What happened to change Roy's attitude, between the visit of Havoc and Breda and Roy's confident arrival and actions near the end of the movie? Why, he took a brief leave, and made a little visit.
"Alright, I'm coming, don't be impatient!" she called.
This had to be either a stranger from outside of Dublith, or someone from the town making an official call. The shadow cast through the window near the door told her little, except that the knocker was probably a man.
And so it was. As she opened the door, her visitor stood backlit by the morning sun, his features dimmed, his unruly fringe of black hair made even darker by the morning light outlining his figure. He could almost have been trying to obscure himself in shadow, with his long, dark coat and black trousers completing the effect.
But there was another patch of black, cutting a swath across his face, a corner of darkness over his left eye and upper cheek. Which meant that, standing in the shadows, his identity was almost clearer to her than it might have been in bright light.
A stab of anger jolted through Izumi at the sight of him, but she hid her response, merely saying mildly, "Oh. It's you."
A slight catch of breath, betraying his momentary hesitation. Then he responded with similar composure, "I was wondering if I might speak to you for a few minutes, Mrs. Curtis."
"Certainly," she answered. "What is it?"
Again a hesitation. "Would you mind if we didn't speak in the open?"
She let him wait a few seconds. "Very well," she nodded, opening the door wider and stepping aside. "Please come in."
He moved past her with an almost furtive grace; she could sense the trim muscles and easy movement concealed by his dark coat. As he entered the kitchen and turned back toward her, she saw his eyes - eye - darting back and forth as though checking for hidden dangers. Izumi wondered briefly if this sort of vigilance was a habit he'd had to learn in his lonely outpost up north, or if it reflected a lack of confidence. Everything she'd learned about him thus far would belie that interpretation, but she had to wonder.
At last his eye fixed itself on her face. If he were looking for dangers, she reflected in amusement, he had finally settled on the most dangerous thing in the room. She was still that, despite how ill she'd been lately.
"Thank you for seeing me," he murmured, with a slight bow of his head. A very courteous man. She'd heard he could be like that.
She, however, didn't have to be, here in her own house and face to face with this particular man.
"So," Izumi snapped, shutting the door, "you're the man who ruined the Elric boys' lives."
He wasn't quite as taken aback as she'd intended him to be. He regarded her in silence for a moment before lowering his gaze, his mouth turning up slightly at the corners. "Yes, very probably," Roy Mustang agreed. "I seem to have that effect on people. If it unnerves you, I'll leave, of course."
TouchÃ©, she thought. He was already playing back. He knew very well that she wouldn't want him to leave without telling her why he'd come.
She leaned back against the door, crossing her arms forbiddingly. "It takes more than the likes of you to unnerve me," she informed him. "But you wanted to speak in private, so here we are. Speak."
The smile vanished and again he regarded her with that level gaze. "Yes, as you wish. I wanted to ask your permission to talk to Alphonse. If you believe it wouldn't...," again the small smile, "'ruin his life' even further."
"That depends on why you want to talk to him. Listen, take your coat off and sit down. We can't stand here all morning like two leopards squaring off. Do you drink tea?" Izumi moved toward the stove, beside the counter where her cake mix still waited.
"Are you sure?" the man asked. "I don't want to inconvenience you."
She could hear him complying as she turned on the heat under the kettle and poured the mix from the bowl into the cake pan. She quickly smoothed the surface of the batter with a spatula and slid the pan into the hot oven, turning to watch Mustang drape his heavy coat over the back of a chair while she wiped her hands again. He pulled another chair out from the table and sat down as she set out a plain brown teapot and two matching cups.
Finally she seated herself across from him, and folded her hands on the red and white checkered tablecloth. "Now," she said. "Tell me why you want to talk to Alphonse."
"I haven't seen him since he got his body back," Mustang began, and then paused.
"I hope you don't regard him as just a curiosity," Izumi retorted. "If you've come merely to gawk at him, then you'll have to leave."
"No." The man shook his head soberly. She thought he seemed sincere. In fact, now he stared down at his own hands, pressed flat on the table in front of him, and hesitated yet again. At last he said quietly, "I just want to talk to him. I just want to know...he's all right."
"Really? That's all?"
Once more, that quirking of his lips. "That's all," he answered. "I have no evil designs on him, if that's what you're worried about."
"I just don't understand why you're interested."
"Don't you? I was involved in those boys' lives for several years. Longer than you had been, in fact. Isn't it natural, to want to see that he came through everything with no harm done?"
"Except for the loss of his memory."
"Except for that, yes," Mustang agreed.
"So why wait until now? It's been almost two years."
"I was injured and recuperating myself, for a few months," he reminded her. "And by the time I was well, Al had been taken home, and I was sent north."
"You requested that transfer, I heard. Why didn't you take a detour to Risemboul first, before you went north?"
"You seem to know a lot of my history, Mrs. Curtis. I'm sure you know other things as well." He spoke with complete calm, as though reciting objective facts that did not really affect him. "I was quite certain I wouldn't be welcome in Risemboul, and I didn't want to interfere as Al was readjusting to a normal life."
Izumi did, in fact, know something of the history that might make him want to avoid the Rockbells in Risemboul. She stared at his impassive face, knowing what was behind his words, and steeling herself not to reveal an involuntary stab of pity.
"I see," she said noncommittally instead. "And now? Why is this the time?"
Again that hesitation, as he seemed to be searching for a reply. At last he spread his hands open on the table, with a self-deprecating little smile. "I don't know," he admitted.
The kettle began to whistle, and she sprang up to retrieve it from the stove. For an instant, a familiar spasm twisted painfully inside her abdomen, and she steadied herself with a hand on the counter, taking a couple of deep, calming breaths as she reached for the kettle. It wasn't too strong this time. She didn't think she'd be throwing up blood. This time.
"Mrs. Curtis?" He was already half out of his chair, sensing something even though she'd kept her back to him.
It passed. Izumi turned, with the kettle in her hands. Mustang removed the lid from the teapot, allowing her to pour the steaming water in, but his frowning gaze followed her as she returned the kettle to its spot on the stove. She'd betrayed hardly any outward sign, yet he had noticed. She hadn't expected him to be so perceptive.
"So," she said, firmly returning to the topic at hand. "You want to see Al. Do you plan to talk about anything specific?"
The man paused, searching her face, obviously reluctant to abandon his concern. But finally he replied, "If you're wondering whether I want to talk to him about Ed, or the things that happened to the two of them, I don't know that either. Probably not, unless he really wants - "
Mustang got no further, for the door suddenly slammed open and a boy came in - or rather, a boy burst in, his long, ponytailed hair flying behind him, and his arms full of something that squirmed.
"Teacher!" he cried. "Look! I found some kittens, and I think something has happened to their mother. We have to do something."
He had indeed found some kittens, eight or ten of them, all trying to climb out of his embrace and explore his arms and shoulders. One of the little wriggling cats had in fact managed to navigate halfway up the front of his shirt, and hung just below his chin, mewing insistently for his attention. It was mostly white, but the golden brown patches of fur all over its back matched the colour of the boy's own hair.
Izumi groaned inwardly at the sight of his wide, imploring grey eyes. She'd never been able to resist them, but still made her standard attempt. "Alphonse, how many times have I told you not to bring animals into the house? And weren't you supposed to be doing your exercises?"
The youngster replied with immediate contrition. "I'm sorry, teacher. I was doing them, but I could hear the kittens calling, and I had to go get them. We can find homes for them, can't we?"
She kept herself focused on his face, restraining the impulse to glance over his shoulder at the presence behind him. "Yes, I'm sure we can. As usual." She walked to the pantry and pulled out the large box they regularly used for Al's rescued kittens. Good thing she'd washed the blanket last week, so it would be fresh for the next litter. Pulling a jar of milk from the ice box, and three saucers from the cupboard, she watched the boy set his squirming little friends carefully onto the blanket.
She wasn't the only one watching. Mustang had made no move to rise at the boy's entrance; in fact, he had pushed his chair farther back, to remain out of Al's peripheral sightline. Yet the man sat unmoving in rapt concentration, gaze fixed, lips slightly parted as he took in every movement Al made, and listened to every word.
Izumi had an idea.
She knelt, setting the saucers into the centre of the box. "Help me get them settled," she commanded, pulling the stopper from the jar of milk. "And I can quiz you while we do it."
Al nodded obediently, going to his knees by his side of the box. He guided the mewing kittens gently away from the saucers until she'd finished pouring, then set them, one by one, where they could reach the milk. Within moments, every tiny head had bent over the saucer edges, tongues busily lapping as Alphonse ran soft, reassuring fingers down the kittens' fuzzy backs.
"Now, then," Izumi said. "Name the seven Strictures of Democritus, and explain their significance to the transmutation of metals."
The boy answered quickly and correctly, indeed almost absent-mindedly, so well did he know the answer. She followed up with several questions about the elemental constituents in certain household items, before instructing him to describe the design of circles for some complicated transmutations. The placement of symbols and lines was as prescribed as had been the designs used in heraldry a few centuries ago, and nothing could be out of place when drawing an array unless one wanted something to go horribly wrong.
Al knew every one of them even though, practically speaking, he no longer needed to know the precise design of transmutation circles, being able simply to clap his hands together and make a circle from his own body. But he had requested that she teach him all of them, even before she'd had a chance to insist upon it.
He picked up a kitten and cradled it against his chest, sitting back on his haunches to watch Izumi's face as she threw the questions at him. The sunlight slanted across the room to strike glints of gold from the glowing hair tumbling across one of his shoulders. Izumi saw the delight growing in his clear grey eyes as the questions and answers flew back and forth, more and more swiftly.
Finally he outstripped her, crowing the answers to questions she hadn't even asked yet. "...and there are three principles and four classical elements, and four alchemies - and the greater circulation and the lesser circulation -- and seven metals and I don't know how many grains of sand on all the beaches of the world!" he cried, bursting into laughter. "Anything else you want to know, teacher?"
Izumi grinned across the box at him. "That about covers it, I think. You've learned almost everything I can teach you by now. If anything, there are things I wish I could learn from you instead. The soul alchemy, for example."
"I would teach you," Al smiled, "if I understood it myself. It's just something I know how to do, and can't put into words. But there are other things I still don't know, so I'm not finished studying yet. I feel like I'm only beginning to learn from you."
"The rest of what I know has come only from hard experience," she wryly returned his smile, "and I'm afraid that's something I wouldn't want to pass on even if I could. You'll have to gain that knowledge from your own experiences."
The boy ducked his head, hair falling across his forehead and eyes as he stroked the kitten at his breast. "If," he murmured, "I can even remember them after I have them."
A sudden movement drew Izumi's eyes upward, past Al's bowed head. Mustang's clenched fists pressed together on the table before him as he stared fixedly at her young student, brow drawn and mouth compressed into a tight line. She could only guess what emotion he was trying so hard to contain.
"Of course you'll remember them," she replied, "as long as you don't get into any more trouble with your alchemy."
Al's mouth curled into a slight smile. The kitten settled under his touch, purring at a truly astounding volume for such a small handful. "But teacher," the boy said gently, as though issuing a reminder, "you know I'll be getting into more trouble when I finally start searching for Ed."
And there it was. The consuming obsession that motivated all his study, and everything he did and thought. They never strayed far from the topic before their conversation swooped back to it. It had finally begun to intrude even into his sleep.
"Have you dreamed about him again?" Izumi wondered.
"They're not dreams." He spoke with his usual certainty. "I see him, in a world like this one, but...different. He's older than I remember him. His hair used to be short, but now..." Al's free hand lifted, unconsciously, toward his own tied-back hair. "He's so much older...six years...I've lost so much time with him..."
"Al. Stop brooding over that," she reprimanded. "Those lost years saved your life."
"He's trying to find a way home," the boy interrupted, still carried by his own thoughts. "That's how I see him...always trying to come home, no matter what else he's doing. And that," Al lifted his head, his eyes glinting with solemn purpose, "is why I'm going to find a way to get him back. If it takes my whole life to do it, that's what I'll do."
"I just hope you're right in what you think you see."
Whatever he saw with his inner eye, he saw something else on her face. Al replaced the kitten in the box and proclaimed, perhaps a little too cheerfully, "But not yet. I'm not ready, so I'll keep learning what you think I should. We still have time, teacher."
So wide and innocent, those eyes, yet she could read his unspoken thought as though he had shouted it. He suspected how short their remaining time really was. He could already have left on his quest, if he wished. But she knew why he remained.
Izumi pursed her lips. "Well. If we have so much time, then it's time you get back to your exercises, isn't it? And after that, Sig will need you for a while at the shop. So you'd better get going."
"Yes, teacher," Alphonse agreed meekly. He ran his fingers along the furry sides of a couple of the kittens, who were already curling into a crowded little pile, sinking into sleep after their meal. Then he sprang to his feet and whirled around to go -
- and jerked to a halt at the sight of the man sitting at the table, in the shadows on the other side of the window. Al's sharp catch of breath cut through the sudden silence in the kitchen. He paused, brows drawn together, mouth open as though he were searching for words.
He didn't usually hesitate this way, when meeting strangers. But Izumi, rising, saw the tautness of his profile.
She watched Mustang's hands spread flat onto the table and press hard, fingers splayed. The knuckles were white. "Alphonse." She broke into the youngster's thoughts. "Your exercises, remember? Now."
His eyes flickered from her face to the stranger's. Eager curiosity and respectful obedience battled for dominance on his face. At last, obedience won. "Yes, teacher," he murmured, and left the kitchen, averting his gaze from the table as he passed it. In a moment he came into view through the window, walking slowly across the grass, the stiffness of his gait testifying to the effort it took to resist the impulse to look back.
Then Izumi's view was blocked, as Mustang surged to his feet and turned to the window, hands gripping the frame on either side of it. Every taut line of his body focused on the retreating form of the boy. The words dragged from him, as though he couldn't repress them. "He's...he's perfect," the man breathed unsteadily.
"Very close to it, yes."
He swallowed hard, and when he turned his gaze to her, she thought, despite the shadow cast across his face, that there might be a hint of tears in his eye. "I never thought I'd see..." He turned back to the window, blinking. "What a truly marvelous and miraculous thing Ed has done."
"Alphonse is not some kind of artifact," Izumi reminded him sharply. "He's not merely a great alchemical achievement."
"No," Mustang whispered. "He's completely human, mind, soul....and body. And...you see and talk to him every day. I think I...envy you."
Again that twinge of unexpected sympathy. This man was everything she'd heard he was, yet vastly more than that. She was beginning to wish she'd met him months ago.
"I could call him back, you know."
When he fell into that utter stillness, it was almost frightening. She remembered someone once telling her - Winry Rockbell, perhaps? - that no matter what bad news he might give you, the things Roy Mustang didn't tell you were usually more troubling than the things he did say. Izumi wondered, pity flooding her soul, what he was not saying now.
"Thank you, but...I think not," he finally answered, so faintly she could barely hear.
He stood half-turned from her, looking out the window at nothing, his unmoving profile starkly revealed in the searching sunlight. The tight lips seemed to follow a downward curve that appeared inborn, but which she suspected had been imposed on a once much happier face. The pallor of his skin, in contrast with the deep black hair and the void of the black eye patch, gave him an air of fragility, contradicting the strength it had taken to survive all the tragedies he had.
She envisioned him, suddenly, standing on the edge of a knife, hesitating between past and present, dark and light. He probably had no idea why he had obeyed the impulse to come here. But she thought she understood.
"Your role in Alphonse's life is not complete," she murmured. At his surprised glance, she added more firmly, "There is more for you to do, Roy Mustang. Your great deeds are not yet all behind you. Did you really believe your work was done?"
He turned from the window slowly, as though fighting himself. With the light behind him, she couldn't make out enough of his face to discern whether he regarded her with horror or hope. "How..." He swallowed the trembling of his voice. "How can you possibly know that? And what makes you think I should go anywhere near that boy, after everything that's happened?"
"'After everything that's happened'?" she repeated, folding her arms. "I don't think you understand the implications of 'everything that's happened'."
Mustang had completely turned now, and mirrored her pose, leaning back against the window, arms folded across his chest. "Explain," he demanded.
"You're an alchemist; you should know these things already." A sudden thought intruded itself, and Izumi peered at him. "When was the last time you even used alchemy?"
He looked away, jaw tight. "Two years ago. In the - in Bradley's wine cellar."
"Then no wonder. All right, listen to me. Alchemy is not merely transmutation of elements, Roy. Haven't you realized that? It's also a transmutation of soul."
"Human transmutation is forbidden," he retorted automatically.
"I'm not talking about that, you idiot. Listen to me. I'm talking about transmutation of the soul. Purifying of the base elements. Uniting of contradictory elements. Creation of gold from lead." She searched his face. "Do you really not understand, even yet?" She stepped forward and gripped his arms, gritting her teeth, resolutely resisting the urge to shake him. "What do you think the last few years have been /for/, Roy, all the ordeals, the fiery trials? Do you really believe you're still the lump of lead you started out as?"
His sharp intake of breath cut the air. He stared at her, and she felt him shaking under her hands. "I don't - I've never - "
"Obviously. You've spent so much time looking backwards and living in regret that you haven't even bothered to take stock of yourself. When was the last time you looked into your own soul to do anything other than accuse yourself? Don't you think the time for that has passed? You've been fired and tempered, Roy, and haven't even bothered to examine the finished product. How can you justify /wasting all that soul work/?" She scowled at him. "You took the name 'Flame Alchemist', after all. You should have known what that really meant."
"I didn't take the name. It was given to me. By Bradley," he blurted, as though that were sufficient contradictory evidence.
Izumi was having none of it. She reminded him tartly, "And Bradley had the Eye. When he looked at you to choose your name, he saw truly."
Mustang bowed his head, averting his face, his unruly hair falling across his forehead and obscuring both his eye and the patch. She released him, stepping back and waiting, wondering what it would take, in the end, to make him understand. Maybe it had been a mistake, sending Al outside. If the man could spend more time with the boy, and experience the wholeness and the sweetness of spirit that literally glowed from him, perhaps it could soothe Mustang's own sorrowful spirit...
Except that he was actually smiling, albeit only faintly. Still he didn't look up, but he murmured, "You're a very wise woman, Mrs. Curtis."
"Call me Izumi. Since I seem to have started calling you Roy."
His smile broadened as he glanced sidelong at her. "Very well. Izumi." He leaned back once more, against the window, arms still folded. "I'll have to think about what you've said," he remarked, his voice calmer than it had been. "There may be some merit in it."
"Why, thank you," she replied sarcastically.
"I'm not mocking you. It just may take some time to digest. I've never thought of my life that way, and...it could make a great deal of difference. But I'm still not sure why you would say I should have a continuing role in Alphonse's life. You've already accused me of helping to ruin his life, yet he's done fine, the last two years. In fact, you just gave me a demonstration of how well he's doing under your instruction. Why should he need me at all, when he's got you?"
The unexpected question hit her like a sledge hammer. Izumi knew she hadn't moved, but she felt as though it had rocked her back on her heels. Quickly she searched for an answer that would satisfy and deflect him.
But he was too quick, and too damnably perceptive. Almost immediately his arms dropped and he stood rigidly straight. Taking a step closer, "What?" he demanded. "What is it?" Another step, as he scrutinized her face. Even with one eye, his examination pierced her to her very core. And then she saw his own face change, the smile utterly gone. "No," he whispered.
Why, oh why had nobody ever told her he would be like this? She already knew it was pointless, but she tried gamely to divert him. "I don't know what you...," she began, but her voice trailed away helplessly.
"You're ill. And you don't expect to be here when he begins his search for Ed." He said it flatly, as a statement, not a question.
Izumi closed her eyes. "Very well," she nodded in confirmation. "Yes. I believe you will be needed either way, but...no. I won't be here."
"He wants to go soon. So..."
"Yes." She answered the unspoken question.
"What's happened? What is this illness?"
It was an impertinent and intrusive question, that he really had no right to ask. Yet he was an alchemist, and she had already taken him to task for his own alchemic shortcomings. It was only fair, she supposed, to tell him now about hers. Equivalent exchange.
She lifted her chin, forcing herself to look straight at him. "The homunculus, Wrath," she said. "The boy who had Edward's leg and arm. He was my sin. And because of that - "
She could say no more, for she was suddenly engulfed, pressed against him, gripped in his strong embrace. "Oh no," he whispered roughly. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry."
Izumi gasped, almost sobbed, at the surge of grief and sympathy she could sense washing over her. She had half expected him to yell at her for presuming to judge him when her own sin was so great. Instead he held her tightly, as though somehow he could comfort and protect her, even save her from the fate that rushed so swiftly toward her.
She pressed her hands to his back, just for a moment. She felt his breathing through the black shirt, in and out, catching roughly as he made comforting sounds murmured against her hair. She wanted nothing more than to lean against him like this forever, to cry against his shoulder, to soothe her grief with the knowledge that this alchemist, this man, truly understood the enormity of what she had done and the price she would pay.
But she didn't dare allow herself that indulgence, not now, so close to the end. There were much more important things to deal with.
Roy seemed to understand, for he began to release her even before she began to pull away. He didn't let go entirely, though, keeping his hands on her shoulders as he gazed into her face. She wiped her eyes with the back of a hand, and wondered if she should fetch a napkin to wipe away the dampness on his cheek. And how on earth could she steer the conversation back, now, to what really mattered?
But yet again, he surprised her. And said the one thing he could ever have said to set her mind at rest and bring the greatest peace.
"You're right, Izumi, it's time I stop looking backward. I won't waste the soul work any longer. I'll go back north and prepare myself, and when Al needs my help, I'll be there with him. I won't let either of them fall. I promise you."
She wiped her eyes again, fumbling for an answer. "Oh, Roy...," she faltered.
But his grip tightened, and his gaze sharpened over her shoulder. "I think there's something in danger of burning," he frowned. "It's just on the verge."
"My cake!" she gasped, pulling free to dash toward the oven. She grabbed a towel and flung open the oven door, billows of aroma rolling over her, the smell of chocolate, and vanilla, and the slightest acrid hint of the burning he had sensed. Seizing the pan and setting it onto the wood block beside the stove, she gingerly prodded the top of the cake, and saw it spring back, gratifyingly, when she removed her finger. The edges of the cake, against the pan, were perhaps darker than they should have been, but they hadn't blackened. "Thanks for reminding me," Izumi sighed in relief. "You caught it just in time. It's going to be all right."
"If there's anything in this world I know well," the man remarked drily, "it's the various gradations of burning."
She glanced over her shoulder. Roy had leaned a hand on the back of a chair and now stood with one casual ankle crossed over the other, his second hand comfortably stuck into a pocket. He gave her a little smile and she turned back to the cake with her own answering smile. With the speed of frequent practice, she pulled out a cooling rack and set the cake upside down on it.
Then, wiping her hands on the towel, she leaned back against the counter and regarded her visitor calmly, her equilibrium mostly restored. There was nothing quite like the simplicity of domestic activity to set the mind back on track. And it helped that he, too, had made the effort to return to normalcy.
"Saved," she quipped lightly.
"Yes," he agreed.
She'd been right: his face seemed designed more to smile than to frown. The tautness and discomfort he'd displayed when she had first opened the door had vanished. And so, she acknowledged wryly, had the antagonism she had felt upon seeing him on the doorstep.
"I'm glad you came," Izumi said softly.
"So am I."
"I wish you had come long before this."
His gaze lowered, just for a moment, before lifting again to her face. "I wish I could have. But I wasn't ready."
"Had to get up your courage before you could talk to me, did you?" she grinned.
He burst out laughing, a ringing sound that seemed to fill the kitchen. Izumi wondered suddenly when he had last laughed that way. "If I'd really known what I was in for," Roy drawled, "I don't think that would have been possible."
"But now that you're here, you'll stay for lunch, won't you? It will give you the chance to talk to Al."
He hesitated. "I...don't think so, Izumi."
"Are you sure? You did say you wanted to talk to him, and I think he'd like the chance to talk to you. And...there's cake."
He laughed again, then pulled the hand out of his pocket and flexed it a couple of times, watching the fingers move, his hair falling across his eyes. "That's almost irresistible, I admit. The cake, the boy...and his teacher." Roy's eye glinted wickedly as he cast her a sidelong glance. "And I know Al would like to talk to me. But," he smiled apologetically, "I just can't, yet. I'm sorry. In fact..." He flexed again, then lightly snapped his fingers and lowered the hand to his side, closing it as though coming to a decision. "I think I should go now."
Somehow she had known he wouldn't stay. And despite the urging of her own desire, Izumi nodded, resolutely thrusting her personal wishes aside. He was probably wise. She'd given him a little shock, and he had some re-evaluating to do before he was ready to take up his work again. Talking to Al right now would drag him backwards as they inevitably gravitated toward tales of their shared past. And what Mustang needed was to move ahead, and leave the past behind him.
Never mind that the sense of lost opportunity gaped at her back like a chasm.
"Very well," she agreed crisply. "Just be sure that you think about what I said, when you get back up north in your isolated cabin."
She watched him step to the chair where he'd draped his coat, and put the garment back on with a few precise movements. And when he moved to the door to open it, standing in the doorway, Izumi thought in a pang of biting disappointment that he would simply leave without another word.
He was still virtually a stranger. She shouldn't care so much that he would walk away without looking back, having satisfied whatever need had drawn him here. It shouldn't matter. And yet...she had thought...
He stopped at the door and turned back to her, the sunlight outlining his figure with a shimmering glow. Then...she had thought right, after all?
He said gently, "Alphonse is a beautiful young man, Izumi, and it's as much your doing as his. Thank you for letting me see him."
"You're welcome," she murmured.
Roy drew himself up very straight, and now declaimed solemnly, "I promise I won't fail you. I'll be there to support Al when he needs me, and Ed too, when he returns. I will go forward, and not back. And for the rest of my life I will remember and learn from everything you have said to me. Teacher."
He bowed formally, a deep bow of respect and homage, the bow of a student to a revered tutor. Then he turned on his heel and strode away, across the grass.
Everything they had said he was. And so infinitely more.
Izumi stood motionless in her kitchen, the warm, comforting aroma of the cake filling her senses, and a shaft of flaming sunlight streaking across the floor to her feet.