Hello. I took down the previous chapter 9 because – even at the time of writing – I knew it was straying from the direction I'd originally intended. It was sheer laziness and a desire to wrap up the chapter ASAP. This might not be a popular revision, but at least it will put me back on track. I wasn't able to continue with the story otherwise.
No beta, so do let me know about typos.
He was in a quiet country graveyard. Save the crows in the trees and the worms in the turf beneath him, he was alone. The sky was a deep grey and cloudless. Black branches spat into it like so many reaching fingers. The graveyard smelled of recent rain and more rain still to come. It was a sombre day and his heart was heavy.
In front of him was a simple headstone, barely adorned at all: only two carved lilies, one in each upper corner. The name read upon the headstone read: Hawkeye.
He stuck his hands in his pockets and bowed his head. The surrounding trees whistled with a brisk, sudden wind. He felt tired beyond any tiredness he had ever felt before: insubstantial – like he was liable to come apart at any moment and be blown away. The soft, dark earth of the plot looked so inviting. Perhaps he could lie down a while…
"Riza," he said quietly, toeing the grave's granite border.
"Roy. Roy Mustang."
For a dizzying moment, he thought it was her voice but when it spoke again he realised his error. It was the doctor. Though he couldn't see her, he knew it was her.
"Who was she?" asked the doctor. "Family?"
He shook his head and smiled sadly.
"A friend? A lover?"
He shrugged and dropped his head back. "Riza is just Riza," he said to the sky.
"Riza is just Riza," she echoed, mocking him but without scorn.
And like that, he was snatched from the graveyard: awake.
"What?!" he whispered, his heart hammering in his chest- a rude contrast to the peace of his imagined graveyard. "What are you –?"
"I'm sorry," said the doctor, but there was a smile somewhere on her lips. "You were talking in your sleep." She paused, allowing him a bothered 'tut'. After a beat, she added: "And moaning."
He froze where he lay, now conscious of the sweat-damp sheets clinging to his middle and wrapped around his feet like a confused shroud. "No, I wasn't," he said quickly.
"'Riza is Riza' you said," the doctor supplied, quirking a matronly eyebrow. "Whoever 'Riza' is, you talk about her a great deal when you're sleeping." Her light eyes darkened in the bluish haze. "Is she passed, major? It seemed you were praying to her almost."
Mustang stared at his doctor, only vaguely recognising he was able to 'stare' at all. His eyes were healing swiftly now. Folding his arms, he swallowed and looked around the silent tent. "You're very pushy."
"You're very stubborn," returned the doctor. She tilted her head and smiled. "Like a little donkey."
The major's jaw dropped open an inch. He growled and half-turned from her. "You could have just let me be," he said, grumpily, tugging the sheets up to his chest. The doctor was silent. He'd expected some sort of retort from the loquacious physician, but she was silent. As casually as he could, he stole a glance in her direction. Her eyes were serious, her mouth tight.
"No," she said. "I couldn't. I couldn't let you be, major Mustang. Not in your state." She huffed and pulled her chair closer to the bed. "About yesterday: your request."
"About that – "
"You asked something of me – "
His stomach somersaulted. "I wasn't myself."
"I'd argue that you very much were. Now look – "
"Doctor, I don't want – "
"I want to try to – "
"To talk about – "
She silenced him with a raised hand and at full volume said: "Will you shut up?"
Both patient and doctor held their breath and waited to see if any of the other men stirred. After a few tense seconds, the doctor waved her hand dismissively. "They're all high as kites anyway."
Mustang frowned. "Unconventional as always, good doctor."
She brought her face close to his. "Yes," she whispered, briskly. "And you're about to thank me for it."
"What are you talking about?"
The doctor sank back on her heels and shrugged. "You've been lying in that bed every day, growing more miserable and depressing by the hour." With one smooth gesture, she flung his bed sheet back. It alighted and floated away from him like the sail of a departing ship. "I have a little surprise for you. It's nothing much, but it might actually put a smile on those gloomy chops of yours. I suppose it depends on what mood you're in."
"You're bloody nuts," he grouched and tried to turn from her again.
"Come on!" laughed the doctor. "Up with you!" She shoved both hands under his skinny back and lifted.
Horrified, the major shrank from her bright, grinning face as though it were an exploding star. His cheeks burned with embarrassment. "I don't know where you expect me to go. I can't walk! I've been shot in the leg, in case you've forgotten."
The doctor chuckled and tugged something towards her with one foot: a wheelchair. She winked. "I'm an excellent driver."
"I hope so," muttered Mustang as he sat up and drew his legs over the edge of the bed. "Because you're a rotten doctor."
The doctor was stronger than her slimness implied. Within minutes the small medical tent was shrinking behind the pair as she pushed the broad-wheeled chair over the soft, difficult sand. The night was freezing cold – as cold as Central in winter – but she'd taken care of that with a heavy desert cloak for herself and a thick blanket for Mustang. She'd even tucked his booted feet in and laughed at his youthful indignation. "I'm not a baby!" he'd protested. She agreed. Babies were much easier to look after.
Other than that, they hadn't spoken much as they moved away from the cluster of medi-tents and the few lamps that marked the zone. Now that they were further from the light, Mustang wondered if she was as wowed by the impressive spray of stars as he was. He'd been in Ishbal for months but the sky had never looked as awesome as it did then. It made alchemy turn to petty children's puzzles in his mind. He'd never seen anything like it. And if it was enough to keep the doctor quiet then it must have been as wonderful as he imagined. He pulled in a deep breath of stinging cold air and rested the back of his head against the cushion.
The doctor flicked his temple. "No sleeping."
"What does it matter to you if I sleep or not?" replied the major, dreamily. He laughed and brought his hands up behind his head. "You'd probably just keep talking anyway."
"You know," she began. "I think you're getting cheekier as you get better. When you first came in you were very polite."
"When I first came in I was more or less unconscious, wasn't I?" He looked up at her, forehead wrinkling.
She smiled smugly at him and continued pushing. After a while she started humming. She was absolutely tone deaf, though her volume appeared to increase the further Mustang's stricken head sank between his shoulders.
"Where are we going?" he asked, hoping to distract her from her stork-like cawing. "The brass would lose their minds if they knew about your little excursion. I'm surprised that sentry let you take me anywhere, never mind into the middle of the desert. I'm a VIP around these parts."
"A 'Very Irritable Punk?'"
"Yes, yes," said the major, smiling despite himself. "Very good. Now where - ?"
"See that crop of rocks over there? Right at the edge of this slope; like a ring? That's where we're headed," she said. "And as for the sentry: I bribed him," she added easily.
"A bribe?!" He groaned. "God above, you're going to get me court-martialed."
"Don't worry yourself, VIP. That young sergeant and me have an understanding. You wouldn't believe the things he lets me away with for a few sleeping tablets and some cigarettes. Besides – " She flicked his head again, chuckling when he flinched and frowned up at her. "Aren't you enjoying yourself?"
The major's face broke into a wide, full-toothed grin. He sighed dramatically and made a pathetic attempt to cross his legs. "Are you joking? If it was up to me I'd have a beautiful, young woman push me around for the rest of my life."
"I'm not young, major," said the doctor.
They hit a dense mound of sand and the wheelchair stopped suddenly, almost throwing Mustang free. He caught himself in time and spun in his seat to look up at her. Again, she fixed him with eyes full of humour. But now that he could better see, there was a kind of sadness there too. A deep, old sadness. What he had taken for cool cynicism all this time had been so much more sophisticated. His stomach knotted; it hurt him to think of her as such. She wasn't supposed to be like that.
"I'm not young at all."
Like most men his age, when faced with a woman speaking truths to him, Mustang balked. "You are," he argued, weakly.
She shrugged, smiling ironically. "I'm not." She rattled the handles of the wheelchair. "I'm a mother, you know."
His heart sank. "Oh," said Mustang, stupidly.
"Please!" she cried. "Don't act so surprised. You know I'm married!"
She'd misunderstood him; took his shocked utterance as a polite compliment. The major bit his lip. At the fringes of his memory, old ghosts stirred. He looked up into the broad wash of navy sky. "It's not that," he said slowly. "Just… you must be mad coming here when you have children."
"A child. A girl."
"Well," he said, opening his hands to her. What's the difference between one and a hundred children when it comes to dead parents? "If anything were to happen to you…"
The doctor hummed to herself and jiggled her head from side to side, heeding his words with some reluctance. She leant hard on the handles and tilted the wheelchair back to free it from the sand. Mustang's mess of black hair fanned against her belly. He looked up at her with bright eyes.
She shook the chair. "What about you? What if something should happen to you? What about – what's her name? Riza?"
"Why I – I don't have any children," argued Mustang. "And besides, I'm a soldier. My only duty is to Amestris. Not to some girl waiting for me in petticoats."
"'My only duty is to Amestris," mocked the doctor. "You sound like one of those bloody radio dramas."
Mustang pouted and folded his arms. He shifted his weight forward in the seat so that the handles slipped from the doctor's grasp. The chair barely made a sound as it struck the sand and rolled back half a foot. Anger spat and fizzed in his belly as he felt his control begin to unravel. She was being so flippant! He stayed himself with a deep breath. "If you knew what it was you were risking. To orphan a child…"
The doctor's voice was steady. "Perhaps this is your problem more than it is mine, Mustang."
Silence engulfed them: the doctor guilty, the soldier wounded.
"Perhaps," the major conceded, after a time. He huffed heavily through his nose, his breath clouding in the frozen air. When his eyes found hers again, they were hard. "And since we're speculating, perhaps your sense of duty towards your husband surpasses even that towards your very own child."
He had said it to cut her – make her angry. But he should have known that people like her were wise to his flashes of viciousness. She began pushing him again, slowly now and with greater labour.
"Yes," she admitted after a beat. "I am here for my husband. I would have left months ago if it weren't for Urey. I'm sure you won't believe me, but I miss my girl terribly. She's the loveliest thing that's ever happened to us… but Urey… he…"
Only the sound of the wide tires whispering through the sand could be heard around them. The lights of the medical zone were like bugs in the distance.
"Doctor," prompted Mustang.
"He is so very, very noble, you see," she said at last, all in a rush. "And there is no cure for that. Not even a child, it seems." She stopped a moment. Mustang stared straight ahead and dared not turn his head even an inch until she started pushing again. The chair lurched forward then continued bumpily. "I know very well the perils we face here, major, but you see… with a man like Urey…"
She stopped again and placed her hands on the handles so that her fingers touched his shoulders. He waited, scared that he might soon start trembling.
"It's like an orbit from which I can't hope to escape."
Mustang shook his head, a little angry still – sad too. "I don't understand," he said.
"No," said the doctor. "I don't suppose you would."
Words failed them both and the desert was around them. Only the occasional crack of rifle-fire echoed back to them from miles and miles away. Mustang took a deep breath and reached back, placing his right hand over his doctor's.
"Let's go back," he said. Then to save her, for she was proud, he added: "I'm tired."
She slipped her hand from under his and laid it on top. Her palm was hard and warm. "No," she said. When he started at her abruptness, she laughed. "I told you I had a surprise for you, didn't I?"
The doctor smiled at the young major's open-mouthed silence as she pulled the chair backwards into the centre of the rock circle. Shifting in his seat, Mustang swung his head left and right to take in the grandeur of the unusual outcrop. Around them, the huge black slabs shot into the sky like pieces of a broken crown. The cold surfaces sparkled subtly in the moonlight, making it hard to tell where rock ended and starry universe began.
"Impressive, aren't they?"
Mustang swung back to look at her as if she'd just said: 'water's a bit wet, isn't it?'
"Very bloody impressive," he said. His eyes ran over them, inky black irises taking each one in. Eventually, he managed a quiet: "Meteorite? Iron?" He pointed. "Some thumb-printing on that one." Swearing, he swivelled back towards camp. "If only I had my gloves with me. I mean, eventually I'd need a more specific array but… yes… the gloves would be fine for now."
The doctor laughed and squeezed his shoulders. "Ever the alchemist."
Dazedly – reluctantly almost, he looked towards her. He blinked at her stupidly.
"This isn't even the main event," she said as if she were talking to a very small child. She placed her hands on either side of his head and turned it until he was facing forwards. He yelped – arms flying out for balance – as she kicked the chair back into motion and pushed him further towards where she had pointed. The sand was finer here and densely packed. It made for easy going. She hummed to herself. "I think you'll like this. A lot."
"A hypervelocity impact centre?!"
Another flick administered to the temple. "No, you nincompoop." She grabbed his head again and turned it downwards sharply so that he was looking towards a small recess in the base of the largest rock. She pushed the chair forward a little more then put the brake on. Not that he was in danger of rolling off anywhere.
"What…?" He tried to rise out of his seat to better see but failed, his left leg still sore and healing. Instead, he scooted forwards and after rubbing his eyes, strained to discover what it was the doctor so wanted him to see. "It's…"
The doctor could see it very well, her eyes being healthier than his. It brought as much pleasure to her now as it did the first time she saw it. It was more than beautiful. It was a symbol; some sign that this desert hell wasn't as cruel as they all thought it was.
Mustang turned slowly to look up to her, his eyes full of fresh incomprehension.
"It's a flower," he said. His voice was as flat as the stone slabs.
"Yes," answered the doctor. What a buffoon. She held open her palms to him: Isn't it wonderful?
"Is it a new species or something?"
Growling with frustration, the doctor abandoned her post to stride towards the little white flower that had so valiantly sprung to life in the arid wastes of Ishbal. Red-faced, she thrust one hand towards it, a perfect antithesis to the peaceful stillness of the blossom.
"It's miraculous," she said, biting on each syllable.
The major shrugged. "It's very…" He struggled for a while, conscious that the disbelieving doctor was ready to throttle him at any second. "Pretty?"
Slumping to the sand with an exasperated groan, the doctor sat against the huge stone and faced her charge. He shrugged again, apologetically this time and mouthed a pitiful 'sorry'.
"You are what we in the medical profession like to call 'chronic' major Mustang."
"A chronic 'pain in the ass'?" he asked, smirking shyly. He played with the frayed edge of one armrest. "If that's the diagnosis, then I'm afraid you're a little late, doctor."
Drawing her legs up to her belly, the doctor laid her arms across her knees. She rested her cheek on the back of her hands. She asked: "You've had prior consultations?"
"Indeed. All parties agree that I'm a 'huge pain in the ass'. It's incurable apparently."
He blinked and looked away, squinting to better see the space around him. His eyes danced with the faint light and more than a little emotion, the doctor wagered. It must be hard: being a soft thing in a hard world. Though he really did do a very good job of concealing it. Had she met him outside these unconventional circumstances, she too probably would have mistaken him for the cool killer he so believed himself to be.
"Maybe," began Mustang, stroking his hairless chin. His tone was playful, but his guilt at failing to appreciate her 'special suprise' was very obvious. "Maybe, I just didn't get a good enough look at that little weed of yours."
In shock, the doctor watched as he pushed himself slowly to his feet. He groaned loudly and teetered in place, sweat already beading on his forehead. Leaning against the chair with one hand, he hopped awkwardly on his good leg until he faced her again, keeping her in place all the time with one hand. She stayed put, but adjusted herself minutely so she'd be ready to catch him if he took a tumble.
After half a minute's panting, he opened his arms. "Ta-da!" he said, and the next second keeled forward like a felled tree.
"Christ – " cursed the doctor, rushing up to grab him under the arms.
Both of them stumbled backwards a few paces, Mustang failing to help matters as his good leg propelled them towards the jutting stone as he tried to find purchase. "I'm fine, I'm fine!" he kept yelling, in spite of his claw-like grasp on the doctor's waist and ponytail.
They collided with the rock, the impact forcing all the air out of the doctor's lungs. Mustang, for his part, had tried to save her at the last moment and ended up crushing his right hand beneath the back of her skull.
"Bother," he said.
"Fuck," said the doctor.
The desert – quiet before – now seemed like a noiseless vacuum in which each person's startled panting was deafeningly loud. The major corrected himself and, still unbalanced, had to lean past the doctor to place his elbow on the rock for grip. His damp fringe brushed past her ear. His breath was shockingly hot against her neck. She shuddered in place, knowing at once that they were both in very real danger of lonely imbecility.
"Doctor – "
"Major Mustang, you will be the death of me."
He laughed a breathy, bashful laugh. It went right through her, from breast to backbone. She felt the muscles jump in his back where she held him: solid as the stone behind her but infinitely hotter. She swallowed. There was a very long moment in which neither party did anything but breathe.
"It doesn't matter," she said, eventually. "It was just a silly – "
Callused fingers brushed the line of her jaw, skirting the possibility of more. Her heart leapt and she yielded – just an inch. He pressed his lips to hers.
It was one kiss, as fragile as the blossom at their feet. He pulled back and looked at her with a guarded, ambiguous expression: earnest, hungry, dark, lonely. Lustful.
Had Urey, in all their time together, ever shown her such a thing? Respect… partnership, procreation: yes. But this?
"May I?" asked Mustang, swallowing so loudly she could hear it from where she stood. He wriggled his left hand free from behind her head and used it for leverage. With his right, he ever-so-slowly tugged aside her heavy cloak. He paused and eyed her warily, waiting for permission.
She nodded dumbly, hypnotised by the boy's nervous ministrations. He smiled to himself, relieved, and the doctor – much to her surprise – felt her knees weaken with girlish anticipation. 'Yes,' she said to herself, 'you will commit adultery tonight. With a patient. With a killer – a foolish, lonely soldier nearly fourteen years your junior.' But wasn't she lonely too? And foolish. Perhaps they could help each other. Heal each other.
'And,' she thought with some humour, 'there was always the matter of the flesh.' She was honest enough to admit that she desired him terribly.
His lips lingered below the line of her jaw. Then hot-breathed, he began kissing her again in earnest: her ear, her cheek, the cupid's bow beside her mouth. She moaned and leaned into him, grabbing hair that felt like silk and smelled of war: ripe and human. With greater haste, his fingers worked at the ties of her light trousers. He growled in frustration, the sound thrumming through her lips as he pressed himself against her.
"Fuck," he said. It still sounded unnatural coming from him. She chuckled, feeling as though she would run out of breath at any moment.
At last the ties came apart. He laughed at his own small conquest. The doctor bucked – gasping – as his too cold hand slipped beneath her underwear. He was deft. While their kiss swelled to violence, his fingers worked with great care. He angled into her, the hard plane of his stomach running flush with her hip, while his right knee coaxed her open to him.
"Oh my God," she whispered, though she hadn't meant to. Then she was moaning – growling, huffing – as he worked deeper and deeper with hand and mouth. She tugged his hair to free herself from the kiss and offered a muted scream to the desert. He smothered it with his mouth, warm tongue working until her knees buckled and her thighs glistened with sex.
Pushing him back, she freed her hand, then pulled him against her again. Her fingers skirted the hem of his trousers, then dove south past skin and coarse hair. She struggled more than he did – shocked to find herself nervous and unpracticed. He barked hoarsely into her neck when she took his cock in her palm. Gleeful, she laughed aloud. It had been such a long, lonely time. A life without sexual dimension. She hadn't had sex since Winry was born; hadn't felt desirable for longer still. Now, in this strangest of moments, she was happy. She was happy and Urey couldn't be further from her mind.
"Roy," she said.
"Riza," he replied.
Motionless desert all around them. Two bodies sweating. Joy and abandon vanished in a flash of brief horror. His hand was still inside her when he choked his apology into her ear. As gently as she could, she reached inside her cape and withdrew his hand. When she adjusted her pants, they were wet and freezing cold. She licked her lips and held him by both elbows, steeling herself. He was trembling, his mouth opening and closing like a dying thing's. Steam rose from the fingers of his right hand.
She mustered a smile of sorts and shook him gently. She wished someone would shake her. She feared she might be sick at any moment. "Please don't be upset," she said, aware of the absurdity that she should be comforting him. He didn't respond. His eyes drifted downwards and she could see now that his eyelashes were heavy with unshed tears. He bit his lip, chin dimpling terribly.
"Shh. It's really nothing," she said, without heart. "It's… we just got carried away."
He shook his head. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "Dreadful. Dreadful. I'm sorry."
The doctor in her screamed for some control; a stanching of the wound. She sucked in a deep breath and let it out in a huge sigh that was something like a laugh. "We're just lonely," she said, with forced triviality. There was no 'just' to either of their loneliness. "Come on. Chin up. A lapse of judgment. That's all."
She received no response. The major stood frozen like a statue. Tears shone on his face and his whole body shook with great distress. His fathomless eyes remained fix on the ground beside her.
How she would love to dwell on things like he did. How she would love to feel wronged by his error; hurt and disgraced. But she had long ago formed the habit of putting others before herself, and she couldn't bear to watch the major suffer another moment. A change of mood was necessary. She rolled her eyes and as hard as she could, flicked his temple. He barely reacted, just closed one bloodshot eye and opened it again slowly. Funny how his damaged eyes hadn't looked so bad before.
"How does the flower look from here, major?" she asked, one hand still holding him as though he might drop at any second. "Now you've had a better look."
Mustang was silent for a long time. Then he said: "I crushed it."
Turning, the doctor saw that indeed, the little desert bloom had been trampled by his unlaced boot. A flew petals clung to the dew-wet leather.
"You were right," he said, quietly. "It was very beautiful."
I do plan on bringing this story to its conclusion, but we'll see how it goes. Incredibly hard to write these days. I'm on tumblr now as writermebh, though I'm not entirely sure what I'm doing there. Thanks for reading.