On the anniversary of the "victory" in Ishbal, Roy Mustang loses sight of his goal. But with no one else left, it's up to Riza Hawkeye to bring him back. Royai, Roy / Riza, Het, Mangabased.
Note: Contains spoilers up and through Chapter 67 of the manga.
Back to the Path
A Fullmetal Alchemist Story
by Anne Packrat
For all his reputation as a "great war hero", Colonel Roy Mustang was nowhere to be found on Armistice Day, the holiday set aside to celebrate the government's victory in the Ishbalan War.
Not that I can blame him, of course.
I would also rather disappear then face the empty celebrations and bald-faced lies the higher-ups always told on December 28th, the "Day of Triumph". Anyone who served in Ishbal, saw the horror and the corruption up close... Well, we know there is nothing worth celebrating about that genocide.
Still, I was the one who always held down the fort on that stupid holiday. Even though I fought in Ishbal, even though my hands were stained in blood and I wanted nothing more then to never hear about it again, I am the one who stayed.
How could I ask him to be there? No, I could not make Roy Mustang suffer through that official mockery of the screams, soot and smoke that haunted his dreams every night. Long ago I had made a promise to protect him, from assaults both mental and physical, and that includes misguided government-sanctioned celebrations.
It also helps that I love the man. I suppose my coworkers would be shocked to hear me admit it so readily. They see me as sort of an "Ice Queen," an image I try to cultivate as it helps disguise what I really feel for the colonel. However, I have never lied to myself about the depth and reality of my fondness for my commanding officer.
Before when we were stationed at Eastern, the festivities on Armistice Day were toned down or practically non-existent. Since that city was closer to Ishbal and thus more affected by the civil war, there was an undercurrent of tension between the military and the people. That made our Armistice Day a lot more subdued than those in Central, and thus slightly more tolerable for me.
Not so for the colonel, however. No, he always called in sick on Armistice Day, and invariably Hughes would turn up with a couple bottles of hard liquor. We wouldn't see either of them again until the next day. Then Hughes would be on a train back home and the colonel would be at his desk, with only a lingering headache and dull hard eyes as evidence.
But now we're in Central, where Armistice Day is a big deal, and everyone is expected to participate in the celebrations. Every year the military trotted out its war heroes in a parade, and this year, by order of the Fuhrer, at the front of the pack was to be the great Flame Alchemist.
I watched from the sidelines as he went by, so stiff and immaculate in his formal uniform, every inch the loyal, perfect soldier. My heart nearly tore in half as the crowds lining the parade route cheered the alchemists. I knew how much he must be hurting inside. How painful it must have been being seen as a star in the eyes of the children watching...
...When all you really were was a murderer.
The colonel never showed any of this though. His stride was never broken, and all that slipped through his mask as he marched was a tight frown. No, Mustang would break down later, but this time there would be no Hughes fix him up. That job now fell to me.
After the parade the colonel had seemingly disappeared. I took off toward his apartment, praying that he had gone home to drink instead of at some seedy bar somewhere. It seems my prayer was answered because I found his front door unlocked. Roy sat in a worn armchair in his living room with his back toward me. A few candles were the only things lighting the room. I smiled slightly at that, the man always did find it comforting to have an open flame around, even a small one.
The light shifted, illuminating what lay next to him. I gasped; in the space of an hour Roy had managed to drain almost an entire bottle of whiskey.
He must have heard me because he groaned and put his glass down with a loud thunk. Resting his head on the back of the chair, he covered his eyes with a shaky hand.
"So what form are you figments going to plague me with tonight?" he asked, his words slurring very slightly from the drink. God, he sounded so tired and resigned!
Puzzled, I paused in my approach and stared at him in confusion.
"Is it going to be something from the past like that Ishbalan boy? Or how about a horde of burning people all screaming in unison? I never get tired of that one." He sighed and rubbed his temples. "How about Hughes's funeral and little Elysia crying out for her daddy? You know how much fun that hallucination is." A bitter laugh escaped his throat. "That one always hits me like a kick in the gut."
I was growing increasingly alarmed by his ranting. Opening my mouth to say something, I was interrupted by the colonel continuing.
"I know!" he said, his voice full of poison, "How about Havoc? Lord knows we haven't gotten enough mileage out my guilt over that yet!"
A few quick strides took me to the back of the chair. "Sir..."
He frowned but didn't move his hand. "Hawkeye, huh? Haven't had that one in awhile. So is it going to be the day Teacher died? Or how about the day I met her again in Ishbal? Or maybe when I burned that damn tattoo off her back? That one is always good and gruesome."
I leaned over and lifted his hand off his face. His eyes popped open and met mine. "You-You're really here?" he asked disbelievingly.
I nodded and put his hand on the armrest. "Yes."
He frowned. "Why?"
"Because you need me."
He stood, unsteady on his feet. He turned around to face me. A trembling hand ran through his hair. "You shouldn't be here."
"Why?" I said this time.
The colonel wouldn't look at me. His eyes were on the floor. "Because... I don't want you to see me like this," he said softly.
Clenching his fists in anger, he spat, "Because it's..." He paused, searching for the right word. "Because it's undignified...." he finished lamely.
I surprised myself by letting out a short bark of laughter. "Undignified? On a day like today you're caring about something stupid like that?"
He glared at me. "It has nothing to do with the day and everything to do with you!"
That stopped me short. "About me?"
His gaze dropped to the floor. "Because you don't deserve a monster like me."
My eyes widened at his admission. I moved around the chair and stood in front of him. My hand reached out toward him...
And gave him a good hard slap.
"Do you think you're the only one who did things they regret during the rebellion?" I hissed, "I didn't kill as many people as you, but I did kill them. Their faces haunt my dreams even as your own haunt yours."
He stood, admittedly with a small wobble. I took a step back to give him room. "It's not the same-" he began, but I cut him off.
"Maybe not, but that doesn't make me any less guilty then you." I stared down at my hands, as if the blood was suddenly visible on them. My tone softened, but my voice remained firm. "I hate myself for my actions, but I will not wallow in self pity over it."
"How?" he asked, his voice soft but quickly growing strength. He half turned and stared down at the nearest candle, perhaps hoping it would give him an answer too. "Knowing all that we did, how can you go on living?"
I too a deep breath, considering how best to phrase my answer. "What gives me hope is the idea that we can change all of this, prevent another Ishbal from happening. It's that dream that allows me to go on. Your dream, sir."
He whirled on me, his eyes flashing and fists clenched.
"Hughes is dead because of that dream!"
The echoes of his cry faded, and my colonel stood trembling in the wake of it, looking as fragile and frail as the candle flame he'd been studying.
"No," I said quietly. He looked up at me in surprise. "No," I repeated. "Hughes didn't die because of your dream." I stepped forward until I again stood in front of him. "Hughes died because a corrupt government decided to murder him. The very same government that thinks killing an entire innocent race of people is a reason to celebrate."
"But if he hadn't been following me in the first place then Elysia would still have a father and Gracia a husband!" the colonel answered as his voice began to waver slightly. Exactly how much had my colonel drunk that night? It seemed he was unwilling (or perhaps unable) to give up this particular argument despite his impaired condition.
I regarded him levelly. "It was his choice to follow you."
Looking down at the ground again, his voice softened. "If I had known what was going to happen I never would have told him about my stupid dream in the first place." His shoulders slumped as weariness and alcohol took over his body.
"Sir-, Roy, your dream is far from stupid." I stepped toward him and put my hand on his shoulder, both for comfort and to steady him as he was becoming increasingly unstable on his feet. "Would we have chosen to support you if we thought your dream was stupid?"
He sagged against me, surprising me with his sudden weight and almost making me lose my balance. I half dragged, half walked him over to sit on the couch. He rested his head on my shoulder, and I could feel his breath tickle my neck. I blushed lightly at the contact, but didn't push him away.
"I just..." he said. His voice was just barely above a whisper, but I could still hear the desperation and weariness in it. "I just don't want anyone else to get hurt."
I sighed and stroked his hair. It was inappropriate behavior for a subordinate, but at the moment my colonel needed comfort more then protocol. "I know, Roy. I know."
"I'm so tired, Riza," he whispered. There was a plea in his words I wasn't going to ignore.
Fighting down my embarrassment, I helped him slide his head down into my lap. "Why don't you take a nap then? I'll stay right here and protect you."
He yawned, and looked up at me with a half-closed eyes. "Thank you, Riza." He closed his eyes fully. I thought maybe he'd finally fallen asleep, but after a few minutes he opened them again and looked up at me. "Riza, why do you follow me?"
Surprised, I was momentarily rendered speechless. "You should know that already," I finally answered.
"Tell me anyway," he said, his tone almost that of a whining child.
I sighed and the corners of mouth quirked up involuntarily. That was more like the colonel I was used too. "Because, Roy, you need me."
That seemed to satisfy him, as he gave a slight nod. Soon after his eyes finally closed and his breathing evened out.
Once I was sure he was asleep, I relaxed back into his couch and started my vigil.
It looked like the Flame Alchemist would be all right for another year. And when the next Armistice Day comes around? Well, I'd just have to set him back on the path again.
Because he needs me.
And I need him.
A bit late for Royai day I guess, and for that I apologize.
Thanks to the creators, cast and crew of the FMA manga and anime.
Thanks to my husband, Ryan.
Thanks to those who review or leave feedback.
And thanks to you for reading.
---- Anne Packrat (June 13, 2007)