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Another vignette dealing with how Roy brings about the solution to the problem he faces at the end of the manga and Brotherhood. Spoilers below the cut, for those who haven't read/seen it yet!

Continued from Vignette #1: Scot Free?


What Doth it Profit a Man?


What doth it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?


Riza pushed open the side door of the small warehouse, noting with approval that the faint light from inside barely extended beyond the pavement where she and Roy stood. It wasn’t absolutely crucial that tonight’s activities be kept secret, but it would still be better if they weren’t disturbed until they were finished.

“Just step straight ahead a few paces, sir,” she instructed. Roy obeyed, walking into the entry chamber, leaving enough room for her to slip in behind him. Shutting the door, she took hold of the man’s arm and led him through the doorway into the large storage area in the back half of the warehouse.

Falman and Breda had found the abandoned place, and Fuery had arranged for lanterns, since there was no power in the building. He himself hadn’t arrived yet, but the other two had arranged the lanterns in a circle on the bare concrete floor, and were almost finished lighting them.

Havoc, meanwhile, who was still in his chair, only just having begun his healing work with a small portion of the Philosopher’s Stone that Roy had reserved for it, had arranged for sandwiches.

Roy burst out laughing at the announcement, oblivious to the light gradually spreading around him as the lamps were lit. “So you think we’re going to need a lot of nourishment tonight, do you, Jean?”

Havoc chuckled. “Well, it can’t hurt. Who knows how long it’ll take?”

Riza walked to the centre of the lit circle, footsteps echoing across the cold floor, and Roy went with her, a hand on her shoulder. As she reached the chair in the middle, beside the table laden with sandwich fixings, she took the Colonel’s hand and placed it on the back of the chair. “You can sit here, sir,” she told him.

For a moment he put his hand back on her shoulder. “Thank you,” he murmured. “For everything. For being my eyes and more, the last couple of weeks.” His fingers found a few tendrils of her hair and twined themselves in them.

Riza smiled, her cheeks shading to a light pink as Havoc grinned at her. “I’m just doing my job,” she answered lightly.

“Oh, much more than that,” Roy smiled. “and I learned a few things, down there in the tunnels. Things are going to be different for us,” he added softly, “as soon as I get this business over with. I promise.”

Before she could reply, he reached again for the chair back, and manoeuvred himself around the chair so he could sit down. “Any sign of Fuery yet?” he wondered.

“Still at the hospital, as far as I know.” Breda straightened up, the last lantern lit on his side of the circle. The light from below cast heavy shadows from his cheeks to cover his eyes.

“I hope he brings good news about Alphonse,” Roy remarked, oblivious to the ghoulish appearance of his subordinate.

“He said Ed sounded pretty positive when he called.”

Roy nodded. Alphonse’s condition had been a constant worry for all of them in the two weeks since the fall of Fuhrer Bradley and the saving of the country. Al’s restored body had been so frail that its systems had almost immediately begun trying to shut down. The thought that the boy might finally have come out of his coma had been exciting enough that Roy had despatched Fuery off to the hospital to get news.

“So Colonel.” Havoc edged his chair closer, one of the small wheels ringing as it moved. “How about a little refreshment while we wait?”

“Why not?” Roy chuckled. “Can’t let your catering go to waste. Riza, will you make me something?”

She paused, eyebrows raised. Getting this man to accept help with anything in the last two weeks had sometimes been a monumental task. But Havoc flashed her a wink. “Better grab your chance, Hawkeye,” he said. “The Colonel’s not going to be this helpless again for a long time.”

“Havoc…,” Falman chided, his own lanterns now fully lit.

“Oh, don’t worry about Jean,” Roy chuckled again. “I’m as helpless as he is, so he can get away with it. For another hour or so, anyway.”

Riza quickly took a small plate and put together a sliced chicken sandwich with all the fixings (except pickles; Roy wasn’t fond of those), and by the time she set the plate at his left hand, the others had descended on the rest of the sandwich supplies.

“Thank you,” Roy said, as she placed his hand on the finished product. He took a bite or two and listened as the others worked their way around the table, putting their own refreshments together.

“Colonel,” Falman wondered, as he settled on a chair across the circle, “what exactly is going to happen when you get back to the Gate?”

Roy crossed one ankle over the other knee, setting his plate on it, unaware of Hawkeye’s glance of alarm at its precarious position. “One of two things are likely to happen,” he said, swallowing another bite of sandwich. “The Gate could simply reject my attempt to get my sight back. In which case…” He shrugged. “Or it could give me what I ask for. That’s what I’m expecting, since I’ve got the stone. But that’s when it could get tricky.”

Falman frowned. “What do you mean?” He began a methodical journey of bites across the leading edge of his sandwich.

“It’s this whole business of equivalent exchange,” Roy explained. “Even with the stone…well, I may not have enough to exchange. There’s always a price. Look what Ed gave up, to get Al back completely.”

His four companions watched him as he took another bite of his sandwich, chewing slowly, a thoughtful frown on his face as his empty eyes seemed to stare at the far wall. It had been so hard getting used to the blankness in his gaze, the past two weeks. It would be so good to see that direct stare focused on them again. If it could be done without putting him in jeopardy.

It was Falman, of course, who asked the question they were all afraid to ask. “What if the price is too high, sir?”

Roy swallowed his bite of sandwich, his head swivelling toward the sound of the other man’s voice. “Then I’ll stay as I am,” he said. His tone dropped lower as he set his food back onto the plate. “But remember this, Falman – all of you. We’re still in crisis. It’s going to take a while to clean up the chaos in the country, and re-establish a viable government. This is the best chance we have to try to direct the government away from military rule and make it more democratic. Unfortunately, I don’t think General Armstrong sees it that way. And if I’m kicked out of the military because I’m blind, I lose whatever clout I’ve got in the cleanup and reorganization. I basically lose everything we’ve all worked for, all these years.” He picked up the sandwich again. “So frankly, there are very few prices I’ll consider too high, to get my sight back. And whatever I have to pay – whether it’s a limb, like Ed paid, or some other physical thing – the situation in the country right now is too important not to pay it. Almost any price will be acceptable. Remember that.” And he took another bite.

Breda finished off his own sandwich, watching the Colonel in silence. Riza and Havoc shared a long look until Havoc shrugged and gave her a small, encouraging smile. She nodded with a tight smile of her own, and finished eating her own meal. She wasn’t sure she really had an appetite for it, but perhaps the communal ritual mattered more than other things right now. Whatever happened when Roy went to the Gate, they were all in this with him.

A few minutes later, he set his plate back on the table. “Well,” he said, “I think I’ll get started. I know Fuery isn’t back yet, but I don’t want to wait any longer. It’s more important that he is where he is.”

“Right,” Breda said. “What do you need us to do? Anything?”

Roy stood up. “How about clearing the table and chairs out of the circle, and then standing back yourselves? I know I don’t need to draw an array any more, but just in case anything ‘spills over’, I’d prefer you all to be at a safe distance.”

Riza moved Roy’s chair outside the lantern circle as the others removed theirs, but she returned to his side as Falman and Breda carried the table away between them. “What else do you need?” she asked. “I hate to leave you standing here all alone.”

Again he set a hand on her shoulder, his thumb lightly rubbing against her neck. “I’m afraid that’s how this has to be done,” he said. “Alone.” He turned a warm smile toward her, and his voice lowered. “But when it’s done, and I’ve come back,” he murmured, “I want you right there with me. I want your face to be the first thing I see when open my eyes.”

Riza set her hand over his, the pulse in her neck beating heavily under his hand. “I’ll be here,” she whispered. “Nothing could ever prevent that.”

Roy nodded and drew back. Even without any expression in his eyes, his companions could see his attention shifting. His jaw tightened and his brows lowered, as he began to prepare himself for the upcoming task. He pulled the red stone out of his pocket as Riza began to back away. “Stay right in front of me,” he reminded her, “so I can see you.”

“I’ll be here, sir,” she assured him, stepping back between two of the lanterns directly in front of him.

Havoc had wheeled his chair to position himself to Roy’s left, while Breda and Falman stood to his right and behind him. “Good luck, Roy,” Havoc said. “We’re all with you.”

“Thanks, everyone,” Roy nodded. “I can’t tell you how glad I am that you’re all here. Well.” He squared his shoulders, the lantern light gleaming from the buttons on his uniform. “Might as well get this over with.” He stuck the stone between his front teeth to free his hands, and at last brought his palms together. The sharp clapping sound reverberated off the walls as a brilliant glow sprang into being and enveloped his form. Seconds later, the glow vanished, leaving his four subordinates blinking around the bright spots in their eyes. It was evident to all of them that Roy, too, had vanished.

“So,” Breda said, rubbing his hands along the sides of his pants, “what do we do now?”

“We wait, of course,” Havoc answered. “I forgot to ask how long he thought this would take.”

“Maybe he didn’t know, anyway,” Riza offered from her side of the circle. She still hadn’t taken her eyes from the spot where Roy had stood. “Maybe time doesn’t move in the same way at the Gate.”

“Well, I hope it doesn’t take too long,” Breda said. “The longer it takes, the more likely it is that something’s going wrong.”

The talk died away and they fell briefly silent, each one of them in his or her individual quadrant of the circle. And they waited. And waited. None of them dared to check their watches; they seemed to recognize that they’d discover that it had only been two minutes since Roy had disappeared, even if it felt like twenty. But all four of them stared at the spot in the centre of the circle as though their concentration would bring Roy back sooner than otherwise.

Falman shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Maybe we can have another sandwich while we wait,” he suggested. The table with its goodies had been moved behind him when it was taken from the circle. He himself made no move toward it, however.

Breda grimaced. “I don’t really feel like eating right now.”

“Well, that’s a first,” Havoc grinned across the circle at him.

“Very funny.”

Again the silenced stretched out, almost tangibly, as they waited for some change in the circle. Somewhere in the empty building, they heard a light pop, as though a wooden beam were responding to the cooling temperatures in the night outside. A light wind hissed through a slightly open window high up in the wall behind Riza. It hadn’t been entirely warm in here to start with, and it seemed the warehouse might get even colder if they stayed too long. At the moment, though, the heat from the lanterns was providing a balance to the lowering temperatures.

After several moments, it was again Falman, in an unexpectedly talkative frame of mind, who broke the silence. “I wonder…,” he mused. “Maybe we should have brought something to prepare for…whatever the Colonel might have to lose in exchange for his sight.”

Riza frowned across the circle at him, biting her lip, and Breda demanded, “Like what?”

Falman shrugged uneasily. “I don’t know. A tourniquet, maybe. Another wheelchair. I don’t know.”

“That wouldn’t be good,” Havoc said. “The last thing we need is two of us in wheelchairs.”

“Well,” Falman shrugged. “After he mentioned Ed and his lost limbs, I just…wondered. Maybe we’ll need to get him to a hospital.”

“It’s not too far,” Riza said. “And we have two vehicles. I’m sure he won’t allow a choice that puts him in such a desperate situation.”

“If he’s given the choice,” Breda remarked. “He wasn’t when the Gate took his eyes.”

“He didn’t have the stone then,” Havoc reminded him.

“Right. That probably makes a difference.”

“As though we really know anything about it,” Falman muttered under his breath.

Again the silence, broken only by the faint whispering wind past the upper window, and the creaking sound as one or the other of them shifted their feet. When the outside door banged open and Fuery rushed in, his hair all over the place from the wind, four heads turned quickly toward him as though in gratitude for the interruption. The young man took everything in with a sweeping glance.

“He’s already started, hasn’t he?” This, shrugging off his overcoat and dropping it in a folded pile on the floor. “I hoped I wasn’t that late. I wanted to wish him luck.”

“Everything okay at the hospital?” Havoc asked.

“It’s better than okay,” Fuery beamed. “Al isn’t just awake, but he’s ravenous. It looks like his body’s decided to live, and now he wants to eat everything in sight. And he’s not allowed, until they work their way up from mush to solid food. It could take days, maybe weeks.” He laughed. “It was so funny, listening to Ed trying to be the reasonable brother, and Alphonse grumbling.”

Havoc chuckled. “It’s a shame we had to miss that. Can’t wait to see it for myself.”

“The Colonel will be glad to hear about this,” Falman said.

“How long has he been…well, gone?” Fuery asked, patting down his hair.

Breda snorted. “I think we’ve all been scared to look at our watches. It feels like hours.”

“I’m sure it’s just been a few minutes,” Riza added. “But it’s starting to feel like he’s been gone forever.” She frowned. “I hope everything’s going well.”

“Are those sandwiches?” Fuery exclaimed. “I didn’t have any supper – I’m starving!” He rushed over to the table behind Falman, grabbed a plate, and began throwing a quick sandwich together for himself.

“Hold your horses, there,” Havoc laughed. “It’s not like the food’s going anywhere.”

“I’m sure I’m not as hungry as I think I am,” Fuery agreed cheerfully, not slowing his pace in any way. “It’s probably the effect of listening to Al grumbling about food for the past hour. I’m still going to eat, though.”

As Falman turned and began to chat with him, munching idly on a pickle, Riza and Havoc exchanged another smiling glance. But almost immediately, a wave of static jolted through the room, tickling across the skin and threatening to lift the hair from their heads. The floor in the center of the circle burst into a bright white glow, but this time, Riza had the presence of mind to snap her eyes shut. When the glow began to shade to a light pink and then to a dull red, at least that meant her vision was protected from the worst of it. And as the light finally faded altogether, she saw that the Colonel had reappeared, down on one knee, one hand on the floor for support and the other pressed to his bowed head.

All of the conversation cut off instantly. Riza rushed forward, heart pounding, and crouched in front of Roy. The fringe of his hair stuck out under his hand and obscured his eyes. She couldn’t see – and she wasn’t sure whether she should ask –

And when he slowly lifted his head and lowered his hand, and she saw the tears streaking the cheeks below his closed eyes, her throat closed and she was no longer even capable of asking.

Finally she managed to breathe tightly, “Colonel?” A pause. “Roy…?”

He turned his head. And his eyes flew open, staring directly at Havoc. “Lieutenant Havoc,” he said crisply. “Report.”

Havoc’s smile died on his face as he looked from Roy to Riza and back again, his lips silently repeating the word. Report? He cleared his throat. “Well, uh…nothing has changed since you left. Sir. That is…” His shoulders hunched a little under the cold, piercing stare. His eyes darted to the side. “Well, there is good news from the hospital.”

“That’s right, sir,” Fuery smiled, stepping closer, one hand full of sandwich. “Alphonse is awake, and it looks like he’s going to be all right. He’s got a long road ahead of him, but that will only – “

“Thank you, Master Sergeant, I get the picture.”

“So what happened, Colonel?” Breda blurted. “Did it work?”

Roy stood in one movement and turned toward him, fixing that unblinking stare on his face in turn. “Clearly it did, Lieutenant Breda.” Riza stood up behind him, watching the exchange.

“And – and did you have to – give up anything?” the other man plowed gamely on against the dark glare. “What happened at the…you know?”

“That’s irrelevant, and none of your business. The important thing is that I’ve got my sight back, and we have work to do. Now that this is taken care of, I can keep working my way to the Fuhrer’s office. We’ll get started tomorrow. If Olivia Armstrong thinks she’s going to get in my way, I plan to show her a few surprises. Meanwhile, Master Sergeant, Fuery…,” the Colonel turned to face him.

“Y-yes, sir?” the young man faltered.

“While I realize it’s marginally useful to know what happened to Alphonse Elric, you could easily have gained that information later. From now on, when our unit is engaged in a crucial operation, I expect you to be here, and not chasing after unimportant peripheral matters. Is that understood?”

Fuery’s mouth dropped open. “But you…you sent me…”

Understood, Master Sergeant?”

Fuery swallowed and straightened, his colour rising. “Understood, Colonel Mustang.”

“Good. Now let’s go. As I said, we have work to do.”

As he turned on his heel as though to head for the door, Riza interrupted with a blunt, “Sir. Wait a minute.”

He stopped where he was, his back to her. “What?” he demanded impatiently.

She took a breath. “When you first came back from the Gate…there were tears on your face. There still are. I think we need to know why.”

He half turned toward her, lifting a hand to touch one of his cheeks, then pulling it away and staring at his fingers. Streaks of moisture still gleamed faintly on his skin in the flickering lantern light. Riza held her breath as he frowned in concentration, uncertainty flickering momentarily in those cold, cold eyes. Then he wiped the tears from his cheeks with a quick sweep of both hands. “Never mind. It was nothing significant. Let’s not let ourselves become distracted again. It’s time to go.”

And once again the Colonel turned his back on Riza, striding from the room and through the outer door. His five subordinates stood in silence, looking at each other.

“’Marginally useful”?” Fuery breathed, his eyes wandering in bewilderment to the doorway, the sandwich forgotten in the hand hanging limp at his side.

“Hawkeye,” Havoc said quietly, drawing her eyes to him. “We’re in big, big trouble. Aren’t we?”

She stared wide-eyed at his pale face, where two patches of fevered pink blotched his cheeks. She opened her mouth as though to answer, but could only shrug, her hands open helplessly at her sides. She turned and walked through the door after the Colonel, leaving the others to follow.

Continue to Vignette #3: All the Time in the World

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May 2012

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