~A/N: This fic was written for the FMA Big Bang 2011 challenge. There are also some lovely illustrations for it as well, but I don't quite have access to them yet. I shall provide links when they are up, though! This fic is complete, but so as not to flood your inboxes, I'll only be posting 1 or 2 chapters a week. And yes, this is the main reason Primal Instincts hasn't been updated, so I'll try to get on that once this is done. Enjoy.
A low, exasperated growl rumbled in the back of Roy's throat and he crossed out his mistake—his third mistake—on the form he was filling out. Across the room, Hawkeye sighed and said something.
He frowned down at the papers before him, not really hearing her. These damn forms were taking him forever to fill out for some reason. It felt like he had to read everything at least three times before it actually processed in his brain. Perhaps it was because it was late in the day on a Friday. He just didn't want to be here, and his mind was looking for any and every opportunity to distract itself. As it was, he was already going to be here late tonight finishing paperwork, and he was getting increasingly frustrated with his persisting lack of focus. Everyone had already gone home for the weekend except for himself and Hawkeye. She was almost finished with her share of the work, but Roy was barely half done. He was never going to get out of here...
He looked up at his lieutenant. "What, Lieutenant?"
"I asked if you needed another copy of the N-22. You have so many things crossed out on it that it's beginning to look like a grocery list."
"It's fine," he snapped. "It's still legible, so I don't really give a damn."
Irritated, he put his elbows on the desk and rested his forehead in one hand, glaring down at the incomprehensible words typed on the pages before him. He tapped his pen on the blank line beside his crossed-out error, where he was supposed to be describing the current financial needs of his department for the upcoming fiscal quarter and the reasoning for each need. He hated this shit. If he had known at the beginning that there was so much auditing and bureaucracy in the life of a military official, he probably would have never made it past the academy.
He rubbed his brow and closed one eye against the tense pain in his skull as he made himself start writing again. He just wanted to go home and slip into a nice glass of something pleasantly inebreating. Perhaps he'd nip into that twelve-year-old whiskey that Hughes had gotten him for his birthday last year. He'd been saving it for a special occasion, but if this horrendous, soul-crushing week didn't qualify for an alcoholic indulgence, then what did? Although, he did have that open bottle of port that he should probably finish first... but he didn't particularly like it. He supposed he could cook with it, though. It would probably go nicely in a poultry sauce, or even a stew. Not that he really had the time to cook lately, but if he did have the energy when he got home perhaps he could whip something up. Oh, who was he kidding? He was probably going to pick up some take-out on the way home like he usually did and plop himself on his couch for the rest of the evening, listening to the radio until he was too tired to keep his eyes open. At least he could sleep in tomorrow... as long as Hughes didn't call him at the crack of dawn, which he sometimes did no matter how many times Roy asked him not to. Maybe he should just unplug his phone until tomorrow to make sure that he got a good night's rest. And... oh, crap. Had he paid his phone bill? He had left the check on the table by the door to remind himself to put it in the box before leaving for work this morning, but couldn't remember if he'd mailed it out... Maybe he...
Roy blinked and looked down at the document he was working on again, tearing his mind from its aimless musings.
"...Son of a bitch!"
Hawkeye looked over at him. "Sir?"
"I just..." he started, but then stumbled in frustration and clenched his jaw. In the space where he should have been writing in his fiscal needs, his wandering mind had somehow coerced his hand into scratching barely-legible nonsense onto the pages before him. He couldn't even read it himself, it was so convoluted. And so slowly, with rage building, he crumpled the form in his fist and dropped it into the waste-paper bin beside his desk.
"Lieutenant," he said quietly, from between gritted teeth. "I think I'm going to need that spare copy of the N-22 form after all."
She walked over and laid it on his desk without saying anything. He snatched it up and started filling out his name, rank, title, and office location at the top of the form all over again.
"...Colonel, are you alright?" Hawkeye dared to ask after a moment. "You've been very distracted. Even more than usual."
The back of Roy's neck tensed and he briefly considered responding with several biting answers, but then he just rubbed his tired eyes and groaned miserably.
"Yes... I'm fine. I just can't concentrate today. I don't know what's with me. I'm just feeling a little odd."
"Perhaps you're getting ill," she suggested, ever patient. "There is a bug going around... Which reminds me: Ed called earlier."
"Mmph. What'd he want?"
"He didn't know. He said that by the time I'd answered the phone he'd forgotten why he was calling, though he did mention that he and Alphonse are spending a few days in Central before heading north. I told him to call back when he remembered what he wanted, but he never did. He sounded just as distracted as you. You could both be coming down with something."
Roy sighed unhappily and set pen to paper again. "Ugh, great. That's just what I need." He wrote a few lines, then stopped and raised his head again. "If you're done with your paperwork, you can go ahead home, Hawkeye. It's late and I'm probably going to be here for a while yet."
"I don't mind staying to help with a few more files, sir. I don't have any plans tonight."
While Roy appreciated the offer, he shook his sore head. "I might concentrate better without anyone else in the room to further distract me, whether or not you're meaning to. Besides, I'm plenty aggravated and I'm getting to that point where I'm going to have to take out my frustrations on someone, and I think we'd both prefer that someone not be you."
Hawkeye smirked at her superior. She had taken the brunt of his tantrums more than once in their long career together and she knew to avoid being in the path of them when she could. "Alright, sir. Good night."
Within a couple of minutes, Hawkeye had straightened her desk, gathered her things, and was out the door. Roy watched her back disappear into the hallway around the edge of his office door and grimaced enviously. He gathered his courage and, once more, lowered his eyes to the damnedable N-22 form.
Oh, it was going to be a long night.
Linda Bogart chewed the end of her pencil, which had already been worn down to a soggy nub of wood and lead. Graphite was smudged on her lower lip, but she had failed to notice. She was too busy watching the needle of the seismograph tick up and down, up and down, in a very slight, but hypnotic rhythm, like the pulsing lines on a heart monitor.
"See, professor?" the intern told the older gentleman hovering over her, his wise eyes also fixed upon the needle. "It's doing it again. Is it an earthquake?"
The professor, a geologist at Central University who focused his studies primarily on various seismic events, took off his spectacles and frowned. It took him a very long time to answer and Linda fidgeted in the silence.
"It's too steady for an earthquake," he said finally. "And besides, the Central-Eastern fault line has been pretty dormant for the past century or so. The sensors are getting old..." He rubbed his brow, looking disappointed. "They must be malfunctioning. I'll be sure to put in a request for replacements; it's long overdue anyway. The grad students might enjoy switching them out."
"...So we just ignore the readings? Even the increased pressure?"
The professor paused again before answering, his silence underlined by the intense thoughtfulness furrowing his brow. "...No. Keep an eye on it for now. Even if it does turn out to just be a fluke, it's... interesting."
And then they both looked back at the needle, watching it sway.
Maes Hughes stood on tiptoe, his hands interlocked behind him, face raised to the ceiling, and arched his back until it gave up a series of satisfying cracks that ran down his spine. He sighed at the gentle rush of post back-cracking endorphins and dropped his arms back to his sides with a tired grunt. He stifled a yawn and let his gaze wander over to the half-filled coffee cup on his desk. He looked at it with groggy consideration, then looked over at the stack of files on his desk before glancing back at the cup. He picked it up and headed back toward the department lounge, where he had just come from only a few minutes ago with a full cup of coffee, yet he'd already downed over half of it.
Yep. He was definitely going to need a refill before starting work today. He could already tell: it was just going to be one of those Monday mornings.
He was early anyway; even Sheska, ever the early bird, wasn't even in yet. He might as well take it slow and enjoy another cup of java before tackling the cases that had been stacked on his desk before the weekend, right? There was no rush.
He yawned widely and set his blue ceramic mug down on the counter as he made his way into the lounge. It was so quiet around the office this early. Peaceful, almost... at least, it would be until everyone started coming in. Then it would be a sea of grumpy officers and hungover soldiers, every single one of them sorely unhappy to be back at work after a weekend of sleeping in. Maes smirked to himself as he reached for the still-percolating coffee pot, thinking of how much his best friend, Roy Mustang, hated Monday mornings. He was no morning glory to begin with, but Mondays were like a personal evil to him and he made absolutely no efforts to reign in the deep ire he felt on the first morning of every week... and he tended to make sure that everyone around him was just as miserable until he'd had a few cups of coffee.
Yes, mornings at Central Headquarters were certainly much more pleasant now that Roy had been transferred to the Eastern HQ... Of course, Maes missed seeing his long-time friend at work every day, but they still spoke on the phone frequently—though Maes usually waited until at least ten o'clock before daring to call him—and they had even met for drinks once or twice in the last couple of months, just to catch up.
Maes lifted his newly filled cup to his face and inhaled the rich, warm aroma before taking a long, bracing sip. Oh god, it was divine. Just exactly what he needed.
He exited the lounge, thinking that perhaps—just for kicks and the sake of nostalgia—he would call Roy this morning and wish him a happy Monday. He grinned wickedly at the thought, knowing that the yet un-caffeinated colonel's response would likely be a colorful, "Go to hell, Hughes."
"Lieutenant Colonel, sir!"
Maes blinked and looked behind him. One of the lower-ranking men in the department—Maes honestly couldn't remember his name at the moment or even who he worked under—was jogging down the hallway toward him, looking pretty wide-awake in comparison to how Maes felt. In fact, he looked a downright worried.
"I stopped by your office, but you weren't there so I hoped you'd be here," the private said breathlessly, coming to a stop in front of him. He brushed his untidy mop of brown curls out of his face and looked up at Maes with wide, nervous eyes.
"Well..." Maes began, a little bemused, "You found me. How can I help you, Private?"
The young man hesitated. "You're friends with Major Armstrong, right...?" he asked finally. Ah, that's right. This kid worked under Armstrong... his name was something like Wallace or Williams, if Maes was recalling correctly.
"We've known each other for quite a while," Maes nodded, "I suppose you could call us friends."
"Then, sir, could you... that is..." the private trailed off and stopped again. Maes sighed inwardly and took a drag on his coffee, patiently waiting for him to get up the nerve to continue whatever it was that he was about to say.
"I think something's... wrong with him," he finished finally, scratching the back of his head in agitation.
"Something's wrong?" Maes frowned. "What do you mean? Is he ill?"
"No... not exactly. Well, maybe..."
The private fidgeted, shifting foot-to-foot. "I'm not sure. Please, sir, can you try to talk to him? I tried, but... I-I don't know what else to do..."
Maes allowed his frown to deepen, his blank curiosity beginning to turn to concern. "Of course. Private..."
"Williams," he supplied, looking relieved.
"Private Williams." Maes made a mental note of that and started walking toward Armstrong's office, the private trotting after him. "I'm sure the Major is fine. You haven't been working under him for very long yet. He can be... a lot to take in sometimes. You'll get used to it. Eventually."
"Oh. Yes, sir. I mean, I know what you mean, sir." Williams looked over at him tensely. "But this isn't like that. It's... well, you'll see."
And he did. After the short walk down the hallway, Maes found himself standing in the open doorway of Major Alex Louis Armstrong's office.
For the first few moments, all Maes could do was stare, his lips slightly parted in surprise, the coffee cup in his hand unknowingly tipping to dribble hot coffee onto the papers that had been scattered all over the carpeted floor.
"Private Williams..." Maes breathed when he found his voice, "I need to get Colonel Mustang's office on the phone."
The phone on the desk rang. Riza picked it up instinctively, not really paying attention to what she was doing. She was too intent on watching the figure in front of her.
"Colonel Mustang's office."
"Lieutenant Hawkeye, it's Hughes."
"Good morning, Lieutenant Colonel," she greeted distractedly.
"Is Colonel Mustang in yet? I know it's a long-shot this early on a Monday, but I really need to speak with him."
"...Yes, he's here."
"Great. Lemme talk to him."
Riza swallowed. "You'll have to call him back. I... don't think he can talk at the moment."
"Damnit, tell him it's urgent."
"I'm sorry, sir. You'll have to call back. Goodbye, Lieutenant Colonel."
She took the phone from her ear and lowered it back toward the cradle. Distantly, she could still hear Hughes' voice from the receiver, saying something about Armstrong and transmutation circles, but she wasn't really listening. She dropped the phone back onto its hook and cut off the connection.
She was a little early this morning, but that wasn't unusual for her. She had walked into the office just a few moments before the phone started ringing, but only two paces into the room she had stopped dead in her tracks. She hadn't even taken off her coat yet. All she could do was stop and stare.
The office was in shambles. Papers and document folders littered the floor, starkly white against the dark carpeting. Most of them looked as if they'd been swept off of Mustang's desk and had been allowed to stay wherever they landed. Many of the papers were covered in hurried writing and half-conceived sketches of things that Riza couldn't quite make out. One of the windows behind the desk had been broken, and the glass on the floor glittered as the sun rose outside the window, throwing shards of pale, eerie light onto the walls.
Riza took a slow, uncertain step toward the desk, finally managing to tear her eyes away from the man standing and facing the opposite wall of the office. There were numbers and words here, carved into the desk with what Riza could only assume was a shard from the broken window. Curls of scraped wood dusted the surface of the desk like confetti and Riza brushed some of it aside to try and read what was written there, but it was in no language that she had ever seen. There were also small, yet ornate transmutation circles and alchemic symbols carved in beside the words and numerals, but they made just about as much sense to her as the foreign letters. Nearly every inch of the desk's once-pristine surface was now wrecked with carved words and hewn diagrams, all of them clearly made in frantic haste. Even the arms of the desk chair hadn't escaped the destructive writing and white cotton-fluff bulged from the ruined leather like organs from a belly wound.
Her heart was beating hard in her chest and the tempo increased with every new detail that she saw. She didn't understand what she was looking at, and it unsettled her in a very deep and terrifying way.
She heard footsteps enter the door of the office behind her, barely audible over the sound of her pounding blood, but she did not turn to greet them.
"What... what is he doing?" Fuery asked at her back, after a long, bewildered pause.
Without looking back at him but turning to face her commander's back again, she said, "...I don't know."
Mustang stood facing the far side of the office, one hand pressed against the surface of the wall, the other raised, with glass shard in hand, tearing those incomprehensible symbols and numbers into the dull grey paint with fast, frenzied strokes. The marks were everywhere, the characters densely scratched into the wall, all the way from the baseboards to as high as he could reach. He had marked over three fourths of the large wall he was currently working on, as well as the spaces between the windows behind his desk. When Riza looked closer, she could see that he had even scratched into the windows themselves, the cryptic words draw in faint lines on the glass.
The phone on the desk rang again. It was most likely Hughes, angry at being hung up on, but Riza ignored it. Instead she took a few hesitant steps toward her commander, going to his side so that she could see his face.
He was mumbling to himself.
He didn't seem to hear her. His eyes were wide and red-rimmed, shadowed by dark, exhausted circles. He was focused intently on his canvas as he worked, a strange and manic kind of energy flowing off of him. But his onyx eyes, as intent as they appeared, were also somehow... blank. They were foreign and distant, a stranger's eyes that she had never seen before. For a just a split second, she wasn't even completely sure that the man in front of her was Roy Mustang. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking, because this man before her was so pallid and sick looking that she didn't want to believe it was really him.
His hair was tangled and it hung in his hollow eyes. His uniform was rumpled and only half-buttoned, so unlike the immaculate, proud way that he always donned it. That small fact by itself was enough to tell her that something was very wrong; even if his hair was often a mess and his face was sometimes exhausted, Mustang took a lot of time and pride in his dress and he would have never, ever, left the house looking like this while in his right mind.
That, more than his blank eyes and his breathless mumblings, was what really started to scare her.
Riza felt Fuery come up beside her. She looked over at him and they shared a confused, alarmed glance. Neither of them really knew what to do.
"Colonel? Sir?" Fuery tried but, as before, he didn't respond. He didn't even know that they were there.
After a moment's thought, Riza reached out and put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it. "Sir, are you all right?"
Even then he didn't look at her, but he did pause in his carving. His lifted his piece of glass from the wall and hesitated, his brow furrowing as if he was listening for something that was coming from very far away. Encouraged, Riza took him by the arms and forced him to turn away from the wall and face her. She shook him hard and shouted, "Colonel!"
Finally, with a kind of dreamy sluggishness, he looked at her. He stared for a moment, his eyes still so disturbingly dead and blank, but then he blinked and the light of intelligence seemed to return to them.
"...What?" he asked. His voice was hoarse and dry.
"I asked if you were all right," she said quietly, dropping her hands and allowing herself to feel just the tiniest bit of relief.
"Oh... of course," he answered blearily, sounding deeply confused, like a man who had just been shocked awake out of a vivid dream. "I told you I'm fine. Stop asking."
"Stop asking? What do you...?" she started to respond in worried exasperation but before she could finish, her commander's eyes lost focus again and his knees suddenly buckled. He tottered backward and slid down the wall, collapsing into a stunned heap on the floor, the shard of glass slipping from his fingers and falling to the carpet.
Both Fuery and Riza were kneeling down beside him in an instant. He put one trembling hand to his forehead with a soft groan, his eyes shut tightly. He had been pale before, but now even his lips had drained of color until they were a ghostly grey-white. The only warmth that remained in his face now was the redness around his eyes as he opened them and looked up at his subordinates.
"I'm fine," he rasped, blinking dazedly. "Just... just got a little light-headed..."
He started trying to get up and both of his subordinates worriedly helped him to his feet. He swayed woozily, allowing himself to lean on them as they ushered him over to his desk. He collapsed back into his leather chair, groggy and very clearly unfocused, and rubbed his face with his hands. He was trembling.
"Ngh... will s-someone get that?" he asked shakily after a moment, and it took Riza a confused beat to realize that the telephone was still ringing. She looked to Fuery, but he was already reaching for it without needing to be asked.
"Colonel Mustang's office," he answered in a high, flustered rush. "Oh, Lieutenant Colonel Hughes..."
Riza grimaced and turned her attentions back to her superior, the waxy white pallor of his cheeks making her stomach churn.
"Sir, should I call a doctor?" she offered timidly as he lowered his hands from his face and opened his bloodshot eyes again.
"No... No, I'm fine. I think you're right... M-maybe I am coming down with something." He wiped his hand over his dry, cracked lips and swallowed, nauseated. "I should just go home." He looked down at his desk tiredly but then, slowly, his face contorted into an exhausted kind of outrage.
"What the hell happened to my desk?" he demanded.
He leaned over for a closer look at the destroyed wood, his fingers tracing the splintered designs. The outrage on his face softened a little, but his brow remained furrowed with confusion. His lips parted and he took in a soft breath. "Hawkeye... Hawkeye, what is this?"
He looked up at her with a kind of sick half-knowledge, uncertain. Riza's stomach clenched even harder.
"Sir, I think you did this."
"...No." He shook his head slowly, his brow still furrowed. "I don't..."
"When I came in, you were carving things into the wall..." she told him, the taste of alarm at the back of her throat returning. She gestured at the wall and he looked over. He stared, bewildered and starting to become agitated. She could tell by the look on his face that he didn't remember.
"I couldn't possibly have..." he said in breathless denial. "This would have taken me hours. You've only been gone a few minutes and I just..."
He trailed off, likely because of the disturbed expression that Riza could not keep from spreading across her face. "A few minutes? Sir..." She stopped and took a breath, fearing to ask it, but then she pressed on, "What day do you think it is...?"
Hesitantly, he turned and looked over his shoulder out the broken window. The sun was up and it was looking to be a beautiful Monday morning, which she could tell by the thrill of horror that stiffened Mustang's shoulders was not at all what he'd expected to see. To him, it should have still been night, which meant...
"It's Monday, Colonel... Have you been here all weekend?" she asked, sick.
He turned his back to the window again and looked up at her, his uncertainty now laced with a kind of confused horror.
"I... I-I don't know."