Colonel Mustang leaned casually against the outer wall of the Resembool train station's ticket booth with his metal hands in his pockets, one of which was toying with a worn, ivory-colored business card with the name Dr. Kolt embossed on the front. He kept glancing over at the red payphone at the edge of the platform while nervous/doubtful/fearful/ashamed thoughts flitted chaotically through his head.
He should make the call.
No. No, he shouldn't. He could deal with his problems on his own.
. . . But, really, he should call and make an appointment . . . Shouldn't he?
No. He didn't need therapy. Absolutely not.
"What's eating you?" Edward asked with a yawn, arching has back and stretching his arms up over his head languidly. Roy, Ed, and Al were patiently waiting for the train to arrive, each of them looking forward to being in Central again in just a few days. Al was crouched on the ground, fawning over a stray cat who had decided that the long white plume issuing from the boy's helmet was something that it should be playing with. Al's adoring, bell-like giggles resonated across the almost-empty platform as he dangled the tip of his plume for the little tabby to bat at, the care-free sound calming Roy's torn mind a bit.
"Nothing." Mustang replied with a sigh, "Just thinking."
"Worried about going back?"
Roy leaned his head back against the wall and considered the question for a moment. "Not really." He said, "I'm so tired of being bed-ridden. It'll be good to get back to work. I've been gone for almost a month, now . . ." He trailed off and a slight look of horror crossed his face, "Oh, God. I'm going to have mountains of paperwork."
Ed laughed at the Colonel's chagrin and Roy shot him a tolerant glare. Oh well, no matter how gruesome his workload must have become in his absence, the thought of getting back to a semblance of normalcy was like a balm for his soul. He was tired of being sick. He was tired of people taking care of him. On the whole, he was just tired. Soon, he'd be back in the office, the balance of power returned to normal. He would truly be a Colonel again back in Central and not just some sickly-looking guy with prosthetic hands who is constantly being bossed around by a very short, very loud blond kid.
He took his hands out of his pockets and looked at them idly. They hardly hurt at all today. A little twinge when he moved his wrists or thumbs occasionally, but other than that they felt pretty good. He'd had them for a little over a week and, while he quickly started missing the simple pleasure of being able to feel things with his fingertips, they were still a vast improvement over having no hands at all. A gloomy, buried part of him still felt guilt for getting the automail after he'd sacrificed his hands in exchange for forgiveness, but he ignored it for the most part. His not having automail would not benefit anyone, but if he did have it then he could continue his life's work and become Fuhrer. Then, and only then, could he even begin to atone for his sins. This had been the plan for years, but somehow he'd lost sight of his goal as his mind was torn asunder by old, unhealed wounds that he'd had only managed to bury beneath his desperate ambition.
The flashbacks had become milder and less often during his weeklong stay at the Rockbell's, but they still had not stopped. Roy was beginning to think that they would never stop, nor even lessen to the once-or-twice a year occurrence that they had been not too long ago. He'd been feeling great for the past few days—at least in comparison to how he'd been feeling lately—but just that morning he'd been slammed with another attack. Luckily, he'd been alone and had managed to recover himself quickly . . . but since that moment he could not get the name of Dr. Kolt out of his head.
He didn't know what had been so special about this particular episode, but it left him poignantly resigned, finally surrendering to the fact that he needed help. He was healing very well physically now, but his mind was still all over the place. He wasn't himself anymore. Hawkeye had been right. Ed had been right. He couldn't fix himself alone and he was ready to admit it, even though the very thought terrified him deeply.
After his flashback that morning, he'd fretted and paced in front of the Rockbell's telephone, fingering Dr. Kolt's business card as one half of him tried to convince the other half that the call needed to be made.
No. There was a way around it. There had to be. He didn't need a therapist. He wasn't insane just . . . strained. Right?
He'd picked up the phone, then cursed and slammed it down again, earning himself a startled look from the dog. He couldn't do it. He couldn't just call up this faceless man and ask him to return his sanity to him. Roy just needed more time to work through his issues on his own. Yeah. That's it. Time.
Ed and Al had walked into the room at that moment, so Roy had quickly thrown his edgy musings onto the back burner and focused on trying to convince the boys that he was well enough to travel. He didn't think that he could stand another day of staying in the same house as Winry. She resolutely ignored him for the most part, which was fine with Mustang . . . but sometimes their eyes would meet and lock onto one another, neither able to look away and both holding back painful words that were writhing on the tips of their tongues. Pinako was easier to deal with. Not to say that she was kind to him—because she wasn't—but she at least had the decency to speak with him, as harsh and belittling as those discourses had been.
Whatever the case, Roy just wanted to go home. He'd been gone for far too long.
Goddamn it, he hadn't even wanted to go on this fucking vacation.
"Automail isn't so bad, really." Ed said conversationally. "It has its perks." Roy looked over at him, reading an empathetic sort of encouragement in his golden eyes. Mustang had been staring down at his hands, lost in his thoughts for some time. Perhaps Ed had mistaken the pensive expression on his face for vexation over his new automail.
"Oh?" Roy asked, willing to play his game.
"Oh yeah. Think about it: you'll never have another broken nail."
Mustang laughed, "True, true. And I'm always getting paper-cuts at work. That'll never happen again."
"Exactly! No paper-cuts, no splinters, no blisters . . ." Ed listed, gesticulating flamboyantly with one hand as he counted off each benefit to having automail, " . . . And no need to worry about slamming your hand in a drawer. You might break the drawer, but your hand will be fine."
Roy smiled down at him, glad to see him in good spirits. As ill as Mustang had been, Ed's constant distress had been forefront in his mind since Youswell. It seemed that the boy carried his mental/emotional unrest like a physical malady, and it had deteriorated him like a weather-beaten rock in a sandstorm. He'd acquired dark circles under his eyes and a greyish pallor to his tan skin over the time that the Colonel had been convalescing, but now the kid looked—and acted—much better. His concern over Roy had decreased dramatically now that the man was healing so nicely and Ed was starting to act like himself again.
Still, it almost hurt for Roy to look at him. He owed the boy so much, had done so much damage to him over the past month, and could not even begin to repay him.
"You saved my life, Ed." Roy said abruptly, knowing that if he didn't say it now, then he probably never would. "You, too, Al. You both stuck with me, even though you didn't have to, even though I hated you for it. I might not have shown it much—or even at all—but I do appreciate all that you boys have done for me. I owe you more than I can even say."
Mustang spoke the words without looking at them, his eyes downcast and focused lamely on an ant that was traversing across his shoe. Next to him, Ed had gone still, listening. Al, too, had frozen in his play with the cat, turning his great metal head to look at Mustang in surprise.
"It's nothing." Ed said awkwardly. "We would have to have been terrible people not to help you."
Roy glanced over at him, smiling wryly at the red tint that had suddenly appeared on Ed's cheeks. Really, Mustang had never met anyone so prone to blushing. He and Havoc had and ongoing game to see how long it took the Colonel to make him turn red each time Ed came in to give a report. Forty-eight seconds was the current record.
"Besides." Ed continued slowly, his voice very soft, "You've saved my life, too, even if you don't know it."
"What? When?" Roy asked incredulously.
"When we first met." Al said, standing upright with the cat cradled contentedly in his arms. "Ed had just lost his arm and leg and . . . he wasn't doing well. Do you remember? He was scarcely even alive, but he heard you telling Aunt Pinako about State Alchemy and then the very next day he was alert, asking her to give him automail."
"I had given up." Ed admitted quietly, scuffing a spot on the pavement with his boot. "I had lost so much . . . my arm and leg, Al's entire body, and—for a second time—mom. I was in so much pain and . . . I just didn't want to live anymore. I shut down. Then you showed up, and you . . . I dunno . . . I guess you gave me hope."
Roy stared at him, taken aback. This was all news to him. Ed had been in very bad shape when he'd first seen him . . . such bad shaped that Mustang could remember thinking to himself, "That poor kid isn't going to last the night." Roy had later attributed the kid's miraculous recovery to his now-famous bull-headed stubbornness and strength of will. Not once did Mustang ever think that he had been the catalyst for such strength.
"If I've done the same for you . . ." Ed continued, a little brokenly, "If I gave you that same hope . . . then we're even now. You don't owe me anything."
Roy's vision blurred, but he mastered himself and shook his head wonderingly, once again amazed by this young man. Mustang's heart felt oddly confined in his ribcage and his throat tightened painfully. He didn't know why, but Ed's words had hit him with an almost physical force, driving the air from his lungs as if someone had kicked him in the chest.
Mustang saw it clearly, now . . . had been seeing it for weeks, but had chosen to ignore it. Dr. Foster had been right: Ed did love Roy in a brutal, familial way. Even if that had not been the case a year ago, it was certainly a solid fact now. And, after all they had been through together . . . after all the time that they had spent side-by-side during Roy's fated "vacation" . . . after the choked, heartfelt truths that Ed had just spoken . . . the Colonel slowly realized that he cared for the little bastard in return.
The Colonel had not been close to anyone since Maes Hughes' death. Sure, he'd grab a drink with Havoc after work or go over to Hawkeye's place so that he could roughhouse with her dog . . . but that wasn't the same. Roy and Maes would discuss politics late into the night, more often than not falling asleep leaning against one another on Roy's sofa as the sun started to rise. Maes had been the first to notice Roy's unhealthy obsession with Ishbal and the terrible atrocities that he'd committed there, and had been the first to punch him in the face in an attempt to knock some sense into him afterward. Maes had been the first to know of Roy's suicide attempt, and had unknowingly talked him out of a second one.
"I had it in my mouth, Maes and I couldn't pull the trigger. I was too afraid to end it."
"I would hope so."
"That's just the kind of cowardly human that I am."
"Every sane person is."
For a long time, Maes had been the only person that Roy had ever really trusted. Then he was gone and the world had started crashing down around Mustang in a red inferno of pain and regret and the Colonel had had no one to turn to. This time, Maes had not been around to be Roy's lifeline. This time, it had been Ed.
The boy had stepped up and taken control as Maes had done, had put a fist in Roy's face and anchored him to reality. Ed had become the lifeline, the friend, the brother that Maes had been. The kid would never be able to fill the ragged void in Roy's heart that Maes had left behind, but something about Ed and Roy's new perspective on him soothed the lonely ache of that absence.
The Colonel did not trust himself to speak. He clenched his jaw and looked down at the boy with such powerful emotions raging in his chest that he could scarcely tolerate it.
Slowly, hesitantly, Roy reached over and softly cupped the side of Ed's blond head, mussing his hair paternally. He pulled the boy close, leaning forward to rest his cheek on the top of his head, inhaling the lavender scent of the shampoo he'd used that morning. Ed stiffened slightly at Mustang's unexpected touch, but did not pull away. After a moment the young alchemist relaxed a little, resting his head against the man's chest and even venturing so far as to wrap one tentative arm around his waist, pulling him even closer.
"You're such a jerk." Ed said tearfully, his voice muffled by Roy's shirt. "You just like making me cry, don't you?"
"You started it." Roy answered, his voice also strained. He smiled, his face still pressed against the boy's golden hair, poignantly relieved that his out-of-character show of tenderness had not only been accepted, but had actually been reciprocated as well.
They stayed in that awkward half-embrace for several beats, each of them desperately holding back emotion. Roy glanced over at Al and saw that the armored boy was absolutely beaming at them, his entire body seeming to radiate approval and fondness like a wave of warm light. Mustang smirked at him, a little embarrassed by his own abrupt display of affection, but glad that both boys seemed to be appreciative of it . . .
. . . And that was all it took for the Colonel to make up his mind. With just that brief, heartening embrace, Mustang was ready to ask Dr. Kolt for help.
" . . . I have to make a phone call." Mustang said quietly, letting Edward go and straightening himself. Ed stepped back and looked up at him, his bright amber eyes seeming almost to glow under the sheen of unshed tears. Roy reached into his pocket and pulled out the business card, holding it up for Ed to see.
Edward's face slowly lit with a brilliant grin as he realized what Roy was about to do.Mustang took encouragement from that and, with a weak smile, headed for the payphone. This was it, the thing he'd been dreading since the day that Hawkeye gave him the card.
He put the phone to his ear and dialed quickly, his heart thumping a sick rhythm in his chest as the other line rang.
"Hello." He rasped, petrified as someone answered the phone, "This is Colonel Roy Mustang . . ."
The Colonel had come into work that morning in spite of everyone telling him to take a few more days off to get settled. He had only just arrived back in Central the day before. Hawkeye had been pleasantly surprised to get a phone call from him saying that he was back in town and would be in the office the next day, but she was wary of him working again so soon.
The Elric brothers had been good at not revealing too much about the Colonel over the phone when they called to update her on his health status, but she knew that he was still recovering from whatever had happened to him. Even after all this time she had not been able to get them to tell her what was wrong with him or how he'd been injured.
Colonel Mustang had come in early that morning and was already at his desk when Hawkeye came in. He had been gone for over a month and in that month he had changed dramatically. When he looked up at her as she entered, with the sunlight pouring in from the window behind him accentuating how thin his face had become, she had not known who he was. It wasn't until he spoke that she recognized him and she had to struggle to regain her composure to keep him from seeing her disquiet.
The men had all been deliriously happy to see him, for all of them had been deeply concerned about him, constantly asking Hawkeye if she'd heard any news. He looked terrible, his uniform had become too big for him from the weight he'd lost, and he was obviously not completely recovered yet, but he was home and he assured them all that he was healing well.
Still, everyone was watching him as if they thought he might collapse at any moment. They hovered anxiously around him each time he stood up to do something until he finally got irritated and yelled at them to stop coddling him. Oddly, it seemed to put everyone more at ease to hear him get annoyed. It reminded them that he was still Colonel Roy Mustang, no matter how ill he had been or how different he looked.
The day was surprisingly uneventful, considering the earth-shattering reappearance of the Colonel. He worked diligently, refamiliarizing himself with old cases and studying new ones, complaining the whole time. That, at least, had not changed.
Hawkeye did notice that he was a little unsteady, though. Oh, not that he was trembling or wavering on his feet . . . but he seemed to be having difficulty picking things up and holding them. He dropped his coffee mug twice, eliciting a loud curse from him, and had trouble holding onto papers, especially if they were single sheets. His hands seemed jerky, spasmodic even.
She wanted to ask him if he was all right but she could tell that he would get angry if she did. The Colonel was trying valiantly to act as if this were any other workday, as if he had never been absent at all. Hawkeye wanted to respect that, and so she vowed to save her burning questions until after work.
Finally, the day was over and the men clocked out, patting Roy on the shoulder and congratulating him on his recovery as they went they're separate ways. Only Havoc and Hawkeye stayed behind as the Colonel unhurriedly stacked the papers on his desk and prepared to leave.
Havoc sauntered over to the Colonel's desk and leaned against it casually.
"So . . . " he began, trying to sound nonchalant, "Feeling better?"
Mustang raised his dark eyes to Havoc's face, then turned his gaze to Hawkeye, looking amusedly trapped. He knew that they were not going to let him leave the office without some sort of explanation, but he didn't seem to mind too much.
"I'm getting there." He replied, being purposefully vague.
"Alright, Roy, what happened?" Hawkeye asked assertively. For an entire month, she and his other staff members had been fretting about his welfare, each morning wondering if he'd died the night before from some unknown complication. They knew that the Colonel had been in bad shape, but had not been told why or how. Now that she could see for herself that Mustang was safe—albeit horrifyingly weakened—Hawkeye allowed some anger to shine through her concern. She had a right to know what had happened. She had a right to know if he'd purposefully hurt himself. She had a right to know if it was her fault.
The Colonel looked at her with a pained expression, reading her worried frustration and guilt. Slowly, he pulled on the fingers of his right-hand glove, taking it off with a hesitant air. He removed his other glove as well and held up his hands, his stony face betraying the tiniest bit of apprehension as he waited for his friends to react.
The mechanical hands glinted in the dying sunlight that filtered in through the window as he pushed back his sleeves to reveal the masses of scar tissue where the automail met his flesh. The scars were all fresh, some of them still held together by lines of stitches. Hawkeye could see thin wires running up his forearm under his skin, where they disappeared into the crook of his arm. Her stomach turned with horror.
"God, Colonel . . . " Havoc breathed, staring.
"I'm still learning to work them." Mustang said idly, looking down at his metal fingers. "The Rockbells tell me that I should have full control within the next few weeks."
"How did it happen?" Havoc demanded, shakily lighting a cigarette. Roy reached over and snatched it out of the corner of his mouth, pressing it to his own lips and taking a long drag before passing it back to him. He closed his eyes and blew the smoke out slowly, letting it spiral from his lips in a controlled stream.
He sat mutely for a moment and then launched abruptly into his story. He left nothing out, not even the parts that Hawkeye knew that he desperately wanted to forget. He began at the beginning and ended at the end. He delivered his tale factually, visibly trying to distance himself from his own recent history as if the story were not his at all. When he finished speaking he lowered his eyes and waited patiently for Havoc and Hawkeye to absorb his words.
Hawkeye was alternately numb and overwhelmed by what she'd just been told. Havoc took a tremulous drag on his cigarette, probably trying to think of something to say to his friend and superior. Lost for words, he offered the cigarette back to the Colonel, who took it gratefully and drew in another lung-full of calming smoke.
"Are . . ." Hawkeye began and then faltered as Roy met her eyes. She swallowed and started again, "Are you okay now?"
Roy smirked and looked as if he were going to say: Of course I'm okay. Why wouldn't I be? But then he stopped and looked at his hands again, flexing them pensively.
"Like I said: physically, I'm getting there. Automail hurts. A lot. Fullmetal says it will get better, but it almost always hurt a little bit. It'll hurt more when it's raining or cold, but he says I'll get used to it. I'm healing, but it's frustratingly slow going. I'm tired all the time it seems like."
He raised his head again, looking back and forth between his comrades. "I feel a lot better, though." He added when he saw the worry on their faces.
"And . . . psychologically?" Havoc asked tentatively, lighting another cigarette. "How are the flashbacks?"
" . . . Better. They're less frequent." He fished in his pocket and pulled out a tattered business card. He toyed with it idly for a moment, looking suddenly uncomfortable. It took Hawkeye a moment, but she recognized the card as the one that Armstrong had told her to give to him.
"Edward found this in my luggage a couple of weeks ago and told me to call the psychiatrist. I finally swallowed my pride and called him just before we left Resembool." He paused and then gave a little laugh. "Dr. Kolt said he'd been waiting for that call for years. Apparently, Armstrong had mentioned me a few times during their sessions. Even without meeting me he knows that I need help . . ." He trailed off uneasily, eyes still on the card.
"Good, I'm glad." Hawkeye said, softly. "I know that it couldn't have been easy for you to make that call."
The Colonel shrugged awkwardly. "It had to be done. It just took me a long time to admit it. I have my first appointment next week."
Havoc clapped him on the shoulder warmly. "Whatever it takes, man. We're here for you."
" . . . A little less sentimental bullshit would be nice." Roy shot back with a tolerant grin, eyebrows raised.
Havoc gave a bark of laughter and shook his head, "I can do that. I'm actually really bad with the 'sentimental bullshit', but I thought that I should at least try."
A silence fell between the three of them then, filling the room with some powerful, nameless thing that ran its cold finger down their spines and touched them with a profound feeling of grim relief. They were inundated with a dark sort of catharsis, each silently reeling from everything that had happened, from the heart-breaking joy and anguish of having the Colonel back and knowing the terrible things that he had been through. It was a raw, harsh emotion that flooded them all for just a brief instant and then it was gone.
"So." The Colonel rasped awkwardly after a beat, "Not to blatantly change the subject or anything, but what have I missed around here?"
Havoc wiped his eyes furtively on his cuff and straightened up a little. "Well . . . there was this intern that came in a couple of weeks ago. Sweet little body on that girl. God, you should have seen her, Roy . . ."
Hawkeye sighed softly and shook her head as Havoc regaled the Colonel with his debaucherous escapades. Roy listened intently, laughing at his friend's filthy descriptions even though she knew that he didn't believe a word of it. It was as if nothing had happened. They were just two men hanging out after work, talking about sexual conquests.
He would be okay. Things would go back to normal. It would take a while, and it would be hard, but he would fully be himself again someday, Hawkeye was sure of it. He had made it this far, had been to hell and back and was still fighting. He would not be kept down by this. She would not let him be kept down by this. He would recover from this ordeal and stand once more, destroying anything that compromised his goals.
He would heal.
((A/N: OMFG, it's over! I hope you all enjoyed it. Thank you all so much for your feedback, I really do appreciate it.
I have some more FMA stories in the works, for those of you who are interested. Hopefully I'll have something up soon.))