This fic is no longer on hiatus o.O Yes, things like that actually happen...
The muse kind of finally kicked me in the a** after I read over your comments and demanded I continue this and look there, it´s been a success. This chapter actually has been finished for quite a while, but then I´ve been stuck and unsure how to continue. But now this story gets revived and I´m happy writing ^^ Currently, I´m working on chaper 4 ;D So, next chapter will be up in... a week?
Beta&Co-Author: the amazing and wonderful Ca11iope, who´s putting so much effort into every single chapter. Thank you!
And last but not least, enjoy the chapter :D
Changes: Chapter 2
The door had shut silently behind Edward as he hurried out, eyes hidden behind long golden bangs. Riza watched him leave, then her stunned gaze returned to the confused man on the bed. More than ever it hurt her to see him like this, his face betraying far more than it should, than it ever had. And his vulnerability was nothing she wanted to see.
Her own face felt different too, as if it was carved out of marble. But it was certainly not the only part of her body that felt like stone. Her gut felt very much like one as well. A cold and heavy stone that made it difficult to breath.
Riza had spent the last few weeks as Mustang’s constant companion. She had comforted him when he was down, and tried, to the best of her abilities, to replace what he had lost. It had taken much patience, but Riza had always been a woman who never wavered. The only exception to that rule had been for that one moment when she thought Lust had taken him from her forever.
Since then she had become not only Roy’s First Lieutenant and personal assistant, but also his shadow, afraid that the moment she left his side he might be hurt again. Riza was very much aware of the whispers behind her back. Not from Mustang’s team of course, although they did make silly jokes about their commander’s interest in his most trusted aide. But all in all the men under Mustang otherwise appeared content to watch and see their predictions come true. Well, with the exception of the Elric brothers of course, who had as yet been too distracted by the constant crisis of their own lives to notice the inconsequential detail of a possible office romance.
Aside from their close colleagues and the Elrics however, it seemed as if half the city expected Roy and Riza to soon take the final step and make their feelings for each other official. The widowed neighbor next door always commented on what a nice couple they made, and how much Riza’s devotion reminded her of her own feelings towards her long departed husband. Even the vendors in the local shops seemed to have printed a non-verbal Mrs. Mustang stamp on the First Lieutenant’s forehead, and the military gossip mill was well fueled and running at peak capacity.
Not that Riza really cared.
People always talked, and it didn´t matter to her what they said. Over the last few days it had become quite annoying, but Riza was not a woman who would let idle gossip influence her. She was a First Lieutenant of the Amestrian military; her professionalism was both her sword and shield, and she could wield it like a master.
Still, she couldn’t deny that lately her relationship with her commander was changing. Until now she and Roy had been close friends, a bond they had developed from the time Roy had been her father’s apprentice. Over the years that bond had strengthened, tempered by the trials and tribulations of their chosen profession. They trusted each other with their lives. Since the Promised Day however, Hawkeye was beginning to feel that they were becoming even closer, something other than superior and subordinate. Something more than friends.
She had not allowed herself to hope for anything from Roy, preferring not to rely on insubstantial moods and feelings. The recently passed near-catastrophe had just about everyone in the country walking around with their heads in the clouds. It was the beginning of a new era in Amestrian history, a history no longer orchestrated by the whims of a capricious artificial creature with notions of godhood. Elation and optimism were in every heart, and Riza wasn’t completely sure if the changes she saw in Roy were real, or just wishful thinking on her part. That was probably why, when it came… when it finally came, she felt that she was not ready. For the first time since taking her place next to Roy, she started to wonder about herself as a woman.
Because Riza the woman and Hawkeye the military lieutenant were two completely different people. Lieutenant Hawkeye was confident, strong willed, and ready to command the team to accomplish whatever needed to be done. She never neglected her duty or missed her target. She stood firm and stoic under every circumstance, as a woman who chose to live in this world of self-styled male leaders with their oh so big balls had to. She stood as strong as a man, and measured herself against the men she stood with, often surpassing them. And that was the problem.
She didn´t have much experience with just being a woman.
Hawkeye also didn’t have much experience with men, though people generally assumed the opposite. Most men were simply scared shitless of her. Others made assumptions as to how a military woman should express her loyalty to her superiors, though most weren’t foolish enough to incur her Colonel’s wrath by becoming too aggressive. Not that Roy ever heard about those particular instances; the Hawk handled them quite capably on her own. The men in Mustang’s close command were her friends, and they treated her as such. They respected her abilities, just as she respected theirs. Romance never entered the picture, except as good-natured teasing by her colleagues. All she had ever been was the First Lieutenant at Mustang’s side, and she wouldn´t risk losing that position for anything.
Relationships outside the military didn’t exist for Riza either. All her friends were soldiers. A civilian lover was not an option, as an emotional involvement like that would require the investment of too much time and effort. She couldn´t afford to be distracted from her self-assigned task. She already had someone to protect, and it required all her resources. It would be too difficult to protect Roy as well as someone outside her professional world. And then there was the possibility of blackmail and extortion. Riza would never take the same risk Maes Hughes had. She couldn´t become involved with someone who might be used as a pawn against her, and that meant children were also out of the question.
That didn’t mean that Riza Hawkeye had committed herself to an austere life of denial and abstinence however. It just meant that she had to be very particular about who she might choose to share her life with. If she were to have a man, he would have to be strong enough to stand up to her. He would have to be able to defend himself. He would also have to accept her dedication to her chosen duty, and that would be a major hurdle for any potential lover. What man would accept his partner’s commitment to the protection of another man, her willingness to sacrifice her life for another man’s goal?
Getting involved with Roy himself seemed like the perfect solution. He wouldn´t mind her devotion to her duty, because it was directed towards him. He would also understand that children could not be part of their lives as long as their lifestyle was so dangerous. He also had no need to fear her, as long as he wasn’t trying to slack off on his paperwork. Roy was experienced and confident, and Riza knew he would treat her as an equal partner despite her own lack of experience regarding relationships.
She looked at the man, biting her lip. What had just transpired was shocking, but she wouldn´t let it deter her. This might be her only chance to balance everything she wanted to fit into her life.
At least, that was what she thought until that moment.
One week later
“Brother?” Al asked, again. He had been trying to get – and hold - his brother´s attention for the last twenty minutes. In vain.
This was certainly something new. Al was used to having his brother’s undivided attention, and while it was annoying that Ed was preoccupied right now, Alphonse found the change rather refreshing.
It was fortunate that Ed wasn’t staying in the hospital with Alphonse as much as he had at the beginning. It was bad enough that one of them was stuck there until he recovered enough for Dr. Knox to deem him fit to leave; Alphonse didn´t need his brother joining him. Often someone from Mustang’s team, usually Hawkeye, would show up to see how Alphonse’ recovery was progressing, then drag Edward away to help with something or other. Al was grateful that his brother was kept busy and distracted from time to time.
It wouldn’t be too much longer before Alphonse was free to leave as well. His eyes were finally able to adapt to light changes and he no longer needed to be fed through the IV, though so far his diet consisted of light soups and little else. Still, at least it was real food, with flavor. Oh, the flavor! Al had all but forgotten what it was to taste. His physiotherapy was going well too, though he found it very tiring. He still hadn´t quite got the knack of balancing his weight when walking, or standing alone for long. Dr. Knox had explained that Al was even worse off than a patient who had awakened after many months in a coma, because treatment of the comatose included having their limbs manipulated frequently to prevent atrophy. Alphonse knew his recovery would take time, but even the more reasonable of the two genius brothers found it difficult to be patient, and was often ready to bite someone’s head off.
Like Edward’s for example. Alphonse’ older brother could be downright infuriating, hovering over Al like an overprotective mother hen. Ed had absolutely no right to suggest that the way Lieutenant Hawkeye watched over Colonel Mustang was creepy. Al’s dearest brother was actually acting much worse. For the first two weeks that Alphonse had been in the hospital, the ward’s head nurse had not been able to get Ed to leave. She had finally and resignedly offered to set up a cot for him in Al’s room, taking pity on him for a week of sleeping in a chair by Al’s bed.
Which was very kind of her as far as Ed was concerned. Not so much for Al.
Not that Al thought that Ed should have to sleep in a chair. He just thought that Ed should get out and do something other than devote all his attention to his little brother’s recovery. Al had just got his body back. He wanted some privacy from time to time. That was why he would be eternally grateful to Hawkeye when she began to insist that Ed come in to help out around the office. It gave Al the alone time he needed, and prevented him from snapping at his overprotective brother, and probably feeling guilty for it afterwards
However, something must have gone wrong. A week previously Hawley had asked - or rather ordered - Ed to help her bring a rather large load of paperwork over to Colonel Mustang’s home. When he had returned from running that errand, Ed had been strangely preoccupied, to the point where Al, bedridden and hospitalized, started to worry. And strangely enough, Hawkeye seemed to have suddenly run out of work to assign his brother. She even stopped her daily visits to the hospital to see how Alphonse was doing. The happy news of both Havoc’s and Mustang’s full recovery thanks to Doctor Marcoh had been delivered by Breda, Falman, and Fuery. Edward insisted that nothing was wrong, but Alphonse knew better.
“Brother!” he tried again.
Okay, that was enough. His brother had probably forgotten, but Alphonse was still very skilled at one particular talent he had mastered as a toddler.
Ed should count himself lucky that the pudding tub was not opened.
“Ow! What the fuck was that for?” Ed ranted.
Al smiled sweetly. “Finally,” he said, noting the confused glare his brother gave him. “You’ve been staring holes into the air for the last half hour.”
Now guilt flashed through his brother’s eyes. “I´m sorry, Al,” the blond apologized immediately.
Alphonse Elric was probably the only person who could ever get an apology out of Edward this easily. Al simply waved it aside.
“What were you thinking about?” he wanted to know.
Instantly, a very vivid red color returned to his brother’s face. Returned, because the same thing happened every time Al asked about what occupied Edward’s mind like this.
And just like all the other times, the other blond just muttered an almost inaudible, “Nothing.”
“Huh.” Alphonse groused, his voice dry. “Not a very convincing answer when this is the - what? Twentieth time you were thinking about it?”
“How do you know I’m always thinking about the same thing?” Ed shot back.
Stubborn mule. Fine, if that’s the way Edward wanted to play it…
“Because whatever it is, you blush every time I ask,” Al answered honestly, and smiled, this time with a hint of mischief, when Edward ‘s blush became even more intense. “Stop being an idiot, brother.” He continued to wear his brother’s defenses down when the older sibling didn´t launch into an explanation. “It´s obviously not going away, whatever it is. Now just spill it and maybe the both of us can come up with a solution.”
Blond eyebrows arched up as Alphonse tilted his head to the side. Knowing Edward well enough, he was aware that this was no longer his brother’s ‘I´m-avoiding-it-uhm’, but rather his ‘I´m-trying-to-phrase-it-uhm’. The way Ed bit his lip in concentration was a sure sign of that. However, this also meant Al should probably brace himself for what was to come. Although he usually kept his problems to himself, when he finally decided to open up, Ed’s impulsive nature usually led to him just blurt out what he was thinking in the rawest, bluntest manner imaginable. No holding back, no tact, no sugar coating, and no consideration for his listener’s feelings. While most people claimed Ed was easy to read, they usually got him at least partially wrong, which most of the time led to misunderstandings, which resulted in … well, chaos was probably the best word to describe the effects of Ed’s temper.
Al patiently waited until his brother nodded, as if to encourage himself that this was the right thing to do.
“Okay,” Ed started, and took a deep breath. “I´ve recently become… I´ve been made aware of something,” the older Elric finally said.
It took a lot of self control for Al to not sigh in exasperation. Giving his brother a look that clearly said ‘go on’, he leaned back into the pillows.
Aha, the blush was back again. Now the interesting part was about to come out. The younger Elric became even more curious when he saw his brother avoiding direct eye contact.
“Of what?” Al finally prompted after a few seconds. Pulling out teeth was a relaxing spare time activity compared to this. But since Edward was still unusually reserved, this was bound to be worth it.
Ed’s blush deepened, but finally, Al got an answer. “Of… physical reactions.”
“Excuse me?” Al frowned. Ed would really have to be more specified. It didn´t make much sense.
“… to other people,” Ed added, while his face heated up even more.
Al blinked. What was Ed talking about? “Uhm…” Now it was Alphonse turn to be ineloquent. “Oh?” he said, trying to make sense of this. Then it dawned on him, and his face lit up with a pleased grin.
“Finally!” He said, throwing his arms in the air, almost like a preacher. “I was starting to worry that you were impotent or something.”
Oh, if he had known the direction this would take, Al would have asked for a camera. Ed’s face just now was worth saving on film for later amusement.
“So, was it anyone in particular who encouraged your … physical reaction?” Al asked, curiosity getting the better of him. When Edward appeared ready to flee, he knew this was going to be priceless.
“It´s not what you think!” Ed hissed back in self defense. “Get your damn mind out of the gutter, Al!”
There was no way Alphonse would let that one slide. For the first time since he began his stay in the hospital, his brother wasn´t treating him as if he might break apart at any moment. The younger Elric was enjoying being treated like a normal human being again immensely. And if teasing his brother kept it that way, all the better.
Which was why he smiled and quite candidly put his earlier thoughts into words. “Really? It sounded to me like someone gave you an er-“
“Don’t. Say. That!” Ed interrupted, both embarrassed and horrified. “It has nothing to do with him in particular! Anyone would enjoy being kissed! It’s a perfectly normal physical reaction, and-“
Ed stopped short and stared at his little brother like a deer caught in the headlights.
For a few minutes, awkward silence filled the room.
“I´m not sure,” Al slowly started, “whether I want to ask about that kiss first, or about the fact that you were talking about a man.”
Edward winced, but Alphonse continued unimpressed.
“So I´ll just ask this: Who exactly kissed you?”
“Uhm…” Ed said, eyes fixed firmly on his boots, face flaming.
Mentally, Alphonse sighed. They were back to this again. Well, he had managed to get this far; he would get the rest out of Edward as well.
Two days later
Havoc was jogging up the stairs, on his way into the office. A gleeful smirk was plastered on his face, even thought his smoke-abused lungs protested their owner running around. Because he was now able to be running around, when he thought that was something he would never do again. And because of what he had learned, and couldn’t wait to share.
Monday morning was best started with gossip, and the juicy morsel he had overheard the previous evening, from an extremely reliable source, was . . . wonderful. No, fantastic! The dating scene was going to be Mustang-free. It was almost too good to be true.
Rounding a corner in the hall, he almost ran into his next pleasant surprise. Literally, because he barely managed not to stumble over the Elric brothers. For a moment he stared dumbfounded at the wheelchair Al was sitting in, then at Edward who stood behind it.
An even bigger smile spread on Havoc’s face.
“They finally let you out, huh? Good to see you!” He greeted the two young men with enthusiastic hugs complete with manly back slapping. First Ed, who was taken by surprise, and then Al, who at least was now warned.
“You´re really in a good mood,” Alphonse commented, smiling over the Lieutenant’s obvious joy.
Havoc, positively beaming, replied, “Because I´ve got wonderful news. Yesterday, I found out my biggest problem just solved itself!” The tallest of the three blondes grinned and gestured towards the office. “And in the best way possible. Can´t wait to congratulate the Colonel and Lieutenant… and celebrate a clear field on the dating scene.”
If he were not as gleeful at the prospect of successful dating, he would have noticed how both brothers immediately perked up at the mention of ‘the Colonel’, and then either scowled of frowned when Havoc continued to speak. The siblings shared a meaningful glance, and then Alphonse – and it should have alerted Havoc that it was Alphonse and not his blunt brother – cautiously asked.
“Congratulate them for what?”
“For what? For what? They finally did it!” Looking at the Elrics, Havoc appeared as if it should be absolutely clear what he was talking about. When he saw two surprisingly stony faces, he elaborated.
“The Colonel and Hawkeye are finally dating!”
He had not expected the similar hardening expressions. The moment he saw Ed bite his lip and Al narrow his eyes, he knew he was definitely missing something.
When Roy entered the office that morning, he was blatantly stared at. Something was up. That became even more clear when Riza entered the office and received the same treatment. The Colonel waited for one of his men to bring up what was on their collective minds, but the morning progressed as usual, aside from the intense scrutiny he and his First Lieutenant were receiving.
His paperwork contained a file he had half expected to find there every day since his return to work. Now that it had finally appeared, he wondered at the sinking feeling in his chest. Did he honestly believe that it wouldn’t end this way? Roy was a scientist, and therefore a logical man. And while Edward was often unpredictable and did the exact opposite of what seemed reasonable, this was the most logical decision for him to make. There was really no other option. And it was news that Roy had to break to his team personally.
Roy invited his command into his office for the official announcement. Riza took her place at his right elbow as usual. The whole team stared at them expectantly, somewhat resembling a pack of hungry wolves. It was slightly disturbing. Sharing a glance with his Lieutenant, she slightly lifted an eyebrow to signal that she had no idea what was going on either.
Shrugging slightly, he cleared his throat.
Immediately, he had the undivided attention of everyone in the room. Even Falman appeared openly interested, and considering how impassive his face usually was, that was quite an expression for the man. Havoc gave the impression of a child who was about to get his favorite candy. Breda looked like a contented cat on a warm seat with a bowl of milk, and Fuery… there was no way to describe his expression. The closest Roy could come was a child who had been told by his divorced parents that mommy and daddy were back together and they were going to be a happy family again.
This was getting stranger and stranger.
Nonetheless, Roy started his speech. Of course they all knew about his and Havoc’s recovery, and he could see their impatience grow as he worked his speech through the standard motivational portion. He wished Havoc continued good health, congratulated the rest of his reassembled team on a difficult job done well, pointed out that there would be a lot of hard work involved in rebuilding the devastation caused by Father and his minions, and stated his confidence that they would all be up to the task. The men just looked as if they wanted him to skip all that and get to the good bit. By the time he came to his major point, the grown and disciplined military men were all but twitching on their chairs.
There was a moment of silence. Hawkeye looked over to him, giving him an encouraging nod, and the team latched onto the gesture like blood hungry vampires. He could see their eyes shifting between him and Riza.
Roy was beginning to get an idea about what his subordinates’ strange behavior was due to, but he wouldn´t let that deter him from the task at hand.
“As you all know, Alphonse is back in his natural body. I´ve received a formal request from Fullmetal for some leave time to take care of his sibling,” he finally told them.
The men blinked surprised and stared.
Roy looked back, trying his best to appear professional when all he really wanted to do was tear that damn request into bits - something he could hardly do.
The Colonel continued. “Furthermore, since he is no longer an alchemist, it is unclear whether the former Fullmetal will return to the military. It is more than likely that he will not.”
Silence. They all stared at him rather dumbfounded.
Well, the Flame had expected his team to struggle with the report that one of their closest colleagues was leaving – possibly never to return. It was why he had chosen to announce the news this way. He did not expect their next reaction.
“That´s it?” Breda asked.
“Excuse me?” Roy asked, dumbfounded.
“We already knew that.” Fuery said, shedding some light on the matter.
And Falman added, “It was to be expected, considering the circumstances.”
Somehow, Roy felt left out. Finally, Havoc gave him the crucial information. “Ed stopped by earlier and told us, in person.”
Now it was both Hawkeye’s and Mustang’s turn to blink at the team. Roy probably should have expected something like this. Edward valued friendship very highly, so it was only natural that he would tell them himself. Roy wasn’t sure how he felt about finding out through his paperwork.
But if Ed had already told them… “What exactly did you expect the announcement to be about?” he wanted to know. It was clear they had been expecting something.
Now the men exchanged insecure glances. Then they all turned toward Havoc, who looked as left out as Roy had felt over the news that Edward had not felt it necessary to inform him in person about his leave.
“Lieutenant Havoc?” Mustang finally questioned.
The man shifted his gaze, unsure about his own information. But his source was valid! The fact that Mustang and his team were more than just working colleagues was what gave him the motivation to speak.
“We thought you were going to announce that you and Hawkeye were finally a couple,” he admitted.
“Because you two were kissing.” Havoc added, almost defiantly.
The rest of the team shifted their glances between Hawkeye, Mustang, and Havoc, waiting for a reaction. Finally, it was the Colonel who decided to speak.
“How do you know about that?” he asked, his voice carefully guarded.
Yes, I´m aware this is a bit of a cliffhanger and NO, you won´t have to wait another... uhm... I don´t even want to look at how long it´s been ^^° Next chapter will be up this weekend. Until then, take care :D