"Oh, and I'm crashing on your couch for the next week, Riza, so I hope your place is fit for company."
The announcement came at the end of one of the whispered updates Rebecca had provided Riza in the hospital, with an angry nurse looming over them both, and a doctor still working on the mess that was Hawkeye's shoulder and neck.
Hawkeye's response was delayed, as the doctor chose that moment to touch a particularly painful part of the wound in her shoulder. She gritted her teeth, eyes trained on the ceiling, and the beads of sweat on her face slid slightly further down. The wave of pain subsided, and she was free to breathe again. After a few breaths, she thought she could handle normal speech again, and sent a glance towards her friend, who was waiting near the door.
"It meets no such standards, but you're welcome anyways." There was a small pause, punctuated by the clatter of metal against the tray near her bed; the doctor was readying for something else. "Sure you don't want to book a hotel?"
"What, am I made of money now? No. This is more convenient, anyhow. I'll see you when they finish with you, unless something else happens." And with a wave, she disappeared out of sight, leaving Hawkeye to the ministrations of the doctor, who announced that her shoulder would need stitches.
An unpleasant hour - or so, Hawkeye's sense of time had been somewhat lost after the eighth call of "Bandage, nurse" - the doctor gave a grunt of "Done." and disappeared, calling to another nurse to ready the instruments for the soldier laid out in another curtained-off area. The nurse gave her a handful of gauze and tape, told her to keep it clean and not to strain any of her injuries, and when to come back, and pointed her towards the exit.
Sitting up was more of an ordeal that she'd anticipated, and she took a minute to let her head adjust. She'd lost a lot of blood, and now that the adrenaline was gone from her system, it was catching up with her. She was just casting about for her shirt - what had they done with it - when Rebecca popped her head back in, tossing a shirt at her lap. Hawkeye extended an arm automatically to catch it, surprised.
"I had a spare. Now put it on and let's get out of here."
It wasn't her spare, Hawkeye knew, because Rebecca usually wore turtlenecks too, and this was a button-down. Riza wasn't going to argue though, and was quickly enough dressed and out the door. Rebecca was waiting in the hallway, and gave her a once-over, before commenting, "Well, for someone who almost died earlier, you look pretty good."
Hawkeye gave her a withering look. "You're so kind, Second Lieutenant. Be careful or you'll have to find someone else's floor to sleep on."
Rebecca seemed not to have heard, sighing deeply. "And not even one good man on the field today. What happened to all those hunks Central's supposed to have?"
"Anyone with any common sense wasn't outside today, Rebecca, or is your 'good man' supposed to be the foolhardy kind?"
Now it was Rebecca's turn to shoot an irritated glance at the other woman.
"You're no help at all, Riza."
"That shouldn't- is that Major Armstrong?" Suddenly distracted from their banter as they rounded the corner into the main lobby, Hawkeye blinked at the unmistakeable form of the large man, who looked up as they rounded the corner. He straightened immediately, striding towards them.
"Lieutenant Hawkeye! You're out already! I have a message for you from Colonel Mustang."
Hawkeye snapped to attention, her attention completely focused. "Yes?"
"He says, 'I'm going to be busy again. Follow me.'"
Hawkeye reached for the nearest thing to her to steady herself- the wall. That meant he was continuing the journey to the top. Which meant - "His eyes?" It came out fainter than she had intended, somehow harsher - as though the question had been dragged from her throat.
"There is a way. Doctor Marcoh has a stone."
His eyes would be restored. He could continue the same goal they had started with. Suddenly, the enormity of all that had happened washed over her, and she pinched her lips together, staring at her hand on the wall, willing her eyes to stay dry and her knees to remain firm. He had lost his eyes, but he - with her help - had still managed to help vanquish the ultimate enemy of their country, the architect behind their troubles. It would have been fine, because they would have been of service to the country, and even if they had had to leave the military, something would have worked out. But she hadn't had time to think about the full consequences of his blindness - hadn't realized how much it had weighed on her, until that burden was gone. He was whole again, and his forced journey through the gates of Truth would leave him unscathed, in the end. He could continue. They could all continue. The majority of the people would never know the enormity of what they had done. The majority of the military would never know what they had done.
But all that was done. He would see his way to the top.
A minute passed, while Alex Armstrong looked between her and Rebecca, and Rebecca did the same, exchanging a cryptic glance while Hawkeye was lost in her own thoughts. Neither of them knew what had happened- only that Mustang had become blind during the fighting, and that Hawkeye had been there for all of it.
"Thank you for the message, Major." Her voice was stronger than it had any cause to be when she finally broke the silence. She turned to face both of them, stepping away from the wall, with an expression that had no room for questions. "If you see him before I do, tell him that his message is understood."
Alex saluted, which the two women returned, and left. Rebecca looked at Riza, with her neck and shoulder covered in bandages, a bead of sweat trickling down from her temple, and nothing but fierceness visible on her face; it was at times like this when she could understand where she'd gotten the reputation for being a scary woman.
A few minutes passed before Hawkeye spoke again. "Do you still have a car? I need to find Hayate."
Rebecca looked at her incredulously. "Don't tell me you brought him - " only to be cut off by the glare shot at her by Hawkeye.
"Hayate was critical to the first part of the mission. I left him behind before we got too far in. He should still be nearby. I don't think that part of HQ suffered too much damage, but no one else knows where we went in other than the Colonel, and he's certainly not gone back for him."
Rebecca sent the blonde an assessing look, met by the flat determination in Hawkeye's eyes. Nothing could be gleaned from her when she got like this, and she sighed internally. Frightening woman, indeed. "I left it around the block."
It took them some time to navigate the blockades, but far less than it could have - Hawkeye pulled rank on most of them, and those that she didn't outrank were still unwilling to stop the late Fuhrer's personal aide even if she wasn't in uniform, and had, only hours before, had a "shoot on sight" order in place against her. Finding themselves outside the gates of the Third Research Facility, Hawkeye moved to open the door, wincing as the muscles in her shoulder contracted against the stitches. She was running on a fresh burst of adrenaline and purpose, with the Colonel's message and her own errand, so the pain seemed less severe and the world less blurry.
"You can stay if you want, Rebecca, I'll only be a few minutes."
"The hell I will, you look like you're going to collapse any minute. I'm coming with you, and then we are going back to your place and you are going to sit down and stop moving if I have to knock you out to enforce it."
There was a mild stare down while the two women glared at each other, broken by Hawkeye opening the door and standing. "Whose orders are you following right now, anyhow?" Her voice was mild, but not quite joking. "General Grumman's?"
Rebecca snorted in derision, and hopped out of the car, slamming the door. Rounding the front of the car, she offered Riza her elbow and shut the other door, less violently. "You spent too much time in the Führer's office, Riza. Now shut up and let's go get Hayate before you pass out."
Hawkeye walked forward unsupported, albeit slower than usual, and greeted the soldiers standing guard with a curt, "Lt. Hawkeye, aide to the Führer. I have clearance to pass. Lt. Catalina is with me." The soldiers hesitated at the abrupt announcement and the serious expression on her face, and Hawkeye took the opportunity to step past before they decided to block her way.
It wasn't far to Edward's lurid gates through to the curving passageway, but walking to the next turning took a little longer, and she rested her hand along the wall for a little extra support. Rebecca walked next to her, staring at the massive hallway.
"I didn't know this was here."
"That was the point. They sealed it off after the first fight we had down here, which is why Edward had to make that door we came through. This connects to main HQ."
Rebecca laughed. "It didn't seem quite in line with the standard military decor."
There- the turning, the large white room with the remains of the massive door that Envy had smashed, and uncountable scorch marks on the floor, where the dolls had burned under the heat of the Colonel's fire.
"Hayate!" She'd called out before she was fully framed by the doorway. Please still be here-" But no, there was the yip of her dog, and the clatter of nails against the floor as he ran from around the corner, and into her legs, jumping up and whining against her knees until she gave him her hand to lick. Hawkeye crouched, pulling the dog to her good shoulder, whispering into his fur - "Thank goodness." Another burden lifted- she had been loathe to leave her dog behind, but the dangers they had descended into had had no place for the puppy, and she had hoped - and reasonably so - that he would have the sense to stay put. It was other soldiers' interference she had feared - what if someone had come and taken him, what if he had been injured in another wave of fighting. But no, he was here, she had him back, and his solidness would once again be a comfort to her.
But at the moment she had to stand up again. It was becoming her least favorite task; the blood she had left disliked changes in height, apparently. She relinquished her hold on Hayate and took Rebecca's outstretched hand to help her up. Once up, she took a second to clear her head of the dizziness that threatened to topple her again, but shook herself back into order.
"Let's go. Come, Hayate."
Rebecca bustled them back to the car, ignoring the puzzled expressions of the other soldiers on the appearance of a dog behind the two fierce looking women. Making sure that both mistress and dog were settled, she hauled herself back behind the wheel, putting the car in gear. She was already driving back the way they'd come before she asked, "Right, directions, Riza. I haven't seen your place since you moved out here."
Rebecca opened the door of Riza's apartment some minutes later onto the same mountain of cardboard that Edward had seen, months before. Rebecca rounded on her blonde friend, but before she managed a word, Riza pre-empted her comment with, "I told you it wasn't fit for company."
Rebecca turned to let her past, and Hawkeye moved easily around the stack of boxes against the wall. In all honesty, they weren't that much in the way. Instead of beelining for a chair, she moved to the kitchen counter, pulling down two mugs and setting the kettle on to boil. Only then did she move to the chair at the lone table, seating herself heavily. Hayate trotted up to her, sitting down and leaning against her legs under the table. For a moment she let her eyes close, and reached her hand up to touch the bandage along her neck, feeling the pulse that beat there, before shifting her hand to the shoulder wound, tracing her fingers lightly against the gauze.
She really had almost died. She wanted to be able to say that it was hard to believe, back in the relative comfort of her own apartment, with Hayate's warmth against her legs. But the fatigue she felt was largely from the blood loss, the pain from the wounds was still very real. Her life had been in jeopardy more times than she could count, but this one had been the closest to death that she had been; without May Chang's knowledge of alchemy, she would have bled out. The thought of it made her fingers twitch against the bandages, but the gauze was mostly clean, and the masses of blood she had lain in were long stifled. She needed something else to focus her attention on, other than her own state and how she had gotten there. The tea would help.
Rebecca leaned against the counter in front of the sink, waiting for the kettle to boil, watching Riza explore the tenderness of the wounds. Blood was beginning to seep through the bandages; they'd need to be changed soon. She looked exhausted. There were deep hollows under her eyes, and bruises were raising themselves along her cheeks, almost hidden under the fall of her hair. Her hair still had flecks of blood in it where it hadn't dried and fallen away, and there were streaks of blood along her ear, and along the edges of her fingernails. It was probably all hers.
"They really worked you over."
There was a small silence. "You were lucky," came the response, "to never have had to fight homunculus." Her eyes were still closed, hand wrapped loosely against her neck. She opened her eyes, focusing on the dark haired woman across the room. "Every time we did, someone wound up seriously injured." Or worse, she added silently to herself - Brigadier General had fared worst of all. The rest of them had been lucky. So much for finding something else to focus on; morbid thoughts were too easy to find.
The kettle whistled, and Hayate stood up, trotting towards the counter. Rebecca turned and lifted the kettle off the burner, switching the heat off, and poured two mugs of tea. Setting one down in front of Riza, and the other in front of the empty seat across from her, she remarked, "Looks like it was your turn this time." She didn't sit, opening the fridge instead, and peering inside. "Anything I shouldn't eat in here?"
Mildly surprised by the change in subject, and mind elsewhere, it took Hawkeye a few seconds to process the question. "Ah- no, go ahead. I don't think there's much, but there should be some leftovers." Hawkeye passed a hand over her eyes, stifling a yawn. The world was becoming hazy again - it threatened to dim out on her, objects blurring in front of her eyes. She pinched the bridge of her nose with one hand, and curled the other hand around the mug of hot tea. Wake up. Just a little longer. She had to pretend to be okay for just a little longer. Had to pretend to function just long enough to drink her tea and see if she could eat anything. Then she could retreat into her bedroom and sleep. And if she felt like she was waiting for something else as well, that could be easily ignored, pushed into the background of thoughts she would have to deal with, just not right now.
The sharp pain from her fingers brought the world back into focus, but she had to blink hard to keep her eyes from watering. Rebecca had discovered something in small dishes, but she couldn't see, or remember, what she had left in those dishes. It was food, and that's what counted right now. It went into the oven to warm, and Rebecca joined her at the table.
After a few minutes of silence, in which Riza watched the steam rising from her mug of tea, lost in her own thoughts, or lack thereof, and Rebecca watched Riza, Rebecca asked, quietly, "Are you sure you shouldn't have stayed in the hospital?"
That got a reaction - Hawkeye flashed a defiant glare at her friend without thinking, with a forceful "Yes." Her look softened to something less belligerent after a second, and she explained, "They've already done all they can for me, and there are a lot of people that need the medical attention more than I do." She attempted a smile. "I'll manage."
"Hum." Rebecca took a sip of her tea. If she'd decided she wasn't going back to the hospital, that was that, but it had been worth checking. "Drink your tea."
At that, a wry smile did creep onto Riza's face. "Yes, ma'am." Swallowing wasn't as hard as she'd feared; the swordsman's lethal slash had just missed her esophagus, or she would have been in for a longer and far more unpleasant recovery. But feeling how deep the wound had been and knowing exactly how lethal it would have been had made her extremely cautious. Tea seemed to burn a warming path down to her stomach - it had been hours since she had eaten, and she exhaled slowly. A second sip soon followed, and a third; she would need the caffeine to make it much longer. The nagging thought of why was pushed back again; why did she think she needed to be awake, rather than sleeping off the worst of her exhaustion?
A knock at the door interrupted the silence, and Rebecca was halfway out of her chair, and in the middle of saying, "Were you expecting-?" when a low voice from the hallway cut through - "Lieutenant."
Hawkeye's eyes flew open. Rebecca had recognized the voice in the same moment. She murmured, "I'll stand guard," as she made it the rest of the way to the door, slipping outside as she opened the door for the visitor. Hawkeye was pushing her way to her feet - which was taking more effort than she had hoped - and missed both the look exchanged by guest and visitor, and the expression on his face as he entered and shut the door behind him. She made it to vertical as the door snicked shut, and raised her eyes to meet the keenly bright - and aware - gaze of the Colonel.
That first moment took no more than three seconds, but by the end of it, Hawkeye had bitten the inside of her lip to keep her face straight, and raised her right hand in a practiced salute. "I'm glad to see you're back, Colonel." The ghost of a smile hovered at the corners of her lips, although it was a sad thing, the sort of smile only someone who has seen deep tragedy can muster.
The Colonel's hand twitched, as though to return the salute, and then balled into a fist, straight against his side, and in four strides he was across the room and had pulled her into a one-armed embrace - careful not to pull her off balance or tug on her left shoulder. "I'm glad to see again at all."
The hug was apology and gratitude, acknowledgement of the difficulty of their trials and thankfulness that she had made it through, that she had followed every order he had given, and that she had seen when to disobey. Neither of them would have survived save for the other, several times over, and they knew it. Neither of them would have been complete if the other had fallen. Her eyes were watering again, and she couldn't blame pain this time. She'd thought - as had he - that he would be stuck blind. Not permanently, perhaps, and never helpless, but hadn't dared to dream that it would be solved so quickly. Her good arm raised to his shoulder, returning the gesture, but it was half to steady herself. She blinked hard. Injured and exhausted or no, she wouldn't let him see the tears he'd teased her for if she could help it. She knew that his presence here was solely to reassure himself that she was safe, that she would heal, and she would take the same reassurance from him- but she wouldn't be weak in front of him again. By the time he moved, her eyes were merely overly bright, and her face had shifted to displaying relief rather than sadness, fatigue rather than defeat.
He stepped back, dropping his arm to support her forearm, and looked at her more searchingly, taking in the injuries he'd seen happen, the scratches she'd taken while protecting him from the explosions of Father, the bruises which were now raising. He had seen the worst of this happen to her, prevented worse, and felt her protecting him from harm in turn, disregarding her own wellbeing. His eyebrows furrowed together in concern. "Your injuries are stable? You still look-"
"Awful, I know. So Rebecca's been reminding me." came the acerbic reply. As if she could forget, with the waves of pain that thumped through her, and the way it would swim into her vision if she let it. "This is as much as they can do right now."
He nodded, and let the conversation drift away from her wounds, as much as his eyes drifted to them while he spoke. "Is she staying here?" Roy guided her back to her chair, which she sank into, curling her hand around the mug of tea once more.
"So she informs me. Not on your orders, then, I take it?" The latter was said over the top of her mug of tea, eyes watching - or as much as they could - for hints of a lie.
"No." He pulled the other chair away from the table, but did not sit, opting instead to rest his forearms against its back, his eyes trained on her. His bandaged hands dangled in front of the chair. "If I have to order bed rest, I'll do it directly."
Hayate pushed his nose up to Roy's knee, and he dropped one hand to scratch the dog's head absentmindedly. "She's still under Grumman's command, in any case." Suddenly distracted, he realized the import of Hayate's presence and turned down to scratch the puppy under the chin. "I went back to see if I could find him after the transmutation was complete, but the guards said you'd already been through. Did you bully Catalina into letting you go?"
"More or less." The tea was rapidly disappearing, and the smell of food was beginning to waft from the oven, but Hawkeye could focus on only one thing at a time, and right now it was Colonel Mustang, seeing. Seeing her dog, seeing her, seeing anything.
"Good. He's probably glad to be back with you."
Hawkeye could barely muster the energy to curl her lips into a sad smile as she watched her dog submit to Mustang's attentions. "I'm glad to have him back."
He caught the blankness from the corner of his eye, and released the dog, who whined slightly and then walked back to his mistress, circling under her chair before he lay down. Mustang stood, and spoke gently.
"I'll let you rest. We'll be busy again soon, and I'd like my well-armed guard back."
He nodded crisply. With the slightest of touches to her shoulder, he was gone. He paused outside to exchange a few words with Rebecca, but soon enough the sound of reverberating footsteps sounded down the hall. The visit had taken no more than a few minutes. Rebecca was back, whisking food out of the oven, and onto plates. Riza hadn't moved since the Colonel's departure, and all energy seemed to be drained from her, as if what she had been waiting for, forcing herself to alertness for, had been the three minutes of his presence. Now that it was over, though, that tension was gone, and she felt slack, as though whatever wire had held her attention in place had snapped. She ate mechanically, without care for what it was; if Rebecca hadn't placed it in front of her, she likely wouldn't have eaten at all.
Rebecca was watching. If she was so out of it because of fatigue, she would be better with rest. That was the best short-term solution. If it was something else, it would have to wait until morning anyhow, and the rest couldn't hurt. She waited for Riza to finish her food, her own food having been finished; like any soldier, Rebecca usually ate efficiently and quickly. Once Riza finished, she tossed both plates in the sink, and moved to stand near the blonde, looking down at the once-white bandage that was slowly staining itself yellow and brown. "If you don't get that bandage changed now, it'll be hell in the morning." She paused for a moment, thinking, before tacking on, slightly more cheerfully than strictly necessary, "Actually, it'll probably still be hell in the morning."
The food was helping in spite of herself, and Hawkeye was feeling marginally less deathly exhausted. She managed to gather the energy to reply, "Your words of encouragement are really helping." She pushed herself out of her chair and towards the bathroom.
"Need an extra hand?"
"I'll manage." What pride she had left made the response for her; realistically, an extra hand would be faster, but she'd have to take care of herself soon, and she might as well start now.
"If I hear any loud crashes, I'm coming in after you."
Riza waved her off with a hand, and disappeared into the bathroom, leaving Rebecca to sit herself down in the living room and think. Riza would probably need help for a few more days, but knowing her, would become increasingly irritable about it as she became more anxious to go back to work. Hopefully she would spend a large amount of her time sleeping off the effects of blood loss and injury.
Rebecca herself had things to take care of; she was still on active duty under Grumman, and he was going to have more orders for her quickly, it seemed. Riza was still crucial to the power transfer, and both Mustang and Grumman would need her active quickly to help mediate. The military knew that she had been the Führer's aide - it hadn't been a low-profile position. And they needed the transfer of power to be smooth and uncontested, without seeming choreographed. Hawkeye would have to be a major player in that. Bradley's other aide had been arrested, so they had a little time with the interim power figures - Mustang, Grumman, and Armstrong. They could let Riza heal for a day or two before she had to make an appearance. Three would be pushing it. Hawkeye's appalling injuries would play to their advantage; the things the soldiers defending the country had had to go through were nowhere more symbolically obvious than the gash on Riza's neck.
Perhaps five minutes had passed, with Rebecca's thoughts turning the situation over in her mind, before Hawkeye re-emerged from the bathroom, with newly white bandages taped to neck, and, Rebecca assumed, shoulder. She looked faint, but she'd been faint before - Hawkeye wasn't squeamish. Riza rested her good shoulder on the door frame, watching her friend, who'd quickly removed her feet off the corner of the table. Hawkeye had had less time to think in the bathroom, with the waves of pain that had accompanied the removal of the old bandages, but enough to come to one conclusion.
"The spare key's in the top drawer to the left of the sink, Rebecca. I'm sure you have duties outside of chauffeuring me around." At the dubious glance sent her direction, Hawkeye added, "We need all the able bodies out there right now. I'd be there too, except in this condition…" The sentence tailed off, but they both knew how it ended. She couldn't help defend with injuries like that, nor could she help with the rescue efforts for the soldiers in the rubble, and exhausted as she was, she was not going to be terribly coherent for any sort of media coverage.
Trust Hawkeye to still be thinking about the situation even in her state. No one would have blamed her for focussing on her own health, but the reason she was so valuable was because she did not. Rebecca went to the drawer and fished out the keys, jangling them in her hand. "Got em. You go to bed- we'll take care of this for now."
Rebecca flashed Riza what was meant to be an encouraging smile. "I'll be back in a bit."
Riza watched Rebecca leave without moving from the doorway. Once gone, and the lock turned in the door, it was a fight to convince herself to move; so much had been sapped from her today that she could barely move. Every coherent statement had taken an effort of will, every movement was protested by her body. But she didn't need to be coherent to make her way to the bed, didn't need to make it there quickly, and didn't need to do more than take her shoes off before collapsing on the bed. Hayate's collar jingled as he leaped up to join her, resting his chin on her knee, and then she knew no more, as the blackness of sleep claimed her.