Disclaimer: I don't own them, I only borrow.
A/N: Written for the winter 2009 exchange on fmagiftexchange over on livejournal. My prompt was "Black Hayate has gone missing and Riza is very worried."
The snow was falling lightly on the streets of Central City, slowly accumulating and gathering in windswept drifts on the sidewalks in front of the military complex. Inside one of the snow covered buildings of headquarters, Roy Mustang lounged in his comfortable desk chair and watched the snowflakes dancing against his window panes. It was a pretty, dreamy winter afternoon where the sun shined through the snow clouds and made you almost forget how cold it was outside. But even the people in the streets seemed cheerful, bundled up in coats and scarves with their smiling faces pink from the wind that played across the clean, white ground.
"Colonel, sir," came the voice of his first lieutenant. "Could you please stop daydreaming and try to get some work done?"
"Look at it out there, Hawkeye," he said, completely unperturbed by her slight annoyance. "Doesn't it make you feel warm inside? All that snow covering the ground like a big white blanket."
"Snow is a nuisance, sir," she said flatly. "It makes sidewalks a trial and driving hazardous."
He frowned and turned to look at her, taking in her severe hairstyle and ramrod-straight back. "You don't have a romantic bone in your body, do you Hawkeye?"
"No, sir," she answered, without missing a beat or looking up from the document she was working on. Havoc suppressed a snicker and leaned back in his chair, reaching for the lighter in his pocket. His hand was stopped by a pointed glare from the first lieutenant, and he simply let his cigarette hang from his lips, unlit.
Fuery jumped nervously when Hawkeye thumped a stack of papers against her desk to square them. Even Falman watched with careful hooded eyes as she moved to the colonel's desk.
"Sir, with permission I would like to take these documents down to the central office for processing," she said, and though her phrasing was deferential her tone carried a warning. It was clear she was not in the best of moods. "I would recommend your getting through at least a portion of your paperwork before I get back." The words or you'll regret it hung in the air, unsaid but understood from her hard brown eyes and the thin line of her mouth. And without waiting for him to grant her leave or dismiss her, she turned neatly on the heel of her boot and marched out of the room. When the office door closed behind her, the men let out a collective breath they had been holding.
"I think you'd better do what she says, Colonel," said Breda. "She seems serious."
"And extra scary," Fuery muttered, still shaking in his boots.
"Ah, don't worry about her," Roy said dismissively, smirking. "She always gets like this when it snows. Can't stand the cold."
Havoc glanced at Breda with a raised eyebrow. The men were aware that their colonel and first lieutenant shared some common history, but they had always wondered exactly what the nature of that history was. Had to be pretty interesting, they reasoned, because they all had seen the strength of the devotion their superiors had for each other.
Black Hayate, who had been napping in a wan patch of winter sunlight, now got up and stretched. His master's exit had gone unnoticed by him as, being in the care of an accomplished sniper and firearms aficionado, he had long ago become accustomed to much louder noises than the simple shutting of a door. But now his round dark eyes searched the room, not seeing his master in her usual place. He sniffed the air and walked toward the door.
"You want to go after Lieutenant Hawkeye, boy?" Fuery asked the little dog. He smiled when Hayate answered with a wag of his tail and an excited little yip. The young officer got up from his desk and moved to open the door for him. Hayate happily trotted out into the hall.
A few minutes later, at about the same time Roy guessed Riza would be nearly back to the office, he finally turned to the stack of papers waiting for his attention. Boredly he flipped through them, barely reading them and signing where it was required. Paperwork really was the dullest part of working for the military. It seemed to Roy that he had to sign a report for every time one of his subordinates so much as sneezed.
And moments later, she did return carrying a stack of papers even taller than the one she left with. She sorted them and passed them out to the other soldiers, carrying the largest pile over to Mustang's desk with a tiny, perverse smirk.
"You find this very funny, don't you?" he asked, irritation evident in his voice. The stack of papers waiting for his attention was now almost twice the size it had been moments ago.
"Not at all, sir," she answered, and though her voice was deadpan he could see laughter in her eyes and he was glad to see her mood had lightened a little, even if it was at his pain.
"Where is Hayate?" she asked when she noticed that the place he had formerly occupied was now vacant.
"He went after you," Fuery answered. "Maybe he needed to go out?"
"Must be," she said, though she didn't sound at all convinced. But she sat at her desk and continued to go through her paperwork and seemed not to give it another thought.
Night fell early, as it does in winter, and Roy noticed Riza glancing at the windows even more than he did as the sky grew dark. Her features were, as always, schooled to impassivity, but Roy's experienced eyes could see the slight furrow of her brow and the downturn of the corners of her mouth that told him she was worried. It had been almost an hour and a half since Hayate had left the office and he had yet to make his reappearance. The snow outside had not let up – on the contrary, it seemed to be getting worse – and the temperature was dropping with the absence of the sun.
"Colonel, would it be possible to allow me to leave a little early today? My paperwork is finished and the filing is up to date."
The men all looked a little concerned. Hawkeye never left the office before the Colonel, much less before the rest of them, and she never ever left early. Even they were beginning to sense her building anxiety.
Roy studied her face for a moment. Her eyes were almost pleading. She glanced out the window at the unrelenting blizzard and then back at his face.
"Of course, Lieutenant, you're dismissed." He turned back to his paperwork and pretended not to notice her unusually frantic movements as she pulled on her coat and headed for the door. He knew she hated to look at all weak, so he pretended not to see her nervous movements. She saluted hastily and was gone before any of the men could even wish her good evening.
Roy continued to work, absently skimming and signing papers as he thought of Riza, out in the dark and cold looking for her dog. Even though it was freezing out there, he knew she wouldn't go home until she found him. She was as hard-headed as they come. She'd completely disregard her hatred of winter and allow herself to get frostbite before she even considered giving up. And with just her standard issue military coat and boots to protect her from the harsh night and deep snow, that wouldn't take long. He found himself growing more and more worried about his capable, intelligent, and all too determined lieutenant as the clock ticked toward six. She could take care of herself, it was true, but he also knew that at times like this she always, always put her own safety last, as if she were unimportant. That part of her personality always made Roy want to shake some sense into her, but his anger at her misplaced priorities faded beneath his growing concern for her well-being.
"All right, men," he said, finally giving in and cursing himself for not leaving with her in the first place. "I'm off for the night."
"Won't Lieutenant Hawkeye be mad that you didn't finish your paperwork?" Havoc asked, knowing full well why his commanding officer was leaving.
"I think she'll forgive me." With that, he picked up his coat and headed out into the night.
It was colder out that he had thought it would be and he shoved his gloved hands deep into his coat pockets and pulled the hood close around his ears. The sidewalks had been shoveled, but not in the last few hours so the snow was starting to build up again and Roy could already feel his toes getting cold before he was even halfway to Hawkeye's apartment.
She wasn't home. He knew she wouldn't be but that didn't stop him from cursing at her in his head. Still, he thought, it was better to be sure that she wasn't there before he scoured the city looking for her. Now, unsure of where to go from here, he simply chose a street and headed down, alternately calling the names of his lieutenant and her dog. He would have been grateful to find either of them, but forty frozen minutes passed before he had any luck at all.
He heard her before he saw her, her clear voice colored with worry calling out for Hayate. Roy quickened his pace and followed the sound one street over where he finally found her hurrying down the sidewalk looking left and right for any sign of the lost dog. Her head was uncovered snow was building up in her unused hood as well on her hair. Her cheeks and hands were red and wind burned but she didn't seem to notice or care. Roy could even see snow bunched into her boot tops. She must have been freezing. He hurried down to meet her.
"Hawkeye!" he called, and she turned her head to see him coming towards her, confusion and surprise widening her eyes.
"Colonel, what are you doing here?"
"I came to help you look for Hayate."
"Oh, thank you, sir." She turned to continue moving but he grabbed her arm and pulled her back around.
"Hold on a minute." He took her hands in his own and could feel, even through the fabric of his gloves, how cold they were. He was amazed they weren't frozen solid. "Good lord, Hawkeye, your hands are like ice!" He rubbed them between his own for a moment, trying to get some blood back in them before rummaging through his pockets to find his spare gloves. He handed them to her and she pulled them on. They hung loosely on her smaller hands and the ignition cloth, ironically, provided very little warmth, but they were better than nothing. Next, he moved to brush the snow from her hair and empty her hood before pulling it up over her head and drawing it close around her face.
"Sir?" she said, looking at him with big questioning eyes.
"I can't let my first lieutenant freeze to death, now can I?" He smiled at her and brushed some snow off her shoulders before letting his hands drop away. "You know nothing will get done in the office without you."
A ghost of a smile passed over her lips, which were practically blue from the cold, and he had the fleeting notion to kiss some warmth back into them but let it go as the worry came back into her eyes and she refocused on the street in front of her.
Having found her, all he really wanted to do was get her home where she could get warm, but the look on her face almost broke his heart. She really was torn up over the little mutt, so he humored her. "All right, tell me where you've looked."
He followed her down the sidewalk as she detailed, in a very military way, all the streets she had searched and parks she had combed in search of Black Hayate. He smiled to himself both at the fact that her search pattern resembled any number of missions they had been on, and at the fact that she was more loquacious now than she had been at the office all week long. He let her direct him and they split up and searched a few more streets, but as they came back together again and he noticed her chattering teeth and shaking hands, he decided that enough was enough.
"Hawkeye, you're frozen stiff," he said. She started to protest, but he cut her off. "Look, your apartment is right up this way, why don't we go there, warm up for a bit, and then start the search up new? Who knows, maybe he's waiting at the door for you to let him in."
That seemed to sway her, and she nodded her head and followed silently as he led the way back to her building. Once inside, they stripped off their coats and boots and left them by the door to dry. The warmth of the little apartment burned against their icy skin and Roy felt life returning to his extremities.
"He wasn't outside," she said, wringing her trembling hands. Her socks and the bottoms of her pants were soaked and he could see her knees shaking. She looked so drained and frozen he was afraid she might just fall over.
"Go on and change into some dry clothes," he said. "I'll make some tea to warm us up." She nodded dumbly and did as he said, disappearing into the other room.
He really didn't want her to go back out there. She looked half dead already and he was worried she would make herself really ill with any more exposure to the freezing night. He was concerned about the little dog, too, but fruitlessly searching the streets and letting Riza do herself a harm wouldn't help anyone.
He dug a canister of chamomile tea out of her cabinet and waited for the kettle to boil. He had to think of a way to convince her to stay inside. It would be best if he could get her to go to sleep, but he knew how improbable that was. She really was a force of nature when she set her mind to something. Sometimes it was a pain, but that determination was one of the things he loved most about her. Despite everything, he couldn't help but smile a little as he measured out the leaves. She was strong.
"I'm sorry, sir," came her soft voice, and he turned to see her standing beside the kitchen table. "Thank you." Her hands and face were still red from the cold and her long hair was now loose, blonde darkened by the dampness of melted snow. She wore a black turtleneck sweater that hung loosely off her body and looked old enough to have been worn by her mother, who had been long gone even before he had met her.
"No trouble, Riza," he said, allowing himself to address her by her given name since he was standing in his stocking feet making tea in her kitchen. Her eyes widened a little at the unexpected and unfamiliar sound of the word, and he found himself getting angry because he knew that there was no one close enough to her to call her that. She shouldn't be so isolated that she forgot her own first name. She deserved to have someone in her life, but all she had was that damn dog and he was wandering around lost somewhere.
He poured the hot water from the kettle into the tea pot and ushered her into a seat at the table. He was more than a little worried at her trembling hands and weak knees as she sat heavily in the kitchen chair. Glancing toward the window and the snowflakes still falling thickly from the dark sky, her tired nervous eyes closed and she pressed her lips into a thin line. She almost looked like she was wishing. Roy let himself hate the little dog for a minute for making her feel this way. But he knew it wasn't really Hayate's fault, and he knew that he was more than just a dog to her. He was a friend, a quiet companion in her otherwise solitary hours, a creature that loved her unconditionally and became a vessel for all the love in her warm heart that couldn't show through on her military face. And she needed him back.
"Here," he said softly, pouring the tea into her plain white teacup and placing it in front of her.
"Thank you, sir," she said and wrapped her fingers around the cup, turning her distracted eyes onto the pale liquid. He wanted to tell her that it was all right to drop the sir, to call him Roy, to allow them to be close to one another. He wanted to be able to comfort her, but he didn't know how. He didn't know how much was too much, where comfort would end and complications begin. He wanted to take her in his arms and hold on to her and whisper reassurances in her ears and smooth her long blonde hair, but he knew it would probably do them both more harm than good when they were forced to separate and give up one another's warmth.
They sat in silence. Her mind was far away, tired but rapidly turning over worst-case scenarios and possibilities. Hayate was familiar with most of the streets between headquarters and her apartment building, but with all the snow and the swirling wind he could have gotten confused, made a wrong turn. Worst case, he'd been outside for almost five hours now. Most likely he wasn't dead, but he could have a bad case of frostbite or hypothermia. But there was always the possibility that someone who had overestimated their bad-weather driving skills had hit him. Her knuckles turned white as she gripped the teacup.
"I'm sure he's all right," said Roy, his voice sounding loud in the quiet room. "He's a smart dog. He'll find his way home." He touched his fingers to her the back of her hand and she loosened her death grip on the cup.
"Yes," she said absently, and finally took a sip of her tea. On the floor beside the table sat one of Hayate's chew toys, a bright red bone that looked well worn and covered in teeth marks. She turned her gaze on it, staring almost as if she'd never seen it before, and felt her eyes beginning to sting. She hated crying and she immediately became fiercely angry at the moisture forming on her eyelids. She felt like an idiot crying over a dog, especially in front of him, and she abruptly stood from the table and moved toward the door.
"Riza!" he called, and the sound of her name on his lips again made her freeze in her tracks as he closed the distance between them and took hold of her arm. "Where are you going?"
"I have to go look for him," she said, inwardly cursing the weak wavering of her voice. His hand slid down her arm and took hers. She wouldn't look up to meet his eyes.
"Your hands are still cold," he said simply, but with unguarded affection that made her heart thump and her eyes sting even more.
"He's out there all alone," she whispered. "He needs me. I'm supposed to protect him."
He felt a familiar weight to her words and smiled sadly at the side of her face. "He'll find his way back to you. He always does."
She didn't answer but her grip on his hand tightened and she kept her eyes turned away.
"Besides," he continued, wrapping her other hand around her trembling fingers, "he doesn't mean to worry you. He wants to be by your side as much as you want him beside you. He loves you."
With that her head abruptly turned toward him and she met his eyes. She knew he wasn't just talking about the dog anymore.
"Roy," she whispered, so softly he had to bend his head to hear her (but it was worth it to hear her say his name, his first name after all these years) and for a moment it felt like there was nothing separating them, no walls and rules and ranks to hold them apart. For a moment they were just themselves, Roy and Riza, their feelings acknowledged and running deeper in their veins than fire or blood or time. Carefully, he laid his arm around her shoulders and drew her close. Her breathing hitched in his ear, distressed, but she didn't cry. He held her, rubbing his hand in comforting circles on her back and being the friend she sorely needed.
Eventually he was able to coax her away from the door and get her to take a seat on the couch. He could see the exhaustion on her face – the cold and worry had really taken a toll on her – and it wasn't too long before she drifted off to sleep. He pulled a little blanket up over her shoulders and watched her eyes move beneath their lids. He hoped at least that her dreams were pleasant because she really needed the rest.
Quietly he got up and went to the table to clean up the neglected tea. It had gone quite cold. He poured it into the sink and washed the cups and pot, trying to make as little noise as possible. That done, he snuck to the door and pulled on his boots and coat, which were both still a bit damp, thought they were nothing compared to Riza's sopping outer garments. He checked above the outer door frame to be sure the spare key was still stowed in the little hidden cavity and then went out, hoping Riza would stay asleep until morning, or at least until he came back.
He canvassed the streets near her house again, hoping that Hayate had somehow managed to find his way back to his master's neighborhood, but there was still no sign of him. At least the snow had finally stopped so all Roy had to deal with was the thick layer of white already coating the ground.
"Hayate?" he called, beginning to feel himself growing angry at the hapless dog yet again.
Roy spun, thinking for a moment a dog had answered him and that he might have totally lost his mind. But then he saw Fuery standing there, holding a sleeping Black Hayate in his arms.
"Fuery! You found him!"
"Yes, sir," answered the sergeant. "I felt so guilty for being the one who let him out that I had to try to find him."
"Where was he?"
"He was huddled up under one of the dumpsters near the dorms. I was going to call the lieutenant, but then I thought it would be better just to bring him home myself." He breathed and looked up at the Colonel before continuing in a very small voice, "Is she all right?"
"She's fine, Fuery," said Roy, smiling warmly at this example of how much his men truly did care for one another. "She'll be even better when she sees Hayate is safe."
Fuery let out a breath and finally smiled. "That's good."
"Here, let me take him back for you. It's late and Hawkeye's apartment is on my way."
Fuery hesitated for a second and then conceded. "Okay." The pup yawned and looked a little confused as the young officer passed him and then snuggled his head into the crook of Roy's arm to shield his face from the cold. "Are you sure, Colonel?"
"It's no problem. I was going to go and check up on her again anyway."
"Did she really need looking after?" asked Fuery, his voice full of equal parts incredulity and concern.
Roy just smiled. "Not really. She just needed a little company. Speaking of which, I'd better get him back to her."
"Okay, thank you sir."
"Thank you, Fuery. Have a good night."
"You too, sir."
Roy carried the little dog back to Riza's apartment building triumphantly, no longer even feeling the cold despite the fact that the temperature had dropped another few degrees since the snow had stopped. He tried to juggle Hayate into one arm as he reached up for the spare key to unlock Riza's door, but the dog was squirming so much, having finally recognized where he was, that Roy had to set him down. Once the door was opened, he bounded through the door and headed straight for the couch where Riza was still asleep. Roy stood in the door and watched as Hayate jumped up into her lap and started licking her face, his curled tail wagging happily.
"Hayate?" came Riza's groggy voice. She woke quickly and threw her arms around the shiba's neck and pulled him close. He barked excitedly and continued to lick the side of her face. "I'm so glad you're safe," she whispered, just barely loud enough for Roy to hear.
After a moment, she turned her head to see where the hall light was spilling fluorescently through the door and silhouetting him in its harsh white light. "Colonel?"
He smiled. "You can get some rest now, Lieutenant. I told you he'd always find his way back to you."
A smile that was so genuine poured forth from her deepest heart and spread across her face a Hayate finally settled his head on her chest and heaved a contented sigh. Roy stood dumbstruck for a moment at her unusually, stunningly unguarded expression, then returned the smile.
"Thank you so much," she said, her soft voice making his heart expand warmly.
"Glad to be of help, though it was really Fuery who found him. I just brought him home." He smiled again, watching her small hand smooth Hayate's ears back as the little dog drifted back to sleep, the excitement of his reunion over. "Well, I'd better be going. Have a good night, lieutenant."
He closed the door behind himself and walked slowly down the hall. He was glad to have been able to help her for a change, though it was almost funny how much the little dog meant to her. He had not seen her so upset in a long time. Hayate had made his way into her heart and, as he ventured out once again into the cold night, he was glad that she had him.