"You're where? What do you mean you think they're both fine?"
Havoc winced and held the phone further away from his ear. There was a reason why the guys had drawn straws to determine who got to call their superior officer. He silently cursed his bad luck for the fourth time that night, and then cleared his throat to continue.
"Hawkeye might have a concussion, sir, but they say she was admitted for observation only. They're pretty adamant that she stay overnight, and she's, uh, kinda pissed about that. But they won't tell us anything more about the chief because he's a minor...all the nurse would say was that he's stable and they'll release more detailed information to his superior officer whenever he arrives." Colonel Mustang swore under his breath.
"The doctor must be new; we've never had issues before this. And god knows the kid's been in and out of there often enough... Wait, what about his next of kin? Can't you just send Al in there to ask questions?" he demanded, impatient. Based off his tone, anyone else would've assumed Mustang was merely annoyed with the whole situation, but Havoc had known him long enough to catch the undercurrent of concern.
"We could do that, except we, uh, we haven't been able to track him down yet," Havoc paused to take a drag of his freshly lit cigarette. "And we were kinda hoping you'd seen him," he exhaled, his words laced with smoke.
"...Actually, I did just see Al," the colonel replied after a beat of silence, sounding vaguely surprised. "He just walked past my office." He abruptly shifted gears back to his commander-giving-orders-to-the-troops mode. "All right. I'm on my way right now; I'll bring Alphonse along. Send Breda and Falman back to the office, and you and Fuery wait there until I arrive." Havoc could hear rustling, and pictured the colonel fighting on his coat and gloves while still holding the phone to his ear, full of that nervous energy he displayed whenever one of his men was in trouble.
"Yes, sir. Understood," Havoc replied, just before the call disconnected. He replaced the receiver carefully, shuddering a little. Hawkeye was going to be furious that he'd spilled the beans on her, but the team had been unanimous in their decision-better to risk her wrath now rather than the colonel's later. After all, it was inevitable. Mustang would've found out about Hawkeye's injuries at some point, regardless of who told him. And when he learned that they'd known about it and deliberately kept it from him? Immolation seemed like a really painful way to go. Better to just take a bullet and be done, quick and easy.
Speaking of which…Havoc glanced up at the hospital windows as he left the phone booth and sighed heavily. "I'm taking my time going back in there. I hope they've disarmed her by now." Crushing the cigarette butt under his heel, he stuffed his hands in his pockets and moved slowly towards the building's entrance.
"I told you already, I'm fine. I don't see why you need to keep me here overnight. What purpose will that serve? I have reports to do; I can't be stuck in here! And you can keep that thing to yourself, if you please." Havoc and Fuery, who had posted themselves on either side of the door, cringed in unison at the venomous tone spilling into the hallway. Tangible waves of hostility rolled out of the private room.
At that exact moment, the colonel rounded the corner, Al clanging along right behind him and looking as anxious as a suit of armor can look. Hearing the agitated voice of his normally cool and collected Lieutenant, Mustang actually hesitated for a second before stepping into her room. Havoc and Fuery shared a sympathetic look with him as he passed, as they knew she had been arguing with the nurse for a full ten minutes now. Al wisely decided he'd just wait outside with the two of them.
Roy paused again just inside the door, listening to the soothing murmur of the nurse's patient reply as relief washed over him. If Hawkeye was arguing that passionately with a nurse, then it meant she wasn't that seriously injured. The curtain was drawn around the bed, but because of the lamp on a bedside table, Mustang could see Hawkeye's silhouette clearly outlined against it. She was sitting bolt upright in the hospital bed, her back rigid, arms crossed tightly over her chest. He allowed himself a wicked grin at her expense, picturing her facial expression. It was one he had been very familiar with several years before, when worn on a younger and more obstinate face.
Roy couldn't quite make out the nurse's pacifying words, but he did wonder whether the hospital staff had taken all of Riza's weapons away when she'd been admitted. Hawkeye tended to get more irritable when she felt vulnerable.
"No, you listen to me," she was saying in a deadly cold voice.
"At ease, lieutenant." Mustang said firmly, finally taking pity on the nurse. Hawkeye's head whipped up in shock as he pulled back the curtain, and her whole body tensed even further (if that was possible). She had the grace to look slightly ashamed that her superior had overheard her petulant outburst, but he also noticed her clutching the bed sheets with all her strength and felt the teeniest bit sorry for what Havoc likely had coming to him for his tattling. "Now then, what's all this about keeping my lieutenant overnight for observation?" he asked the nurse, with all the charm he could muster.
Considering that he was more than a little distracted by his right hand woman lying in a hospital bed with a heavy white bandage across her forehead, it wasn't his 'A' game, but it was enough to make the young female nurse melt into a quivering puddle. She fell all over herself explaining to him what a concussion was and possibility of there being bleeding in the brain, and the importance of monitoring the patient's condition after a head injury-all facts which Mustang was very well aware of.
He took advantage of the nurse's half-nervous rambling to observe his Lieutenant more closely. She was very pale, and there was that bandage on her head, but aside from that she actually did look fine. When the nurse finally finished her rant, he turned those dark eyes towards her again and flashed an arrogant grin.
"Very well. So she'll have to stay overnight just to be cautious. Lieutenant, do I need to make this an order?" he addressed her casually, dropping the flirty smile as he faced her and glancing down at his watch as though completely bored by the whole situation. Hawkeye looked stricken, as though he'd just betrayed her, and Mustang felt something twist in his gut.
She knew him better than that; why was she taking his usual careless act personally?
"No, sir. You needn't make it a direct order," Hawkeye's voice was low and subdued, and the nurse looked exultant. Hawkeye lowered her eyes, refusing to look at either of them.
"There you are; she won't give you any more trouble now. You're dismissed, Nurse, thank you," Mustang waved his hand indifferently at her, as cocksure and arrogant as ever. "Oh, and could you please direct the young man dressed in armor, standing just outside, to his brother's room? Thank you."
Technically, Mustang hadn't the authority to dismiss the nurse, but he was unsurprised to see her scurry away to do his bidding, blushing and stammering in her eagerness to assist the handsome colonel. When Havoc peered around the doorframe, one eyebrow raised in question, Mustang nodded, silently ordering Havoc and Fuery to accompany Alphonse. He waited until Al's clanging footsteps and Havoc's tired pickup lines (which the nurse seemed to be studiously ignoring) had faded away, and then turned back to Hawkeye.
She was staring down at her hands, which were folded neatly in her lap. Now that they were finally alone, she relaxed her rigid posture, and allowed her shoulders to slump a little. Her hair was unbound, and it fell like a golden curtain over her face, blocking her eyes from his sight.
"Who called you?" she asked tersely.
"Havoc," he replied, throwing his second lieutenant under the bus with glee. "But what I want to know is-why didn't YOU call me?" She didn't respond. He sighed. "All right, fine. Then will you at least tell me what happened out there? Why are you and Fullmetal even here?"
He still couldn't see her face, but even so, Mustang knew that Hawkeye's anger struggled for dominance with her sense of responsibility. He was sorry to miss the play of emotion in her eyes. He knew that she knew she ought to report to her superior officer as requested and yet she wanted nothing more at the moment than to tell said superior officer to do something anatomically impossible to himself. She'd had plenty of practice stuffing down her own desires over the years, though, and so her loyalty and duty won out after just a few moments. She took a deep shuddering breath, but kept her eyes resolutely on her hands.
"It was all so stupid..." she began slowly. "I'm still not entirely sure what the bet was all about, as I wasn't in the mess hall at the time. But there was some kind of bet going on today involving Edward, and when he found out exactly what it was about, he… went a little ballistic. He got really upset and stormed off without even waiting for Al to come back. They told me later he'd also punched a guy on his way out," and at this, Hawkeye finally glanced up at her superior, her eyes pleading for leniency.
Mustang wanted to know the exact details before he made any promises, but he was already inclined to side with Edward. The kid had enough to deal with on his own, without being teased by a bunch of juvenile soldiers who were twice his chronological age but had half his maturity level.
"Afterwards, a few of the more contrite men asked me to find him," she continued. "They said they wanted to apologize for teasing him, and figured he might not agree to hear them out if they went on their own."
"Ok, so…you went out looking for him? And then what?" Hawkeye gave a half laugh, half sigh, and smoothed the thin hospital blanket over her lap before she continued.
"You know Edward. He headed for the river when he left, all on his own and still royally pissed. In the hour or so it took for Hayate to track him halfway around the city, Edward somehow stumbled onto a smuggling ring operation. You know the one Hughes has been investigating?" Mustang grinned, shaking his head incredulously. Of course Edward had found the hideout of the most notorious smuggling ring Central had ever known. The one they'd been searching for, with no luck, for weeks now. Why not? "Well, when I arrived, they were already fighting on the docks. I fired a warning shot, hoping to scare them away from him. It looked like he'd been holding his own until then, despite how outnumbered he was. But as they scattered, one of the men hit him from behind, hard, and knocked him into the water. Fuery had caught up with me by that point, and he started to chase after one of the smugglers. I was about to go after another, but then...I saw that Edward hadn't come up out of the water. And I realized..." she hesitated. Mustang caught on almost immediately.
"His arm and leg," he gasped in horror. "They're too heavy for him to swim, aren't they? My god…" At the idea of being dragged down into a watery grave by your own limbs, Mustang blanched.
"So I went in after him," Riza continued. She toyed with the blanket again, her hands restless. "Fuery had already called for backup, and I think after it was all said and done they rounded up all but two of the smugglers..." she trailed off again, clearly ill at ease.
"And what about Fullmetal?" Mustang prompted her, curious. He gave in to the impulse he'd been fighting since he'd walked into her room and lowered one hip onto the hospital bed, placing a reassuring hand on her left leg.
"I went into the water after him. When I got to the bottom, I saw that he—," she made a small sound in the back of her throat. "I—he was curled up on his side. It wasn't the arm pulling him down so much as the weight of his leg. And of course, they'd hit him really hard on the head before he even hit the water. I still don't quite know how I got him up to the surface alone," she said, sounding mildly puzzled. "The water was…colder than anything I've felt in a long time. I thought for a minute there that we weren't going to make it," she shivered involuntarily, remembering how she'd grabbed Edward's limp body and kicked up with all of her strength. They hadn't budged. She'd then tried pushing off of the river bottom with both feet, and the momentum had gotten them about halfway to the surface when their ascent had slowed, and she'd felt them beginning to sink again, the boy's arm around her neck like lead, and his leg like an anchor...it had been a truly horrifying moment.
Mustang twitched reflexively as well, imagining what she wasn't describing aloud, and not liking what he saw in the least.
"And then Edward flailed," Hawkeye said softly. "I think it was just a reflex, because he wasn't actually conscious. His arm hit my head," and here she made a derisive noise, "which is why they all seem to think I'm brain-damaged, even though I told them he barely touched me. Of course it bled profusely, even the most minor scalp wounds do. But when Edward's arm moved, he also kicked out. By then Havoc and Breda had arrived. They were just coming after us, and when that extra little kick of his brought us close enough to the surface for them to spot us, they were able to pull both of us out of the water."
Mustang was quiet for a moment, still sitting on the edge of her bed. He knew from experience how badly head wounds, even the littlest ones, bled. Eyeing the bandage on her forehead, he could well imagine the panic Havoc and the others had felt when they'd seen the rivulet of blood running down their beloved Lieutenant's face, staining her wet blonde hair and blue jacket a deep crimson, spilling in fat drops onto the half-drowned child she'd clutched to her chest.
Havoc told him later that he and Hawkeye had resuscitated Edward themselves before the medics had ever arrived; Hawkeye forcing air into the boy's lungs while Havoc pounded on his chest until he'd sputtered and coughed up the water he'd breathed in. Hawkeye had refused to let anyone near her bleeding head until after Edward had been safely loaded into the ambulance. She'd then tried to protest that she didn't need medical attention at all, but her body had betrayed her by collapsing, worn out by the sheer effort involved in dragging Edward out of the ice cold river. Fuery had made a spectacular dive and caught her before she hit the ground, surprising even himself. And they'd taken advantage of her momentary weakness to bundle her into another ambulance, much to her wrath.
Even without knowing any of those details, Mustang knew how Riza felt about the Elric brothers, knew that she cared for them with a fierce, quasi-maternal instinct. She felt a similar affectionate sort of protectiveness for all of her teammates, but those two teenage boys held a special place in her heart. And he knew without having to be told that she would've refused treatment until Edward had been seen to.
But why would she still be refusing treatment now that he was safe? The vehemence he'd witnessed earlier, Hawkeye's insistence that she be allowed to go home…that was unlike her, even allowing for an emotional response to the near loss of the youngest member of her team.
"Colonel," she said suddenly, breaking Mustang's thoughtful silence. He looked up, and she bit her lip, dropping her eyes to her hands again. "Sir, I know I've always scolded you when you skipped out of the hospital early…but each of those times, you've been seriously injured. My head wound is barely a scratch, and I swear Edward didn't hit me hard enough to give me a concussion. Do you honestly think it's necessary for me to stay here all night?"
He frowned, still thinking. No one liked being stuck in the hospital, but Hawkeye seemed to be particularly reluctant to be left behind. Mustang wasn't quite sure what to make of her odd mood. Hawkeye had never displayed a phobia of hospitals before this. She'd been injured in the line of duty more than once, and she'd always followed her doctor's orders with a resigned docility.
"Lieutenant," he said softly after a few seconds, "I know you don't want to stay here overnight, and as I said already, I won't order you to do so." She raised her face to his again, her gentle brown eyes bright and hopeful. "But the nurse did have a point. You shouldn't be alone. If-" and here he held up a hand to silence the protest already on her lips. He leaned in a little closer, willing her to hear what he wasn't saying. "If there were in fact a concussion, it would be better if someone kept an eye on you tonight, just in case. If anything happened to you because of my negligence as your superior officer, I would never forgive myself."
He slipped his hand into hers and gave it a gentle squeeze, then rose and straightened his uniform jacket. She opened her mouth, closed it again. As her eyes narrowed, Mustang offered her a sly smile.
"Now, I'm going to look in on Fullmetal before I leave, and then I'm sending the others home. We'll deal with all the official reports in the morning. You and Edward will of course follow your doctor's orders and take a few days off to recuperate. I don't want to see you at the office until Tuesday. Have I made myself clear?"
"Crystal, sir," she said, curling her hand tightly around the object he had placed in it. "But what about Black Hayate, Colonel?" He was already halfway to the door, but he paused and glanced back at her.
"Relax, Lieutenant. I'll stop by your place on my way home. Don't worry, I know where you keep everything; you just leave it all to me this once," he said over his shoulder.
"Thank you, sir," she whispered. And she fingered the cold bit of metal in her hand as she listened to his footsteps echoing down the hall.
It hadn't been difficult to slip out of the room unnoticed. The nurse, believing that Hawkeye had been properly chastised by her superior, returned some time later with a dinner tray and a smug little smile. With admirable self-restraint, Hawkeye refrained from punching the girl in the face. The moment she'd left the room again, Hawkeye had ditched her bandages, re-dressed in her damp uniform, and made a break for it. She was careful that no one saw her leave, even taking the back stairs.
It would've looked bad for Colonel Mustang to raise a fuss and demand that she be released against doctor's orders, so sneaking out was the best option to maintain friendly relations with the hospital staff…which they would definitely need given how often they ended up there. Hawkeye was buoyed by the thought that it would probably be quite some time before anyone noticed her missing, and by then she would be tucked safely away from their poking and prodding and freakishly cold instruments. As she turned the spare key in the lock at last, even Hawkeye had to admit she was exhausted.
"It's about time you showed up, Lieutenant," Mustang said from his couch as Hayate leapt off his lap and ran to greet his mistress. "I was starting to think you hadn't understood my intentions after all," he smiled and watched Riza scratch behind her puppy's ears. "I was about to go back to the hospital and break you out myself. There wasn't any trouble?" His tone was lighthearted, but his black eyes betrayed his concern.
"No, no trouble. I'm all right; only a little tired. I took the long route so no one would see me coming here," she said, wearily shucking her boots and her coat. He was by her side before she knew she was falling, steadying her with one hand while the other brushed her hair back so he could look at her face more closely.
"Don't tell me you walked all the way here? That was a little extreme, don't you think?" She leaned into him slightly, grateful for his support and warmth. He skimmed a gentle finger across her brow, ghosting over the angry red gash.
"If I'd taken a cab, then I would have been seen, which would have defeated the whole purpose. You know how it would look…A female officer spotted entering her male superior's apartment this late in the evening? And not coming back out? I was being cautious, that's all. You could stand to exercise a little caution yourself once in a while, sir," he rolled his eyes as she spoke, and she resisted the urge to stick her tongue out.
"And whose reputation are you so concerned about, Lieutenant, yours or mine?" Hawkeye pursed her lips but didn't answer, and Mustang snorted. "Figures you'd be more worried about how it would look for ME. Come on, let's get you cleaned up before we tuck you into bed," he said softly. "A shower and a hot meal will do you a world of good. Now, I may not be the best cook, but anything has to be an improvement on hospital food," he smirked, steering her to the bathroom as Hayate capered around their feet.
Once she'd washed the stench of river water, blood and antiseptic off of her skin, Riza fished around for her pajamas in the overnight bag Mustang had packed her. She smiled as she pulled out her favorite t-shirt, a soft blue one she'd had since her academy days. She scooped up Hayate on her way out to the kitchen, nuzzling his soft fluffy head. Mustang stood in front of the stove, stirring something in a pot.
"Feeling any better?" he asked as she walked in.
"You have no idea," she chuckled, releasing the puppy. Gesturing to her pajamas, she gave Mustang one of her rare smiles. "Thank you for this, by the way. I was afraid I'd end up with an overnight bag packed full of scandalous lingerie."
"There was a scandalous lingerie drawer? Dammit, I knew I should've rifled through more of your things," Mustang said mournfully. He was rewarded with a full and genuine laugh and a punch on the arm.
"Remind me to change my locks," she chuckled, and sat down at the table.
Roy practically spoon fed his Lieutenant the stew he'd made—which was surprisingly delicious. As she ate, he filled her in on Edward's condition.
"Broken ribs, black eye, nasty concussion, numerous minor cuts and abrasions…and the kid practically tackled me just to ask if you're all right. All that the others had told him was that you had a head injury that was his fault, and that you'd saved his life."
"Poor Edward," Hawkeye sighed. "I hope you smacked Havoc upside the head for me. He had no business telling Edward that I'd been injured because of him. He's probably beating himself up over it, and it was barely a scratch."
The poor kid was wracked with guilt, Mustang knew. It had been written all over that handsome young face, and in those haunted golden eyes.
"Actually, I think Al and Havoc were already debating between roses and lilies when I walked in…" Mustang said, smirking. "If I were you, I'd expect an obnoxious bouquet of some sort to be delivered in the next few days."
Hawkeye smiled faintly and brushed one hand over the gash on her hairline.
"Sweet of him. But I hope he knows he doesn't owe me an apology for anything. I'd do it again in a heartbeat, head injury or no."
"I'd expect no less from a brave woman like you. I'm glad you're both all right," Mustang grinned, gathering their dishes and placing them in the sink. "I suspect Ed would've gone door to door looking for you earlier, if they'd left him unattended long enough. He looked a little crestfallen when I told him you were checking yourself out tonight, Lieutenant."
Turning back to her, he decided now was as good a time as any to broach that subject.
"And about that…you wanna tell me what your sudden hospital phobia is all about, Lieutenant?"
She'd been waiting for the question since he'd walked in during her hospital room tirade. As he sat across from her again, she met his eyes resolutely.
"It's not sudden. I've always hated hospitals." She paused and frowned slightly before deciding to give him the rest of it. "But this was the first time I've been put in my own room."
"Wait, what?" Mustang was floored. She'd never mentioned this before. Hawkeye fidgeted.
"The other few times I've been injured in the line of duty, I've ended up in a room with my comrades, who'd been injured alongside me. I've never had my own hospital room," she repeated. She stood, and would have started pacing if she'd been in her own apartment. She ended up leaning against the kitchen counter, facing Mustang, who was still trying to put it all together.
"But…what does having your own room have to do with it, Lieutenant?"
"I…I haven't been all alone in a hospital room since my mother died," she whispered.
"Oh Riza…" Mustang breathed.
"I'm sorry," she said, embarrassed. "It's not something I like to discuss."
"You don't have to…" Mustang started to say.
"No. No, you deserve to know. You see, my mother was in a coma at the very end. We'd had her transferred to Central Mercy Hospital, in the city, by that point, and my father and I had a hotel room within walking distance."
"I didn't realize," Mustang murmured. He'd always assumed Tereza Hawkeye had died at home.
"We weren't there long," Riza continued. "When she slipped into the coma, the doctors told us she'd never wake up, that it was a lost cause. It wasn't until that moment that my father really lost hope that they'd save her. He was a mess," she said softly. "That last night, the social workers finally convinced him to go back to the hotel to change and maybe get a few hours sleep before coming back, and they tried to persuade me to go along, too. But I—I couldn't just leave her. My father was too tired and too broken-hearted to argue with me, so he left. I found out later that he ended up wandering the city streets all night. I don't think he even made it back to the hotel at all. And, sometime late that night, she...she slipped away, and I was left all alone. I stayed there with her, holding her hand, until they came to take her body away in the morning," she half choked on her last few words, and wrapped her arms around herself as she stood shivering by the sink.
It took Mustang less than two heartbeats to leap up and enfold her close against him, stroking her hair and murmuring gently. "I'm sorry to drag all that up again, Riza. I'm so sorry. Thank you for telling me. We needn't talk about it anymore, now." He held her to his chest until her shuddering subsided. Finally she pulled away a little, calmer, and allowed him to lead her out of the kitchen.
He tucked her into his bed a moment later, overriding all of her protests.
"Sir, I don't feel right about kicking you out of your bed," she started to rise. "Let me sleep on the couch, please." He pressed a hand on her shoulder, keeping her from sitting all the way up.
"My dear Lieutenant, why do you think I wanted you to come to my apartment? My bed is much more comfortable than yours, and you need a decent night's rest. Sleeping on that saltine cracker you call a mattress would probably only make you feel worse. Speaking of which, you really ought to start shopping for a new bed."
She glared at him, and then suddenly relaxed and sank back into the pillows. "Fine. Then we'll both sleep here. This monstrosity of a bed is clearly big enough for two people." And she shifted over to make room for him.
"Are you sure you're all right with that?" He asked, raising an eyebrow. "And what about my precious reputation? Whatever will people think of me?"
"I think you'll be safe, sir. The great Flame Alchemist, taken advantage of by an injured woman? No one would believe such a story," she grinned cheekily. Roy laughed.
"I suppose you're right. All right, if you insist, then I'll stay. But only if you stop calling me 'sir.' We're obviously off duty here, and anyway you're on medical leave. I think we can drop the formalities for the moment. Who will overhear us?"
"All right, fine. Now come here and lie down, Roy."
He climbed into bed beside her. It should have been awkward for the both of them, given their history, but it felt…right, somehow. They both laughed a little when Hayate curled up between their feet. As Hawkeye drifted into sleep, she nestled into Mustang's chest and sighed.
"You know how much I love you, right?" she murmured sleepily.
"Yes, I know it. And I love you more," he whispered.
He wondered whether she'd heard him, or whether she'd remember in the morning. Given her exhaustion and the state of half-consciousness, he rather doubted it. But it didn't matter. He was planning to savor this moment while it lasted, come what may. Her breathing was already deep and even, and Mustang pressed his lips against the column of her throat before closing his eyes and drifting off to sleep himself.
A.N. Hmm, still not sure how I feel about this one. I re-wrote the ending about 6 times. Any thoughts? Feedback is greatly appreciated!