Disclaimer: . . . I haven't written one of these in so long, I'm not sure if I own it now or not . . .
Dedicated to Ms. Renee--who lost her year-long battle with cancer this Christmas Eve--and her family. Also to Psychotic Lee, whose birthday is on the 31st.
Okay, I'm posting this separate from my 'Automail' drabbles, because it's only RoyEd if you screw your eyes up and tilt your head forty-eight degrees to the left . . . and even then, it seems very odd.
Oh, and Nana wants me to tell y'all that this is in no way related to her fic, From Embers to Ashes. (rolls eyes)
"Sir, I wanna buy these shoes for my Momma, please. It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size. Could you hurry, sir? Daddy says there's not much time. You see, she's been sick for quite awhile and I know these shoes will make her smile and I want her to look beautiful . . . if Momma meets Jesus tonight."
-Christmas Shoes, Newsboys
The newly-appointed lieutenant colonel gently plucked the aging copy of Silas Marner off the shelf and turned it over in his slender, ivory fingers. Its pages were thick, pulpy, and musty-smelling, each yellowing sheet coated in a thin layer of dust that sang out in freedom and took to the air as the young man leafed through the old novel. It was definitely a used book—there were hand-written notes in several of the margins and scribbled page numbers that linked certain paragraphs to others, some chapters away—but to Roy Mustang, that was part of its appeal.
His mother had made him a connoisseur of literature and, as such, Roy enjoyed books with their own personal history . . . The notations throughout the book were just proof that it had once had an owner, which made it all the more intriguing to the young lieutenant colonel.
Roy was positive that, somewhere in his vast collection, he already had a copy of this particular work, but that didn't stop him from snapping it shut and tucking it under his arm. What harm was one more book, after all?
The dark-haired man let out a gusty sigh, echoing the bleak December wind outside, and glanced out the small shop's front window. He wasn't shopping, really . . . The tiny store had a few books, some clothing (most of which looked used), and a couple of pairs of shoes, but mostly it looked like the shop just sold touristy tid-bits . . . Though, who would come to tour a little Podunk town like Resembool was anybody's guess.
Roy himself was merely there in passing—he was traveling northeast from his station at Southern HQ, heading for the innocuous town of Kettleperch, where his family was eagerly awaiting him. Now, being a lieutenant colonel had its perks . . . but vacation time and travel were definitely not among them . . .
On the Eve of Christmas, the only train tickets he could afford on his salary were the ones that didn't go very far; that meant switching trains . . .
Resembool was just another stop along the way, inextricably bringing Kettleperch one town closer; Roy Mustang was only standing in the little store, because the next train out departed two full hours after he got there—though the lieutenant colonel had spent his youth in the East, the warm southern winters had softened him to cold weather and Roy would rather come out to his father than to spend two hours on a snowy, windy train platform . . .
Roy sighed and moved over to look out the shop window. From there, he could barely see across the street to the station and could even spy the engine, sitting on the tracks, just past the building. There was steam billowing out from the wheels and undercarriage in white torrents, blending with the flurries that had begun to drift down from the stormy sky. Pulling a pocketwatch crafted of dulled, scratched silver from the depths of his tawny slacks, Roy depressed the button on the top and checked the time.
He had about forty more minutes to kill before the train left the station.
Roy was deciding on whether or not he should grab one of the greasy, disgusting meat buns that they sold at the station—and if there would even be anyone selling them on Christmas Eve—when a shaky, querulous voice cried out, "But there has to be enough!"
The lieutenant colonel blinked and glanced around, his ebony eyes quickly settling on the check-out counter. There, two young boys, neither older than ten, stood—one was leaning up against the counter, his fingers white-knuckled as he gripped the edge and glared up at the shopkeeper; the other stood quietly next to his companion, his arms locked protectively around what looked to be a shoebox. Spread out on the counter before them was a vast amount of coins and, from what Roy could see from his position, it was all worth very little.
"I'm sorry, son," the shopkeeper told them, sounding genuinely regretful. "There's just not enough sens here. I counted it twice."
"Well then count it a third time!" the glaring boy shouted, slamming a fist down against the counter with a resounding thwap. Both the old shopkeeper and Roy winced.
The second boy made a small, alarmed sound, then laid a calming hand on his companion's arm; the blonde boy looked at him, a painful grimace set in place, and they spoke to each other in low voices. What was actually said between the two boys, Roy couldn't decipher, but he watched them carefully—watched the dual looks of grief and regret flicker across their young faces; watched the tears well silently and redden the halos of their eyes, but dare not fall; watched as heart-wrenching disbelief flooded those green and gold orbs, then was quickly replaced with acceptance and anguish—and somehow knew that, though they looked nothing alike, they were undoubtedly brothers.
At length, the blonde nodded to his sibling, who frowned despairingly and slowly pushed the box he had been holding across the counter to the shopkeeper. The old man smiled sadly at the boys and Roy watched them until they had left the store and disappeared from his sight.
"It's very sad," a voice stated quietly and Roy turned to see the shopkeeper sweeping the sens that the boys had left on the counter into a small, goat-skin bag. "Those boys."
As he tied up the bag and put it behind the register, Roy approached and laid his book down on the counter. "What's their story?" he asked, genuinely curious.
The old shopkeeper looked up at him from behind his tiny, half-moon spectacles and bristled his moustache. "Not from around here, are you?" When Roy shook his head, the man sighed and explained in a quiet voice, "Those boys are the sons of Trisha Elric. You see . . . about three months ago, she was diagnosed with cancer. It's progressing quickly, terminal—the doctors think she may only have two or three months left . . ."
"How sad," Roy whispered, looking back over his shoulder to where he had last seen the brothers through the shop window. "How's their father taking it?"
"No father," the shopkeeper told him and the lieutenant colonel looked back at him curiously. "He up and left a few years back, or so I heard. Not even sure if he knows . . ."
Roy frowned. "So they'll be all alone?"
The man nodded miserably. "Terrible, huh?"
The Flame's heart truly went out to the two boys—he had lost a great-aunt to the mysterious ailment, back when he was a teenager and that had been bad enough. He couldn't imagine how he would have taken it had it been his mother . . . and then to be left utterly alone? Roy's heart hurt at the very idea.
". . . What were they in here for? On the Eve of Christmas, I would think they'd want to be with her."
The shopkeeper sighed heavily and nodded. "They've been in here nearly every day for the past two weeks, looking at these." He gingerly patted the old shoebox that had been left on the counter and then lifted the lid for Roy to see. Inside, tucked neatly against each other, was a somewhat scuffed pair of deep red women's shoes. "Neither of them has ever said outright that they believe she's going to do anything other than get better, but . . . I think they know. They said . . . they said that they wanted her to feel beautiful for Christmas this year . . ."
Roy Mustang blinked rapidly and had to swallow several times to get his heart back down where it belonged. "How much did you say the shoes were?"
It took a bit of jogging on Roy's part, but he trusted his longer stride and managed to catch up with the boys just before they left the main part of town and headed out into the countryside. They both turned their heads when he called out to them and, as he came to a halt before them, panting just slightly, the blonde child moved in front of his brother and scowled up at him. The man opened his mouth to explain himself . . . but the blonde beat him to the punch:
"No, we don't want any candy and we can't help you find your puppy," he snapped.
The lieutenant colonel stood completely gob-smacked for a long second, then wheezed out a laugh. "No, it's nothing like that. You just . . . forgot this." From behind his back, Roy produced the abandoned shoebox and watched with barely-concealed mirth as their eyes widened.
"Where'd you get that from?" the (Roy assumed) older brother asked, half in awe and half in suspicion; his golden eyes had traveled from the box, up his arm, and to his face.
Roy breathed heavily for a few moments in an effort to catch his breath—basic training had been too long ago—letting the bitterly cold air fill his lungs, before he smiled and told them, "The shopkeeper counted your money again. Turns out, he had mistaken a sens for a roubel—you did have enough," he panted. "He asked if I would bring you the shoes, since he knew that he wouldn't be able to catch up with you."
The boys both blinked at him, then looked at one another. Something unspoken passed between them then, and when they turned back to him, both were smiling broadly. The brown-haired brother stepped forward and gingerly took the box from Roy, cradling it against his chest. "Thank you, sir," he said with a short bow, then turned and began to run back home.
Roy smiled softly after him, then looked down to his elder brother, who still remained before him. The boy had turned to follow after his sibling, but had stopped and was watching him carefully. ". . . Thanks," he said finally. "And Merry Christmas."
The dark-haired man smiled. "Merry Christmas to you, too."
The blonde boy regarded him for one brief moment more, then grinned and took off after his brother. Roy watched them both depart—hunching his shoulders against the wind and shivering as the snowflakes found their way past his scarf and down the collar of his shirt—until the falling snow flurries masked their figures and he could see them no more.
As he turned to make his way back to the train station, Roy realized that he hadn't even learned their names. He considered this, then shrugged lightly to himself.
It wasn't like he was ever going to see either of them again, anyway . . .
Yeah, I know this is obscenely late for Christmas, but I still wanted to post it. Hope y'all liked. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all that jazz!
Oh, and if y'all didn't already get this: this was inspired by the song Christmas Shoes. (smiles and waves goodbye)