Just Like You Said It Should Be

"It's very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present." –Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale

The wind kicks up a few red and orange leaves. The air tastes like chilled dust.

Every night, he has that falling dream that everyone says they have at least once. He's way past the prime of his life, in the golden years, but they don't feel so golden. Younger people like to think there's a silver lining. Simpler people like to think that life ends with a flourish, all your memories a comfort to you.

He's not sure what that's supposed to mean, if he's meant to feel like his life has been fulfilling but he's doing it all wrong.

He wants to walk away, like Roy asked.

He's always wanted to walk away.

He's always never, never always, never never walked away.

He's no scientist but he's pretty sure the chemicals between them are giving off some kind of landmark reaction. They can't date, not like regular people date. It doesn't really seem right to date, like regular people date, after being war heroes.

War victims.

They see each other, each in each turn, each in each element.

Havoc is a ball of lightning sometimes. He's so cheerful it's criminal. Who knew how to be so happy? They're just two grown men who should know better than to get caught up in each other, but that doesn't change anything.

Roy and Jean and Jean and Roy.

This is the greatest answer to the greatest question of all.

Two people meet. Two people date, but not like regular people date. Two people fall into bed, the sheets locking out the rest of the world. Two people start to exist, emerging, from their separate, primordial stages, evolve, become more.

They've got it all down, the right secret kisses and smirks, the little moments so shallow and adorable: so profound. There's trust inside their bed. There's falling asleep together and waking up together. There's morning sunshine on dark and fair hair, perfect in their contrast.

This is the answer to the greatest question of all, and it floats away, like a cloud on the wind.

I: End.

Mornings come and go. That's how time passes.

Margot Havoc sets the glass of orange juice and a bowl of oatmeal in front of her father and waits as he ignores it for the morning paper. Her hands fly to her hips and she clears her throat. Jean Havoc glances up at her, half expecting to see Emily in her apron. Margot is his youngest and bossiest child, though she's not a child anymore. She's twenty and engaged to a doctor, an older by ten years doctor that Havoc wants to hate but can't, both of them two nice guys who want to give her the world. It's funny how love is.

"Daddy," Margot says. "You're not leaving until you eat your breakfast. I'll make Will wait until you do."

"Of course, honey," he says sweetly, and snaps the paper up again. He doesn't want to look at her perfect sundress and golden curls when she's glaring daggers at him. His daughter is such a doll.

"Daddy," she says again. "Please eat your breakfast. You're only going to make yourself sick if you don't, and I don't like seeing you like that."

Ah, the guilt card. Havoc has always been grateful for his daughter, sweet, little Margot, and she's had him wrapped around her finger from the moment she learn to frown. She reminds him of his sister, the Margot she was named for, especially as she grew older and into the Havoc family features: blonde hair, blue eyes, tall, slim build. Havoc folds his newspaper in half and sets it on the table. Margot takes it as her queue for victory and sits down beside him, her breakfast of half a grapefruit in a bowl in front of her.

"You should make some eggs and bacon," Havoc says. "You wouldn't have to persuade me to eat that."

Margot scowls. "That's not healthy. The doctor said you should eat healthier meals."

"He should take his own advice," Havoc snorts.

"Daddy!" Margot admonishes. "He's Carlton's boss, please be nicer."

Havoc shrugs and raises a spoonful of oatmeal to his lips. It really isn't so bad to indulge her. Margot even makes oatmeal delicious, with raisins and almonds and a pinch of brown sugar. On the other hand, his son, William, certain makes sure a solely healthy diet is impossible in their house. Havoc can hear the shower running upstairs and guesses that William is getting ready to drive him to the hospital. Will, his oldest, joined the military at eighteen, despite extensive talks with his father. He's a Corporal after eight years and a notorious womanizer, much to Havoc's bemusement. He doesn't have the same aspirations as his father, nor the same reasons.

"Daddy, are you listening?" Margot asks.

"Of course," Havoc lies instinctively. She gives him a look that clearly says she doesn't believe him.

"Don suggested that Carlton and I get married in May," Margot says. Don, her other older brother, lives in Central, a researcher at the academy, married with a baby boy. His wife has black hair and slightly slanted eyes, a Xingian family. Their son is beautiful and smart already.

"When did you talk to him?" Havoc asks after another bite of oatmeal.

"A couple days ago," Margot says. "You and William were at the shooting range. I called him to see when would be a good time to come home so he could see me get married. May sounded good to him."

"When in May? Your mother's birthday..." Havoc says, shaking his head. "Well, as long as it isn't on her birthday. You wouldn't want to hog her spotlight."

"No, I was thinking towards the end of the month," Margot says quietly. Her composed exterior always cracks slightly when the topic of her mother comes up and Havoc is sorry. Emily has been gone four years, but she was sick for so long and sad for so much longer. They've all been sad for so long, without talking about it, without doing a thing about it. Maybe Margot can get it right and she won't be sad like them.

"Well, if your Carlton approves, I do too," Havoc says.

"I hope he does," Margot says. "Now eat your oatmeal."

He eats it, because he has someone important to see today.

II: Then.

He knows the Major is on his way up by the way he smirks. It's haughty and it's confident, but it's unperfected, as if he were trying on an old pair of pants that he hasn't worn in years, too small now. Insufficient. Havoc knows, just from the look of him, that it's only a temporary crutch. Soon, he'll move up in the world and he'll push the weight of the past to the back of his mind. When Hawkeye, the best solider in his unit, carefully introduces them in the camp, they are all three filthy, exhausted deep in their bones, but Havoc believes the same thing she does: there is a way to repent for every dastardly act they've committed.

Blood in the sand, sparks on the wind, tears in the silence.

Forgiveness isn't guaranteed, but the future can be different.

They are a motley crew that night as they share the liquor Maes Hughes is resourceful enough to procure. The sand clings to their uniforms and chapped faces. There isn't much to say about Ishbal, so they talk about the academy, giving Havoc instructions on what to do when this is over.

He'll be an officer, hooked for life and in it for the long haul, but it will mean something someday when they make Ishbal go away with all its pain and sadness.

It's all very welcome. He couldn't think of what to do when the war ends. He doesn't know if he wants to keep his blue uniform, but it's true what they say: once you leave, you can't go home. Havoc leaves with Riza Hawkeye leaning on him to get back to their platoon, a sense of hope smoldering in their chests. And they can tell by the wink Hughes gives them that they aren't the only ones being inspired that night. It's a coming together. They all need each other to know that this war will end. Major Mustang needed it most of all. Havoc can't imagine carrying out the orders that the State Alchemists were given.

He has enough trouble pulling the trigger from a distance, trying to look at the casualties in the eye. He couldn't kill them if they were people.

He hopes that the promise they make is not a lie, because he goes home and works to get back to that man.

III: Gain.

A butterfly flutters over the flowers in the yard. She's digging up the earth, planting new seeds. He's watching from the porch.

"What do you mean you won't come back?"

Havoc takes a drag at a cigarette in his mind. He's trying to quit because she doesn't want the new house to smell like anything except fresh paint and pine needles. He thinks about melting snow and putting a new roof on the place for next winter. Why does his old flame want to take back his life, which he is finally living, and move it backwards?

"He's offering you your old commission back."

Breda's excitement halts on his face, his brows creasing, his lips tightening, his smile hidden. He doesn't know the reason for the refusal; he doesn't know. Havoc walks, after all the pain of therapy, of rehabilitation: shouting, screaming, crying, and working, hard, harder, hardest.

"We're getting married, Emily and I," Havoc says, his eyes on the woman in the garden. "I didn't learn to walk again for him, not for him. I learned to walk so I could stand at the end of the aisle, not sit. That was all I hoped for, not going back, not giving it more than I already have."

No, he doesn't say that last part, not the part after getting married, not the part that's bitter and matters. It only matters to him now.

He tries to lie better. It's easier than telling the truth. He still believes in making the country better, for everyone, but he's not sure how much he's willing to give anymore. He still believes in peace and science and prosperity, dying for a cause, changing things with his life, but not with his blood, not with the use of his legs. He can't be in that dark place again. He can't let his heart die again.

He's given it to Emily, now, in the town where he was a boy. It's not tacked to the bulletin board in some ambitious alchemist's office.

There's too much bitterness in his nostrils. He might die from asphyxiation.

"Congratulations," Breda says, happy again. "You remember when we never thought it would happen for you?"

The joke is just a joke. Havoc takes it at face value because he's found a woman who can love him, who loved him even before he could walk again. He'll rub Emily into everyone's face, those doubters, those girls (boy) who broke his heart. Bruised pride heals.

Or so he tells himself. He knows wounds don't truly heal. He thinks soldiers know this all too well, the people he served with, know this all too well, Riza, Edward, Roy. They don't heal. It's funny that he sees himself as one of them now, not one of the average guys, the ones who keep on keepin' on because there's no other option, not really.

Emily pushes herself to her feet, wipes away the sweat on her forehead with the back of her sleeve and turns to look at the porch. She's so happy here, so safe. It's so beautiful to be this man with this woman with this quaint little life, no high stakes, no blood and death. He wants to live in this world, not the dark world he used to live in. He doesn't want to know what that world is about, or that it even exists.

That for a moment, it didn't exist, and neither did he.

He's not risking the pain.

"We're thinking the end of the summer, maybe early in the fall," Havoc says. "You're invited, of course, but we'll probably have it here. We don't really have anywhere else."

"I'll be sure to tell everyone," Breda says.

No, not everyone. Not him, please.

Just let it end here.

IV: Bitterness

He gets a phone call with an order to return to Central. The Colonel doesn't say why, he doesn't even make it himself. Breda's voice is commanding and warm, as though he's grown a bit.

They tell him, when he gets there, that they'll fix his spine, and he doesn't know what to say.

Dr. Marcoh fixes it, but Havoc can't stay.

He catches a glimpse of the Colonel at the hospital. They wave.

He's on the train back home again. At least there's someone there, waiting.

IV: Before.

Maes Hughes dies. What, did he think he was immortal? Of course he wasn't, not that mess of flesh and bones and blood. What do foolish people say, I plan to live forever, so far so good? No, not so good anymore. Mortality is cruel, but it makes him realize something.

There's too much at stake—for them both.

"Jean," Mustang says again gravely. Their skin is sticky and their breathing is labored and his voice is heavier than an anchor. "We can't do this anymore."

Havoc presses his lips together. "If this isn't what you want, just say so."

The idea is ridiculous.

"I want it more than anything," Mustang says, then chuckles humorlessly. "Except perhaps to become Fuhrer." He pauses. Jean is quiet too. "Sometimes we shouldn't get what we want though. This isn't acceptable. I'm your commanding officer, you're my subordinate."

"I'm also another man," Havoc adds.

"That's not as important," Mustang replies. He thinks of his weakness for blondes, then comes back. "I could brave that, but I made a promise, Jean, to become a better man, to make this country a better nation, so Ishbal never happens again. So alchemy is used to build and create, not slaughter and destroy."

Oh how noble he sounds, the sinner looking for redemption. He visits Ishbal often, behind his eyelids. He doesn't know how he can ever make up for all the wrong he's done because every day it just seems like he's forgetting, putting it aside. He's not trying to forget, it's just an unfortunate side effect of being a busy colonel. He's not even forgetting, for goodness sake, because he still has nightmares. He still walks through the desert and tastes the fire that he so effortlessly uses to burn up the world.

Snap, there's the fire.

I don't know how to turn it off.

The past is tricky business. He doesn't know how to live in it or without it or with it or ahead of it or behind it. He just lives it and doesn't live it and sleeps it and breathes it. If he forgets it, the burning fleshflashflame, if he forgets it all, he won't live it, beneath his eyelids, like a picture show he'll never turn off.

It's not something he can be saved from.

"It doesn't mean you have to give up everything else in life," Havoc says, intuitive, desperate, but Mustang senses his defeat. "You date women all the time. I'll be one of them. You can even call me…Jackie. You shouldn't have to be alone."

It hurts like a bitch. It's like someone is tearing his heart apart from the inside, chamber by chamber.

Mustang hangs his head. "That's hardly fair to you, Havoc. One day you'll find just how unhappy I've made you and you'll despise me, but worse, you'll despise yourself. I want to always have your respect and your loyalty."

It still stings when he agrees, when he gives up. Havoc wants so badly to fix him, to try. They're so close, bound by their shared loss: of each other.

It's perfect when they have sex for the last time. That's what stories always say.

It's over.

He's going to a town that has already been burnt down, and he burned it to the ground.

See you there, old friend.

V: Learn.

"It's just a cigarette," Margot says. She's billowing smoke out of her mouth like it's going out of style. Jean thinks that it's really cool and maybe if he looks half as cool as she does he can get Miss Pop at school to do more than grade his papers. His teacher is really pretty, prettier than Margot. The cigarette his sister is smoking makes her look a lot older, so maybe it will work for him too.

"Can I have one?" he asks.

Margot looks at him like maybe he's grown a second head while he wasn't paying attention. She tosses the cigarette, almost nothing but filter left, on the ground and steps on it. Jean thinks that was the wrong thing to ask.

"Let's go home, kid, maybe next time," Margot says.

Jean decides to ask her again later.

They get sicker and sicker every day. He watches them, so weak and filled with deadly heat. He can almost taste the ash from the fire that's eating them from the inside and working its way out. The doctor calls it a fever but he knows better. It's the monsters under the bed and the boogie men outside his window. It's everything that's unfair in the world, that's what kills his mother, his father, his friends and his neighbors.

It's what sends him to live with Madame Christmas, throws him out to look after himself, to grow up tough and resilient, strong.

He sees it clearly. No one is immune, not even happy people, happy families: Loss is profound.

There's a twisted body in the snow. He only gets a glance at her before his mother shuffles him back inside, sobbing. He should have been worried when she didn't sneak back into their window last night, but he didn't wait for her. He fell asleep. Now she's sleeping, out in the snow, and she won't wake up.

He wants to cry, but his eyes keep staring and picturing Margot.

"It looks like she slipped and fell," they say later. "On the icy roof."

He thinks that the corpse isn't really her. It doesn't frighten him to see it, but his parents act like it should, like his dispassionate response is appalling. He knows better, as he looks at her at the wake, ivory white and sleeping, that this isn't a human anymore, just a withering reminder.

All things end in time.

Childhood is cold.

In the winter you can't bury your dead. You have to have a ceremony, cry, pray, and put them in storage until the ground thaws enough to dig a hole. He thinks the snow is perfect, it's the same color as the skin on a corpse. It feels like the bodies inside boxes never seem like they're real people until it's his loss. They say a lot of nice things. Sweet. Loving. Kind. Lively.

It doesn't make sense, this loving and losing. Where is the lesson he's supposed to learn?

Growing up won't make it any better. Putting together a happy home won't make it any better.

Life is cruel.

VI: Time.

"It still works," Havoc says without thinking and immediately his face is red as the ripest strawberry. "That—that is, well, I know it's rude to talk about...it...but...I'm sorry."

She looks at him with disgust, but at least that is better than pity. When she walks away, he sighs and downs the rest of his beer in a few gulps. Once upon a time, he didn't think his dating track record could get any worse but apparently he's more offensive than ever in a wheelchair. He shouldn't start out by talking about his penis, even though he knows everyone is definitely worried about its functionality. As if he wasn't awkward enough, roller boy, he has to make dumb jokes.

"Excuse me, I'm sorry for eavesdropping," a pretty voice says.

Havoc looks up. "Sorry?"

This woman is younger, maybe even a little too young for a crippled, ex-soldier with a bad smoking habit and a quickly developing alcohol problem. And other problems, ones that he doesn't think about unless he's alone.

"I thought you were funny," she says. "I'm Emily. Can I buy you a drink?"

VII: Felt

The woman Havoc marries smells like flowers and ink when he congratulates her with a light handshake. Roy remembers that Havoc said she was journalist who liked to garden. (He didn't tell Roy, he told Riza, but the news got passed along.) She is beautiful, like a picture. Once, Roy Mustang might have been a little jealous of Jean Havoc, but all he feels is jealous of the new Mrs. Jean Havoc. He tries to force his feet to move, but he doesn't want to leave them alone, in the company of each other. He didn't think it would be so difficult, but it is.

He didn't think he would get an invitation at first, but once it came he had to go.

Jean's hair smells like flowers too. He probably uses her shampoo.

He lied.

There was nothing he wanted more than Jean Havoc. Beautiful, simple, kind, sometimes clumsy, Jean Havoc.

But he has a duty to his sins, to pay his penance, and love and softness aren't a part of it. He's not allowed to be comforted for the things he's done. This is why he's at this wedding, watching this lovely woman marry him, his Jean Havoc.

He doesn't look Jean in the eye. He shakes his hand and congratulates him, trying to sound honest and not heartbroken.

But he is.

VIII: Facade

At the office, they orbit each other, the work a distraction, a duty that will come first now. Roy doesn't like to see Havoc with women, but it seems Havoc doesn't like to see himself with them either. He's always messing it up, saying the wrong thing, the thing that makes her stomp away or have a conveniently sick relative to visit. Madness, all of it.

Roy signs a paper.

He thinks about fire licking at tanned skin, the heat of a barren desert, only barren because he made it that way. Once upon a time, the people hadn't been murdered.

Roy puts the paper in the signed tray.

He thinks about Fullmetal, poor boy, poor, arrogant, driven boy. What a brave and foolish kid, all at the same time. He's young, but he understands that you have to pay your dues. Sometimes you have to pay them with parts of you, but you have to pay them all in the end.

Roy signs a paper.

Maes dies.

Roy signs a paper.

It's a job that slowly kills him.

Roy signs a paper.

He thinks of the brunette from the secretary pool, naked, her legs akimbo, her fingers in his hair, her lips, her breasts, her thighs. He won't see her again, too clingy. She's just the type to want more flowers, chocolates, dinners, promises.

Roy signs a paper.

He thinks about the pain he's feeling, the agony of defeat beneath the lab. This homunculus, this monstrous woman whose fingernails spear them through their uniforms and tissues and souls. He's leaking this warm feeling, crimson petals that rush out from his body like a river. Havoc, bleeding to death beside him.

No, he's not defeated yet, not while he's still breathing, and he still loves Havoc, even if they can't be together, can't fall asleep beside each other.

He etches his resolve across his skin with heat, flames.

He etches his apology across Havoc's skin with resolve.

Roy signs a paper.

IX: Sir.

Havoc is standing in the kitchen, a glass of water in hand. They're been moving furniture and unpacking boxes all day. The new house in Central is smaller than the one they had their children in and it doesn't feel like home.

"I'm glad you came back," Roy says. He's leaning back against the counter, his military uniform crisp and neat. "It hasn't felt the same, over the years."

"The same as what?" Havoc asks. He's trying not to let this get to him, but he hasn't been alone with Roy since he was injured, crippled and confined to a chair. He's trying to think of Emily and his three kids, all playing in the yard in the afternoon sunshine. He can't even see them through the window though, not with Roy in front of it.

Did he make the right choice?

Of course he did. He loves his children more than anything, and Emily gave them to him.

"I don't really know," Roy says finally. "I suppose, the same as always."

"Life isn't always the same," Havoc chuckles. "Sir."

They chat. It's not easy and it's full of pauses and half spoken sentences. They catch up, talk about Havoc's children and Havoc's parents and Roy's political campaigns for civil rights and Roy's car, their friends, the city.

Havoc is living someone else's life, but he's not about to admit that to anyone, let alone this man in front of him. He still loves Roy.

X: Loss.

It's day after day, month after month, year after year.

Riza is the first one, who would have thought.

They have newspaper articles framed around their home, Roy's victories, people returned to their homeland, elections with measures won, negotiations gone right. She lives in his world and takes what she can get. He's married to his work, his cause, and she's just the mistress, but it works for them. They aren't Jean and Emily or Edward and Winry. They're big political players. They're important.

But success hardly matters when things go wrong. Havoc is with her at a meeting, members of parliament who might give them their vote this session. It means aid for a few hundred refugees from the South, life for people who've lost everything. They shake hands with the politicians and head to the car.

"I heard your son is learning to drive," Riza says. She's Aunt Riza to his kids, his daughter's hero. Margot even looks like Riza with her full head of curly, blonde hair and smart eyes.

"It's the scariest thing I've ever had to suffer through," Havoc jokes. He is opening the door when he hears the crack of the gun and he thinks of himself for a moment, ducking down to the pavement. He pulls his gun from its holster. He shoots back, but there's nothing more from the rooftop, just the single shot.

After all, it was all the shooter needed.

Riza slides down the side of the car. Havoc's hands are trembling and the guards at the parliament office are running toward them. Her blood erupts through her ruined uniform and soaks through the fabric. She's hit in the chest and can't breathe, her eyes wide and searching for him.

"Shh, it'll be alright," he tells her, he lies to her. He presses down on the wound, but can't hold the warmth into her body. He can't believe how he fails her, letting her life slip away between his fingers.

No one blames him, least of all Roy, but they should.

XI: Damp.

The rain is coming down hard that morning. The kids are in school. Emily is making breakfast.

"Jean, I'm worried about you," she says. "Ever since…You've been working harder, not taking it easier. It was a sign, you know, that someone isn't happy with your work and they're willing to…"

She's such a fragile creature these days, the worried wife and mother. Emily can't help it, not after what happened to Riza Hawkeye, the bravest and toughest of them all. Havoc puts down his cup of coffee and his newspaper. He went to the office Monday, came home on Wednesday, even though he knows she won't approve.

"This is my life, it's how I've got to live it," he says quietly.

He wants it to mean something even though he's afraid there's nothing in the world that he can do to make himself mean anything.

"I don't want you to end up like her," Emily replies. "Or like…him, like Roy. I know he's your friend, but damn it, Jean, don't you think it's getting too dangerous?"

He never told her about his career before the wheelchair. All she knows is that he's worked a comfortable desk and paperwork job for ten years, the threat of the military enough to keep their enemies from trying anything. He never told her about Ishbal, only that he served there for a long time and he had to pull that trigger and that he regrets it.

He never told her about dolls that looked like humans but killed like monsters and never died. Talking suits of armor? Men turned into walking bombs? Human and dog chimeras? Maes Hughes?

Fingernails so sharp they could sever bone, puncture a spinal cord.

A flicker of a lighter and fire scarring flesh, clumsily patching up wounds that bled and bled and bled.

All she really knows is that she found him back in the small town where he worked in a store. Sure, he did some favors for his old boss, things that were slightly illegal, maybe a bit dangerous at the time, but he's not human weapon. He's just a nice, caring guy.

"Riza wouldn't want us to give up now, not even with what happened," Havoc says.

"Jean," Emily says quietly. "Were you in love with her?"

He can't think of what to say, so he laughs.

This normal world of his, it doesn't make sense.

XII: Spotting.

"So you're my new gun, huh?" Havoc says. He rolls the cigarette between his teeth and looks her up and down. Riza Hawkeye, sharpshooter, fresh from the academy. She's standing in the doorway of the tent as though she's lost, the look of someone who can't really believe she's where she is: Ishbal.

"You're my spotter," she says evenly.

"Yep."

She sets her bag down and sits on the cot opposite him. It could have been worse. She's a pretty girl. Healthy build, easy on the eyes. Speaking of eyes, hers focus more, expression changing, surprise dissipating. She's not lost anymore. Her demeanor hardens.

"Have you ever done this before?" she asks.

"Plenty of times," Havoc says. It's true enough. He's been a spotter for about a month. His last sniper got picked off when he was coming in with four other guys. They didn't see it coming.

"You'd better do your job," she says, threat in her voice.

Havoc doesn't laugh because she actually is starting to look scary and determined.

"I always do," he says.

XIII: Reason.

The letter is in a familiar, meticulous script. Havoc glances at his mother, then to his father, pretending they haven't noticed. He doesn't want anything to happen to them, but this is from his friend, his friends, his other family.

Riza says they need him, as-is, in his chair, from his little Podunk town. He doesn't have to think about it. Of course he'll do it. He's even got a little plan running through his head.

He's spent a lot of time thinking.

Sometimes he dreams about using his legs again, going different places every time.

He walks around town some nights, peering the windows at all the people sleeping and not knowing that maybe they won't wake up soon.

He takes Emily out to fancy restaurants in Central and even dances (though he doesn't really know how to dance, at all).

He makes Roy take it all back, the part about them not being together. They make up, they save the world, they walk down the street together to go read the newspaper in the park.

He's spent a lot of time thinking that he'd like a chance to do any of these things. He's still in this fight. Riza says so.

XIV: Birth.

"Emily, she's so beautiful," Riza says sweetly.

Havoc is astonished. He didn't ever expect to see her coo over a baby, even his little Margot. Emily is proud, her arms around their daughter. She's going to be a sweetheart, their little angel.

"Would you like to hold her?" she asks Riza.

Riza Hawkeye nods. The universe is playing a huge cosmic joke on them all. She holds the baby like she's been doing it for years and Margot makes happy gurgling noises. She's put a crack in that normal Hawkeye exterior and Havoc knows he's in for it. If that little girl can already move mountains, he's going to give her everything she ever wants.

After a while, Emily has to feed her. She takes Margot to the bedroom and leaves two old friends to catch up.

"I'm not just here to visit, Havoc," Riza says. "I know you told Breda no a few years ago, but I thought, when I got the notice about your baby, I thought I'd come try my luck."

"I've thought about it," Havoc says. Life is hardly boring these days. He has two boys and a new baby girl, he works in his parents' store, he does housework.

Life is hardly not boring, these days.

"We want you to come back, you were always a model soldier," she says. If it was anyone else, he would suspect them of making fun of him, but it's Riza and she doesn't play around. She doesn't pay fake compliments and she doesn't ask you to do anything if she doesn't think you're the man for the job.

"He didn't put you up to this?" Havoc asks.

She chuckles. "He didn't ask me to come, but he was supportive of it when I told everyone where I was going on leave."

"I heard he finally realized what was under his nose," Havoc says.

"That," Riza says sharply but with some spark of pride still showing. "Is none of your business."

XV: Finite

The days go by like a hurricane without her. It's like watching a moving picture where everything gets picked up by the hands you can't see, the wind tossing all his possessions and obsessions around like toys. It can't possibly be his life this is happening in.

People talk about him taking time off away from the office and the lobbying and politicking and her signature on a memo on his desk. He can't, even if the fire is gone, has never really been burning there under his skin. Her handwriting is still all over his schedule.

It's perfectly sculpted and round, precise but not severe, not like when she was younger and more driven. She grew a lot, from the moment he met her, corrupted her, ruined her, used her, commanded her. She's done growing now.

Some people stupidly say that the dead go on living, back into the earth from whence they came. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

Ashes to ashes.

How dare they suggest that life is infinite when it's so short and full of suffering?

He's never had that feeling, that his concept of death isn't the end. It's final and you don't come back and if you did, as a flower or a tree or a seed or some other sentimental bullshit, you weren't you.

Becoming you, becoming yourself and making an identity really doesn't matter, no matter how hard you struggle.

All things end and are forgotten.

He'll forget his at the bottom of a bottle.

He goes home to an empty house, runs his fingers across the top of her clothes folded neatly in the dresser drawers. He loved her well enough, didn't he? She was always there for him. He's not that cruel, that he wouldn't love her…or maybe he is that cruel, that he would love her, all things considered.

All things he has and holds and wants and never holds.

XVI: Sleepers

Every night he has that falling dream that everyone says they have at least once.

There's no ground and no sky, only wind and air and infinite falling.

Emily hasn't spoken a word about her since that day. She walks around the house and takes care of the kids like a perfect doll. She lies in bed beside him, breathing like he knows a human is supposed to breathe.

She believes him, or at least she wants to believe him, when he says he didn't love Riza like that. She knows there's a secret, one that she would die to find out and die if she ever did.

That's the business of secrets. That's the business of falling forever, the feeling of dread that you'll hit the ground and stop existing. He dreams that he can't escape that feeling, even if there is no where he is falling from and nothing he is falling into.

He thinks that this business of secrets is making him lose himself. He dreams of other people, like he is touching their dreams, bedside to bedside to bedside until the sun comes up and melts him away. Who is he and why did he lose himself?

He could have fought harder, not ended up here, unsure if he has ever done anything he's wanted. He can't even face her, his back turned to her at night, the pillow pressed against his ear so hard that he can hear his heart thundering in it. Roy, he misses him, and he feels the pressure of it pounding in his skull.

Everyone might still be happy—alive—if only he was brave enough, not so bitter, not so proud.

He dreams that his legs work again.

He dreams that Riza's blood is just a sick a joke. It squeezes back in, through his fingers, into her heart. The bullet flies back out of her chest, hits him instead.

XVII: Fall

"They said you wanted to be outside today," Jean says. A soft grunt is his reply. He leans heavily on his cane for a moment, his lanky fingers tightly gripping the handle. Normally Roy doesn't like the outside these days. He likes very little, in fact, very much the cantankerous old fool.

But Havoc can't blame him. This business of getting old isn't kind and he doesn't like it either, but at least he's not alone. He has his children, his family. What does Roy have? Havoc looks around at the nursing home, their garden enclosed by walls, other elderly men and women huddled up in blankets in the cool autumn air.

Roy's blanket has slid off his shoulders, but he's covered in something else: grief.

"Sit down, will you?" Roy says.

Jean sits.

"I know who you are today," Roy says. "Havoc."

It's more difficult like this, days when he's lucid and remembers his age. They sit quietly, realization and loss rearing its head. It's easier when his memory isn't working and Jean can almost go back in time with him, to when they were important, adventurous, young.

"I'll set a game," Jean says finally. He begins to set the worn pieces on their squares. He loses on Roy's worst days, but the game brings them comfort, a distraction from time and sadness. The ridges of each piece slide through his fingers.

"Just sit," Roy says. "I was thinking about these stupid trees. I wanted to see them. Look."

He snaps his fingers, grimacing at the pain in his joints.

The leaves are like fire, embers clinging to the bark and eating away at it, leaving the trees barren and scarred.

They don't look at trees.

"Your son, whichever one, he asked me once what grass was," Roy says. "Such an odd question."

"Children are curious," Jean says.

"I came up with an answer, Jean, from a book of poems. "I found it today. I think it belonged to someone, another boy with blonde hair, but not one of yours." He clears his throat, coughing into his hand. "How old is he now? Fifteen?"

"My boys are both grown men, Jean says softly.

"Already," Roy says. He opens the book on his lap to a page he's been marking with his fingers. "'A child said, What is the grass? Fetching it to me with full hands; How could I answer the child?...I do not know what it is anymore than he. I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.' I suppose this is boring you, I'll get on with it."

"No, it's not," Jean says. Roy turns the page anyway.

"'And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves,'" he resumes.

"Roy," Jean says. "Let's play chess."

"I don't want to play chess, Lieutenant," Roy snaps.

"Major," Havoc corrects. "I retired as a Major, sir."

"I don't want you to come visit me anymore," Roy says. He snaps his book shut and thrusts it across the chess board. The pieces scatter away in fear, rolling under the table.

"You always say that to me, you won't remember you said that next week," Havoc says bitterly.

"That's why I'm telling you, because you will," Roy says.

This is the first time he's said this. Havoc can feel it in his gut that he just might mean it this time.

"Remember for me, Jean," Roy says, the request a plea that speaks more than just what he can say out loud.

Remember everything, Jean thinks.

"Okay, Roy," he says. He grips the book with shaking fingers.

He might be back next week away, he decides, pulling himself to his feet and slowly leaving the lonely man under his burning trees. He doesn't look back. He won't remember them like this.

XVIII: Onward

It's late one night, their office empty save for the two of them. Jean can't go home to his crowded house, Emily's sadness hanging in every corner. Roy can't go home to his empty house, his own regrets bearing down on him.

"We're a sad pair, aren't we?" Roy asks, putting down his pen. He pulls open the bottom drawer of his desk and brings out the bottle hidden there.

"I guess so," Jean says. He pushes his chair back from his own workplace and crosses the room, catching the bottle around the neck and taking the first drink. He offers it back. Roy mimics him.

"You don't have to let this ruin your life, Havoc," Roy says.

"I think it's too late for that," Jean says.

They drink sloppily, like young men, and they can feel it again, bringing them together. It was always there, no matter what happened, who said no, who said stop, who tried to stay away.

Havoc thinks he is the one who kisses first, but he can't remember. And it's not first, it's again.

XIX: Outward

Emily gets sick. She withers like a dying flower. Jean is sorry, even as he lets Roy hold him and run his fingers through his blonde hair. He's sorry that they ever were too scared to admit it, that they wrapped so many people up in their denial.

He sits at the window, his cane propped against the wall beside him. His children aren't home. The worn book is in his lap, open to the pages that Roy tried to read to him. He's remembering, for Roy of course. He's remembering the time when he was wrapped in those arms he loved so much, even if it was wrong and sad.

He has so many regrets, but he's not sure he can hold onto them anymore. He can't change the past.

XX: Collapses

"Good morning," Havoc says.

Roy is startled, his book snapped shut at the intrusion. "Jean? I thought you were at your parents' home."

Havoc smiles, leans on his cane. "I'm just here for a visit."

"Come in, sit down," Roy says.

Havoc sits. He couldn't stay away, not now.

"My daughter is getting married," he says.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop some where waiting for you.

Fin.

AN: I originally started this fic as a challenge on LJ. I didn't finish it in time for personal reasons, but I never wanted it to go unfinished. I feel like it's rough and raw and probably needs some editing still, but here it is.

The poem quoted is from Leaves of Grass (6 & 52) by Walt Whitman.