The days were shorter in the north. Roy hadn't been awake for very long, yet shadows were already casting over the hospital courtyard outside his window. Of course, that could have been because he slept in so late.
But he enjoyed ever moment of it. After spending so many nights sitting against basement walls and in cramped caves, waking up in a hospital bed surrounded by his closest allies and friends was quite possibly the best feeling in the world.
Even though they were all incredibly loud and obnoxious.
Roy just finished buttoning up a clean white shirt as he sat on the edge of the bed, idly staring out the window. Since they had been rescued, he had been able to bathe, eat something other than roasted rabbit, and put on fresh clothes. While he was immensely thankful for all of those things, he was eager to finally get out of there and head back to East City. However, he assumed that a certain blond Lieutenant planned to point a gun at his head unless he agreed to visit another hospital upon arriving. While he did dislike the idea, it was valid enough, he supposed. Any quick or sudden movements resulted in waves of dizziness and his older stab wounds may have gotten… slightly infected. The past few days kept him too busy and preoccupied to think much of it, let alone bother to even look at the injuries. Not to mention that simply standing up for too long made him feel ill. The doctors in the north had given him medication and medicine, but they didn't have his records on hand. Hopefully, his usual doctor in the east would be able to deal with those problems with ease.
When the others left, they all went to pack up their things in order to meet the Colonel at the station. Even Alphonse had to return to the Northern Command barracks to pick up what little his brother had left behind.
While it was short lived, Roy enjoyed the brief moment of solitude he was granted in that small, empty hospital room.
Part of him considered simply sitting there, mulling over his thoughts and enjoying the peace, but the louder part knew that there was very little time to waste. Riza Hawkeye would arrive at any moment to drive him to the station. Well, to drive he and Edward to the station. Roy was honestly surprised that the impatient youth didn't jump through the window as soon as he woke up. His hatred for hospitals was a common known fact. However, it almost seemed like the kid waited for Mustang to get discharged. But that couldn't be the case. Of course not. Impossible.
Well, maybe it wasn't.
Admittedly, he and Ed had gotten closer during their little adventure through hell. It almost felt like he learned more about the kid in those two weeks than in the past three years. At the very least, he had definitely seen new sides of the blond. It turned out that he was much more than a loud, overbearing shrimp. He was actually attentive, gallant and selfless. Of course, that was always true when Alphonse was involved. But to think that that also spread to Roy as well... He never would have thought so in the past.
It was really quite amazing. Several weeks ago, Roy balked at the idea of spending any time alone with the rowdy teenager. But after a short amount of time, he wanted to always be there for the kid. He wanted to protect him and ward off anyone who dared to hurt him.
Almost like a father.
Roy chuckled mirthlessly at the concept and ran a wary hand through his hair. There was no way that Ed shared the thought. While he had no plans to ever mention the notion of being a father figure to the boy, he would probably laugh in the Colonel's face if it was ever brought up.
The time spend in the mountains was an exception to every rule. Now that they were back in civilization, they didn't need to depend on each other in the same way anymore. Ed was back with Al, after all. They supported each other just fine, without the need for anyone else.
Nonetheless, Roy would continue to lend any help he could give to the Elrics. That was the least he could do for them, anyway.
Uneven footsteps echoed down the hall, tugging Mustang out of his state of contemplation.
He was immediately tempted to take back all the kind words he had just silently given the kid.
Roy turned away from the window just as the door was pushed open, revealing one Edward Elric. He had abandoned the make-shift prosthetic leg in exchange for crutches not long after waking up; saying something about being too unbalanced and he'd rather walk on one leg than risk tripping again and breaking his nose.
Edward had already changed out of the thin, light green hospital clothes and was wearing his trademark outfit. Roy assumed that Al brought over the fresh clothes when Ed was first admitted, but that didn't explain the coat. Judging by the small rips in the sleeves, it had to be the same one that he wore in the forest.
"They got the blood stains out?"
"Yep," he replied with a curt nod and approached the end of the bed where Roy was sitting. "You ready to go yet?"
"I've been waiting on you, kid," Roy answered nonchalantly and heaved himself to his feet, all while ignoring the disbelieving scoff that was heard from the teenager. Giving a quick glance to the clock that hung on the blank wall, he turned and faced the blond. "Let's get going. Knowing the Lieutenant, she's probably here early."
"Alright, hurry up then, old man," he spoke as he was already hobbling out the door. It was only natural for Edward to be impatient to leave a hospital. How he lasted that long was beyond Roy.
As the Colonel stepped out of the room and closed the door behind him, he paused, seeing as Ed wasn't moving; he was just staring down the hall. Following his gaze, Roy noticed someone being pushed in a wheelchair by a nurse, who was being tailed by two men of the military police.
The two alchemists stood off to the side of the hallway, allowing the small convoy to pass by. That is, until they realized who was sitting in the wheelchair. Edward gasped next to him and Roy's eyes widened from the surprising sight.
The nurse reluctantly stopped the chair just as they were passing the two, while the police officers remained silent. They must have recognized the Roy and Edward. Since they were in the military, it would have been difficult not to know the faces of the previously missing alchemists.
"Oh, h-hello," she stammered, just as surprised to see them in the hall. She was wearing the green hospital gown and slippers and her light brown hair was down, cascading randomly around her shoulders. The previous events had clearly taken their toll on her as well, as the woman looked absolutely exhausted. There were dark circles under her eyes and her face was shockingly pale and drained. After all, getting shot can do that to a person. Not to mention that she was betrayed by the people who she had put all of her trust in, several days prior.
"What are you doing here?" Edward asked bluntly before Roy could get the words out.
"Ah- now that I'm not in critical condition anymore, they're relocating me to a different room," Evelyn explained, her voice slightly hushed.
"N' what's with the entourage? Roy was getting close to scolding Ed for asking so many direct questions, but he promptly held his tongue this time.
The woman turned away awkwardly, effectively avoiding all eye contact. "Well, I uh... I've technically been arrested, so..." she trailed off, likely assuming that the rest was self explanatory.
Naturally, she would get sent to prison as soon as she was discharged for terrorist activity and for treason against the State. Even though she had helped them in the end, the best she could hope for was a shorter sentence.
"Oh, right," the blond muttered.
"But it's alright," Evelyn continued with a sigh before the silence could stretch on. Her gaze shifted to the spotless floor and the reflections from the bright, florescent lights above. "I accepted that when I first pointed my gun at Vance," she spoke softly.
Roy and Edward shared an uncertain look, as they were both ill-prepared to give an inspiring speech to the discouraged woman.
"There was really no avoiding it," Roy jumped in, sparing Edward from trying and failing to think of something else to say. "But you made the right choice," he smiled thinly, as that was all he could offer her.
"Yeah," Evelyn breathed. "All of this started just because I wanted to make a difference. But I got a little carried away with it." Her fingers tightened around the arms of the wheelchair. "It's a little hard to change anything in jail, though," she added on cynically. With a sigh, she looked up at the two State Alchemists, attempting to hide her self loathing. "I'm sorry for everything. I know that doesn't excuse any of it, but..."
Roy briefly considered telling her that is was okay; that all was forgiven. But it wasn't. Maybe in time, but the scars of their struggle remained. The pain and agony was still too fresh in his mind. While Evelyn didn't play the biggest part in all of it and she certainly wasn't the most to blame, she was still heavily involved.
The Colonel narrowed his eyes slightly, in thought. After a moment, he looked at the woman with a hint of a smile on his expression. "You're a very talented alchemist, Evelyn. I'd like to see you make some good out of that one day."
Evelyn was quick to mask her mild shock with a look that could only be described as thankful.
"Yeah, I- I'll do that. One of these days."
"We should really get going," the nurse quickly jumped in, suddenly reminding the two alchemists of the three spectators.
"Right... Goodbye, Major Elric and Colonel Mustang." Evelyn risked a feeble smile and she was wheeled away, with the two police officers quick to follow.
Edward and Roy watched until she disappeared behind a corner. They both stared down the hall for several seconds afterwards in complete silence.
"Well," Mustang began, clearing his throat. "We should get moving too." Edward agreed and they both turned around to continue moving forward.
"She'll be fine," Ed said under his breath, causing Roy to question if he was just talking to himself. From the sound of it, the blond wasn't trying to quell any worries he had for her sake, but just bringing himself to accept the outcome. He was probably just as conflicted about her as the Colonel was.
Just as Evelyn had told them when they met, they weren't friends. They weren't sad that she was going to be locked up for who-knows-how-long. She got what was coming to her. But after the fellow alchemist had risked her life to come to their aid, she deserved something for her efforts; even if it was something small, like someone to simply appreciate her actions.
"Where 'ya going?"
Roy stopped in his tracks and looked up to see that he had began to go down the wrong hall at an intersection. Edward was leaning against his crutch, waiting expectantly. The Colonel shook his head, telling himself not to get so distracted. He could get lost in his thoughts later.
As he rejoined the smaller alchemist, they continued moving side by side. Roy had to keep a rather slow pace since Ed was dealing with a single leg, though he didn't really mind. Riza wasn't expecting them to walk out the front doors for at least a few more minutes.
After they reached the lobby and passed through the large doors, something told him that he and Edward would immediately go back to banter and insults- just how it's always been before. Overall, Roy would be okay with that. After watching the kid's life nearly drain out in his arms, he'd be okay with anything, as long as Ed was alive.
"Hey," the blond began, eyes locked in the stretch of floor in front of him as he pulled himself along with the crutches. Roy watched him in the corner of his eye as he too faced forward. "I uh never thanked you for, you know- saving my life. With the stone. So. Thanks."
Roy quirked a blow at the sudden statement. "I could have sworn that you already thanked me."
Edward stopped and looked over at the Colonel, nonplussed. "Why would you think that? Did I say something like that while I was unconscious?"
Mustang stopped as well, returning the blond's expression. "... No, I suppose you didn't. I guess it was just the way you looked at me," he suggested with a shrug. Once he really thought about it, it was true; Edward didn't have the strength to speak at the time, but the look he received was just as good as a genius thanks. He began to continue again, but stopped himself short. "But... You're welcome."
Edward was speechless for several long seconds as Roy began walking down the rows of identical doors once more. By the time he finally started to catch up, the older alchemist was trying his best to walk slowly again without making it look obvious, for his sake.
Several moments of silence stretched on before the blond broke it once again. "You know, sometimes I think about how close it was... The rebound."
"What do you mean? The Colonel asked casually, though he already had a very good guess. The very same thing had passed trough Mustang's mind as well.
"I assume fake Philosopher's Stones can only be used so many times before it would cause a rebound and break. Madsen used it right after you. Had the situation been slightly different, that could have happened to you," he finished, watching Roy curiously in his peripheral vision.
"I realized that as well," Mustang nodded. "So next time you find one, you'll have to be extra careful to make sure that it's the real deal.
Edward narrowed his eyes. "That's not my point." The sternness of his tone caught the Colonel's attention. Yes, he definitely had something that he wanted to get off of his chest.
"Out with is, Fullmetal. What is it?"
The teenager silently fumed for a moment. "The rebound could have happened to you instead! Doesn't that bother you?"
Roy slid his hands into his pockets, actually considering the question seriously. Did it bother him? Would anything have changed if he was aware of the risks beforehand?
"No, not really," he finally decided. "It doesn't change anything. I still would have done it."
"What?!" the blond exclaimed, rather loudly. Roy took a quick glance around the corridor to confirm that there weren't any nurses about to reprimand them for the volume. "It could have killed you! Vance lost his mind back there because of the rebound! And you don't even care that-"
"Listen, Edward," Roy began as they both stopped in their tracks in the middle of the hallway once again. The Colonel turned towards the kid, meeting his annoyed gaze. "There is nothing that could have stopped me from doing whatever I had to do in order to save you. Nothing."
The younger alchemist simply glared at him for a moment, clearly unsatisfied, but the meaning behind his words was not lost on the kid. "And you call me reckless," he muttered under his breath, breaking eye contact to stare at the floor instead. Edward wasn't just upset about the risks of using a fake Philosopher's Stone; there was something more underneath- something that was eating away at him.
"What's done is done. Why are you so upset about it?" Roy asked, genuinely concerned. While he did consider himself one of the few that could truly read the older Elric, sometimes, it was impossible to know what was going around inside his complex little head.
His golden eyes remained stuck on the glossy floor as he spoke, rather reluctantly. "When I found you lying face down in the snow that one night, I thought you actually died. I was… terrified, alright?" He snapped as he admitted what has been on his mind for some time now. "Because everything would have changed. Almost everything I have now is because of you. If you died, all of that would have crumbled away. And there would be nothing I could do about it… So… You can't die."
"I assure you, I have no intention of dying anytime soon," the Colonel responded, still slightly confused. Something in their conversation wasn't adding up. He was still missing something.
"Well, duh," the teenager exclaimed. "But- ah, forget it," he huffed and hastily began moving. His annoyance radiated off of him as he stalked towards the next turn in the hall, back turned to the older alchemist.
Roy immediately broke into a slow jog in order to pass the seething blond and stepped into his path. However, it would have been perfectly easy for Edward to avoid him and keep moving if he chose to. The Colonel knew that Ed wanted to talk about it; therefore, he wouldn't pass up another opportunity to do so, but he didn't want to appear as if he was forcing him to speak.
"Hold on, Ed. Just tell me what's on your mind." It wasn't a command, but a request. If something was bothering the young Elric, then Roy wanted to take care of it as soon as possible.
Edward paused and stared up at the man, turmoil burning in his eyes. Hopefully, he would understand that the Colonel was genuinely curious about whatever was troubling him.
The teenager's shoulders slumped in defeat and he opened his mouth to speak, but several more seconds passed before he finally got the words out. "I just… For one reason or another, people always… leave. Mom, Hohenheim- I didn't want you to join that list too. So I-" he trailed off, struggling to make his point.
But he didn't need to; Roy already understood.
"You don't need to worry, Edward," he said, bringing the kid's stammering to a swift end. The blond looked up at him with wide, uncertain eyes, which Roy easily returned with an assuring smile. "No matter what happens, I'll always be here if you need me… I promise."
Something must have clicked in Ed's mind, because he immediately broke eye contact and stared holes into the ground. "... I see," he said, barely above a whisper. His grip tightened around the crutches with such intensity that Roy began to wonder if he said something wrong.
He's not… angry, is he? Roy couldn't figure out what would cause such a reaction. He was just being honest. So…
Before Mustang could ask him what was wrong, Edward slowly shifted his weight and transferred his right crutch to his left hand, awkwardly holding both. Roy couldn't see his expression and nervously began to wonder if he was preparing to punch him in the face or something. But as for why, he still couldn't guess.
The Colonel stifled a stunned gasp when Edward suddenly took a step forward and wrapped his free arm around Roy's waist and pressed his head into his chest. Only a fraction of a second passed before he quickly returned the embrace without a hint of hesitation.
Of course; Ed wasn't mad at him- he was thankful; relieved, even. Overwhelmed by it, in fact, that he couldn't find the words to express it and decided to do so through actions instead. Once again, he succeeded in saying thank you without actually needing to say anything at all.
They remained there for several short seconds as Roy registered what was actually happening. Edward Elric actually decided to hug him- Roy Mustang- Colonel Bastard. He must have really made an impact on the boy… Which was another relief in itself. He had constantly reminded the younger alchemist that he didn't have to shoulder the burden alone; that Roy was more than happy to carry the weight when it became too much. Perhaps his words had finally sunk in. And better yet, he had assured Edward that that wouldn't change now that they were no longer lost in the northern mountains. In the past, at that moment, and in the years to come, the Fullmetal alchemist had someone else to rely on.
Ed exhaled slowly as his automail slightly tightened around the fabric of Roy's shirt, as if he felt reluctant to move. There was no telling if or when they would get another moment like it again, so he made a point to enjoy it while it lasted.
In one swift moment, Edward took a step back and returned the second crutch to his right hand, his face red with embarrassment. "Don't tell a damn soul about that," he huffed under his breath, almost inaudibly. He glanced up at the Colonel, curious of his reaction. When the blond saw that Roy was simply smiling back at him, he hastily turned on his heel and swerved into the lobby without another word.
Graceful as always, Fullmetal.
Nonetheless, Roy followed. By the time he reached the lobby, Edward was passing through the front doors and he saw a glimpse of Hawkeye's temporary car parked on the street below.
Once he stepped into the car with the two blonds, there would be absolutely no mention of the past few minutes and they would likely act as if it never happened at all.
But that was fine by him.
Roy was satisfied.
Underneath the name-calling, they would always have that extra layer of trust in each other. That's really all he needed; that's all that's ever been, and that's all that ever will be. Their relationship had always been like that. There was always an unspoken bond that could be nearly invisible until tested. The only difference was that it had become much stronger and easier to see. That enough was proof that both Roy and Edward would continue to put their lives on the line for the other.
At least something good came out of all of this.
"Well, that didn't work out," a dark, feminine voice sighed as its owner crossed her arms.
"What did you expect to happen, Lust?" The other figure snapped, waving his hand in the air for emphasis. "Humans aren't capable of properly using the Philosopher's Stone without our guidance."
"Need I remind you that it was your job to keep them in line, Envy," the woman replied sharply, casting a cold glare towards the smaller homunculus.
Envy carelessly shrugged, unfazed by Lust's quiet anger. "This attempt was a lost cause from the start! Plan B has much more potential," he announced confidently.
She scoffed dismissively. "Either way, we're going to have to find a new pawn, now that the Mineral Alchemist killed himself."
"What a spineless fool," Envy sneered. "Replacing him should be easy!"
"That's true… In fact, I think I already know of a certain Crimson Alchemist who would be more than willing to create a Crest of Blood for us on the Drachman border," Lust mused for a moment as a hint of a smirk appeared on her expression.
"Oooh?" Envy grinned madly, already imagining the death and destruction that was soon to come. "Then let's get started."