Can't You Tell?
"You don't mean to tell me you've never noticed before now? In all the years you've worked with them?" Havoc asked incredulously. Alphonse laughed aloud, delighted by his older brother's discomfort. Edward simply sighed and rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.
"Listen, I had other things on my mind, ok? Like, you know, saving the freakin' country from a whacko with a god-complex?" Havoc and Al both laughed boisterously enough to draw inquiring stares from the bar patrons nearest them. Ed rolled his eyes and took another sip of his soft drink before continuing, "I mean," he gestured impatiently with his free hand, "I knew they were really close, and that their relationship wasn't just your standard superior/subordinate stuff. I guess I should have figured it out sooner...after all, they've got all that history..." he mumbled the last bit, and Havoc shook his head, amused.
"Well, geez. We all have history from being in the military together, Ed, but what they've got is a little more than just being old war buddies," Havoc smirked. "Child prodigies like you are really rare; everyone else spends several years in the academy together," he waved over a cocktail waitress for a refill as he spoke. "And trust me—not every friendship forged in the academy leads to the kind of thing they have going on. That would just get awkward."
"I'm not talking about their being in the military together, you jerk," Ed retorted, and socked him in the arm. But his voice was still amused, without the slightest hint of resentment. Havoc was mildly impressed; it looked like the kid was growing up some. A year ago, or maybe even just a few months ago, Ed would've fixated on the word 'child' and launched into one of his infamous rants. At some point, his height-related insecurities would've been brought into it, and something would possibly have been blown up in the process. "I was referring to their history from before either of them joined the military," he was saying now. Havoc whipped his head up, startled.
"Wait, from before the military? What do you mean, Ed?" The brothers shared an uneasy glace, and then faced him with identical "oh-shit-I-thought-you-already-knew-about-that" looks. Havoc's words were slow, full of wonder. "Are…are you saying those two knew each other before they joined up?" Just then, the waitress stopped at their table to drop off Havoc's fresh drink. She raised her eyebrows at the palpable tension emanating from all three of them, set the glass down and made herself scarce. The three stared at each other in silence for another moment.
Havoc blinked in confusion, still unused to addressing two sets of pretty golden eyes at the same time. It struck him anew how much the brothers resembled one another, even as he made a mental note that Al's eyes had a slight greenish tint to them, whereas Ed's matched the color of the bourbon in his glass almost exactly. At least Al no longer looked as emaciated as he had a few weeks ago, although his face was still much too thin, all sharp angles and hollow cheeks.
"Y-you really didn't know?" Al said quietly, finally breaking the silence. He shot Ed a flustered, half-accusing glare so quickly that Havoc wasn't sure whether he'd actually seen it. Ed's eyes flicked towards the couple in question, who were standing near the jukebox in the far corner, and he leaned in closer to Havoc.
"They practically grew up together," he said, keeping his voice low. "You see, her father was his alchemy teacher, and he lived with them during the years of his apprenticeship, long before he joined the army. I think they lost touch for a while, but after her father died, she followed him into military service. You mean you really didn't know any of that?"
"NO WAY!" Havoc practically yelled, and then quickly snapped his mouth shut when he realized that the other tables were staring at them again. He leaned in closer to the other two before speaking again. "Geez, if I'd known that, I could've been teasing him all these years about going after his teacher's kid!" he hissed. "And the whole childhood sweethearts angle—that adds a whole other dimension to their-thing! That's, like, classic romance novel stuff!" At Ed's strangled half-laugh, he backpedaled. "Er, not that I'd know about romance novel plots or anything," he amended, and then froze, brow furrowed in thought. "And you know what….no, I wouldn't have joked around about that. That could've been dangerous in more ways than one..." he mumbled.
This time he failed to catch the shared glance between the brothers, one that was full of relief. Havoc's loyalty clearly trumped any petty desires for entertainment at Mustang's expense. He wasn't exactly the "smart one" on the team, and he still hadn't even thought to ask the brothers how they came by this information. Ed was grateful for this fact. He didn't want to have to lie outright.
"I just figured no one talked about it cuz they didn't want to piss off the Lieutenant by gossiping about her," Ed said nonchalantly, fiddling a bit with his empty glass. Havoc missed the fishing tactic and answered honestly.
"Hmm...well, you're right that no one talks about it, but…I don't know, I'm pretty sure no one else even knows. I mean, given the colonel's goals, it'd make sense for him to keep that sort of thing quiet, since a close tie like theirs could become a liability. And we all saw what happened with Bradley and his 'hostages.' But I feel like if anyone had known, it'd have been Hughes," he said, in a slightly subdued tone. All three were quiet for another moment, thinking of their exuberant and fiercely loyal friend. "Anyway," Havoc finally said, clearing his throat, "I just assumed they'd just gotten tight during the war, watching each other's backs and all that, you know. They were in the same platoon for a good portion of it, along with Hughes. None of the rest of us met them til afterwards, and they already had the sort of rapport they've got now. I never would've guessed that they'd been friends since childhood, though. Or that her old man was an alchemist, too."
"That's actually part of why I didn't see it," Ed admitted, flushing again. As embarrassed as he was to talk about his feelings for Winry, he decided to steer the conversation away from the dangerous topic of teachers and flame alchemists and secret tattoos that no one was supposed to know about. "The Lieutenant, uh, once told me that what they had was like the relationship between me and Winry...and I wasn't ready to admit that I had feelings for her back then, not even to myself. And so I guess I convinced myself that the two of them were just really good friends, like Winry and I were," Ed's eyes had gone soft and warm. His little brother's too-thin face split with a dazzling million-watt smile.
"Oho, does this mean you've finally admitted you're in love with your mechanic, kid?" Rather than sputter a vehement denial and then launch into a recitation of the periodic table, as Havoc rather expected him to do, Edward just smiled softly.
"Yeah. Yeah, I have. Don't know how she'll react when I tell her," he laughed, "but I'll worry about that when we get back home," he shifted on the bar stool slightly to look over Havoc's shoulder. "Anyway, I'm more interested in them right now." And all three turned again to watch their superiors across the room.
Mustang stood leaning against Hawkeye now, ostensibly mulling over the song choices with her. He was definitely invading her personal space, his chest pressed against her back and his cheek practically touching hers, as he literally looked over her shoulder to interfere with her selections. He gestured something on the machine, and she swatted his hand away, but she made no effort to push his body any farther away from hers.
"You know the best part? They have no idea how much we know...I wish they'd just get on with it already," Havoc said suddenly. Alphonse laughed gently.
"I wouldn't worry too much about them. I have a feeling they don't need our help. Unlike certain brothers of mine," he finished slyly, glancing at Ed with a mischievous grin. Havoc threw back his head to laugh this time, not minding that he had drawn unwanted attention.
"Oh? And what about that little Xingese princess of yours, huh Al?"
Al's pale cheeks flamed, but before he could think of a retort for the older man, Breda dropped into an empty chair beside him with a heavy sigh.
"Geez, I thought I'd never get out of there." He grabbed Havoc's glass and took a swig, turning his head to see what they were all looking at as he continued. "Damn paperwork stacked to the—hey! What the—who the hell is that woman with the Colonel? What does that bastard think he's playing at, flirting with some little blonde tra-"
"Relax you idiot, it's just the Lieutenant," Ed interrupted lightly. Breda frowned, momentarily stunned, and then grinned in relief as he recognized her.
"Huh, so it is." He turned back to face them again, and the others looked away as well, lest they be caught staring at their superior officers. "Man, I can't get over how different she looks with her hair down. And in civvies, too."
"Now that I think about it, I've never seen her wearing something quite that causal," Havoc mused. "Usually her skirts are much longer, all business-suit-like."
"But that skirt looks pretty damn good on her, in my opinion. Shows off her legs," Breda added.
"Man, you'd better not let the Colonel hear you saying…" Havoc began.
"Why thank you, Breda, I'm rather fond of this outfit, myself," a familiar female voice said suddenly. Breda choked, and all four men looked up in horror to face a smirking Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye.
"I—how'd you-? Weren't you just-? Aw shit, ma'am, you know I didn't mean to be disrespectful-," Breda stammered, turning a delicate shade of pink.
"Relax, Breda. I choose to accept your comment in the spirit in which it was intended," she laughed easily, looking years younger and more carefree than any of them had seen her. "Thank you for the compliment. So, what were we all talking about?" Mustang appeared behind her with a fresh drink in each hand, and he passed one to her as Ed answered.
"Childhood friends," he said simply, looking Hawkeye square in the eyes. A faint blush suffused her cheeks, Al and Breda noticed with interest. Havoc missed it entirely, being distracted by another, prettier waitress walking by. But even as Breda opened his mouth to wonder aloud what Ed meant, Al suddenly started babbling about Winry and how his brother had finally opened his eyes. Ed protested, but without much heat, and the conversation quickly turned to the boys' plans on returning to Risembool. By the time Rebecca arrived with Ross and Brosh in tow, the others had forgotten about the unexplained blush.
They certainly had plenty of excuses to celebrate: Al's recent release from the hospital, Havoc's newly-repaired legs, the Colonel's regained eyesight…and of course the fact that they'd all survived the events of the promised day and the military "coup." And so, naturally, everyone in the group competed to buy each other rounds and toast everyone's health and well-being. Hawkeye didn't have long to wait…the others grew more cheerfully boisterous as each successive drink was downed. When she was reasonably confident that no one was paying her any attention, she slipped into the vacant seat next to Ed. He returned her soft smile and leaned closer, sensing that she wanted to speak with him.
"I wish you luck in confessing your feelings to Miss Rockbell, Edward," she said softly, placing her hand over his for the briefest of moments. "I'm sure it will be difficult to step outside of a long accepted role and open yourself to the possibilities of something new. It can be a very… vulnerable position to be in. I admire you for having the guts to take that risk," she finished seriously. Ed bit his lip and met her eyes with a trace of doubt showing in his face. Before he could answer, though, Al spoke up from his brother's other side.
"And yet, if both people feel the same way, then there's no point in pretending otherwise, is there? I mean, really, it's about time they stopped dancing around the issue and came right out and did something about it," he said, keeping his voice low enough to prevent the others from hearing. He knew full well Hawkeye hadn't just been talking about Ed and Winry when she mentioned accepted roles and feeling vulnerable. And he also noticed with a devious grin that although Mustang was pretending to listen to the conversation between Breda, Havoc, and the pretty cocktail waitress, he had flicked a sharp glance in Hawkeye's direction as she spoke. He was looking at her flushed cheeks now with what might have been surprise. This evening was about to get interesting, Al thought. Meanwhile, Ed was looking at his little brother like someone had just whapped him upside the head with his own automail.
"Al…are you saying…that Winry…already feels the same way about me?" he said, completely astounded. Hawkeye snorted.
"I'm starting to see Rebecca's point," she mused. Before the words were out of her mouth, Rebecca had popped up between her and Ed, an arm around the neck of each.
"What point is that?" she chirped, cheerfully. "The one about men being idiots? Not seeing things in front of their face that have been there all along?" she winked at Al, who wondered how long she had been listening. "Speaking of which, Al, how's that cute little Xingese girlfriend of yours?"
Hawkeye made her escape while Al stuttered and sputtered, and Ed smiled a soft secretive little smile when he saw Mustang's eyes follow her across the room. After a moment, he slipped away from the group as well. Ed met Rebecca's suddenly serious eyes.
"Why do you suppose they torture themselves? I mean, still? The coup's over, We've got a new Fuhrer, no one's threatening her life, so there should be nothing stopping them now...right?" Ed asked his companions quietly. The rest of his teammates had caught his question, and they gathered around him, glancing around to make sure neither party in question was within earshot.
"Force of habit maybe? And, you know, it would still be considered inappropriate; she is his direct subordinate," Havoc mused. "And actually, I think there's some sort of anti-fraternization codes somewhere in the written regulations that no one else really troubles themselves about, until a couple gets caught in the act and has to be reprimanded."
"She could transfer; be under someone else's command. Then it wouldn't really be against the rules, right?" Fuery piped up, adjusting his glasses with one hand.
"I guess so, but she'd never do that," Breda chimed in. He glanced around again, paranoid, and continued in a lower voice. "If she transferred, then it'd mean someone else would be assigned to her former position. Someone else would be watching his back, someone who may or may not be trustworthy, and she'd never be okay with that. I'm pretty sure he'd never voluntarily send her away for the same reason."
"That idiot…he'd totally fall apart without her, I swear," Ed sighed.
"And since neither one is willing to take the risk and actually be caught and separated by force, because something like that would go in their permanent records, and ruin their careers and all that drivel. That's why they're always really careful to avoid any appearance of that sort of relationship when they are in public," Breda explained.
"Aw, you can still see it if you know what to look for," Alphonse insisted. "I've known since we first came out here. Ever since Ed passed his exam and was assigned to Mustang's team."
"Of course, Winry claims she knew since the day they came to her door looking to recruit me. She tries to claim female intuition," Ed scoffed. Rebecca grinned wolfishly.
"Old man Grumman would change the regs in a heartbeat, if it came to that. He's wanted to get them together since Mustang transferred to Eastern under his command, you know," she said as she stole Havoc's drink. "In fact, he's pulled a string or two over the years to make sure they stayed together. The brass wanted to promote her a while back, you know," she went on. "He actually kept them from sending her to Briggs."
"You're kidding! The old man was in on this too? But...why?" Havoc asked. Al simply looked thoughtful, but the others focused their full attention on Rebecca.
"Well, he wants his granddaughter to be happy, naturally. And you know she'd be totally miserable with anyone else. So would Mustang, come to that."
"His grand—wait, WHAT?" her audience cried out. She only shushed them, staring at something behind them all.
"Shh! Look!" she hissed. "They've opened the dance floor already."
"So?" Havoc retorted.
"So, look who's asked our lovely Lieutenant to dance?" she said smugly. The others nearly gave themselves whiplash turning around.
He was holding her just a little too close, and she was relaxed in his arms in a way she'd never been…at least, not in front of any of them. And they moved together with a flawless, seamless grace, as only two people who have been partners and allies and friends for years can do. They'd clearly done this before, and their obvious skill was starting to draw attention. Rebecca swore softly under her breath.
"Dammit. If she notices people are looking, she'll bolt," Rebecca began, looking uneasily at the group around her. But Ed was already standing, tossing back the rest of Havoc's drink with determination on his face. He reached over to the next table to tap Maria's shoulder. In another moment, he was leading her to the nearly empty dance floor. He was a handsome kid, and Maria's flushed face became her well. Together, they drew at least some of the attention away from the attractive couple in the center of the dance floor, who were looking at each other with eyes that burned.
"Aw, what a sweet kid he is," Rebecca grinned. "And here I thought he hated Mustang."
"Even if he did, he certainly doesn't hate Lieutenant Hawkeye," Al interjected softly. She smiled and looked over at Havoc.
"Come on, let's test out those legs of yours, hot-shot," she said, and dragged him over to the dance floor as well. Inspired, other couples were starting to trickle onto the floor, helping Mustang and Hawkeye's friends and subordinates shield them from general notice. In fact, they did their job so well that only one person actually spotted the pair when they slipped out of the bar.
"Good luck, Lieutenant," he whispered, his golden eyes sparkling.
A.N. This has been sitting on my hard drive for quite a while now...I'm still not quite sure how I feel about it, but I decided I needed to stop starting new stories and try finishing a few of the ones I have in the works. Constructive critisim is always appreciated!