AN: I'll be honest. This is the first fanfic I've written in over five years. So, forgive me for being out of touch. I had given up on writing because I thought it wasn't for me. I still think it isn't. I just felt like I had to write, this time. It's ironic, considering my last fic was also Royai. I guess some things never change. Haha. It's not like, blatant romance or anything. I've grown to appreciate the subtleties of their relationship, and it speaks more about their companionship than actual romance, but it's there.
They say an invitation to coffee is an invitation to new beginnings.
It's a clichéd glorification of caffeine– almost straight off of a greeting card– but it is true. What better way is there to start a day than with a cup of coffee? And nothing breaks the ice between strangers better than a mugful of it, and certainly, no matter how long a pair of people have been apart, nothing revives old friendship or rekindles lost love like its warmth. Of course, no one ever stops to think about how a simple drink could do so much. Everyone knows that people turn to beer for that sort of thing. Things start, change, or end over coffee, and it just happens. It is a fact; it is just an everyday occurrence. The mundane details of life never get special attention.
And that is exactly why it is utterly ridiculous to think that coffee has any kind of magical properties that brings people together. It's another of those mundane details. Something so trivial is only regarded by people as a ruse to get to the goal, consciously or not. People use it as a common ground– a starting point for conversation. It's not something as sinister as a trap, but people use this drink, regardless of its brew, as an excuse to get to far more important matters. It's not the coffee. It's what happens over coffee.
From that, it should be clear why Lieutenant Hawkeye was slightly suspicious when the colonel asked if she would like to grab a cup with him. He asked her one afternoon when there was no one but them around, finishing that week's fill of important documents and paperwork. No, not just the coffee from the cafeteria, but coffee from a local café. It was only natural that she initially took it to mean that he was asking her for coffee, as he would often do. However, he stopped her when she reached for his mug and clarified that he wanted a cup with her, not from her, prompting her to return to her desk to think.
It's an excuse to get to more important matters.
The lieutenant particularly dislikes having to guess what the colonel is up to. While she understood, vaguely, what he wanted her to do, not knowing the specifics was still a source of frustration for her. At times like these, it was almost as if he purposely leaves her in the dark. Perhaps it had something to do with Mustang's assumption that she would immediately understand. It's not that he didn't trust her. On the contrary, it was because he has so much of it. Years of service together had certainly confirmed that he was most often correct in placing such blind faith in her, but only because she had the same blind faith in him and his schemes.
She wondered what sort of invitation this was, coming out of the blue. Information? Most likely. A new lead on Scar, or perhaps something more sinister related to the military? Regardless of what it is supposed to be a cover for, it was unusual, to say the least, for the colonel to change his routine for no particular reason, most especially since he declined to have it in the cafeteria as they normally would. If they could not have it in the cafeteria, then something is definitely not right.
"Colonel, is there a particular reason why you chose that café?" Hawkeye raised, after a period of silence. All the while she dutifully resumed completing her paperwork, her handwriting familiar with all the standard protocol, not even bothering to look up at him. She could feel his gaze. He was leaning in her direction, probably amused by the question.
"They serve good coffee," was his brief and ambiguous answer. It must be a game for Colonel Mustang, Hawkeye thought, to keep her guessing. She neither enjoyed nor hated these guessing games, but she did wish her superior would be more direct with his approach instead of wasting precious time. In any case, pure trust could only get him so far, and for this reason she wanted to be more involved.
However, she had not eliminated the possibility that that he was simply trying to avoid whoever might be trying to listen in on them. Even with everyone else gone, it was not entirely impossible that the room was bugged. Lieutenant Hawkeye, of all people, leaves no room for doubt. Setting her paperwork aside, she tapped her pen on the desk. It was their code. The rhythm indicated how practiced her hand was. After all, they've been using this code for years. Suddenly, she began to mention other seemingly unimportant things. How chilly the weather had gotten down South, according to a friend he'd never heard of. How Black Hayate never seems to stop barking at her non-existent friend who works at a non-existent restaurant. Her question was hidden there, and he knew.
'Why that café?'
He tapped the edge of his desk with his fingers. It was a very natural and swift movement. One could easily overlook their exchange as entirely unrelated habits developed in their time in the office. He responded with his share of fictional women and equally fictional stories. She finally turned to him as his response sunk in, and sighed.
He isn't going to tell her.
Not now, anyway. When it's safer, perhaps.
She accepted his offer, knowing that sooner or later she would find out in that café. Even if it will all be for naught, she could judge exactly how good their coffee was herself, and she would know whether to avoid it or drop by in the future, but it was almost certain that it was better than the cafeteria's.
Perhaps the coffee at this café was something worth noting, after all.
Business was certainly booming. The number of customers kept the staff busy. Some came for cakes, some for cinnamon rolls, but nearly all of them were here for the coffee. At this rate, the store might as well go out of business by next week and each of the employees would have earned enough to keep themselves happy for a while. That's if they don't spend the entire time collapsed from exhaustion.
The sheer amount of people made it was quite a task for the lieutenant to find a table for two, but it was sorted out in the end and she had secured one outdoors. Colonel Mustang arrived not long after she had taken her seat. They had just greeted each other a good afternoon when a frazzled waiter arrived and gave them each a menu. When neither customer had placed an order within the next sixty seconds, he hurriedly excused himself to attend to newer arrivals in the mean time.
Hawkeye was less concerned with the menu than she was with the silence that hung in the air. There had been no exchange since their greeting. She looked at him in anticipation, waiting for a reason, an explanation to how meeting in this crowded café was relevant in any way. Unfortunately, her fixed gaze did nothing to hint at him. His focus on Today's Special was decidedly more important.
"… Colonel," she pried the menu from his hands to get his attention. "Exactly –"
"Roy," he insisted– something the colonel often did teasingly when they were not in uniform. He tried to take the menu back, but to no avail. Hawkeye was one step ahead of him.
Colonel," She addressed firmly this time– something she often did when he protested. "Exactly what are we doing in this café?"
"I can tell you that we aren't here for information." He took this opportunity to take the menu back, wearing a triumphant smirk in the process.
He beckoned the same waiter from earlier before Hawkeye could form a coherent response. Arriving from inside the café, he is breathless but clearly prepared, with his pen and paper ready. They wasted no time in placing their orders– which surprisingly did not include Today's Special– to make sure he would not run off again. After a quick review of their orders– two espressos, a slice of cheesecake and a croissant– he returns inside.
"Then I take it we're here to watch someone, sir?" she peered into the café, scanning the customers for a familiar face. It was only natural to assume that an establishment this popular would garner the attention of affluent figures in society. There were none, unfortunately, but a few familiar officers were gathered around a table inside. They were the most suspicious group and none of them even warranted special attention.
Mustang probably knew this was coming, because after a moment of watching her, he broke into a smile. It was the sort of smile one would wear in the company of old friends after a long, weary day.
"Relax, Lieutenant. We're not here for work." They certainly were not dressed for work. They didn't even seem like they were part of the military. That is, if they had not constantly referred to each other as colonel and lieutenant.
"Slacking off again, sir?" It was more of a teasing accusation than it was a question. It was the closest the lieutenant would get to making a joke these days. Mustang's smile falters. He was probably expecting a friendlier response, but it would not be like the lieutenant if there were no passing remarks about his allegedly poor work ethic.
Fortunately the waiter's return bought the colonel some time to recover and formulate a way to steer the conversation away from his lack of motivation. For Riza, a cup of espresso and a croissant. She has never had a sweet tooth and she preferred something a little more substantial than dessert. Just a little. For Roy, his own cup of espresso and a cheesecake slice. It was the only thing on the menu that was not sprinkled with confectionary sugar in every corner, but not completely devoid of flavor. Something simple and sweet to go with the coffee.
"Well, if it's for something this good..." True enough, their presentation was certainly artful. They ordered something fairly simple but the café managed to make a good impression with it.
Riza simply raised an eyebrow, hoping he didn't plan to slack off and use this café as an excuse at every chance he gets. It looked good, yes, but was it delicious? She had taken an experimental sip, and was pleasantly surprised to find that all the praise was not for nothing. It was not outstanding, but it was good enough that she made a mental note to invite Rebecca to the café sometime.
Her consecutive sips prompted Roy to try it himself. Not bad. He did not love it completely– too sweet for his liking– but he did not hate it and that's all that mattered to him. He glances over to Riza. He briefly catches her eye before taking another sip. It was not everyday that he could have coffee without the hustle and bustle of Central's cafeteria. The café was busy indeed, but the tense atmosphere and the constant looming air of professionalism and rigidity was, thankfully, not part of the café's theme. There was no impending sense of urgency. The clock ticked away, but every second here was a moment not quantified. Somehow it would be different if the other was not there. He was part of it. She was part of it. Everything around them was a blur. The only other things that existed were this table, the coffee and their food. There was silence, but there was nothing awkward about it.
Suddenly, everything becomes clear. What they were here for. Why the colonel could not put his reasons into words. It was as if more could be said in that silence than if they had spoken. Everything simply was, and somehow that was enough.
And it was unfortunate that Roy felt the need to break it.
"I think I owe you a proper answer, Lieutenant." The colonel placed his fork down. He dabbed the corners of his mouth with a napkin for any loose crumbs. Before he began to explain himself however, Riza had hushed him.
"I think you've made yourself clear, sir," Her reassuring tone was polite, but firm. She smiles knowingly and takes a sip. "I understand that we're here for the coffee."
He returns her smile. It wasn't a code that let him understand what she meant. It was their bond from years of loyalty, trust, expectations never betrayed– and perhaps, something more.
He was certain that later on, the lieutenant would probably lecture him on wasting time he could be using to catch up on his paperwork, but her words had established a mutual understanding that now was different.
It was a simple explanation.
Of course, it was not exactly what Colonel Mustang had probably wanted to say, but it sufficed. It was enough that for the remainder of their time at the café, it was spent in near silence, drinking coffee, eating their cheesecake and croissant. Their moments turned into minutes, and their minutes turned into hours. And they didn't care. Time melted away, as far as they were concerned. Few words were exchanged, the questions and the answers passed back and forth, but the coffee stayed. Their eye contact was fleeting, but the coffee stayed. Customers came and they went, but the coffee stayed. And so did their unspoken companionship.
They said they were here for coffee, but no one drinks coffee for the sake of drinking it. Not around here. Not in Central, where a busy life awaits everyone, and coffee is a way to get a proper start. It is a tool, a path to get to the more important things. Here and now, it was not information that brought them here. It was not a new lead, not a mission, not anything related to work.
They knew that.
Their wordless exchange in glances after that said they knew. Above all, they knew it was not about the coffee, and they knew it was more than coffee.
And it was.
I hope you enjoyed that!
By the way, despite what I've written here, I actually don't like coffee. I don't even drink it, ahaha.