A/N: Not treading any new ground here, but: Riza Hawkeye, loyalty, codependence, choices etc. Enjoy~
Just after the incident with the female homunculus her eyes are treated for a minor ruptured artery and dust infection caused by smoke. As it happens, checkups are the only private affair they've made into a ritual (I'm paying for those eyes, Lieutenant, he says, and I track my investments, as you may know—) so on a Thursday afternoon they meet one another at the Crossroads streetcar line and follow the river downtown.
This is a practiced routine but they've been distracted lately and lost their footing on the elements that keep it in place. Her shoes are inappropriate for the occasion, as is his tie. The riverside road leads down to the medical district and they take it, casting purple watercolor on the cobblestones as their shadows lengthen with evening.
These days his eyes slide everywhere and nowhere when he talks. It reminds her of a game they played at the military academy tipping a board of wood from side to side all day trying to drop rolling metal balls into their slots. As far as she remembers, it had been a balance exercise, and they were green cadets who didn't understand how patience stacked salaries and baked bread; they earned splinters and stubbed toes following the rules but none of them were good at the toy.
Mustang's gaze is a concentrated rod of that same dull steel and aim so complex it fractures; coalescing back into aimlessness, unable to sustain its own abstract intensity. He introduces and discards topics of conversation at whim. Restlessness crackles under his fingernails. There is always a smell of brimstone caught in the stitching of his ignition gloves. He carries his own convenient hell wherever he goes, Colonel Roy Mustang. Never content to wait as the rest of them do for their judgment day.
She clenches fingers around the strap of her pocketbook and answers in reply to some trivial question that she does enjoy lemonade. By the time she finishes her sentence he is no longer listening.
He waits in the lobby of the optometrist's clinic when she goes in. The warped glass that separates the inner chamber from the outer distorts his reflection, which she can at this point recreate herself. She forges an elaborate alloy of memory and familiarity and high-precision guesswork that makes up her knowledge of him and she pours that glowing awareness into the mold of his face, as dispassionately as a sculptor, cognizant of what she is doing and the danger in it.
"Twice a day more than we discussed, Lieutenant Hawkeye," says the optometrist, and presses a swab of wet cotton to her eyelids.
It feels good enough that her legs clench together under her skirt. These days this brand of relief sears as deeply as pain. "I understand that—" she can nearly hear the hesitant flick of eyes towards the Colonel in the waiting room; doesn't need to see it "—smoke is, ah, unavoidable in your…line of work, but this has gotten worse since we last met."
"Are you still unable to prescribe corrective lenses?"
"If this infection had occurred with corrective lenses in place, you would be half-blind by this point."
"God willing," says the optometrist, and it's not until he laughs too loud that she realizes she was supposed to smile.
On the way back Mustang talks at a volume just barely touching the threshhold of grating about his holiday in southern Dublith and the butter so fresh it'd had cows' hair in it and he was unable to eat any for revulsion and had Lieutenant Hawkeye ever been to southern Dublith, it was a glorious warm patchwork of green fields at this time of year and she might enjoy it, fill up her soul with chlorophyll daydreams. Rest her eyes. At this clause his own dart towards her quickly and away again. One live-wire moment of sincerity neither of them to dare to touch directly for fear of burning away layers of fat and muscle down to the the skeleton of what is actually being talked about, which is: prescription numbers. Which is: aim. Which is: smoke infections.
Dust, sparks, carbon, pain; this is elementary material. She is no longer interested in reciting it again for his benefit.
As she understands it, working under the conditions she does she has at least ten years of aim left in her good left eye and seven in her right. It will take some inspired work with balance and a little skillful manipulation of her inner ear but she has always lived within her means. There is no reason a sharpshooter cannot stretch seven years of hawkeye eyesight into ten, the way a fourteen-year-old girl might stretch milk and beef broth into meals enough for a father and his overeager apprentice. Into the void of the future he'll toss his torches and she will walk ahead in that yawning violet shadow, navigating her way ahead by the sparks he throws. He will not look back, because it is her job to look forward.
"This is for you, Lieutenant," he says suddenly. She realizes they've stopped.
"I knew you liked lemonade, of course. It's the least I can do when you bothered to cry so much that day. I might as well help replenish your saline content" hyperbolically brash, irritating, too glib.
The drink comes in a paper cup. It's the kind children make by crumpling together a small triangle of cardstock. She takes it and sips and the too-sweet lemonade nearly drives her to nausea. Barely fruit, no substance, grainy with sugar. Almost too much.
"You were ever considerate, Colonel," she says, monotone.
He flushes but does not reply. There is nothing to say about the smoke still caught in her eyes and the roomfuls of smoke that will continue to sting in them. It would be cruel to say something inadequate, and they're both aware that it is all inadequate, whatever he can say. So he says nothing. He buys her a cheap drink with his own eyes hooded in shame, and she takes it.
When she curls her tongue to her lip the taste is sweet as blood and ten times as unnatural.
Shadows keep swinging from one side of the street to another as the sun slants to nightfall. Sheets of insubstantiated colorless darkness smear the sides of buildings, their edges turned up gold as the wrought iron of railings border them. Underneath the soles of her falsely cheery high heels the cobblestones still hold residual heat from the day, just before the gaslamps click on and soak the corridors in their miasma of kerosene and futility, and she and Mustang are pistoned up into the evening alley panorama like cutouts in a lunchbox play. As they sip their lemonade he pours his gaze into her own—and what passerby would be able to see them clearly, after all? The too-formal tie and camel overcoat with brass buttons over his elbow, and her red shoes shined with a solution she uses to sterilize her pistol grips—as the sun sets, does any of it look so different from the other men and women on the street?
She blinks her eyes and the saccharine lemonade burns the back of her throat, the nerves in her eyes stinging with residual smoke; all of her alive with large and small hurts in the aftermath of him. Three times a day eyedrops and the cotton swabs and an extra hour a day at the shooting range for every decimal point her vision deteriorates, and she closes her eyes and reminds herself again. It's nothing. It's nothing.
When she looks up, his eyes are hollow with discomfort but still. The rolling metal balls slotted into their holes; she'd forgotten the rare rightness of the sensation when it happened—the feeling of the world jolted still with a click.
"Is it—is everything well?"
He has never apologized to her and never will, never asked her to change her course or justified anything he has done. In the years she has been with him, she knows it has been the greatest tribute he has paid to her and to the choices they have made. She has taken it as a tithe. As a too-indulgent taste, insubstantial, unfathomable, inexpensive, that could shiver her to her marrow and sing electricity all the way through her skin. Her body like his gift a folded triangle of paper filled to the brim with unexpected sweetness.
There is wetness on her tongue and under her lashes. She holds his eyes with her own still stinging, and she thinks that seven more years is—not enough—more than enough.
"Yes," she says.
In the name of the world he is paying for her eyes. She will pay for his future. He walks, and as the deep purple beneath his soles stretches behind him she goes forward.
The first gas lamp flickers on. In the sudden circle of man-made fire, their shadows are swallowed up by one another until the hem of her skirt touches his coat, his hand reaches her hip, her head meets his shoulder. Their silhouettes spread like that under the invisible stars, close and vast as the dark borders of countries. Lengthening together until it is impossible to tell where one ends, and the other begins.