"Cadet Hawkeye!" he shouted out across the throngs of soldiers carrying supplies to the trucks that would lead them away from Ishval.
Recognizing the voice, she looked up from where she had been staring into the sand again. She had finished all the packing assignments delegated to her a lot earlier than her superiors had apparently predicted and since there were no other jobs left, she was given permission to rest until everyone would start getting onto the trucks themselves. She could tell from what the soldiers still working were carrying that the army was almost cleared out of the desert, nothing but destruction remaining as a souvenir. She wasn't the only one to be finished as many others were simply standing around. Most, she noted, were trying not to stare at the man standing on the east side wall with his conspicuously decorated uniform, eye patch, and sword, overlooking the progress with pride. He really did hold himself with an air of importance, she had to admit, but she could feel only disgust for him. He had been the cause of all of this.
The voice she had heard calling her name had cut through all the quiet resentment and sadness that was surfacing, feelings that she had been trying to hide all morning by focusing on her work.
"Captain Hughes," she said, standing up and saluting him. Protocol was back in play.
She tried not to wonder where his friend was.
He jogged over to where she was standing, a tight smile on his face like he was trying to be optimistic in spite of himself. That was something she had always appreciated about his presence. While spending off time with Roy over the past few months had given her a confusing mixture of deep pain brought on by how he had ended up on the field and immense warmth and security that she always got from him, Maes had always been nothing but practical joy. He always knew how to lighten the mood and he knew when he should and shouldn't.
His mood currently reflected that of most of the soldiers around them: tired and quietly content. While the night before was all about either celebrating or facing demons, this day was full of acceptance or at least the appearance of it.
"How are you fairing after last night?" she asked, noting that he seemed to look relatively free of the morning after effects of drinking.
Hughes groaned a bit and rubbed his forehead.
"I'm a bit tired but honestly, I'm surprised at how well I turned out this morning. I could have done without the constant nightmares but after I saw you I pretty much just headed back to my tent, drank a bucket of water and fell asleep. Heck, I'm doing better than you it seems. Have an interesting night?" he asked curiously with a quirked brow and a slight grin.
For a second her blood ran cold and she wondered if he had told Hughes what had happened. When she regained her senses a moment later she realized that, no, he would never do something so risky to his career even if Hughes was his best friend.
Then she wondered if he had heard anything. Perhaps he hadn't just gone back to his tent and had actually lingered around long enough to find something out? But it really didn't seem in his nature to not be completely honest about something like that. If he knew anything definitively he would probably be bothering her about it in more specific terms.
There had to be something in her appearance that tipped him off. She didn't have a way of looking at herself but she was sure she had dark circles under her eyes from the minimal sleep she had gotten and it was likely that she didn't smell too fresh either. She had noticed from the beginning that he had an uncanny knack for reading people and it must have been spelled out on her face that something happened in his tent that she was not willing to talk about.
"Not in particular," she lied, the words sounding guilty to her ears. She didn't lie and she realized now that she might have to start.
Hughes raised an eyebrow, evidently suspicious, but before he could say anything further, the man she had been thinking about walked up to them stiffly, dirt on his uniform as evidence that he had probably just finished assisting in the clean up and delegating assignments to his men.
"Cadet Hawkeye," he acknowledged casually, greeting her with a nod in her direction.
"Major Mustang," she replied, saluting properly.
It's so easy.
"What are you two talking about?" he asked straightforwardly, clearly wanting to join in.
"Oh, we were just discussing how you should escort Riza to my wedding!" Hughes blurted out before she could get a word in.
"What?" he spat out before he could stop himself, glancing over at her, her mouth hanging open and her cheeks flushed. Apparently he had remembered inviting her last night but she certainly didn't remember those particular stipulations.
"Well if you don't want to I could just let you both fend for yourselves but I think it would be a lot easier for both of you if you just came together. Riza probably won't know anyone else there other than you so it would be nice for her to have a knowledgeable escort," Hughes gave him an almost devious smile and he suddenly wondered if Hughes knew anything he wasn't supposed to.
"No, I would be fine escorting her. I would rather go with a friend than a date anyway," he said quickly, nodding to her in as affable a way as possible in hopes that Hughes would take note of his wording.
And a friend is the absolute most I can be right now.
"Thank you, Major," she said with a small, grateful smile at both his acceptance of the request and his smart choice of words.
"That's settled then!" Hughes exclaimed, clapping his hands together at his success.
"Now you just need Gracia to say yes," Mustang joked, earning him a shove from the taller man.
Seeing him like this, the way she remembered him, was ultimately what made it hard to pretend that he meant as little to her as everyone was eventually supposed to think. When they were professional, it was like putting on a comfortable, concealing mask but when they got friendly like this, she felt exposed, a victim to her emotions.
But she would school her feelings, about him and about this war, as she had schooled her body in military school and her mind in her self-education.
"I need to report to my commanding officer," she interrupted, breaking up the brief moment of happiness in order to make her exit; another lie although a lot smaller in scale.
"Major Mustang, Captain Hughes," she said with a proper salute to both of them, "Have a safe trip home."
"Look for my invitation," Hughes said with his usual stationary wave.
"It's been an honor working with you," Mustang said formally, offering his hand to her.
She tried not to be surprised by his shift back into his professional attitude as she took his hand in hers and shook it firmly. She knew now how much he meant what he said.
"Maybe this won't be the last time," she replied, mimicking his tone.
The corners of his lips curled up slightly in hope, an expression that lasted after she had released his hand and walked away, mentally repeating a new mantra to herself that she knew was not a lie, a mantra he contemplated himself as he watched her disappear into the crowds.
It will get easier.