It was 16:00 hours on a Friday afternoon, and while there was work on the General's desk, it wasn't getting done. Roy Mustang spun his chair idly to face the window behind him. The view beyond it was of Central City. Finally.
He'd been stationed back in the capital city for just six months, not long enough to take it for granted. The Reconstruction of Ishval had gone on for four long years, but it had finally reached conclusion. Infrastructure, industry, and commerce had been returned to the region in greater proportion than they had before the war. The survivors of the nation had been reassembled (except for those who preferred to remain in other parts of Amestris now that they were recognized as full citizens).
Hospitals, schools, religious centers, and community services had been restored, all with better funding. Ishval was coming alive again, and while there was still more to be done, the project no longer needed his constant supervision. The Ishvalan leaders had things well in hand, and the Amestris government was still committed to a partnership should anything further be needed. Things were coming together. They were being made right.
Roy didn't consider his role in the Ishval restoration to be complete absolution for the wrongs he'd committed against those people, but he had to admit he rested easier at night than he had in a long time.
He spun slowly back to face the front of his office. The door was closed (otherwise he wouldn't have been so brave as to visibly slack off), but he could picture the scene on the other side of it. His loyal staff would be working their way through piles of paperwork, finishing the day's last cup of coffee, sharing the quiet comments and inside jokes that came from years of working together.
While others had been added, he still had his core number to depend on. Their tasks looked somewhat different these days, but his old team still spent a fair amount of time together - in the office and beyond.
Jean Havoc had elected not to re-up with the military after the recovery of his legs. Nevertheless, he'd been instrumental as a civilian contractor of supplies to the Ishval Reconstruction. And he'd frequently joined them there to aid with the effort. Roy knew that this was a mark of the man's loyalty to his former commander and cause. He also knew that the fact that Rebecca Catalina was stationed with them certainly helped draw the general store manager.
Havoc and Catalina had been married for a few years now.
A few of his old subordinates had actually tied the knot in the last several years. Even Fullmetal had married his childhood sweetheart and was living the idyllic family life.
He was happy for them, truly. But every now and then he had to clamp down on an ugly rush of envy for the lives his friends were leading. He'd chosen his path. There was still work to be done.
The phone on his desk rang, giving a welcome distraction from his jealous thoughts. "Mustang," he answered, wondering who would reply.
The responding voice was a familiar one, and though he hadn't seen its owner recently, there was no chance of it going unrecognized. "Hey, Colonel," Edward Elric greeted him, using a rank he'd moved past a long time ago. "How's life in the big city?"
"You'd know if you didn't insist on living in the middle of nowhere," Roy quipped back. "How are you, Fullmetal?"
After some time spent traveling in the west and the neighboring countries of Aerugo and Creta, Ed had retired back to the town he'd grown up in. He and Winry continued to live in Resembool, where she had a booming automail business and where he had been at work writing a book about alchemy. It wasn't quite what Roy would have chosen for himself, but the younger man truly did seem happy out there.
He said as much. "I happen to like the middle of nowhere. I'm going to raise my kids out here." The happiness in his voice was clear even through the phone line. "Speaking of which, I'll see you this weekend, right?"
"I don't know about that," Roy said, eyeing the stack of papers on his desk and deciding already that it could wait awhile. "I can't just run off." It wouldn't do to look too eager. He did have a reputation to maintain as far as the Fullmetal Alchemist was concerned.
Edward played along exactly as he figured. "Come on, you've never had a problem with that before! Besides, we both know Hawkeye is the only reason any work gets done in your office. Ask her if you can take a day, and then bring her with you. My kid needs to meet his aunt and uncle!"
Ed and Winry's first child had been born a few short weeks ago, and the new father had been pestering them to visit since long before the due date. The young man was so excited about his new son, and Roy was reminded of another proud father. This wasn't an invitation he'd really try to refuse.
"I'm sure Al and Mei will be there soon," he replied dryly.
"They sure will!" Ed responded. "But I wasn't talking about Al. Quit stalling and get out here!"
It might have been veiled in insult, but Roy picked up on the sentiment. As much as they never acknowledged any kind of familial connection, the truth was that they were each fixed in the other's life for good. "We'll see what we can do, Fullmetal," he promised.
"And we'll see you soon!"
The door to his office opened as he returned the phone to its place on his desk. His adjutant entered the room with another dreaded stack of paperwork. Her uniform had captain's bars on it these days, but she was still the Riza Hawkeye he'd always known. No one else could have possibly filled the role.
Her hair was long again. At the start of the Reconstruction of Ishval, she'd cut it short. Just the way it had been when they'd entered Ishval the first time. It was a practical choice given the climate, but there had been sentiment at work, too. It was a familiar state, but a fresh slate all the same.
She'd let it grow out during their time in the country, and Roy thought that heralded new beginnings, too.
"How is Edward?" she asked, and she was either uncannily perceptive, or she'd caught the tail end of the conversation. Probably both.
Roy smirked up at her. "In the throes of proud fatherhood. He wants us to visit this weekend." He clasped his hands under his chin. "What do you think, Captain? Can we swing a trip to Resembool?"
Riza was just as fond of the Elric brothers as he was, and she'd certainly admit to a greater level of attachment. All things considered, he didn't anticipate the need for much convincing.
His captain returned his slight smile. "Winry called me to ask the same question yesterday. I think we can manage it." Her smile turned smug as she dropped the papers on his desk. "As long as you get to work now, sir."
The next morning they were on an early train headed east. The ride was a familiar one as a good portion of their military careers had been marked by trips from Central to East City, to Ishval, and not too infrequently, to Resembool.
It wasn't an especially long journey by train, and it was still early in the day when they arrived at the Resembool station. Then they began the trek out to the Elric-Rockbell house. Even though all reports said that the Rockbell Automail Shop was doing well and drawing a steady stream of customers, there was still no one else to be met on the road. Of course, the addition of a new baby may have slowed down the workload for the moment.
Roy didn't even really mind the journey or the inconvenience of a walk. It was a beautiful day with no chance of rain. And these were moments spent with Riza. Very little had changed in their relationship since the events of the Promised Day five years ago. The fraternization laws were still in existence. Someone else still sat in the Fuhrer's seat. Their work was not yet complete.
And he still loved her with his entire soul.
The progress in Ishval was a great encouragement though. Finally, they were seeing some of their plans realized. It gave him hope that their other dreams weren't too far off. They knew what they were to each other, what they'd promised. It just wasn't time for them to live in that truth quite yet. In spite of everything that might be said about him, Roy Mustang was a patient man. And he knew what he was waiting for was worth every moment.
But the wait sometimes seemed rewarded by days alone in each other's company. She was still his bodyguard, and they were both invited guests of the former state alchemist. There was no way anyone could question the propriety of this trip. And so they'd both enjoy it.
As they walked, Roy gazed out at the scenery around them. Rolling green hills stretched out in every direction, topped picturesquely with fuzzy, white sheep. It was beautiful, peaceful, quiet. Such a difference from Central City. "I don't know how Ed manages to live out here," he mused out loud. "It's beautiful, but it's so isolated."
His captain studied the view on her side of the road. "I think that's part of the beauty."
They were silent a moment, considering. Roy's voice was quieter when he said, "I suppose I don't understand how he can come back here. After so many horrible memories in this place."
Resembool was where Ed had grown up. But it was also where he had lost his mother. Where he and Al had lost their bodies. The only home he'd known in his early life had been burned to the ground by their own hand, a reminder that there was nothing to come back to. Roy wasn't sure he would choose to live in a place so permeated with the failures of the past.
Even as he thought that, he remembered that he had returned to Ishval, the site of his own greatest sin. But that was a choice he had to make, a duty he had to fulfill. Ed had no such compulsion here.
"The boys had a difficult childhood here," Riza acknowledged, "Filled with heartbreak and physical pain. But it wasn't all unhappiness." At the end of the lane they could see the Elric-Rockbell home.
Roy cast a sidelong look at his companion. "Would you ever have returned home and made a life there?"
Riza had grown up the only child of a brilliant alchemist slowly descending into obsession and madness. She's spent her formative years largely on her own, learning to fend for herself at a very young age. Eventually, she'd come to be painfully and permanently marked by the man who was supposed to care most for her.
She didn't ever talk about her life before the military. Even between them, they rarely went back that far. It was in the realm of could-have-beens and questions. But sometimes he did wonder.
There was no hesitation in her answer. "Never. I won't pretend that my own childhood was any more terrible than what the Elrics experienced, but there was never anything to call me home. I survived it by moving on. In many ways, Ed and Al did the same." Her gaze returned to the house they approached. "But Winry moved on from the past right here. She made a future for herself in this place. And she was always the reason Ed came home."
"That's true," Roy agreed, smiling at the memory of Ed and Winry's tumultuous teenage courtship. He looked again at Riza. "There was no bright spot for you worth returning to." It was not a question. He knew well the conditions of her childhood.
Riza nodded, facing forward. "The only light in my childhood never returned there." Now she did turn her eyes to him. "So I followed him instead."
Her tone was matter-of-fact, but the words themselves and the meaning behind them were tender. Roy was about to respond in kind, a few words of gratitude and reciprocation disguised as offhand comments. But he never got the chance because they'd reached the porch, and their presence had been noticed.
The door flew open, and Edward Elric stood there, a massive grin upon his face. "Colonel! You made it!" he cried happily, and Roy rolled his eyes at the misuse of his title.
"Of course we did. And you know full well that it's General." It had only been general for the last five years, but Ed insisted on using the rank he'd first known him in. Of course, Roy returned the favor by still calling him "Fullmetal."
Ed brushed off his correction. "Sure, sure, whatever. How are you, Captain?" It wasn't lost on Roy that the younger man made sure to get Hawkeye's rank right.
He watched his subordinate embrace the former state alchemist. Ed was a little stiff in the hug, still a bit uncomfortable with displays of affection, but he relaxed into it. Sometimes it still startled Roy that Ed was now taller than his adjutant. But then, they were coming to meet his child. The young man really had grown up, and it was clear that he was happy to see them both.
Before anything else could be said, Winry flew through the door. "General! Miss Riza!" She happily shoved her husband out of her path to give Riza a hug.
"Good day, Mrs. Elric," Roy greeted formally, a smirk on his face.
"Cut that out," Winry said turning his way, and he was surprised when she gave him a short, tight hug as well. "I'm so glad you're both here!"
Ed looped an arm around his wife's shoulders and gestured to the door. "Come on in. You'll want to meet the guest of honor."
"Well, I didn't come all this way to see you, Fullmetal."
Roy and Riza followed the Elrics into their home. The scent of apple pie drifted in from the kitchen, but there were undertones of automail grease. The shelves of their family room were lined with books and trinkets from the brothers' travels. Roy spotted a ceramic panda that looked to be a striking match for Xiao May.
It was a welcoming place in sight and smell. A real home.
Winry went to a basinet in the corner and approached with a small bundle of blanket and baby. The new parents both beamed as they showed off their child. Winry turned his tiny body so that the guests could get a look at the newborn's face. Ed started the introductions. "Voila! Meet our kid! This is Zaid Sig Elric."
Ed reached out and gently stroked the hair at the back of his son's head. The automail arm had long since been replaced with flesh and blood, but Roy was struck by the difference, by the reverent tenderness in Ed's touch and the way it was mirrored on his face.
Riza was the first of them to speak. "He's beautiful."
She was right. The baby had his parents' blond hair, and he blinked at the strangers with golden eyes. Roy would have claimed that a three week old was too young to have gained any real resemblance to a family member, but it was like looking at an infant version of Edward Elric. Which was definitely cuter than the defiant pre-teenage version he'd first come in contact with.
Though he didn't consider himself especially sentimental, he had to marvel. This was a tiny, miniature human, perfectly formed. The miracle of life, people said, but he did have a certain appreciation for it. No other power in the world could create something so indescribable.
Roy cleared his throat against those thoughts, though he did nod in agreement with Riza's statement. He turned a look of mock disappointment to Fullmetal. "I didn't even get a middle name, huh?"
Edward's eyes narrowed as he said, deadpan, "I wasn't going to name my kid 'Bastard.'"
"Edward!" Winry screeched at him.
"What?!" Ed screeched back.
Winry rolled her eyes and carried her son to the couch. "Just go make some tea or something. Take the General with you," she directed, beckoning for Riza to join her. Ed smirked, but good naturally turned to do as she asked. "And try not to burn the kitchen down!"
Both men spun around. "Who was that directed at?!"
"What's that supposed to mean?!"
Once in the kitchen, Ed set a kettle to boil. He turned around and leaned against the counter, and Roy felt the other man studying him. They were of an equal height now (something that Roy would do his best to never admit out loud). Ed still wore his hair long and pulled back, though it had been a long time since they'd seen the iconic braid.
"You know, I'm actually glad you came." Ed's voice carried just a touch of mock surprise, but there was some genuineness there.
Roy found a perch on the table across from him and crossed his arms. "I'd hope so. You've only been begging us to make the trip since Winry got pregnant." It was scarcely an exaggeration. Edward had been over the moon at the prospect of being a father. Roy had been on the receiving end of more than one enthusiastic phone call. All of which were bittersweet in their familiarity.
Ed smiled sheepishly and scratched the back of his head. "I'll give you that one. I've been excited."
"You should be," Roy agreed. "Having a child is one of life's greatest celebrations. And adventures." He might have no experience with such things, but that didn't mean he believed it any less.
"Yeah." Ed's next words were quiet, directed at the kitchen floor more than him. "Hope I'm ready for it."
In all those phone calls and letters, Roy would have never guessed that the young man was nervous about becoming a father. But then, even when he was facing down homunculi Ed would have never let anyone think that he was experiencing fear. He'd been wearing a brave face all his life. And now he was letting Roy see past it.
"Of course you are," he reassured him, and it was no platitude or empty word. Roy himself had no fears about Edward Elric turning out to be a truly good father. Then because they couldn't let things get too serious between them, "You've spent the last nine months talking my ear off about how ready you are."
Ed's eyes flashed, and Roy knew he'd taken both the encouragement and the challenge to heart. "Yeah, well, it's a lot of responsibility, you know. I'm not gonna be like my own dad; fatherhood actually means something to me!"
"No one's ever doubted that."
Ed and Al's father had been an integral part of their success on the Promised Day. He'd shown up when the country needed him most, but he'd not been around for his sons' childhood. Roy knew that things with Van Hohenheim were the very definition of complicated, but the fact remained that his children had grown up without him. They'd had to fend for themselves and face heartbreaking loss on their own.
And while Ed had come so far as to refer to Hohenheim as his father, he still refused to be anything like him.
"I guess I just had a lousy example," Ed continued. "I don't even know how to do this right."The blond head lowered, and for a moment it was like seeing the boy he'd first met in this house. He was uncertain and afraid, but fiercely determined to do the right thing.
"I don't know that anybody ever does," Roy said, slowly. "Not really." He was the last person in the world the kid should be asking for advice on fatherhood, but he was the one here now. He was the one Ed was trusting with this.
It was like Ed had heard those thoughts, because he said, "The one guy who looked like he had it totally figured out isn't around to ask."
There was no need to name him aloud. There could be no one else. Maes Hughes hovered like a sentinel over Roy's mind; his best friend was never far from his thoughts. Hughes was still a huge influence in his decisions and his duty. He owed him so much.
He missed him so much.
Hughes really had looked as though he had fatherhood figured out. Most of the military, strangers on the street, and half of Central knew that the man loved his family. And knowing that family as he did, Roy knew that Maes had loved them well. Gracia and Elicia were his world.
His old friend wasn't around to give advice, and that was a truth Roy despised. He found himself speaking in Hughes' place. "I think," he said a little hesitantly, "I know what he'd tell you though."
Roy nodded with greater confidence. He'd known Maes Hughes. He knew the answer to this question. Ultimately, it was a simple one. "Be there. Parenthood can sure be complicated, but I think Hughes had the gist of it down with that. Be there for your kid. For your family. Be proud of them. Be protective of them. Be there with them." He chuckled a little in memory, and while the memories were still sad, they were also proud. "That's what he was always preaching; that's what his entire life looked like lived out. If you're willing to do that, the rest of it will come together eventually."
Ed listened quietly, soaking it in, and that reception more than anything made him feel as though he'd done Hughes' legacy justice. Finally Ed spoke with determination. "I can do that." His golden eyes raised, making a promise to his child in the next room. "I will do it."
"Then you've got nothing to worry about."
The room was quiet again, but Roy could feel some of Ed's fear evaporating. He'd always been that way. Give the boy a mission - something to work toward - and he'd put it before anything else. He'd believe he was capable of making it happen. And Roy had seen him do the impossible.
"You know," Ed started again, his voice less burdened but still serious, "Hughes was probably the best example anyone could imagine, but you didn't do too terrible a job yourself."
Roy's eyes narrowed. "What are you talking about?"
The younger man busied his hands by settling the tea on a tray. He avoided Mustang's eye. "You never pretended to be a father to me and Al, but you were there for us. You kept us from getting killed before we ever got the chance to get our bodies back." He glanced over at Roy. "I never really said it, but thanks for that, I guess."
Ed was right. He'd never pretended to be a father figure to the Elric Brothers. He'd never seen himself in that role, largely because he felt so unqualified for it. But he'd looked after them because they were a part of his team. Because he was the one to drag them into the military. Because they were kids.
And he continued to look after them because … because they were family. It wasn't as straightforward as the caring between a parent and child, but then again, almost none of Roy's familial relationships were established by blood. It was about the people he chose. And a long time ago, he'd chosen Edward and Alphonse. They chose him back. That was family.
He realized that he'd let that go without an answer, and a wary look had crept into Ed's eye. It was fear that he'd said too much, fear that he was about to be rejected again. In a seldom used gesture, Roy laid a hand on Ed's shoulder. "I know how much it must have hurt you to say that," he joked, but his eyes were somber. "You're welcome, Edward."
A smile grew slowly on Ed's face, and while his words brushed it off, he didn't pull back from Roy's touch. "Whatever. So when are you going to take on the job for real? You wouldn't make too awful a dad."
Roy was thrown by the change of topic, but he rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "Now you really sound like Hughes. Got yourself a kid and you think the whole world needs one. I think it might be awhile for me yet. I'm not even married!"
"Yeah, well, when are you going to get around to that?" Ed's grin turned positively wicked. "I know someone who'd be perfect. She's even proved that she can put up with you."
"No small feat, that," Roy acknowledged. The conversation was back to teasing banter, but he was afraid that Ed was still trying to get at something serious. Something he couldn't acknowledge. Not yet.
"So get to it already!"
The best way to end this seemed to be with a tactic he'd been using for years. He held up a stalling hand and let a smug look cross his face. "Hold on. Maybe I have my own bride in mind." He flashed the charming smile that he favored for photo ops or female citizens. "It's not like I don't have options."
He'd expected a different reaction. Disgust. Sarcasm. Maybe even some kind of anger. A younger Edward Elric wouldn't have hesitated to fall into one or more of these categories. But the man beside him just shook his head. Where Roy had expected an explosion, the response was quiet. "You know you're not fooling anyone, right, Mustang? Not around here. I don't know why Hawkeye waits for you."
Out of the corner of his eye, Roy saw Winry join them, likely searching for her absent husband and tea tray. She split a glance between the two of them but stayed quiet.
Roy wanted to turn away, but that would likely be seen as an incriminating move. Instead he met Ed's eyes and heard his voice chill as he said, "Don't be ridiculous, Fullmetal. Captain Hawkeye is my most loyal adjutant. I couldn't possibly risk losing her."
He felt a light touch on his arm, and the kind look in Winry's eyes told him that she'd heard at least part of their conversation. "General, please," she said softly. "We've known since the moment we met you both that there was no one in the world for you but Riza Hawkeye."
Ed slipped an arm around his wife, and his look was filled with pride and love. "Thanks, Win. You made my point exactly." He turned back to Roy. "Don't try and deny that, Mustang."
As if he could. He gaped at the two Elrics. He'd spent years concealing the feelings they spoke of with such frankness. There were certainly others who shared their suspicions, but no one had ever voiced them in his presence. At least not like this. Because when Ed and Winry said it there was no subtle warning or overt threat. They said it in a way that was solely concerned with his and Riza's happiness.
No one had done that since Hughes. And even then, Maes had rarely been bold enough to actually name them both and the feelings that existed between them. Trust Fullmetal to throw precedent to the side.
Winry was speaking again, her voice serious but earnest. "I know there are things that keep you apart, but with us you don't need to pretend. When you're out here with us … well, you can be who you really are."
Who they really were. It had been so long since he'd let himself consider the identities beneath the facade. Was it even possible for them to exist as something other than a general and his loyal captain? Could they be just a man and a woman who had known each other as children? A man and a woman in love?
"I can see there's no convincing you otherwise," he told them, and it was as close to an admission as he could come. He looked at Ed and Winry standing together and felt that surge of jealousy flare up again. But with it this time was a spark of hope. Maybe they were right. He and Riza had waited a long time, but maybe out here in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by friends, was a safe place to be themselves.
Roy returned to the living room, and he took brief note of the excuses the Elrics made to stay behind in the kitchen a moment more. He knew his captain had observed his entrance, but her attention was given over to the baby she held.
Maybe it was the conversation he'd just left, but he couldn't help the feelings that swelled up in his chest as he looked at her. Her blonde hair was pulled back in its customary style, but she was dressed in civilian clothes rather than her military blues, just as he was. Her capable hands cradled the tiny baby who was cooing up at her.
He came to sit beside her. Zaid blinked his golden eyes at Roy, and the general offered the child a finger for his small hand to curl around. Riza shifted her hold on the boy so that he could look up at both of their faces.
Roy noticed Zaid's eyes go back to his captain and let his do the same. "I always forget how good you are with children. You're a natural."
Himself, he had just enough experience with infants not to be absolutely terrified of them. Riza hadn't spent any more time with children than he had; it wasn't exactly a prerequisite in their chosen career. But as in most things, she had a calm confidence when dealing with children. And it was justified. They seemed to like her.
"Such a short memory, General?" she admonished him lightly. "You saw me with Rachel just last week."
Rachel Havoc was a year old now, and given their relationship with the little girl's parents, they saw her relatively often. Roy shrugged. "There have been important things on my mind. Besides, Havoc's kids look like Catalina." He studied her face, noting how relaxed she was, and decided to be a little bolder. He wiggled the finger that Zaid still had a fierce grip on. "With the blond hair and light eyes, this youngster looks like he might be your own."
"I don't know, sir. They say dark hair is the dominant trait."
His heart flooded with love for her. And in a rare moment, he allowed it to show. They were already sitting so closely together. Roy leaned just a little closer and touched his forehead to hers. "Riza," he said, her given name breathed out like a prayer. His eyes closed and he savored this small contact with the woman he loved.
After the barest of moments, Riza pulled away, though he knew she felt the same desire for closeness. Her hazel eyes told him as much even as she grounded him with her voice. "Sir."
He turned his gaze back to the baby she held, watching the boy begin to drift off in peaceful sleep. He gently stroked his tiny fist. "They know," he said simply. No need to say that they'd probably always known. He raised his chin to look at her again. "We shouldn't insult them by pretending otherwise."
Riza was quiet, and he waited. He knew her sharp mind was weighing every facet of what he'd told her. He expected her to reject the notion, but it had needed voiced. It was what both desperately wanted.
Finally, she spoke. Her voice was measured, but he knew her well enough to detect the hint of hope. "It will make it all the more difficult when we head back home."
The fact that it wasn't an outright rejection threw him for a moment. It tossed his heart into a series of acrobatics in his chest. But she was right. As always.
"I know," Roy agreed. "We're not finished yet. I can't yet give you this life - a home together, a child." As he spoke, he nodded to the room around them, to the baby in her arms. Ed and Winry had created a beautiful life together, but the same things just weren't available to them. Not yet. "But maybe here, with these trusted friends, we can steal a few more moments that remind us of that dream."
This time it was her forehead that made contact with his. The gesture was so small, yet so intimate. It was a promise just as surely as her words were. "I'll follow you to that future."
The green monster of jealousy wasn't anywhere to be found. He had everything he'd ever need right here.