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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 #3: All the Time in the World

I've Got Your Back!

“How much longer do you think he’ll be?” Havoc wondered quietly.

Riza glanced over at him as he half-sat on the front edge of the Colonel’s desk, arms folded. He stared, frowning, at the array that Armstrong had carefully drawn just a few minutes ago on the floor in the centre of Roy’s office. To his left, he’d leaned the crutches he still needed while he was going through physiotherapy. And to his right, looming over both Havoc and the desk, Armstrong himself shifted from one foot to the other and murmured in reply, “The array is safe, Lieutenant, and Colonel Mustang knows what he’s doing.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” Havoc shrugged, an unlit cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, “but I suppose he’ll be able to improvise if something goes wrong. I hope.”

“I’m sure he will be,” Riza nodded, keeping her private reservations to herself. They all knew that the Colonel was in uncharted personal territory here, but nobody needed reminding right now. She added, “I wonder if we should all get back to work instead of waiting in here. We really don’t know how long we might wait.”

It was almost a question as she looked to Armstrong again. He gave a rueful shrug. “I am sorry, Lieutenant Hawkeye, but I have no idea how long such an endeavour might take—“

His image wavered and blurred, and a tingling wave of heat surged up Riza’s back, sweeping into her head until the room swirled. Even as she staggered forward, a hand instinctively groping before her, she heard Havoc’s sharp cry, “Hawkeye!” and felt a strong arm encircling her shoulders. “Hang on, Lieutenant,” Breda said in her ear. “Fuery’s grabbing you a chair.”

“Here you go, Lieutenant,” came Fuery’s voice, to her left. Riza blinked a couple of times and he swam into view, eyes wide with anxiety as he set one of the office’s leather upholstered armchairs beside her.

Breda helped her turn and settle into it, and she gripped the arms tightly as she took a couple of steadying breaths. “I-I’m sorry,” she said. “Thanks for this. I don’t know what happened. I just got so dizzy, suddenly…” She turned her head from side to side, trying to clear it. She still felt a bit hot, but the sensation was already starting to diminish. Though she could really do without the itchy tingling all over the skin of back.

“If it was anybody but you,” Havoc remarked from behind the chair, “I’d say the stress was getting to you.”

Riza began to look behind her, but thought better of it. The dizziness hadn’t quite gone yet. “I don’t think I’m under any more stress than the rest of you. This is very odd.”

“Here, Lieutenant.” Falman stepped into view, proffering a half-full glass of water. Riza took it with a grateful nod, and took a couple of sips. “Thanks,” she smiled. “That does help.”

“And I think the Colonel is coming back,” Armstrong put in. As every head turned toward the centre of the room, the array at last began to glow. And then, as the big man had predicted, Colonel Mustang himself appeared with a bright flash in the middle of it, hands clapped together in front of his chest, eyes tightly shut.

“Colonel!” Fuery exclaimed. “Thank goodness you made it back!”

“Is everything all right, sir?” Falman asked.

Roy’s eyes snapped open as he smiled. “Yes,” he said. “Don’t worry everything’s all right. But where is – “ And his eyes focussed directly on Riza in her chair. In two strides he had reached it, going to one knee before her, peering into her face. “Hawkeye,” he breathed. “Riza – are you all right? You’re so pale.”

She smiled at his concern, at the worry in his eyes – at the eyes that could so clearly see her – and touched his cheek briefly. “I’m fine,” she said. “Just a dizzy spell, but everything’s better now. You can see – and that’s all that matters.”

“Not quite all,” he answered softly. “The last thing I wanted…” Roy stood abruptly and looked around. “Thank you all for waiting. As you can see, it worked. And that means we’re all going to have a lot to do in the coming days and months. But today I think we’ve had quite enough. So why don’t you take the rest of the day off? And I…,” he looked down at Riza in the chair, “will drive Lieutenant Hawkeye home and make sure she puts her feet up.”

And that was enough of that. Riza stood, ignoring some last vestiges of vertigo in the back of her head. “Sir, that’s ridiculous,” she said firmly. “Whatever it was, it’s passed. I’d far rather get to work right now. We’ve already lost a lot of ground, with you out of commission for the past few days. Unless, of course, you yourself feel the need to rest.”

She caught Breda’s smirk out of the corner of her eye, but the Colonel didn’t seem as amused. Instead, his brows drew together in a worried frown. “No, I don’t need to rest,” Roy shook his head, “but I do need to speak with you in private. So I’m going to drive you home, as I said. And no arguing, please. Breda – I assume there’s a car available?”

“Of course. I can easily drive – “

“No, thank you. I’ll drive it myself.” At the silence that answered him, Roy looked around at the group and allowed himself a chuckle. “Look at you. I know you’ve been driving me everywhere for the past three weeks or so, but I do remember how to do it. And I assure you, I can see as well as I ever did – maybe better. So relax, all of you. Go out and watch a movie or take a friend to dinner. Or if you really want to work instead, find a reconstruction project and help move some rubble or something. But I, meanwhile,” he raised an eyebrow at Hawkeye, “am going to drive you home and we’re going to have a chat. And that’s an order.”

Riza didn’t know why he was making such a big issue of her dizzy spell, but she recognized that look in his eyes. She might have continued protesting, but the very fact that he even could have that look in his eyes brought her such relief that she decided to let him have his way. This time.

“Very well,” she agreed. “The rest of you might as well do as the Colonel says. I’m sure we can spend some time strategizing while I make sure his eyesight is a good as he claims. But I will do the driving. Sir.”

As the two of them walked toward his office door, “I’d really rather you didn’t,” Roy insisted. “If you’ve had a dizzy spell, you could have another while you’re driving.” He opened the door and ushered her through it.

“I told you I’m fine now,” Riza maintained, preceding him through the outer office. “And I think you should have your eyes checked before you do anything like drive a car.”

She opened the door of the outer office and paused. Before stepping through it, she heard Havoc say, from back in Roy’s office, “Well, I see those two are back to normal.”

Her eyes met Roy’s. And the two of them burst out laughing.

As it turned out, the Colonel won that particular argument. Riza finally decided that rather than stand in the military parking garage arguing for the rest of the afternoon – and attracting attention to Roy’s sightedness in a way that wasn’t how they’d planned to reveal it – was simply counterproductive. So Riza slipped into the passenger seat without further comment. And had to live with her superior officer’s smug smile all the way to her apartment.

When they finally arrived and entered her front hallway, Riza tossed her keys into the tray on the small table in the hall, and left Roy to shut and lock the door behind him. “Can I get you some tea, sir?” she asked.

“Please,” he agreed, and followed her through her living room and into the kitchen. As she turned the heat on under the kettle, and measured the tea leaves for the pot, he wandered around the room, picking things up and looking at them before setting them down again. At one point, he murmured, “You just don’t realize what you have until you lose it for a while. Everything looks the same, and yet…different.”

“I can only imagine,” Riza nodded, setting a couple of her mother’s teacups and saucers on the table. “I’m glad you found a way to bright your sight back.”

“I was already thinking of ways I could do what I needed to, even if I couldn’t get it back,” he nodded. “But yes. I’m glad there was a way, too.” He stepped to the window and pulled the lace curtain aside, to let in the late afternoon sunlight. He gave her a fond smile from across the room. “You cut your hair,” he said. “That was quick.”

Riza’s hand moved involuntarily to her head before she willed it down again. “I just felt it was time for a fresh start. Don’t you think so?”

“Oh yes. And,” another smile and a slightly different tone of voice, “it looks very nice. I think I like it better short.”

This time she felt the heat in her cheeks, but ignored it and busied herself with the teapot. She remarked, “And by the way, don’t worry about anything else. I’m sure you’re right, and I just need to rest. Tomorrow I’ll be good as new, and we can start working on the next phase of things.”

“Yes. Well.” He let the curtain drop back into place. “That’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Good. I told them we could do some strategizing today—“

“No, Riza. No, not that. I meant…I need to talk to you about that dizzy spell.”

Riza tossed the filled tea ball into the pot and set the lid down perhaps a bit too firmly. “I don’t understand why everyone is so bothered by it,” she grumbled. “I just got busy and skipped lunch, and felt a little weak while we were waiting. That’s all.”

“No. That’s not it at all.” Roy turned from the window and faced her, all trace of a smile gone from his newly-seeing eyes. “I actually know why you had the dizzy spell. And…you’re not going to like the reason.”

Her hands stilled on the pot. Slowly she tilted her head sideways and looked at him. “What do you mean? How could you possibly know? Unless…it had something to do with your journey to the Gate.”

“It…” He took a deep breath. “It has to do with paying a price for what one asks for at the Gate. Ed learned the same thing. Even if you have a Philosopher’s Stone to smooth the way…there’s still a price of some kind, if your request is to be granted.”

The pot was a creamy white, with small pink flowers painted around the lid and down the handle. Her mother had gotten it from her grandmother. And now it seemed to be an anchor for Riza’s suddenly cold hands. Whatever faint hints of dizziness still remained, she would not allow her knees to buckle. “So…there was a price,” she managed to say calmly. “And somehow…it has something to do with me.”

“Yes.”

“I think you’d better tell me, then.”

Another pause, and he lowered his eyes to the floor. “Actually, I think…you’d better find a mirror and look at your back.”

Her head whipped up and she whirled to face him, the teapot at last forgotten. “No,” she whispered, her heart sinking. “You can’t mean…”

And the look on his face sent her running down the hallway leading out of the kitchen, casting off her military jacket, stumbling into the bathroom to crash with a jerk against the vanity and sink. Ripping her shirt open and letting the shoulders fall down to her elbows, she turned around and craned her neck, peering over her shoulder, trying to see –

It was there. All of it. The entire array, the secret of flame alchemy, even the part that she’d had him burn away so the most deadly form of alchemy there was would die forever with him – the array gleamed from her back as it had done since her father had imprinted it there in her teen years. Every line, every swirl, every symbol – fully intact.

And beyond her image in the mirror, Roy Mustang – the Flame Alchemist – stood watching her from the doorway. “No, no no!” Riza cried, shrugging the shirt back onto her shoulders. She turned from the image and lunged at the real man, her fists beating at his chest. “How could you do this? How could you do this?

“Riza – please listen—“

“After everything that’s happened – everything you’ve done – how could you let this happen? How could you open the door to let this awful power back into the world? How could you?” She felt his hands reaching for her, and backed away until she bumped against the vanity. Pointing an accusing finger at him, she shouted, “You’ve betrayed everything I thought we both believed in! You’ve betrayed me! I trusted you – and you’ve betrayed me!”

Roy winced. “No, I swear that’s not how it happened. I swear it!”

“What does it matter? The array is there! And you let it happen. You never really wanted to obliterate it, did you, even when I asked you to? And now you’ve brought it back!”

“Riza, please – please listen to me. At least let me explain what happened, before you hate me. Please!”

“Why should I? When you’ve almost literally stabbed me in the back?”

“But that wasn’t what I wanted.” Roy pounded a frustrated fist against the doorjamb, and then pressed his forehead against it, closing his eyes.

Riza crossed her arms over her stomach, trying to hold in the rage. The last vestiges of dizziness had been completely overwhelmed by the adrenaline rushing through her. She literally shook with it. “I think I may already hate you,” she hissed. “But fine. Tell me what happened.”

“Don’t you get what happens at the Gate?” he moaned. “The spirit, or consciousness, or whatever it is that seems to control the thing – it’s capricious. That’s why it took my sight in the first place, when I didn’t even voluntarily go to the Gate that first time. So it wasn’t just going to give me my eyes back because I needed them – it was going to exact a price. And I had to say yes or no right there – I couldn’t possibly come back and ask you if you’d allow it, because I’d never have gotten to the Gate again. This was the last Philosopher’s Stone, so I had no other choice. I had to take the risk and say yes, and then come back to ask you if you’d agree or not.”

“And how,” she demanded flatly, “how could you possibly imagine I would ever have agreed to such a thing?”

Roy swallowed and said quietly, “Because we had so much work we still wanted to do for this country. And I needed my sight, to do it. And this was the price of my sight.” He lifted his head and, meeting her gaze, dropped his hand from the doorjamb and straightened to face her properly. “But I’m not presenting this to you as a fait accompli, Riza. I meant what I said – I am asking you. Even if the array has been repaired, I can remove part of it again. I’m sure I can get Doctor Marcoh to give you something so it doesn’t hurt nearly as much this time. I couldn’t ask you in advance, but I’m asking you now: do you want me to get rid of the array again? Because I’m back, and I can act now. I will do it if you want me to.”

Riza stared at him, searching his pale face. A high, thin wail cut through the air, interrupting her thoughts, and it rose in volume until she suddenly realized: “The kettle. I have to get that.” She shoved past him, back down the hall and into the kitchen. She took the lid off the teapot and, grabbing a tea towel, lifted the kettle and poured the steaming, bubbling water into the pot.

For the merest instant she wondered what would happen if she lifted it over her head and poured the scalding liquid all down her back. She shuddered, setting the kettle back down and reaching to turn off the heat. But Roy had already done it.

Riza leaned one hand against the counter, buttoning her shirt closed with the other as the tea steeped. However angry she felt, she had to think. Never act on an emotional or any other sort of impulse – that was something she’d had to learn as a sniper in Ishbal. She had to remember that, and take control of herself. And there could be more going on here than Roy was telling her.

“Riza.”

She closed her eyes in a spasm of grief at the tremble in his voice.

“Riza, please tell me what you want. I’m so sorry. If you want me to get rid of the array, let’s do it now. Before I leave. I…I never wanted to hurt you like this.”

“Wait,” she muttered. “Just wait a minute.”

“Why wait? I can tell you want this over with. I should never…just let me undo what I’ve done to you. Let’s do it now. And maybe some day you’ll forgive me.”

Riza took a deep breath and turned to face him. “Tell me something else first, Roy, before I decide.”

Incongruously, she almost laughed at the sudden wariness in his dark eyes. He’d probably already guessed what her question would be. They knew each other too well. He answered flatly, “There’s nothing else to tell. Let’s just do this.”

“Nothing to tell – except what will happen to your sight if you burn the array off my back again.”

His lips parted. He was going to try to lie, wasn’t he? But it was too late, and she saw him recognize it. Roy’s jaw tightened and he looked away. “That’s between me and the Gate. It doesn’t concern you.”

Riza leaned back against the counter and pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes. “Don’t be an idiot, Roy. Of course it concerns me. Because if you go blind again, General Armstrong will get you kicked out of the military, and it will become almost impossible to do the things we need to do for this country.”

“We’ll find another way. I won’t sacrifice you for my own ambition.”

“It’s not ambition. And you know I know that.” Riza sighed, lowering her hands and gripped the counter on either side of her. She even managed a slight, weary smile. “All right, Roy. I see it now. You made the right choice at the Gate. Because you know what I’d have said if you had come back blind, and told me you’d refused, and why.”

“Actually, I’d…never have told you, if I had chosen that way.”

She finally allowed herself a laugh, as the anger seemed to drain from her. “Of course you wouldn’t. But never mind that. Naturally it was a shock just now, finding out what had happened. But I think you were right. You did have to do this.”

“I just – Riza, I hate this!” Roy exclaimed with sudden vehemence. “Why does everything I do – even good things – have to produce another victim?”

“Just stop before you go any further. I’m not a victim,” Riza told him firmly. “We’ve both done terrible things, and we’re working together to try to repair them. We’re partners, remember? So this,” she jerked her chin toward her shoulder and back, “is the price we’ll both pay. Because it means we can keep working together toward our goal. I’ll just…I’ll just be really careful that nobody ever knows it’s there or sees it. Not that there’s anyone but me to see it,” she added with a rueful laugh.

“I’ll always know,” Roy said solemnly. He stood for a moment and simply looked at her until she could no longer bear his gaze and had to lower her own. Damn the man – he could always do that to her! Maybe, she thought in private amusement, it wasn’t such a good idea for him to get his sight back, after all. Then she sensed his movement and felt herself swept into his arms as he held her tightly, his cheek pressed against her hair. “Thank you. I’m sorry,” he whispered.

“I know,” she nodded, and pulled away while she still could. “Let’s sit down and have our tea, all right? And we can have a good long talk about what to do next.”

“Yes,” Roy agreed, releasing her. “Let’s make this worth it.” And he took off his jacket, hanging it over the back of his chair, sitting down at the table to watch her pour his tea.

[Watch this space for further Vignettes]
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May 2012

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