It was so quiet.
Never in his entire life had Jean ever heard a silence so profound and so welcoming. He wanted the silence and the featureless black blankness surrounding him to swallow him up and take him away.
It was comforting...
It didn't hurt anymore...
If this was death, then he supposed it wasn't so bad.
A man appeared beside him, all dressed in black so that he seemed to fade into the darkness around them. It was Mustang. Jean sighed and turned to him.
"What now?" he asked quietly, knowing that the vision before him wasn't real, but just desperately wanting someone to talk to. "It's over, right? So... is this it?"
The only answer he got was his own voice echoed back to him, resounding in the black, faint and lost-sounding. Mustang didn't even look up. He was staring downward at his feet—or so Jean supposed, as Mustang's black attire made everything aside from his head, neck, and hands nearly invisible in the ethereal darkness. He seemed insubstantial somehow, as delicate and thin as a spiral of cigarette smoke.
...God, Jean wanted a cigarette. Like, really, really badly. The craving hadn't been so bad before, when he'd had things to distract him... things like pain, and Kimbley, and anger... but now they were gone. All of it, gone. There was nothing, now... And for a while, there had been even less than nothing.
The last thing that Jean remembered was Kimbley taking him roughly by the shoulders, squeezing him so hard that it should have hurt, but somehow it didn't.
"Don't let him fail," Kimbley had said urgently, as the unstable ground rumbled and cracked under their feet. "Help him take Bradley down, if that's what he believes in. Just keep him from slipping back into being the pathetic creature that he was, you get me? That shit irritates the hell out of me."
"Wait, what...?" Jean had sputtered, not yet understanding.
"You have a duty!" Kimbley continued, screaming now to be heard over the roar of the universe collapsing around them, sucking everything away into the abyss of eternity. "You're here to fix the mistakes that bastard has made, okay? Make him into something that really deserves to live, if I'm not allowed to kill him!"
Then he'd pushed Jean away and threw his head back, his wide eyes regarding the crumbling heavens, his arm spread to embrace it all.
"Do it now!"
And then, like the world around him, he'd broken apart. His body had shattered into splinters of light and dispersed, impressing Jean with one last, sardonic smirk before everything went black.
For a long time after that there had been only blackness and silence. Jean couldn't say how long. Maybe a few hours. Maybe a year or two... or ten thousand. Jean had thought that it would never end, that blackness, where not even the company of dreams could comfort him.
"Are you awake?"
Mustang's voice rang out again, bringing Jean back to the here and now—even if words like "here" and "now" meant absolutely nothing, wherever and whenever and whatever he was. Jean looked over at him, but he was still staring down, unmoving and blank, pale and vacant.
"I have no idea," Jean sighed, rubbing his face. "I'm starting to wonder if I was ever awake at all, you know?" But then he stopped and laughed, shaking his head. "I don't even know what I'm talking about anymore. I'm so tired, Mustang... I'm so goddamn tired."
Jean scowled at him, sincerely not wanting to be pestered by a subconscious phantom at the moment, as lonely as he was...
But then his Everything jolted and twisted itself into something else entirely as something soft and vaguely warm hit him in the face. His eyes snapped open in surprise, but then he winced and shut them again against the powder-pink sunrise coming in through the window. It wasn't really all that bright, but after being in darkness for so long, even that gentle, early-morning glow was enough to hurt his eyes. It was several beats before he ventured to open them again and turn his head gingerly to see what had hit him.
It appeared to be a pillow, laying placidly beside him, it's forward momentum apparently halted by its collision with his head. He looked at it stupidly, not really able to put together what force could have possibly put it there.
He was on a bed.
In a dimly-lit room.
And a pillow had just hit him in the face.
The voice startled him, but his muscles were too tired to even twitch in surprise. He felt numb and heavy and perhaps not quite fully conscious, but after a moment of thought he was able to look toward the source of the voice, forcing his eyes to focus on the figure in the bed beside his.
It was Mustang, raising himself up on one elbow and looking at him. His face was hesitant and his eyes were hazy; he looked as if he'd either just woken up or was about to go to sleep. When Jean met his eyes, the faintest touch of relief seemed to touch Mustang, relaxing the rigidity of his jaw a little.
"...Good morning," the colonel said after a moment, allowing himself a small smile. "Welcome to the land of the living."
Jean blinked at him uncertainly. The land of the living? So he really was alive, then—sharing a hospital room with Mustang by the looks of it. Weird. After he'd been preparing for death for so many countless hours, it was a little jarring to think that Death had passed him by with little more than a familiar wave before taking Kimbley and sinking with him back into the threads of eternity.
So Kimbley really had let him live... go figure.
"...How're you feeling?" Mustang tried again, and only then did Jean realize that the man was just trying to get him to talk, most likely to see it he was lucid... or perhaps to establish whether or not his mind had been damaged by Kimbley...
...Had he been damaged...? For a minute there he wondered, because for the life of him he couldn't seem to remember how to use his mouth. But then, through the clouds of lethargy, he managed to find his voice.
"...Empty," he said, the word coming out in the parched croup of an old man.
"You feel empty?" Mustang queried again delicately, apparently unsure if that was a good response.
Jean nodded dazedly, then coughed. His vocal chords felt almost dusty with disuse. "In a good way, I guess..."
Jean reached up and rubbed his face, trying to rally himself against the deep, bone-tired exhaustion that was weighing him down.
"How long was I out?" he asked after a few beats, looking over at his superior again. He looked nervous.
"A few days, I think... I'm not entirely sure how long it's been. I've been pretty drugged for the past few days myself... I think this is the most alert I've been in the past week..."
"...Are you okay?"
Mustang smirked tiredly. "I will be. I just have a lot of healing to do."
"...Am I okay?" Jean asked, looking over at the IV needle tucked into his arm and glancing down at his bandaged hands. He only vaguely remembered them being sliced open in the interrogation room... And then there were the bullet holes in his legs... He hadn't really even been given a chance to look at those...
"Yeah, you'll be fine..." Mustang assured him, calling his thoughts away from his wounds. "Your fever broke almost immediately after Kimbley... left. Your organs are already well on their way to repairing themselves. At this rate, you'll be out of here long before I will. The doctors are calling it a miracle..."
Mustang stopped for a moment, then grinned amusedly. "Rumor got around the hospital that all Ed did was put his hands on you, and then you were magically cured. The nurses think that he's a faith healer and keep following him around, ogling him every time he comes into the hospital. I don't think I've ever seen him get so flustered. It's hilarious."
Jean chuckled, but the laughter hurt his chest, so he quickly stopped. It didn't really hurt all that bad in comparison to what he'd just been through, but it wasn't pleasant.
"Your mother has practically adopted him," Mustang went on, "Thinks he's a hero... She's staying with Breda, as I'm sure you would have guessed. I'm sure they'll both stop by when visiting hours start... I don't think your mother would even leave the hospital at all if the staff didn't throw her out every night. Yesterday, I thought she was going to punch one of the security guards when he told her to leave..."
Jean had to laugh again at that. Yeah, that sounded like his mom.
"...You should probably get some more sleep before she comes by," the colonel suggested, his voice very soft. "You look like you've been hit by a truck."
"Mmph... That's not far off from how I feel..." he agreed, only too willing to go back to sleep. There were a lot of things that he had to think about... And sleep was probably the only the solace from those thoughts he'd be able to find just now...
Silence came into the room then, sudden and awkward. Jean closed his eyes against it, waiting for sleep to come for him again.
"But... but I suppose we're going to need to talk about some things..." Mustang whispered quietly, the words strained as if he was forcing himself to say them. "...Eventually. I don't know everything that Kimbley might have said to you... but..."
Jean's heart squirmed and shuddered at that, completely side-swiped by the pain in Mustang's voice. He opened his eyes again and looked over. "...We don't need to talk about it. It's none of my business," he whispered.
Mustang worked his jaw, but then made himself continue. "I think it is your business, considering everything that—"
"We don't need to talk about it," Jean said again, trying to make his thin, raspy voice sound firm. "I already know everything, so there's no real need to discuss it." He stopped, then eyed his superior. "Unless you... you know... need to talk about it, because we can if—"
"No. I really don't," he said quickly, embarrassed.
"Okay, then. It's fine," Jean shrugged, trying desperately to seem flippant about it.
It wasn't fine. They both knew that, and they both knew that things were going to be a little strained between them for a while. Even if they pretended that everything was okay, that awkward tension would still be there, as thick and heavy as it suddenly was now. But, eventually, it would go away. Jean was sure of that... it was just going to take a while.
...But whether or not Mustang really believed it, he was pretty much stuck with Jean. He wasn't going anywhere, no matter what Mustang had done in the past. It was that simple.
"So, how is everyone else... um... handling everything?" Jean ventured.
Mustang sighed and rested his head back down on his pillowless hospital bed. "Good, I suppose. It's... hard right now, though. Alphonse is avoiding me. Ed's not, but I think it scares him a little to see us in here... Hawkeye and Fuery are just keeping quiet; they haven't really made any comments about anything at all. Breda and Maes, on the other hand, can't seem to leave me alone... I can't stand the way that they look at me now..."
His voice wavered a little and he had to stop and clear his throat before going on. "I'm going to address this. I'm going to call a meeting and explain everything that Kimbley told them. I'm tired of lying, of hiding things from you. You all deserve more than that, if we are going to make it to the top together. And if... if anyone wants to leave afterward, that's their decision. I just w-want everyone to know..."
He trailed off again, turning his head to stare at the ceiling. The pale morning light coming in through the window brightened the moisture in his bloodshot eyes for a moment before he closed them and let out a long, steadying sigh.
Jean had always known that Mustang deeply appreciated his staff and all that they had helped him achieve so far—both publicly and in secretive, more important ways that could get them executed for treason if the fuehrer ever got wind of it. What Jean hadn't realized before all of this—even though it had been staring him in the face for years—was that Mustang truly loved them, and valued them as something much more than a loyal staff. If any of them left him now, it wouldn't just greatly inconvenience his rise to the top... it would break his heart.
"None of us are going to leave. Come on, Roy, you have to know that..." Jean whispered, both touched and saddened by his realization.
Mustang said nothing for a moment, but Jean could see his throat working as if he was fighting to swallow back a lump.
Jean felt a similar tightness in his throat and closed his eyes, knowing that Mustang didn't believe him and knowing just as well that there was nothing that he could say to make him think otherwise.
So Jean didn't say anything at all and just sighed, willing sleep to come for him swiftly. Thing would look better later. The outlook would be brighter after he'd gotten some more rest...
He opened his eyes and looked over again. Mustang was still staring up at the ceiling, unblinking, as if all the answers in the world were written between the cracks in the paint. One of his arms was outstretched toward Jean, his hand open and inviting. Jean didn't hesitate to reach over and grip his friend's hand in his own, each of them squeezing the other's wrist in a brotherly clasp. At that immediate sign of forgiveness and acceptance, Mustang closed his eyes tightly.
Yes. Everything would work out. Jean knew it in his heart as they silently released each other and laid back in their respective beds, both of them exhausted beyond words. Jean closed his eyes again, the weight on his chest suddenly a little lighter.
"...Jean?" the colonel called again, sounding even more tentative.
"...Can I have my pillow back?"
Jean reopened one eye and exhaled a loud sigh in mock-exasperation before grabbing up the offending pillow and tossing it over to him. Mustang caught it a little clumsily—as it hit him in the chest hard enough to make him scowl at his lieutenant—and tucked it under his head, curling up in the hospital sheets with a huge yawn.
"Get some sleep," Jean told him fondly and let his open eye fall shut again.
They were both asleep almost immediately and neither of them dreamt anything at all. They're minds were both blissfully blank in the hold of sleep, like a slate that has just been erased—freed from the vulgarity and horrors that had once been scrawled across it. As far as their subconsciouses were concerned, they had both been wiped clean of all evil for the time being—both evils that they had done, and evils that had been done to them.
What they chose to fill the space with tomorrow was their own choice, but for now all was pristine and innocent, just waiting to be imprinted with something new.
((A/N: That's it! Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.))