Morning kicks Roy first in the temple, then in the gut. Against all odds, his express wishes, and his better judgment, he seems to be alive. At least, that’s his best assessment of the situation. The dead presumably don’t experience nausea. He envies them.
The creak and slam of a door pulses through his bones and makes the safe pink world behind his eyelids flash violent white. Something, intruder, threat -- no, let them come. Murdered in his own bed. What a relief. The other options - opening his eyes, sitting up, thinking - are too grim to consider.
He hears footsteps approaching the bed and wonders if maybe he’s misjudged. Twenty-six seems quite young to die.
He tries to move his finger and thumb. They don’t cooperate.
Ah well, too late now. Perhaps twenty-six is the perfect age to die.
Hm. Most people killed outside of combat zones are murdered by people they know personally. Is it normal for them to try to talk to you first?
A hand lands on his shoulder. It has calluses that drag when it shakes him. Why is it shaking him? This doesn't feel like any of his previous near-death experiences. “Colonel. Wake up.”
That’s not a murderer. That's Hawkeye. Relief: no need to move, then.
He makes a noise that definitely isn’t a word, and probably wouldn’t be even if he wasn’t saying it directly into his pillow. He might have survived the night, but judging by the taste in his mouth and lack of speech, his tongue did not.
The hand shoves him. “Sir. You’re lying on my bra.”
That’s enough to make him open his eyes, which he immediately regrets on every possible level. First up, the light wants to finish what the alcohol and imagined intruders did not. Secondly, Lieutenant Hawkeye is standing over him with a face like a pickaxe. Third of all, she’s got a towel round her hips, a towel on her head, and -- yeah that’s a full tableau of bare chest. Which, combined with the whereabouts of her bra -
Roy shuts his eyes again, overcome with a sudden longing for the bad old days when he drank to the point of nausea on a semi-regular basis. Vomiting on your right-hand person is never a pretty experience, but it usually wards off any misguided sexual overtures. From either side.
Not that he can rule out having thrown up. He can’t rule out anything right now, seeing as his mouth tastes like he licked the floor of a public bathroom and his memory is locked up tight along with the rest of his critical faculties. He’d prefer to have a clearer recollection of events, since he has no idea how he ended up in this predicament. It would be good to know whose idea it had been, at the very least. Apparently it had been somebody’s.
Sitting up seems wildly inadvisable, so Roy locates one of his hands with some effort and fishes underneath himself. He retrieves a stretchy nest of straps and poky bits and tries to hold it out, but his arm gives up the ghost, depositing the bra on his chest.
“Sorry,” he says, as Hawkeye plucks it away.
“There’s water on your bedside table, Colonel. I’ll head down and settle up at the desk. Buses out to Resembool only run twice a day, so you’d best get a move on.”
Roy makes another attempt to open his eyes. It feels a fraction less lethal this time. Thankfully, Hawkeye’s turned away from him and has her undershirt on, shiny patches of scarring winging out along her shoulder blades. He coughs, a tragic, visceral sound.
“Thank you, Lieutenant.”
She turns and looks at him pitilessly on her way out of the door. “I’d recommend a hot shower, but it’s not really an option.”
Left alone with the sludge of his thoughts for company, Roy tries to piece together the previous evening. It’s a deeply painful experience, but he makes some progress. There was certainly a bar, and a couple of companionable beers. A dart board. Hawkeye challenging him to a game, victory premature but assured in her eyes. A couple of old-timers casting glances from their sunken corner. Then a couple of the younger patrons, hopped up on grain and the kind of bravado Roy lost only a day’s travel from here, offering a different kind of challenge, one that came with a twisted mouth and a nod at the uniform that said ‘your kind aren’t welcome here’.
The barman had intervened, told them to settle down or get out, and they’d ignored him, hurling taunts until Hawkeye had asked, with steely calm, whether they wanted to play her. Their apparent leader, tanned and lean with only the faintest hint of colour in his hair, had turned from swagger to charm and even a hint of lazy flirtation that had made Roy's gloved fingers twitch in his lap, and then to impotent fury as her darts hit the centre circle again and again. One of his sidekicks swiped at a bar stool that toppled over, crashing into their table and upending the remains of a beer over Roy’s lap.
The air had hummed taut then, the familiar simmering quiet before a fight breaks out. One of the old boys had stood, chair dragging loud in the ugly silence. He was short, leathery-looking and weathered, and his eyes were shadowed in the dim light of the bar, but not so deep that Roy couldn’t see the red in them. All he’d said was “Now,” but he’d said it with the weight of command, and the young men had gone, jostling at one another and firing vicious glances back over their shoulders.
To Roy he’d said nothing, but he’d summoned Hawkeye to the bar with a sharp jerk of his head, and they’d stood there speaking for a moment, too quiet for Roy to hear. Hawkeye had returned to the table with a grim set to her mouth and two glasses of clear liquid.
“Rich over there says we’re good here for the night but that we’d be wise to head straight back to the hotel after,” she’d said. “This is the local special, if you’re game. I get the sense it’d be a mistake to refuse it.”
At that point Roy had been clear-headed still, enough to think he could survive a half-glass of homebrew. He’s had enough experience with Chris’ stuff that the clean oilslick burn of it hadn’t made his eyes water as he raised his glass to the corner table.
Everything after that spins out into a kaleidoscope shatter.
Nothing about this series of recollections makes Roy feel better about his current predicament, but at least he now knows what to blame. He hauls himself out of the sweaty, scratchy sheets and into the bathroom, which has a distinct aura of mould, strengthened by the blotchy grouting between the tiles. There’s no shower fitting, only a grey-ringed bathtub with a sad rubber tube like a monstrous stethoscope that attaches to each of the taps. Roy briefly contemplates throttling himself with it.
He turns the taps on full blast, noticing as he does that there’s no plug either, which rules out drowning. The pipes make some intestinal gurgling sounds, then the hose thing spits out a tepid trickle of discoloured water.
He climbs into the tub with the aid of the grab rail, which he doesn’t let go of as he leans forward to pick up the hose nozzle. It’s too short to reach the top of his head, so he releases his grip and shuffles tentatively towards the taps, seizing handfuls of blotchy shower curtain as he goes, more as a safety measure than anything else. The tube is still too short, and the water pressure too pitiful, to do more than dribble at his upper chest area. He looks down at it with a limp approximation of loathing, then spots a blueish cast to the skin just below his collarbone. Not wanting to let go of his security curtain, he taps it with the nozzle. It hurts.
He hurls it into a heap with the rest of the things he can’t think about right now if he wants to remain upright in this tiny, festering bathtub, and goes back to wetting his hair. The tube still doesn’t comfortably reach the top of his head, even with the taps jabbing him mid-thigh, so he gives up and washes his body one-handed, the other still clinging to the plastic curtain. Having survived that ordeal, he turns his four active brain cells to the hair conundrum.
One final foolish attempt to force the hose to reach tugs one of its attachments off the tap with a pop, where a stream of scalding water pours onto Roy’s foot even as the hose shoots him in the face with unadulterated cold. He leaps back, dropping the hose and yanking the shower curtain, which makes an alarming grinding sound and shifts about an inch downwards. He gets out of the tub before he can tear the place to shreds, and stands shivering on the bath mat. Tentatively, he pushes the curtain back. Nothing falls on his head. Encouraged, he keeps going. The hose rears up at him like a mad snake and chokes water all over the bathroom.
Roy turns both taps off, sits clammily on the mat, and wishes very much that he could go back to sleep.
By the time he makes his way downstairs, the combined efforts of the horrors of the bathroom - he’d wound up kneeling on the damp bath mat with his head hung over the side of the tub so he could scrub harsh hotel soap that didn’t even lather properly through his hair - and several large glasses of water have skimmed off the clouded, scummy layer over Roy’s thoughts, though they’ve done nothing for the stabbing reverberations of his own heartbeat echoing around his skull. Unfortunately, this now means he can really start to consider his predicament.
He’s already spun through every single worst case scenario, ranging from ‘Hawkeye will never speak to me again’ to ‘Hawkeye has been quietly in love with me for years’. He unearthed a neatly tied-off condom under the only one of his socks he could find, which at least rules out the worst worst case scenario, but also means he can no longer pin his hopes on the best case scenario, i.e. a little nude spooning. Also, if the condom hit the floor before his sock did, that suggests that he had sex with his socks on. Possibly with more socks on than he currently has. None of it bears thinking about.
At this point, he emerges into the lobby. Hawkeye’s standing by the concierge desk with her usual lack of expression, not a hint of disgust or infatuation or even nausea to be seen. She thrusts a paper cup and a bread roll at him.
“All sorted, sir, but you’ll have to have these on the go. Bus leaves from outside the station on the hour.”
Roy knocks the pitiful excuse for coffee into himself before they’ve reached the end of the street, ignoring the liquid churn of his insides. The roll he stuffs into an outer pouch of his duffel. Hawkeye sets a brisk pace, one he’d usually match without issue. Today it’s little short of an endurance test. His sockless foot feels squeaky and humid against the leather insole of his boot.
On the bus, which has a depressingly rural feel to it, made worse by the two actual live chickens in a cage shoved into one of the overhead luggage racks, Roy tries to puzzle out his next steps. They have a task to complete, but all that can wait until they’re off the bus. Hopefully by that point, he’ll feel less like he got fed through a combine harvester. The active crisis he is in a position to address - a terrible position, admittedly, but still a position of sorts - is the state of his relationship with Hawkeye, which he not only doesn’t want to but cannot professionally afford to see die a horrible death.
The bus creeps out of the town onto what presumably counts for a main road around here, then picks up speed, swinging around corners and down dips in a way that makes the chickens shriek and Roy’s stomach perform queasy corkscrew turns. He tries very hard to ignore it. Hawkeye sits next to him with a degree of poise he can’t even imagine attaining.
“Lieutenant,” he says. That sounds wrong, under the circumstances. He tries again. “Riza--” She stiffens minutely. Not good. But there’s nothing for it; he has to establish where they stand, and firmly. “I have to admit, Lieutenant, that I have very little recollection of what happened last night.”
Hawkeye swivels her head towards him like an owl. “Don’t worry, sir. I do,” she says, completely affectless, before turning back to stare fixedly at the back of the driver's head.
That is - also not good. Roy tries to gather his thoughts and work out where to go next but the conversation appears to be quite dead. The bus crests another small hill and swoops downward again, leaving Roy’s guts somewhere above and behind him. Whoever designed these roads was a unique kind of sadist.
He cracks the window in the hope that fresh air will clear his head. Instead, a wall of stench slams into him, followed by sixteen variations on a theme called “For fuck’s sake!”
Trying hard not to retch, he goes to close the window, only to have the chorus of fellow passengers - who have now identified him as the offending outsider - jabber at him to leave it. A woman with a face like a kindly beetroot takes pity on him. “It’ll pass soon enough, just need to let the clean air in or it’ll linger worse.”
Roy nods his understanding. His eyes are watering. Beside him, Hawkeye hasn’t so much as flinched. The bus takes another plunging turn, and Roy doubles over, puts his head between his knees, and prays into the pulsating dark for oblivion.
“What is that,” he says, more to his knees than anyone in particular.
“Slurry. Fermented animal shit, hay, general organic waste. Makes great fertiliser,” Hawkeye answers from somewhere above him, with the stunted consonants of a person breathing through their mouth. Roy feels himself go a deeper shade of green.
“You know," she continues, "people drown falling into slurry pits all the time. Happened to a cousin of mine.” Roy wonders if it would be inappropriate to elbow her in the knee. He’s already suffocating on the smell alone.
“Must you,” he mutters to the floor. Farmers, he thinks, should be banned from fermenting things. The past twelve hours suggest that, at the very least, there should be regulations. There probably are regulations.
“Mm. Although it’s not actually the drowning that gets people. All the gas it gives off knocks you out first, and then you drown.”
“I really don’t want to know.” This is sadistic. Why is she doing this. Why won’t anybody shut the fucking window and leave him to die unmolested by agricultural stench.
“Methane. Carbon dioxide. Hydrogen sulfide. Ammonia.”
Oh. Roy sits up, looks at his gloved hands, then makes direct eye contact with Hawkeye for the first time since she put her shirt back on. She almost smiles at him.
"Just something to keep in mind, sir."
The dreadful smell is receding, and with it Roy’s nausea. Apparently, knowing he could blow this entire festering patch of rural perfection sky high settles his gut a little. That's a facet of his psychology he doesn't want to examine too closely.
They get off the bus in what Roy might at other times be able to identify as a beautiful piece of countryside. The hills are a shade of green that currently feels like an assault on his corneas but might correctly be described as lush, partitioned with picturesque dry stone walls, and there are no rancid animal smells battering at his stomach lining, only the freshness of grass and damp earth.
According to the rudimentary directions they’re following, the Elric house is about a half hour walk from the bus stop. Hawkeye sets off at the same brisk pace as before. Roy tries manfully to keep up with her, but finds himself sweating copiously. The heel of his sockless foot starts to chafe. He decides his dignity is no longer worth salvaging, and drops back to a more comfortable stroll. Up ahead, Hawkeye pauses on a bridge, waiting for him to catch up. She’s not looking at him, though.
Roy’s collar still feels disgustingly tight, to the point where he’s beginning to feel a little lightheaded. It occurs to him that he hasn’t yet eaten today and that his blood sugar is probably all kinds of loopy, so he grabs the bread roll from his bag and rips into it. This proves to be a mistake immediately. The bread is stale and dry, and trying to swallow it feels like gargling wallpaper paste. Roy’s stomach revolts at the idea of accepting it, and he flees for the side of the road, doubled up and heaving.
When he’s done spitting into the grass verge, he checks on Hawkeye, desperately hoping she didn’t spot him. She’s leaning on the parapet of the bridge with her head hanging over the edge. Roy finds this very hard to interpret, beyond generalised despair. It seems likely that it’s directed at him, but it’s not easy to guess whether it’s because of the sex thing, that she’s bored of waiting for him, or that she just witnessed him hurl all over a patch of wild pansies. Most likely it’s all three.
He starts walking again, discovering that his head feels instantly clearer now that he’s not wasting a solid quarter of his brain worrying when or if he might be sick. His entire state of being is still definitely suboptimal, but at least the swooshy feeling at the bottom of his throat has departed and his saliva production has returned to regular levels.
By the time Roy joins Hawkeye on the bridge, he’s made a decision. She’s been acting as though nothing happened last night and this is simply a normal working day - insofar as an excursion out into the back end of the country in pursuit of two highly dangerous rogue alchemists can be called a normal working day - and therefore he should follow her lead, at least until they’re on the train back to East City. He can be professional. He is professional, despite the rapidly-forming blister on his bare heel and the acidic layer of fuzz coating his tongue.
He stands next to her at a respectful, professional distance and doesn’t say anything, waiting for her to bring her head up so they can continue their walk. She doesn’t, so he looks out over the edge of the bridge at the wide river below.
“What the fuck is that.”
That brings her head up, and her hand to the holster on her hip. Then she realises what he’s staring at, and does the owl swivel again. “That’s a cow, sir.”
Roy, for all he’s willing to accept - and actually has no chance whatsoever of successfully denying - that he’s a city boy down to his marrow, does not appreciate the implication that he can’t recognise a cow. “It’s swimming . Do cows normally do that?”
“Not often. But they can.” Hawkeye sounds as if she’s explaining to a child that vegetables are good to eat and biting other people is bad.
“Why do you know that?” Roy says, transfixed by the enormous brown head and following islands of bony bovine backside cruising purposefully across the stretch of water.
“I told you. My aunt and uncle were farmers, out by Lake Castell. We used to spend summers there when I was young.” Hawkeye’s voice sounds echoey, and is coming from about a foot to the south of where it ought to be. She’s doubled over again.
Roy shakes his head, hoping to clear it, and drags his attention away from the furry river monster. “Lieutenant, are you feeling alright?” he asks, hoping it isn’t overstepping. It somehow hadn’t occurred to him that she too might be hungover; he’s been too wrapped up in his own misery, and she’s been so sharp and controlled all morning. Although, come to think of it, she was very focused on keeping her eyes forward on the bus.
“No,” she says to the floor, then straightens up, squares her shoulders, and starts off down the far slope of the bridge without looking at him. “The Elrics’ place should be just behind this hill, sir.”
What happens next is so completely beyond Roy's capacity to comprehend that he decides about five minutes into the whole experience that he's still drunk, or maybe there were murderers earlier and the afterlife has a more twisted sense of humour than he expected.
Instead of two dangerously out of control alchemists in need of guidance, recruitment and/or immediate termination, they find two-thirds of a small boy, a slightly larger girl, an elderly woman with coke bottle glasses and a wizened turnip for a face claiming to be a surgeon, and an independently-mobile suit of armour, which is apparently the maimed boy's younger brother.
It's definitely the right address, and the small girl keeps calling the boy Ed, so Roy at first makes the (under the circumstances) logical assumption that these are the sons of one of the Elric brothers and that they got caught up as collateral damage in the human transmutation.
When the old woman sets him right on this point, he feels his brain lose power in real time. He shoots a panicked glance at Hawkeye, only to find that she isn't there. Through the doorway he can see two blonde heads on a bench in the hall, and hear the quiet hum of normal conversation. Which means he’s on his own.
Roy knows the law down to his bones. Regulation 32[a] iii. of the Alchemy - Control and Education Act (1894) stipulates that the Amestrian state has the right to draft into service with immediate effect any alchemist shown capable of lethal force. Regulation 32[a] iv. of the Alchemy - Control and Education Act (1894) states that any alchemist shown capable of lethal force who resists service faces termination.
Neither of those seem wholly appropriate given the circumstances. There are, presumably, discretionary options available, but those would require critical thinking skills, and right now Roy is flat out of those. He wishes with some desperation that literally any other officer in the entirety of Amestris was in his shoes right now, and also that the turnip woman would stop looking at him as if she can see a list of his precise mental, physical and emotional frailties tattooed on his forehead.
“Join the military,” he tells the maimed child, and then leaves.
He makes it most of the way down the hill from the house before he realises he forgot his Lieutenant, and part of the way back up it again before she appears at the front door looking decidedly grey.
“Well,” he says. “That didn’t go according to plan.”
Hawkeye looks at him with disgust. “Can we please get some breakfast.”
According to General Grumman, who truly knows the region under his command inside out and provided them with an abundance of friendly tips, there’s a very fine café to be found on the square in Resembool proper, so that’s where they head next. It turns out to be the only café in Resembool, which they discover after walking the entire circumference of the square, then up and down the length of the one main street that makes up the town centre. The sign above the door declares, in curly purple writing, that the establishment is called Auntie’s Buns and Bakes . Roy does not want to go inside.
Hawkeye, however, strides straight up to the door and in. Roy follows her, confronted by the reality that his other option is sitting on the side of the fountain and hoping that the scudding clouds don’t follow through on their heavy threat of rain. One of the things Roy still can’t get used to about the east of Amestris is how quickly the weather can turn.
The interior of the café is a crowded, chintzy nightmare, the walls manic with hand-painted signs, embroidered samplers and other garish handicrafts, evenly split between floral patterns and twee encouraging sentiments about how life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass so much as dancing in the rain, which is falling heavily outside by the time they’ve manoeuvred their way to a corner table festooned with a fussy crochet centrepiece. Roy wonders whether hurling himself headfirst into the fountain and waiting to drown would be an acceptable alternative.
A perky blonde teenager with solid forearms and ruddy cheeks bounces up to them with a menu. Roy doesn’t even look at the food, and a quick skim of the back confirms his suspicions: the closest thing to a smoothie available is Auntie’s Homemade Cherryade. “A pot of coffee and a large jug of water, please.”
Hawkeye slides the menu across the table. “Make that two pots of coffee. I’ll get the full cooked breakfast with scrambled eggs, extra mushrooms, extra potato bread and a side of toast. Oh, and is that carrot cake on the big stand by the till?”
Roy feels himself boggle openly. The waitress looks faintly impressed, too. “Carrot and orange, miss. It’s really good.”
Oh, so they do have fruit and vegetables here. They just turn them into cakes, or fry them.
“Slice of that too, please.”
The waitress bustles off, swinging her sturdy frame with practiced ease between the cramped tables. A silence descends over their corner again. It definitely feels awkward to Roy. At some point they really are going to have to talk about last night, and usually he doesn’t have a problem facing up to his conquests and setting them straight about future expectations, except this isn’t a conquest - this is Hawkeye. And as far as setting things straight goes, it’s Roy who’s all in a muddle. Hawkeye has a functioning memory of events, and now she’s refusing to acknowledge them, and Roy does not have sufficient data points to figure out how much of this is because last night was a relationship-destroying fiasco of unspeakable proportions, and how much is the fault of the hangover.
They’ve been drunk together before, is the other thing. Very drunk. Usually with others for backup, and never to the point where Roy’s blacked out, but he’s watched Hawkeye throw up into a paper cup and go right on drinking, and she’s seen him stumble over his own trousers and swan dive into an intimate relationship with Havoc’s coffee table after losing a round of strip poker. So for that matter, she’s seen him drunk and naked before.
The waitress interrupts his reverie with the coffee and water. It’s good coffee, strong and rich and nutty, and he feels strength returning to his limbs as he sips it. Hawkeye’s hunched over her cup like she’s trying to touch the bottom with her nose, so Roy looks at the menu for something to do. He should probably eat something, but everything on there is a blend of carbs and grease, or carbs and sugar, or sugar and grease, and for all his stomach’s feeling less tender, he doesn’t think it’d survive that kind of onslaught. What he really wants is a glass of ice cold tomato juice with plenty of chilli and lemon and black pepper. Maybe a poached egg. He pours himself a glass of water. It has a distinct earthy taste to it, but at least it’s cold.
He still hasn’t come up with a good way to approach the topic by the time Hawkeye’s monstrosity of a breakfast arrives, on three separate plates. The smell of hot grease is claggy in his throat.
“Lieutenant,” he starts once again, picking his moment so that she’s prevented from cutting him off by an enormous forkful of egg. “We do need to have a conversation about last night.”
She makes a choking noise, glares, and jabs her fork frantically in his direction, which seems like a threat until he realises she’s stabbing it at the water jug and also turning pink. He pours her a glass, feeling very much not for the first time today that things are going badly and wondering if he should offer to thump her on the back. Fortunately, she recovers fairly quickly. Less fortunately, she doesn’t look any happier with him.
“Right now the only thing I need is food and coffee, and I’d prefer it if I could get through the experience unmolested. Sir.”
Roy finds his flimsily-assembled composure and also his pride crumbling. ‘Unmolested’ is highly disconcerting, but the ‘sir’ is a particularly crushing blow. They may not be on first name terms as a rule, but at this point that’s entirely a matter of habit and the fact that they are in fact coworkers with a technical power differential than because they’re not friends. In fact, Roy very much thought they were friends. Across the table, Hawkeye seems oblivious to the fallout as she demolishes a grilled tomato.
A small mountain of egg, two rashers of bacon and a slice of toast later she resurfaces, looking and sounding a little more human. There’s a speck of tomato sauce at the corner of her mouth and a spark of life in her eyes.
“I’m going to order a second pot of coffee and one of those horrendous marshmallowy things and then we can talk, alright? You sure you don’t want any food?”
“I think I’ll wait until there’s no more bus travel ahead of me.”
Hawkeye nods, summons and dispatches the waitress to bring more coffee, then squares up to Roy.
“Talk,” she says, which isn’t reassuring. Roy still hasn’t the least idea where to begin, and he’s acutely aware all of a sudden that they’re in the middle of a crowded café, dressed in full uniform, mid-morning on a Thursday.
After a long silence, Hawkeye starts buttering a piece of toast and Roy realises he’s being pathetic. He is a grown man who has done many, many things in his life much harder than this conversation with far less effort. He still drops his voice before saying, “Last night, we had sex.”
Hawkeye looks up at him with dead eyes and says drily, “Yes, I’m aware.”
Roy finds himself at a loss, and also vaguely annoyed at Hawkeye, which probably isn’t fair to her, but she’s giving him nothing . All morning, he’s been navigating his way around a whirlpool in his stomach and a chasm in his memory and he’s trying to do the right thing here but it’s very hard to plot a course of action when he genuinely doesn’t know what he’s dealing with.
She picks up her toast and crunches decisively down. “Sir,” she says around a mouthful, “I feel like I’m missing something here. It’s hardly like either of us hasn’t had a mediocre one-night stand before. Are you always like this the next morning?”
Roy’s sense of aggravation increases. “I don’t believe I’ve ever found myself in a comparable situation, Lieutenant.” The words come out clipped and formal, because they always do when he’s annoyed, but internally he’s spluttering. Mediocre one-night stand indeed. Hawkeye just looks at him. “Typically I don’t engage in drunken hookups with subordinate colleagues, nor do I make a habit of sleeping with people I’ve known since they were fifteen years old, or of waking up with almost no memory whatsoever of what happened the previous evening.”
She keeps looking at him, but something in her face changes. It’s hard to tell whether it’s an improvement. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
“I’m pretty much blank from about five minutes after we started in on the liquor,” he says, making an involuntary face. Hawkeye’s eyebrows shoot upwards and her lips pinch in.
“So you don’t remember challenging the entire bar to a game of darts on my behalf, then.” Roy stares blankly. “Don’t worry, I won. Although the prize was more shots, so maybe not.” There really isn’t anything to say to that.
Hawkeye, looking unfazed, finishes her piece of toast and tops up her coffee. “Alright then, if it’ll stop you having whatever kind of existential crisis this is,” she says with an expansive gesture that indicates she still doesn’t really understand why Roy’s so distressed, “I’ll give you a rough outline of events, and then I’m going back to only knowing things about your sex life that I can’t avoid hearing in the break room, and you’re going back to not knowing if I have one. Fair?”
Roy nods, torn between the enormous relief that he hasn’t precipitated a major life crisis for either of them, and fear of the looming wave of mortification that may be about to break over his head.
“We were both pretty far gone by the time we got back to the hotel,” says Hawkeye, moving on from toast to carrot cake, “and when I took my shirt off you sort of went ‘wow’ and stared right at my chest, and I thought ‘you know what, why not?’” She scoops a clump of frosting off the plate with a finger. “And then we had sex.”
That isn’t exactly the gory details. Nothing that tells Roy how he ended up with one missing sock, or whether any of it was any good, or what exactly went on, although if he said ‘wow’ to Riza Hawkeye’s breasts - although it might well have been her biceps - then maybe he doesn’t want to know any more.
“Oh,” he says lamely, and grabs his coffee cup before he can say something stupid like how was it? It’s empty. “How was it?”
She gives him a calculating look that he recognises immediately, one he knows well from the inside. It’s a look that says do you want me to let you down easy? , which is at once unsurprising and more than a little insulting. Then she snorts and shakes her head. “Seriously, you should eat something. Get some toast at least, the bread’s really good.”
There’s no return bus until the early evening, so they stay in the café for another hour, Roy determinedly laundering off his lingering awkwardness via coffee refill and Hawkeye mowing through another slab of carrot cake and a mysteriously green-tinged chocolatey square that she tries very hard to force him to sample. Roy dodges that bullet, but he caves to common sense and orders some toast, and they discuss what the hell they’re going to do about the pair of pre-teen alchemists they just abandoned. Hawkeye’s all for going back there in the afternoon, except neither she nor Roy can come up with a sensible plan of action; there’s absolutely no question of reporting this to anyone higher up. Roy’s current plan, inasmuch as he has one, is to formally submit the report that there are no adult Elrics at all; that won’t last, but it’s all he’s got right now. In the end they decide that in the short term, leaving them alone is probably the right thing to do. If they don’t hear anything, they’ll send someone back out to check on them in a year or two.
Roy and Hawkeye are no strangers to killing time, but while Hawkeye may be perfectly happy parking herself on the bench in the bus shelter and blankly staring her way into a peaceful fugue state for seven hours, Roy wants to at least stretch his legs and breathe fresh air before they’re shut back into that square-wheeled bus and sent careering back through those fucking fields of slurry. The rain stops, so they take a short walk to one of Grumman’s other recommendations, a ruined fortress on the riverbank that predates the founding of Amestris. It’s beautiful, a silent testament to a lost people in its still-standing arches, and they wander around it looking up at the plants that have taken hold in the cracked mortar, reclaiming the land. The light streams in through high, empty windows and the air smells clean and damp.
Roy climbs a wall to get a better look at the landscape, and Hawkeye joins him. For a while they perch up there, looking out at the vast horizon, until the clouds roll in again and Roy finds that getting down from walls in dress shoes and a long coat is a lot harder than getting up. Hawkeye lends him a hand, and only laughs a little bit. Roy tentatively concludes that even if he's not yet fully forgiven - not so much for last night as for how he’s been this morning - then at least they seem to be headed in that direction. A few more dents to his ego are an acceptable price to pay.
It rains on them as they walk back to the town. Roy’s sockless foot starts to drive him mad again, the skin scraped raw by wet leather, so he confesses his missing sock to Hawkeye, and she laughs at him some more and tries to persuade him to go barefoot. She never used to laugh at him, or at all really, but something in her has loosened, and maybe something in Roy too, because he doesn’t feel any irritation at her open amusement. He is, after all, squelching through the countryside in a torrential downpour and full military dress, minus one sock, having suffered the dual indignities of an administrative cock-up and the aftereffects of fully six shots of local moonshine.
There’s still an hour to kill until the bus arrives when they make it back into Resembool, but some kind of small market has sprung up in the square and the rain has eased to a drizzle. Roy stops to buy a bottle of cloudy apple juice and a bag of plums from a fruitseller while Hawkeye, demonstrating yet more hidden depths to her stomach, makes a beeline for a stall that smells of frying meat. When Roy catches up with her, she thrusts a vast paper cone into his hands.
“That’s for you, and I don’t want to hear a word about it except ‘thank you Riza for this delicious food’. You’ve got to be starving by now.”
Roy looks down into the paper. Some kind of bread parcel, packed with strips of glistening grilled meat and about seven different salads and pickles and sauces, is oozing gently onto a giant stack of chips. The smell makes his mouth water as he realises how hungry he is. “Thank you Riza for this delicious food,” he says in an obedient monotone.
They sit on the side of the fountain, where they can see down the road to the bus stop, and eat in silence for a few minutes until Roy drops a fat glob of garlic sauce down the front of his coat. He swears vigorously. Riza turns to him, stares, and says, “Wow.” Then she bursts out laughing, and hands him a napkin.
“You know,” says Roy, scrubbing impotently at the creamy stain on his chest, “I think it’s very likely that I was talking about your arms. They’re very impressive.”
Riza snorts. “I hate to break it to you, but it was definitely not about my arms. Although thank you, I appreciate the compliment. That’s going to need to be dry cleaned.”
Roy grimaces and abandons his efforts. Now they’re back on the topic, he can’t quite let it pass without asking. “Was it really that bad?”
Riza snorts again, but with less derision than in the café. “I mean,” she says, stealing the bottle of juice without asking, “I got what I wanted eventually. It just took a while to persuade you to stop, you know. Trying.”
The sputtering noise Roy makes is only mostly because his mouth is full of pickled cucumber. Riza continues in a thoughtful tone, crumpling her empty paper wrapper and grubby napkins: “It seemed like you really wanted to show me a good time but your motor skills weren’t exactly all there, and you kept saying you didn’t want me to think you were lazy and expected me to do all the work.”
“I regret being born,” says Roy. “Give me back my apple juice.”
She hands it to him, stealing a couple of chips as she does, then hops down from the lip of the fountain. Roy watches her cross the square towards a bin, then get diverted by a crêpe stand. She shrugs a question at him, and he shakes his head, holding up his half-full paper cone in one hand and a plum in the other.
It's getting dark now. Lights flick on in the upper floors of the buildings that surround the square and Roy just sits there, letting the rhythm of the small town unfold around him. Now that he's no longer wishing for death, he can see the appeal of the place. People stop and talk to one another, and there are children dashing about unattended. There's no smell of diesel or engine noise. He'd never be able to stand it for long, but there's a certain charm to it, he supposes.
Riza appears at his elbow looking delighted with her pancake, which is stacked with fresh cream and strawberries.
"Bus should be along shortly. We should go wait in the shelter." She spears a strawberry with the tiny wooden fork and holds it out to him. "You looking forward to explaining the haunted suit of armour to Grumman?"