Colonel. She can't quite stifle her answering smile.
He salutes Roy when he emerges. "Sir."
Roy acknowledges him with a nod. "Lieutenant." For the first time since that night, everything seems normal.
They drive to Headquarters in silence, each of them lost in their own thoughts. In the mirror she can see Havoc chewing his lip pensively. Riza herself can't help but think about the path that brought them to this point and wonder if anything could have been changed.
The expression on Roy's face is unreadable.
They are taken to an antechamber outside the main meeting room where Armstrong, Breda, Farman and Fury are waiting. They salute and murmur soft words of welcome to them and Riza can sense a difference in the dynamic between the group. There's something more there than just camaraderie and the respect due a superior officer. Roy may not realise it, or want to acknowledge it, but any of them would die for him if he asked. What she has said was true, they do trust him.
They're left waiting for nearly an hour, the air just slightly too warm to be comfortable and the room too large to speak without creating an echo. All tactics designed to make them uncomfortable before their hearing. Fury looks nervous; they all are, but the rest of them are better at hiding their discomfort.
Finally, when it seems as though they will be left waiting forever, the doors to the meeting room are opened and they are led inside. Instinctively, Riza and Havoc fall into step with Roy, two paces behind, one to the side in the easy military stride perfected through years of patrol duty. Behind Roy's back, they smirk at each other for a moment. Some things will never change.
The room is dark with only enough light to let them see the faces of those judging them. Another technique designed to distract and unnerve. Riza surveys them furtively, trying to glean an idea of what kind of support they can expect. Hakuro is there, of course, looking smug as always, probably convinced that he has the upper hand for once. For once, he might be right. General Beaumont she recognises, an elderly gentleman to whom Roy once introduced her. He had seemed friendly enough and insisted on calling her 'my dear girl' since she was young enough to be his granddaughter. He favours them with a small smile as they enter. A State Alchemist sits next to him and she struggles to remember his name, but can only recall that Roy had mentioned him being present in Ishbal. Major General Mathers casts a venomous glare at Roy and she knows that he will be siding with Hakuro in this matter.
The others she doesn't recognise or doesn't know well enough to make any judgement. Their decisions will depend upon their political alliances as much as any evidence presented.
They wait as the list of accusations is reeled off, some true, many added to try and make sure that they are convicted of something at least.
Finally, General Beaumont, the most senior of those gathered, rises to pronounce the decision of the panel. One by one, they are called to step forwards into the central light in front of the long table the generals sit at and he pronounces their punishment.
Riza watches with a sick sort of fascination as Hakuro's face twists into a mask of anger as each judgement is barely more than a warning, a mere gesture to prove that the military is handling this matter and that it can be merciful. Suspension for a few months without pay, reposting to some small military backwater or to support some new colonel who has risen through the ranks by merit of his family connections. Not one demotion or discharge or term of imprisonment.
And then Roy's name is called.
The generals dismiss the rest of them, explaining that they wish to question Colonel Mustang further. Riza clenches her hands at her sides but leaves obediently, praying that their light sentences don't mean that Roy will bear the brunt of the military's wrath.
They are all free to leave, but none of them does and Riza is grateful for their show of solidarity. She isn't sure if she could bear to wait alone. Already her mind is flying to the worst possible conclusions, despite her attempts to remain cool and logical. Havoc squeezes her shoulder as he steps past her. He doesn't try to tell her that everything will be fine, that nothing has changed. They both know that that is a lie. Everything has changed.
Havoc leans against the wall, fiddling with the gold braid on his jacket, anything to keep his hands busy, although the expression on his face is one of deep thought. Riza almost wishes she could offer him a cigarette just to stop him fidgeting. Fury has a mournful expression on his face and seems about ready to jump at the slightest sound. Farman looks resigned to whatever fate Roy receives and Breda has begun to pace the floor, the same number of steps each way in a monotonous rhythm. Even Armstrong seems a little less confident than usual.
Riza doesn't know what her own expression is like and she tries not to think about it.
After ten minutes or an hour, she hasn't been keeping track of time, Roy rejoins them looking battered and worn, head bowed in weariness. The missing silver chain from pocket to belt is a conspicuous absence. He only raises his head when he reaches them, when he looks at each of them in turn. His gaze lingers on Riza just a little longer than the others.
He makes them wait. He just stares at them with his lips set in a hard line until Fury looks about ready to explode and Havoc seems about ready to forget military protocol and throttle his superior officer.
Finally, just when she's sure that even Armstrong will lose his composure, Roy speaks. "I've been honourably discharged due to my injuries." His frown turns into a grin and Riza finds herself grinning back at him, the feeling of relief sweeping through. It feels as though an iron bar has been taken from around her chest and she can breathe again.
Finally the congratulations dies down a little and Havoc slumps back against the wall with a sigh. "Damn."
They all look at him curiously.
"I guess this means that the female personnel won't be wearing miniskirts any time soon."
Riza can't help it. She takes one look at the disappointment on Havoc's face and begins to laugh.
Roy burns his uniform the next day. Riza returns from buying food to find him standing in the small back garden, watching the flames lick at blue and gold. She doesn't approach him, but waits just outside the back door while he finishes making peace with his past.
When all that is left is ashes and smoke and the twisted remains of military pins, Roy turns. He seems younger somehow, freer, as though the responsibility of all his past actions has been taken away from him. A shadow still lays over his face; she suspects that it will never truly be removed, wounds like his never totally heal, but it is less strong now.
Then he smiles and it's a true smile, not one designed to mask his thoughts. He walks towards her and takes her hands in his, twining their fingers together. They fit together easily, as though they were always meant to. He buries his head against her shoulder, lips next to her ear. "It's over," he whispers.