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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!

Continue from Vignette #3: What Doth it Profit a Man?

All the Time in the World

This story is only very slightly different in how it conceives the ending of the manga. Roy became Fuhrer almost right away, rather than having Grumman take the post and having to keep working his way up to it.

Hohenheim found him, as predicted, sitting on the grave of Maes Hughes, resting back against the headstone. Every line of his body appeared relaxed, from the arm dangling over one uplifted knee to the slightly curved line of his neck as he leaned the back of his head on the granite behind him. He’d laid his black summer jacket on the grass nearby, and had opened the top two buttons of his white shirt. He’d probably thrown away most of his ties by now.

A light breeze lifted the fringe of his black hair for a moment as Hohenheim, still unnoticed, observed him. But aside from that movement, he was the picture of motionless repose, his exotic dark eyes gazing fixedly at the neatly spaced rows of military headstones across from him. He didn’t look a day older than when Hohenheim had last seen him five years ago, blind and wounded, after the defeat of the one known as Father.

But then, he wouldn’t look older, would he?

Hohenheim stepped lightly on the grass, drawing closer, slinging his own jacket over his shoulder. “I’m glad you’re still here,” he said. “I thought I might have to go hunting for you.”

In an instant, Roy Mustang was on his feet, surging up and stepping behind the grave marker as though instinctively trying to put it between them. His breath catching in his throat, he regarded the newcomer with wide, unbelieving eyes as he gave his head a single shake of refusal. “You!” he gasped. “This is – but you – you’re dead!”

“Fortunately,” the older man answered, his lips quirking up in a wry smile, “that’s turned out not to be the case.”

“But I – I saw your grave. They…buried you.”

“I know. You can imagine how inconvenient that was, when I finally woke up.”

He fell silent as Mustang suddenly leaned both hands on the top of the gravestone, bowing his head, eyes closed, as he took several slow, deep breaths to settle himself. “So,” he managed after a moment, “even Father couldn’t kill you, in the end.” When he finally straightened, he had managed to compose himself again. Yet the pulse in the open “V” of his shirt revealed that he wasn’t nearly as calm as he seemed.

“That’s right,” Hohenheim nodded. “It took a long time to recover – I thought Father might finally have done it – but I’ve been up and around for almost three years now.”

“Ed and Al have never mentioned that.”

“They didn’t know. I transmuted my way out of the coffin and the grave, and took myself off to one of my other homes, to let myself recover. I didn’t want them to see me like that. I only just went to see them again before I came here a couple of weeks ago.”

A raised eyebrow. “So long? I can’t imagine they were very pleased at having been left in the dark all this time.”

Or, Hohenheim thought, not very pleased that he was alive at all? He considered Mustang for a moment. In the distance behind him, toward the road that ran to the east of the military cemetery, a couple of horns honked. “The boys were…surprised.”

Finally a glint of humour broke through the other man’s wariness and he laughed softly. “I can just imagine. And after Ed was finally reconciled to having found and then lost you, too.”

“He wasn’t as mad as I expected, once he realized it was a matter of my needing to recover from the battle. He understands everything now.”

“He’s a lot more reasonable these days,” Mustang nodded. He moved back around to the front of the gravestone and sat on it, crossing his arms in front of him. “So,” he asked casually, “are you just passing through? What have you been doing with yourself the last three years?”

Hohenheim answered, “I’ve been watching you, actually.” He saw the pulse jump in Roy’s throat, and sensed the effort it took not to look away. He had to admire how well the man kept himself under control. But then, Roy Mustang had been carefully hiding the most important thing about himself from everyone he knew, for the past five years. And surely he must suspect, by now, why Hohenheim was really here.

But if he did, he gave no indication. “Surely not,” the man drawled. “There’s nothing more dull than watching three years worth of bureaucracy.”

Hohenheim said, “You’ve done an excellent job as Fuhrer. It’s been far from dull. I was sorry I missed the little power struggle at the beginning, when you managed to garner enough support to take the position and prevent General Armstrong from having it. But I admire how you’ve pushed to establish a civilian Parliament and put the military under its supervision. I think there’s little likelihood of Amestris backsliding into military rule now.”

Mustang nodded, his eyes sweeping once again across the rows of gravestones in their quiet repose. “I needed to make sure the country was safe and there couldn’t be any repeat of what happened under Bradley,” he murmured. “Even Olivia Armstrong agrees with me now. And our new President and his Parliament have been governing well for the past year. So it was time to abolish the office of Fuhrer and step down. Which I did yesterday.” Once again his eyes came to rest on Hohenheim’s face. “But you already know that,” he added quietly.

That was more like it. They were beginning to draw near to the heart of things, and it seemed Mustang would be the one to push them there after all. “Yes,” the older man said. And waited.

The merest hesitation, and then, “Will you…tell me why you were watching me?”

Hohenheim smiled. “That’s something you already know.”

Mustang averted his face and closed his eyes. Only a close observer would have seen his shoulders slump, just a little. “It’s funny, actually,” he said. “I spent all those years trying to trace you, before I met the boys. I didn’t even know why, really. I just felt that I needed to talk to you for some reason. And now…here you are.”

“And now here I am,” Hohenheim agreed. “To your disappointment, I’m sure. You were actually rather hoping I was really dead, weren’t you?”

A slight hitch of breath. “No! I mean…I…”

“It’s all right. I know how hard this is. I’ve been through it myself, after all. But there’s a lot we have to talk about, don’t you think?”

The other managed a shrug. “You were right, before: you almost missed me. I’m leaving by train this evening.”

“I suspected as much. Which means you said all your goodbyes to your friends yesterday?” At the younger man’s hesitation, Hohenheim smiled narrowly. “I didn’t think so.”

Mustang swallowed, shutting his eyes again. “They think I’m leaving on a three-week vacation,” he said, his voice faint. “I thought it was better not to tell them…”

“That you never intend to return,” Hohenheim finished.

Mustang flushed, a light pink that crept up his throat to shade his pale cheeks. He tilted his head, his gaze slanted at Hohenheim’s face from beneath his unruly dark hair. “Isn’t that what you did?” he demanded. “You more than anyone should understand this.”

Hohenheim dropped his jacket on the grass and moved to lean against a headstone near that of Maes Hughes. “No,” he said, “that is not what I did. I told Tricia everything. She fully understood why I needed to be away for a while. She was going to explain it to the boys when they were old enough to understand. Neither of us had any idea that she would become ill and…leave them…as she did. When I came back, as I’d planned, well…you know what had happened in the meantime.”

“Yes, I know all too well.” Now the cracks were really beginning to show. Mustang – or Hohenheim imagined he should probably start calling him Roy, since they were going to spend a lot of time together – Roy clutched his arms across his chest as though trying to protect his heart. He added, “And that’s exactly why I’m not going to create the same sort of situation for anyone else. I’m going to disappear and…not come back.”

“Nonsense,” Hohenheim countered firmly. “If I’d guessed what would happen, I’d have found a way not to leave at all. I’d have had those last years with Tricia. I might even have managed to heal her. That’s a regret that I’m going to live with for the rest of my life…however long that ends up being. But I’m not letting you repeat my mistakes, Roy. I’d be determined to prevent that, even if Riza Hawkeye hadn’t asked me to help you.”

“Riza Hawkeye!” Roy exclaimed, standing bolt upright and whirling to face the other man. The temporary colour drained in a rush from his face. “What did you say to her? Tell me you didn’t – didn’t tell her anything.” And at his companion’s silence, he choked, as though his breath had been cut off, “You had no right. How dare you – “

“Oh, calm down,” Hohenheim retorted. “The woman loves you. I didn’t have to tell her anything. She’d already guessed, probably about the same time you did, not long after you’d been to the Gate and gotten your sight back.”

Roy stared at him in silence, the breath still coming heavy in his lungs. “But I…tried not to let on…”

“Well, she figured it out. She knows you better than she knows herself. And she’s been making plans of her own ever since she realized.” Hohenheim leaned his hands behind him on the stone and looked upward, contemplating the blue, cloudless sky. “I spent half of last night persuading her not to try to follow you as she’d planned. And she was the one who suggested I look for you here.”

Roy continued staring for a long moment before he sank back against the headstone again. This time he bowed his head and buried his face in his hands. “Damn her. I just…I just thought I could protect her. Protect everyone.”

“You don’t protect them by running away from them,” Hohenheim said gently. “And the quickest way for you to go insane is to cut yourself off from everyone you love.”

“There are other ways to go insane,” Roy muttered darkly. Again he lifted his head and contemplated the spread of graves all around him. Then he held his hands out in front of him and looked at them, back and front. “When I went to the Gate, to get my vision back,” he said, “I had holes through both my hands, from Bradley skewering me to the ground. When I came back…,” he spread his fingers wide and examined the backs a final time before bunching his hands into fists, “they were completely healed. No scars. The scars from wounds I got in Ishbal – even scars from scraping my knee when I was a kid – all gone.”

“I know, Roy.”

“And you don’t think I need to protect the people I – my friends – from that? While they injure themselves over the years, or get sick, or even…die? While they look at me and all they see…”

“Do you seriously believe they would begrudge you what they saw?”

“They’d try not to.” Roy rubbed his hands over his face with a dispirited sigh. “But it would get too hard for them, eventually. I don’t want to put them in that position.”

These youngsters were so shortsighted. But of course, Hohenheim reminded himself, they hadn’t had the long years of experience yet, so they could hardly be blamed for that. “Well,” he said, “it seems to me you have a choice. You can either cut yourself off from your friends forever – and believe me, that’s an awfully long time, and once you’ve lost the years you could have had with them, you’ll have many years to regret it – or you can spend those years with them, and cherish what you do have, and work things out. The way all people do, who love each other. The way Tricia and I tried to.”

“But that didn’t work,” Roy retorted. Then had the grace to flush and look away, muttering, “Sorry, that was unkind.”

“But you’re right, it didn’t work, in our case. But that happens in life, Roy. It’s one thing to lose someone by accident, despite all your plans, the way it happened for us. But it’s quite another thing to do it to yourselves deliberately.”

Roy fell silent, and Hohenheim let him sit and think for a while. Despite having had five years to try to come to terms with what had befallen him, the younger man had always had something to distract him from his dilemma – until today. So of course he was going to need time. At least for the two of them, that was the one thing they had an endless supply of.

The sun had just passed noon. A few other people dotted the landscape, visiting distant graves, carrying sheaves of flowers in their arms. The military kept the grass of this cemetery tended to within an inch of its life, and it spread around them like a perfect carpet. In fact, from the aroma of fresh-cut grass, it had likely been mowed early this morning or late yesterday afternoon. Here and there, copses of trees with commemorative benches under them promised shade if the sun became too hot.

One could hardly have chosen a more appropriate place to contemplate both life and death. Though Hohenheim suspected that Roy’s choice of location had more to do with his loss of Maes Hughes than with any sense of the apropos. Hughes would not be the last of his losses.

“I suppose,” Roy said slowly, “you think I’m being really stupid.”

“Of course not,” Hohenheim answered. “You’re new to this. You’re dealing with it much the same way I did, in the beginning. But I don’t want you to do this alone, as I did.” He smiled at his companion. “A person doesn’t realize, before confronting the Gate, that there could be side effects he hadn’t planned on, that have nothing to do with why he went to the Gate in the first place. I, at least, had Father to concentrate on and keep me heavily occupied over the years.”

“While I have…nothing.” Roy turned his face away.

Then glanced up in surprise as Hohenheim leaned over and set a firm hand his shoulder. “You have everything,” the older man told him. “And that’s what I plan to teach you as we travel together.” He chuckled as Roy’s eyebrows rose in an unspoken question. “Yes, I’m going with you this evening. Miss Hawkeye gave me her train ticket.”

The look on Roy’s face might have been comical if it hadn’t been for his weary eyes. But he managed a light laugh. “I can’t believe this. So she was just going to turn up and surprise me?”

“That’s what she said. She also said she expected to be arguing with you for several hours afterward.”

Roy shook his head with a fond smile. “She really does know me,” he murmured. But suddenly his gaze sharpened as his eyes darted back to Hohenheim’s face. “Wait a minute. You mentioned ‘side effects’ of going to the Gate. But we’re not the only ones who…”

Hohenheim regarded him soberly. “No. We’re not.” He straightened on the headstone, folding his arms across his chest. “I plan to talk to the boys when we get back, though I think Alphonse, at least, already suspects. But I thought they could wait another couple of years, while I’m travelling with you. That should make it slightly easier for you, at least. You’re not going to be completely alone, no matter what else happens.”

“No. I see that. And that…does make a difference. A very big difference.”

“I hoped it would. And so,” Hohenheim stood and picked up his jacket, “what do you say we get ready? We have some time before we leave. We can go somewhere and grab a bite to eat, if you like. I’m ravenous. Or we could go back and talk properly to your friends, and explain things to them.”

Roy made no move to stand up, but regarded his companion’s face with narrowed eyes. “You seem awfully sure I’m just going to follow you.”

“Well, you don’t have to, of course. But if you’re ever going to learn how to handle your new situation, I think you’d be wise to learn from the only other person who’s experienced it.”

Roy laughed slightly. Already the stillness and tension were vanishing from his demeanor, as he began to let himself hope, probably for the first time in the past five years. “Of course you’re right. And of course I’ll go with you. I…I don’t know how to thank you, actually. Things have been looking pretty bleak for a very long time.” Finally he, too, stood up and bent over to retrieve his own jacket.

“Roy,” Hohenheim said, “you don’t have any concept – yet – of a ‘very long time’.” The other man rewarded him with a loud, spontaneous laugh, and he grinned back. Good. Very good. This wasn’t going to be as difficult as he’d feared. “Now,” the man said, turning to lead the way toward the gates of the military cemetery, “let’s be on our way. We’ve got two years for me to teach you everything I can.”

“And then what?”

Hohemheim smiled to himself and said over his shoulder, “And then I’ve promised Riza Hawkeye I’ll bring you back to marry her.” And was rewarded with another sort of sound altogether.

Continue to Vignette #4: I've Got Your Back!


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May 2012

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