Late contribution to Royai Day 2012. Happy(?) reading.
Four hours, thirty-nine minutes, and twenty-six seconds. That is how long one Roy Mustang has been lurking at one of the many bars that litter the streets of Central City. If it wasn't for the fact that the barkeep wasn't a friend of Madame Christmas, the forlorn soldier would have been dumped back out into the streets a long time ago.
Roy knows this, yet it does not stop him from taking a few large swallows from what would soon be an empty bottle resting on the worn surface of the bar in front of him.
The barkeep frowns yet again that evening, as Mustang's motion to grab the bottle sweeps an empty glass onto the floor where it shatters at his feet. He chooses not to ask the man any questions regarding the state he is in; yes, he is a friend of the woman who raised the Flame Alchemist himself, but he is not a member of the conspiracy that Mustang has been developing underneath his nose over the past several years, a scheme that the chain-smoking woman is a part of, working as an undercover informant for the now desolate soldier before him.
The grizzled older man is well paid to keep his mouth shut when Mustang and his men have ever come into his humble establishment, and he does so without objection. After all, if you had a wad of cash thrust into your hand every other week, who are you to complain about the circumstances in which you receive it?
He knew that something was off about the younger man the moment he had come inside. He had none of his subordinates with him; not even whatever pretty young girl that he was to be escorting that evening had accompanied him this time. Mustang had merely made his way to a bar stool, sat down, and ordered, "The strongest liquor you have, Tom."
Tom watches as Mustang downs what was in a forgotten shot glass an earlier patron left behind.
"I think you've had enough now, boy."
Tom tries to reason with him, but it does no good.
"Of course not," Mustang snaps. His voice is slurred. "Ev'thing else that I had is gone, so juss...juss gimme this, m'kay?" And without further ado, he reaches for yet another abandoned shot glass.
Tom sighs. He is exhausted and wants to return home, but can't do that until Mustang goes home as well. He normally isn't the kind of man who normally looks out for the intoxicated patrons who come in and out of his bar, but there is something about his latest customer that wants him to make sure he at least gets home safely before he end up doing something reckless or stupid.
Mustang finally lets his head fall against the bar with a loud groan. He hasn't passed out quite yet, Tom notices, but he has a mild notion that the event will occur sooner or later.
The force of his forehead smacking the edge of the scratched and worn surface causes Mustang's already sore head to pound and ache even more. Just how in the hell did he ever resort to doing something like this?
His subordinates had left for their new assignments two days before, and he has yet to hear from any of them. Worse still is the fact that though Hawkeye remains at Central Command, Fuhrer Bradley has keep both her and Colonel Mustang so busy that neither one of them has had a chance to speak to each other. Mustang watches her as she and the fuhrer pass in the hallways. Her arms are full of folders and there are dark circles under her eyes, yet she still manages to keep her chin up as she carries about her duties.
Only her former commanding officer can ever see the depression that she carries with her during those agonizing moments when they have the so-called 'privilege' of passing each other.
Mustang did not think that he could possibly hate Fuhrer Bradley more, until his new subordinates had shown up, ready to take the places his hand-chosen men had once occupied. There were four men, and one woman, each one holding the exact same rank as the officer they were to replace.
He curses Bradley then, watching as each one takes their seat, prepared to start that day's work. Only the female first lieutenant has a different desk; Mustang knows that it is foolish, yet he refuses to let her take Hawkeye's desk. To him, it would not be the same if someone else had taken it otherwise.
The first day is quiet, tense; all five officers know that they are not wanted here. Their new unit commander greets them rather coldly in the mornings, and bids them a sharp farewell in the evenings.
Mustang knows that it is not their fault that they are there, yet he cannot help but feel angry towards them.
"Come on, buddy. It's starting to pour down rain out there!" Tom protests angrily.
Mustang suddenly sweeps his arms across the bar, sending empty bottles and glasses to the floor. "Useless," he nearly snarls as broken glass flies in all directions. "Completely useless!"
Tom sighs yet again and reaches for the phone hanging on the wall. He is no soldier after all, and he isn't included in the secretive activities that the military is a part of, but he is clever enough to plan ahead for some situations, tonight being one of them.
Several months before, back when Mustang had first come to Central and began visiting his bar, Tom had gone to the phone book and written down the home phone numbers of every single one of the subordinates that had ever accompanied the Colonel during his regular trysts to the various bars around the city.
Now Tom does not know what Mustang means by 'useless', and how it has anything to do with the sudden downpour, but it was time for him to head home before he destroyed more than a few glasses.
It is with growing trepidation that the barkeep dials each number. He has an eye on the inebriated colonel as he does so, making sure he doesn't try to run from the bar and end up rampant on the streets.
Fuery, Kain. Disconnected number.
Havoc, Jean. Disconnected number.
Falman, Vato. Also disconnected.
Breda, Heymans. Disconnected.
Frustration growing as he dials the number for one Hawkeye, Riza, Tom is almost ready to give up.
He jumps slightly when it finally begins to ring.
The feminine voice is thick with drowsiness, and Tom scolds himself. He did not think to check the time, and realizes most people would be asleep at this hour. Nevertheless, he clears his throat.
"Am I speaking to Riza Hawkeye?" Despite the name the phone book has listed, if the rest of Mustang's men had a disconnected phone line, maybe this Hawkeye woman no longer lives at her current place of residence either, and a stranger had been unlucky enough to receive the phone number before the books would be updated.
"Yes this is Hawkeye, but who is it that's calling?"
She is fully awake now, and her voice is both commanding and wary. Whether is it the fact that she was woken up at one in the morning or suspicious that she is conversing with a complete stranger, Tom doesn't know. However, he quickly tells her that a Roy Mustang is nearly passed out at his bar, and needs to be taken home.
There is a brief pause once he is finished. Then a quiet sigh.
"I'll be there in a few minutes." Hawkeye says, and the line goes dead.
As he hangs up the receiver, Tom lets out a huge breath in one long whoosh.
"I've got a ride coming for you, pal," He tells the colonel. "It's time for you to head on home."
All he gets in return is the wave of a hand and a stuttering mumble, which is all the old man expects at this point.
It isn't long before Tom then spots a taxi pulling away from the curb. Around five minutes since the phone call, at least.
A blond woman enters the bar then, and glances around at her surroundings. She looks as if she never bothered to change her clothes before leaving; judging by the dark pants and soft jacket over a tank top, it is easy to determine that she left her house the second she hung up the phone. It is a side of the lieutenant that Tom has not seen before. He is more used to the blue uniform and pinned-up hairstyle, not the rumpled pajamas and slightly tousled appearance.
"Ain't you gonna hold that taxi for 'im?" The barkeep asks, and she shakes her head, fringe nearly falling into her eyes.
"No, his car is still parked outside," Riza says quietly. "But thank you for calling."
Tom nods, and retreats into a door near the back of the room. He'll let her handle the colonel and just close up after they leave. His job is over for the night, and all he hopes for now is a chance at a good night's sleep.
Once the man departs, Hawkeye stares down at her former superior officer. After many nights of accompanying him and the other men to bars for both extracurricular activities and to use as rendezvous points, she knows how well he can hold his liquor. It shocks her that the infamous Roy Mustang has let himself sink this low, reverting to the drunken wastrel sitting in front of her now.
Hoisting him off of the stool, she drapes one of his arms around her shoulders and begins to move towards the door.
"H-Hawkeye?" Catching sight of her seems to sober him up somewhat, and he stands a little taller in her grasp as they move into the sudden downpour.
"Let's get you home Colonel," she merely tells him over the noise of the rain as she pulls open the passenger door to his car. Mustang is no state to drive back himself, and they both know it. Hawkeye just hopes that she can catch a taxi to take home once the colonel is settled in bed.
"I'm sorry you have to see me like this," he mumbles once Riza straps herself in and they pull away. "I just…I wanted a way to keep my mind off of things for a while."
"And look what you've done to yourself!" she retorts exasperatedly. She gestures wildly at his haggard appearance. "Haven't you remembered that there are your own aspirations to think about? That you are striving to become the fuhrer? What will the people of Amestris think when the leader of their country shows up to work like this?" She could not bring up any other reasons; they were no doubt why he had even been at Tom's bar in the first place.
"I'm sorry," Roy mumbles again, and he sounds so desolate and weary that Riza decides not to comment any further.
During the entire ride back to his apartment, Riza throws periodic glances at him, watching to make sure he does not get sick. As Roy's breath fogs up the window he is leaning against and absently staring out of, Hawkeye suddenly feels an overwhelming sense of both pity and loss. If it wasn't for the many mistakes they've made recently, Maes Hughes would still be alive, Havoc would not have lost the use of his legs, and they all would have remained a part of Roy's unit. She sighs. How could they have been so reckless?
Riza blames herself as well. She believes she has failed in her duty to protect him, leaving him with a horrible scar marring his unseen flesh, and the fact that they were separated from each other, the first time it has happened since Ishval.
She knows that she is being used as a hostage, yet Fuhrer Bradley has yet to even mention that fact outright to her. However, that notion isn't too terribly important. What does unnerve her is that she was even used for one in the first place. It was obvious both to them and any soldier who has ever seen or worked with them that Roy Mustang and Riza Hawkeye rely on each other for just about everything. She did not realize that she was valuable enough to him that she could ever be used as a hostage in any definition. Riza drives on with an odd sense of bemusement at the unfamiliar emotions beginning to take precedence in her mind.
She pulls up to the curb outside of his apartment building. Despite his building sobriety at this point, the colonel is still in no shape to make it up to his own residence.
Riza is surprised to see him suddenly step out of the car and make his way to the doors, albeit stumbling every few steps. She follows behind him to keep an eye out, not realizing that she is walking the same path behind him that she always did.
Three steps behind him. One step to the right, or one step to the left.
Tonight it is the left.
Neither soldier speaks as they ascend the staircase to Roy's floor. After several fumbling tries in which the hallway is filled with the incessant ringing of a handful of keys, he finally manages to unlock the door and enter his apartment, leaving the door open for Riza to follow.
She does so wordlessly, deciding not to comment on what some would deem as inappropriate. After all, what soldier would willingly follow a superior officer into his apartment at one in the morning without informing anybody else? Riza thinks to herself that they should consider themselves lucky that no one besides the old bartender knew she had even met with Mustang at all that evening.
Against her better judgment, she somehow still trusts him enough to keep his mouth shut.
By now Roy has settled himself on a nearby couch. It takes up a good portion of what could be classified as a rather tiny living space, the remainder occupied by a tall bookshelf and a coffee table.
Riza stares at him for an immeasurable amount of time, unsure if he has fallen asleep; his head is in his hands, and there is no movement save for the steady rise and fall of his shoulders.
The apartment is rather dark, the only light is being cast only the floor from the moon's rays, despite the pouring rain. For a moment, that is the only noise that can be heard.
Finally, the first lieutenant speaks up.
His head snaps up at the sound of her voice. It is hard to discern whether her tone is pitying or stern. Perhaps it is both.
"What did you expect me to do, Hawkeye? Distract myself between the legs of the first bleach-blonde street whore that'll have me?" He attempts to lace each word in pure scorn, but Riza still manages to see through the flimsy façade, and is unfazed by his vulgar words. He is simply trying to come up with a half-hearted excuse that could stick. At this realization, Hawkeyes fairly explodes.
"I'd rather you have done that then waste away to the sorry and pathetic excuse for the person sitting in front of me! At least then you would have been able to hang on to your reputation of being a womanizer, right?"
Despite the fact that everything that Roy Mustang has done to earn such a name for himself turned out to be nothing more than clever acts of subterfuge, it would have been easier this way for him to wake up in an unfamiliar apartment and find his way to work before his latest conquest saw him depart, rather than a member of the military's upper echelon see how far the Flame Alchemist has fallen because of a few transfers and a handful of unwanted documents.
"Since when did you decide that you actually wanted the enemy to see what they've done to you? Do you really want them to believe that this is the only shot they would ever have to make to see you just give up like this?"
"I didn't quit!" Roy snaps, looking Hawkeye full in the face for the first time that night.
"Well it sure as hell looks like it, sir."
Her eyes are full of some emotion he is unable to decipher. Hawkeye is well aware of what he is going through, but unlike him she still chooses to fight. They just need to decide on what move they plan to make next.
But how can they do that when the person controlling the board is a few pieces away from forfeiting?
"What would happen if Havoc saw you now? Or Falman, Breda, or Fuery? What about Hughes?"
A quiet moan breaks through the tense atmosphere.
Throughout her heated speech, Riza has been pacing up and down what little floor space remains. She looks over at Mustang again only to see that he has dropped his head back into his hands. His voice is agonized.
"Please. Just stop. I'm begging you."
It is the most defeated and desperate plea that Hawkeye has heard from anyone, and she comes to a halt in front of him, sitting herself on the edge of the coffee table. She had gone too far when speaking to him, not realizing it until it was too late. However, it manages to somehow sober him up even more than before.
When Roy does not move again for several minutes, Riza begins to stand up slowly.
"I have to be at work in a few hours," she murmurs absently. "Fuhrer Bradley has asked me to come in at seven instead of eight. Apparently there is a lot to be done."
Her ramblings are suddenly cut off. Mustang jumps to his feet, and with an agonized roar, sends his fist into the wall, alchemy setting the insulation and drywall alight. Hawkeye's jacket is off in seconds, batting away the sudden brightness before the alarms go off and the entire apartment is up in flames.
"Don't go to him, Riza!" He is pleading again, but this time he has passed some invisible line he had set for himself. Any walls that had been built up have shattered; this is the first time in since Hughes' funeral that he has displayed his emotions so nakedly. "Don't-"
Hawkeye lets the jacket fall to the floor.
"I don't have a choice, Roy," She tells him sadly. "I have to."
All the energy seems to gush out of him then, and he sinks back onto the couch in defeat.
She kneels next to him and takes his head into her hands, gently pushing his own hands away and guiding his eyes to look up into her own again.
"You need to keep moving forward, no matter what happens." She tells him. It is quiet but firm, letting him know that he no longer has the option of giving up. Not that he ever had it in the first place.
"They finally realized that we are a threat to them. That's the only reason we had been split up," She continues. "Besides, just because I work under someone else now, it doesn't mean that it will last forever. And my loyalties have not wavered. Not for a second."
"But I still lost you, Riza. I hate just even having to acknowledge that."
She takes a final breath, deep and shuddering. She cannot recall the last time he has called her by her given name until now. As much as she wants to keep herself in check, to carry on like nothing is wrong, Hawkeye still knows that at where they stand right now such an endeavor is pointless.
"I told you that I would follow you into hell, and I meant it. Even if we are already there."
Damn him. Damn King Bradley to the deepest pit of hell where he belongs. It is entirely his fault that the two officers in the tiny room have come to be in this state. Hawkeye sounds absolutely broken, and Roy knows why.
She could tell him a million times that they must carry on regardless of the snags they hit or the roadblocks they come across, but no matter what she would say or do, Mustang knew that internally she was agonizing almost as much as he was. If their places were reversed, she would be telling him all about she failed in her duty to watch his back. She failed, so they were separated.
It is the sorrow on her face and the pain and self-loathing in her eyes that becomes the catalyst for Roy's sudden impulse.
He does not attempt to stop himself from grasping the sides of her face and catching her bottom lip between his own. The kiss is desperate and hungry, and Roy does not give her the option of pulling away; his grip is too firm.
Her skin is like satin beneath his fingertips, and it takes every fiber of his being to break away from her. He pulls himself away just far enough to still be able to feel her breath wash over him. A few more centimeters and their noses would be touching.
"I don't know how long it will be before I can see you again," Roy mumbles. "But I just wanted at least that much."
If any wall had been built between them, they were being torn down, brick by wretched brick.
A voice is screaming in Riza's head that this is wrong, it should not have happened, she should not be wanting any more. But she does.
Unlike the colonel, her movements are not hasty, and certainly not done on impulse the way his had been. She curls her fingers into the inky gloss that covers his head, and gently pulls him to her once more.
Each ebb and flow between them is slow and passionate, revealing all the words that could not or would not be said.
Even if everything between them was torn apart and broken into miniscule pieces, it was soothing to know that she could give him this much, however long it would last.
She rests her head on his shoulder then, and can feel his nose pressed into her neck. Despite their previous actions, his breath remains slow and gentle.
Roy's jaw starts to move against her skin, and Riza answers his unspoken question.
"I will stay for tonight. Any longer would be too much of a risk."
They both rise and he takes her by the hand, wordlessly guiding her down a dark hallway. Roy has long memorized the layout of his apartment, and does not bother turning on any sort of light.
Pressing her into the mattress, Riza is seen as a porcelain doll. She is fragile and cannot be broken. Each caress down the expanses of bare skin is loving and heartfelt. If this is all that he can give her, then he wants it to be perfect. It must be perfect. He would never forgive himself otherwise.
There is no going back now. The already secretive and complex relationship between the two has grown closer still, twining them together permanently.
The early morning silence is only broken by quiet sighs, broken whispers, and throaty murmurs. Throughout the timeless dance, he repeatedly tells her that he loves her, internally swelling at their return. It is all that they have for now, all they can give each other, but it is not to be regretted by either one. By all means possible, it will be treasured by them for as long as they can.
The time passes far too quickly, and they must separate far too soon for either of their liking, but Roy still manages to drive her back to her own apartment to change into her uniform for work.
The last few hours are not mentioned during the ride over.
It is not until Riza returns to the vehicle and he pulls away from the curb that the thick silence is finally broken.
"No matter what happens between us, I still intend to watch your back. No matter what." Her voice is subdued, but he can still detect the serious and collected Riza Hawkeye that he has grown so used to over the years.
Mustang smiles softly. "I wouldn't expect anything different from you, Riza."
Then he clears his throat. "I do want to apologize that you had to see me in such a state. I still need to repair my living room wall too."
"Don't apologize, Roy. There is no need for it."
"What would happen if I did quit, then?" He says suddenly. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Hawkeye glance up at him sharply before turning back towards the window.
"Then the bodies of your pawns would be collected along with your sins, leaving them to crumble to ash underneath a rusted and abandoned crown. This is why you must not fail."
Roy's fingers tighten around the steering wheel at her words. The miniature speech was exactly what he needed to hear. He would not give up. He would not quit.
More than anything, he wanted to see King Bradley fall.
"Then I expect to find you watching my back when the time comes, Lieutenant."
"I'm always watching your back, but I'll be waiting for that day regardless."
When Mustang sees her again during the day, Riza is once more walking in Bradleys' shadow.
She no longer carries the haunted look in her eyes that she had before.
Neither does the colonel.
There is a brief moment of fear as they pass each other; Bradley throws Roy an almost knowing glance, as if he is well aware of what had occurred the night before.
It is this smug look that further strengthens his resolve. Bradley will pay for what he has done. In the past, and in the present. The way Mustang sees it, the Fuhrer no longer has a future to consider.
He has to turn this country around.
Roy wants to do it for himself, he wants to do it for the people, and he wants to do it for her.
(Ten pages; 4,398 words)
© 2012 Chorus of Resistance