Author's Note: This is a Banks Songfic. Rather than being your normal kind of songfic where the lyrics of the song are interspersed throughout the story, the lyrics are used sort of like an outline for the story. Those who are familiar with the song may be able to tell which parts were inspired by which lines. This is a songfic of "The Secret's In The Telling" by Dashboard Confessional. When I first heard the song, I was amazed at how much it sounded like Royai. So I decided to write a fic with it, about the last respite before the coup. Enjoy!
For Dailenna Llewellyn Stuart, the Queen of Royai and one of the best friends I know.
They greeted each other with nothing more than a nod, acknowledging each other's presence as if they hardly cared whether the other was there or not. As if their hearts had not broken every day they were apart. As if every day had not started with a hopeless wish that they would be with together again. As if the other's presence didn't make the whole world brighter.
The others were there as well – the few of the others who were able to make it. One was in the frigid north, one was out of commission, one was dead. Somehow, he had always imagined they would all be here at the end. How had he let them slip through his fingers like this? He bent to pat the dog on the head, to participate in the small talk, but everything felt so far away. It was like fainting – like staring down the long tunnel to where the real world is, and knowing you are detached and unconnected. It would be a frightening sensation, if such emotions were not connected to the other end of the tunnel.
The others left to prepare, the dog curled up in the corner with a yawn, and he was left alone with her. She was busily checking over their weapons to ensure as much as possible that they would not jam, and suddenly he realized he had nothing to do. Once the commander has issued his orders and all his subordinates rush away to complete their tasks, he is left alone. Once the pawns have begun to advance towards the other side of the board, the king is left alone at the edge...with his queen.
He sat down on a crate and cast his eyes across their small hiding place. This was where they had interrogated a criminal in secret, once upon a time. It almost seemed to have happened to someone else, in a separate lifetime. Someone who had not yet lost everything had sat here, once. The Someone had been able to make light of matters, to make plans, to surge ahead in eagerness and confidence. How he wished to be that Someone now. Somehow, he had always imagined that he would be brave in the end. He was a soldier, after all. But all he felt in the waiting silence was terror rising like bile in his throat.
A sudden sound alerted him, and he turned his head to see her drag another empty crate over to him. She sat down, now quietly cleaning a pistol. He watched her for a few moments, watching the movements he had memorized over the years. If he closed his eyes, he would be able to see her hands moving across the little metal pieces as easily as he did now. In the same way, he had memorized every inch of her profile – the sharp eyebrows, the golden hair swept off her shoulders, the few strands trailing down the back of her neck.... If he was an artist, he could paint her portrait with his eyes closed.
It was only when she put her gun back in its holster and folded the cloth into a neat square that he realized he had been staring at her for a long time. She looked up at him, and their eyes locked for a moment before they turned away and simultaneously leaned up against the wall. They remained in that position for a long time, not speaking, barely moving, the only sound their breathing harmoniously weaving together like a song.
He reflected that in a way, it had always been like this. No questions. No answers. No words. Just the silence of intimate understanding. They had been at each other's side for so many years they had learned the meaning of every movement the other made. They never said anything because nothing ever needed to be said. And because of that, they were essential to each other. They were a part of each other's soul.
How long had she been so important to him? It had been so long, he couldn't even remember when it had begun. Ishbal? No; he had known before he laid eyes on her on the battlefield that he would die a slow and painful death if any harm came to her. Then had it begun when she shared her secret, her father's secret? They had become inseparable then, inextricably linked by a single transmutation circle. But even before then, he had cared for her. She had been such a constant, indispensable part of his life for so long that he couldn't even remember a time when he had not cared for her.
It was funny. Most people would find it hard to keep silent about something so important to them. But his regard for her had grown so gradually that he had never felt a sudden rush of emotion, never felt it necessary to speak of what he felt inside. And he supposed it was the same for her, or perhaps it was just in her nature to keep silent about such things. So when it became obvious that they had to keep it secret lest his enemies use them against each other, it was hardly an adjustment at all. They developed a code or two, established signals to use when words would be too dangerous, and fell utterly silent forever.
He wondered, if he was a different man and she was a different woman, whether they would have found this too difficult, or whether the fire inside would grow cold with no one to blow on the embers. But all they needed were covert glances, carefully worded sentences with just the right stress in just the right place, and stolen brushes of skin on skin as they handed paperwork back and forth.
She really was a marvelous woman. No other he knew (and he knew quite a few) would put up with this secret subtlety. Most women, he supposed, would want love notes, phone calls, flowers left on their doorstep. But with this woman, there was no paper. No letters. Just a quiet exchange of good-mornings, a quick smile, and a stack of paperwork on each desk. And occasionally a phone call to say, I've captured something very...strange or, I've decided to go fishing, Elizabeth. Theirs was a strange relationship, to be sure.
Sometimes he wondered what initially drew them together. What did he see in her, when she had been an utterly different person? What did she see in him, when he was a naive youth with dreams too big for his own head? He marveled that they had even become friends. How many times could they have fallen silent rather than strike up a conversation? How many seconds could have slipped away, losing their chance forever? And how many times could a bullet have gone astray and killed them before the war was over? How many times had they brushed against death and barely survived? And whenever his thoughts drew him this far, he shuddered inwardly and drew comfort from knowing that, implausible though it might be, they had each other.
He couldn't imagine facing the end with anyone else by his side. At times, it felt like they were born to face death side by side. He knew that the danger of her being hurt would claw at him the whole while, but he also knew she would never leave his side now, even if he begged her to. And though he knew he would regret it later, he was grateful for that knowledge now. It was infinitely comforting to know that she was there, that she understood him to the core, that she would never forsake him as long as she still breathed.
How had he ever found someone this wonderful?
She gave him a slow, sidelong look now, as if she wanted to say something to him. But he already knew what she would say. You should rest, sir, she would say. Soon we will leave here, and there will be no chance of a respite. You needn't worry; I will watch over you.
But he smiled and shook his head slightly. I won't sleep if you won't sleep, Lieutenant.
She let out a little sigh, but said nothing, and once again they sat motionless, side by side. As the seconds slipped by, he listened to their breath whistling in and out of their lungs and realized that their time was running out as surely as sand slipping through his fingers like an hourglass. Once they left here, they would be defying the Fuhrer, the Homunculi, the whole military system. It was a little arrogant to think they would make it out unharmed or even alive. This was their last chance to be alone together. The perfect chance to do any number of things he had hardly dared imagine in her presence for fear he would give himself away. But he just sat there, motionless. No confessions. No kisses. Nothing but sitting there, side by side, as they always had.
He could feel his futility in every second he let slip past without doing or saying something. Shouldn't they be making some kind of farewell, at least? Wouldn't he regret this later, thinking of all the things he should have said? What if he never saw her again?
His heart skipped a beat, and his hands curled silently into fists. He had told himself this danger would be real, he had said it a thousand times. But now that it was real, staring at him in the face...he didn't know what to do. A senseless terror gripped his heart at the thought of being separated from her now. Not now, not after all the promises they had and hadn't said. Not after all these years of her standing behind him, filled with life and strength and focus....
But no. He couldn't let fear take hold of him now. If he froze up, they really would be in trouble. He could still see her, slumped on the ground in despair when she thought he was dead. Unable to rise, unable to even protect herself. And they could not afford to reach that place again. Because next time it might be him, and what if she wasn't there to knock sense back into him?
His swirling thoughts stilled as a last resilient hope solidified in his very bones. They would do what they had to do. As they always had. The Homunculi had to be stopped, and that was all there was to it. He wasn't going to die, and neither was she. He wouldn't let her.
His heart suddenly swelled with emotion, pumping harder and faster than he could ever remember it doing while he was sitting down. And in every drop of blood, her name was there, written into his DNA, into his very soul. His whole being seemed to thrum with her presence, like a harp string vibrating after being plucked. And he could almost hear the music, too. He could hear her song. He could smell her, he could feel her, though he sat in exactly the same position as before. He could taste her name welling up in his throat, seeping into his mouth and pressing against his lips. At first he gritted his teeth, trying to keep the words in, but soon he realized it was pointless. Nothing could keep back this tide, not the tallest, thickest dam in all of Amestris.
And he had always quailed in the face of water anyway.
Closing his eyes, he whispered, "I love you...."
The torrent gushed out of him with those words, leaving him feeling slightly drained, as if he had just completed an enormous transmutation. But like a transmutation, there was a tremendous feeling of satisfaction that came in the face of the weariness.
It was only when he felt another hand on his that he realized his eyes were still closed. He slowly opened them and stared at her thumb stroking the back of his hand. Unclenching his fist, he turned his hand over under hers, then pressed his other hand on top of it. He slowly, slowly raised his eyes to her face.
She was smiling at him – just a little, contented smile – and she didn't say a word. But the look in her eyes was all he needed.