Havoc flicked his spent cigarette out the car window and lit another one. He puffed on the thing gratefully, trying to calm his frazzled nerves.
Havoc flicked his spent cigarette out the car window and lit another one. He puffed on the thing gratefully, trying to calm his frazzled nerves. Colonel Mustang had been inside for almost ten minutes, so Havoc had no doubt that he had found Lieutenant Colonel Hughes within the house... but he was filled with a dark sort of anxiety. He supposed that he should feel relieved that they had finally tracked down Hughes, but the fact that Mustang was taking so long in collecting him gave Havoc a deep sense of foreboding.
Mustang had not told Havoc what had caused Hughes to run from his office, nor why everyone had been frantically looking for him, but he knew that whatever it was... it was very, very bad. Mustang had clearly been at the end of his rope during the car ride, using every bit of his willpower to keep calm and collected. Havoc was half-afraid that his superior was headed straight for a nervous breakdown. There’s only so much that a man can take, and Mustang had already taken a lot.
The Lieutenant turned his head and froze, his cigarette slipping from his fingers. The colonel was stumbling toward him as quickly as he was able to with Hughes thrown limply over his shoulder. Havoc cursed and jumped out of the car, running to them.
“Help me put him in the car!” Mustang ordered over the roar of the rain around them, his eyes wild with adrenaline. Havoc obeyed quickly, scrambling to open the door to the backseat before pulling Hughes’ motionless body down from Mustang’s shoulder. Mustang’s face, shoulder, and chest were smeared with blood, the falling rain making it streak downward in bright, terrifying lines of scarlet and it took Havoc a moment to register that the colonel was not the source of such devastating amounts of life-fluid.
Mustang and Havoc shoved Hughes into the backseat of the car, Havoc blanching as he saw the fountain of blood bubbling up freely from a gaping hole in the unconscious man’s neck.
“Your lighter, Havoc.” Mustang said quickly, climbing into the backseat with his wounded comrade. Havoc balked, scarcely registering Mustang’s words as he watched his colonel clamp his hands down on the devastated artery. “GIVE ME YOUR LIGHTER!” Mustang shouted at him again.
Havoc fumbled for it in his pocket and Mustang snatched it out of his hand, promptly creating a flame with the little plastic device. With Mustang’s alchemic skill, the tiny flame became a jet of fire that seared the side of Hughes’ neck, melting the skin and sealing the mortal wound. Mustang inspected his work for a moment, breathing hard, then raised his haunted eyes to Havoc.
Havoc ran to the other side of the car and jumped into the driver’s seat, nearly gagging on the smell of burnt hair and flesh as he revved the engine to life and took off toward the nearest hospital. He looked back at Mustang through the rearview mirror. The colonel had settled himself on the seat, pulling Hughes’ head into his lap. He was shaking like a leaf, the tips of his fingers trembling spasmodically as they traveled to the uninjured side of Hughes’ neck, checking his pulse.
Hughes did not look good. He was breathing in ragged, shallow gasps, but at least he was still breathing.
“What happened?” Havoc asked, his insides twisting.
Mustang just shook his head, looking down at his clearly dying friend. “Just drive, Lieutenant.” He said, his voice impressively free of any emotion.
Around the office, Colonel Roy Mustang was famous for possessing a certain talent. His staff called it “The Colonel Face”. It was an intimidating, entirely closed expression that Mustang wore like a mask whenever he didn’t want anyone to know what he was thinking or feeling. It made his face completely unreadable, powerful and stoic like the faces of war heroes that Havoc had read about as a child. He wore The Face when talking to his superiors, or whenever someone brought up the Ishbalan rebellion, or when he felt helplessly overwhelmed about something and didn’t want his men to see his doubt.
He was wearing The Face now and—to Havoc, at least—seeing that cold, desperately guarded expression was almost as heart-rending as watching Hughes gasp feebly in the colonel’s lap.
“He’ll be okay.” Havoc said to him softly, not really having the faintest idea of whether or not he was telling the truth.
Mustang stared straight ahead at the rain-drenched road before them and did not reply.
Though it seemed an eternity before they reached the hospital, the drive probably only lasted a little over five minutes. Havoc stopped the car and turned in his seat.
“I’ll be right back. I’m going to go get the paramedic, okay?” Havoc said hurriedly, opening his car door.
“He stopped breathing.” Mustang said conversationally, almost seeming to ignore the body in his lap as he stared past Havoc through the windshield in front of them.
Havoc’s breath caught in his chest and he looked down at Hughes’ motionless form. He was impossibly pale, his clammy cheeks ashen and his lips a dead shade of blue-grey. “How long ago?”
“A couple minutes.”
“Goddamnit, why didn’t you tell me?”
Mustang calmly turned his gaze to look at Havoc. “Because it didn’t matter. You couldn’t have done anything.”
“...Is he still alive?”
The lieutenant ran a hand through his hair, trying to keep from panicking in a harried juxtaposition to Mustang’s unnerving calm.
“Okay, just... just stay here. I’ll get help.”
Havoc exited the car and sprinted toward the emergency entrance of the hospital. Two paramedics saw his approach and ran to meet him, following him back to the car without question. Within seconds, the lieutenant colonel was strapped to a gurney and rushed into the building with Havoc and Mustang following close behind.
A group of physicians met the paramedics in the hospital’s white hallway. They shouted orders to one another, examining their patient and tossing around medical jargon as they lifted his eyelids and checked his pulse. They pulled Hughes into the emergency room as a nurse placed a breathing mask over his face and forced hard puffs of air into his motionless lungs. It was a whirl of ordered chaos, a dizzying mélange of surgical steel and sterile gloves tinged pink with bloody rainwater.
Mustang stood outside the doorway, silently watching them work. He stood erect, his shoulders squared and his hands at his sides, the very epitome of a military man. Nothing touched him. He was a rock, an impenetrable force with an iron will. Even though the lieutenant was a good four inches taller than the colonel, Mustang was emitting a dangerous sort of energy that made Havoc feel small and insignificant in his presence. Even as he was—drenched with rainwater, covered in blood, and sporting various injuries on his hard, sober face—he still radiated power and distinction.
Havoc might have been daunted by him if it weren’t for the fact that he knew that it was all for show. The lieutenant understood that it was a defense mechanism, and felt more pity for the man than his intended intimidation. Havoc stood next to Mustang, wanting to pull him away from the sight of his best friend’s lifeless form being surrounded by doctors and medical equipment, but not daring to do anything so bold. Luckily, one of the doctors came out of the room closed the door behind her, blocking Mustang’s view and diverting his attention.
The doctor was an older woman, perhaps in her early fifties. She took the colonel’s arm informally and guided him away from the door. She introduced herself as Doctor Matthews and launched into a generic medical spiel, telling them both that their friend was in good hands... that the doctors would do everything that they could...
“Cut the bullshit.” Mustang said coldly, interrupting her professionally obligatory words of comfort. “It isn’t necessary.”
She looked at him disapprovingly for a moment then sighed. “As you wish. Do you know what happened to him? Any information that you can give us will help.”
Mustang fished in his pocket and produced an empty pill bottle, handing it to the doctor.
“He took these. Then he slit his own throat. I cauterized the wound shut. That’s all.” His words were monotone, factual and even, revealing nothing that didn’t need to be revealed. Havoc turned and looked at him sharply. He’d had his suspicions, but until that moment he hadn’t known exactly what had happened. Havoc was appalled to hear his superior talking about his friend’s suicide attempt so offhandly and he let it show, meeting the colonel’s eyes reproachfully. Mustang looked away quickly, but the briefest flash of some sick emotion crossed his face before it disappeared again behind his hard, expressionless mask.
Dr. Matthews examined the bottle for a moment. “Do you know how many pills he took?”
“I’m not sure. Half the bottle, perhaps.”
The doctor nodded to herself and said, “There’s a waiting room down the hall to the right. We’ll let you know if anything happens.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” Havoc said when Mustang stayed silent. She smiled at him kindly, then gave Mustang a searching look and went back into the emergency room. Before the door closed Havoc caught a brief glimpse of the people rushing around inside, hanging IV bags from the rack beside the gurney and shoving thick plastic tubes down Hughes’ throat. He shuddered and turned away.
“Maybe we should go to the waiting room.” Havoc suggested awkwardly, wanting to be away from the emergency room, both for his sake and for Mustang’s. The colonel ignored him, choosing instead to lean against the cold white wall next to the door and cross his arms over his chest, eyes closed. He would not be moved.
Resignedly, Havoc stood next to him with his hands in his pockets as he fiddled with his half-empty pack of cigarettes, desperately jonesing for one but not willing to leave Mustang alone to go outside for a smoke. The hallway around them was mostly silent, apart from the sounds of muffled voices and beeping machines coming from the other side of the wall that they were leaning against.
Occasionally, someone would walk by—medical personnel, or sometimes a patient. They would look at the two rain-drenched, blood-spotted soldiers and then quickly turn away uncomfortably when Mustang raised his head to return their gaze. The colonel was exuding a signal that clearly hissed “Back Off”, and even the casual passerby saw that as a direct command that they were obliged to obey. Havoc, however, kept close to the colonel’s side in spite of this silent order—so close that their shoulders almost touched. Havoc was not fooled for one second by his superior’s seemingly unbreakable expressionlessness.
It was a desperate, fake charade that Havoc saw through it immediately. The lieutenant was watching Mustang peripherally and could see that his confident mask was slipping. His onyx eyes—which were glazed and bloodshot, even beyond his darkly splotched ocular injury—betrayed his unhappy thoughts in the way that he stared pensively at the opposite wall. Subconsciously, the colonel was clenching and unclenching his jaw, a nervous tick that Havoc had noticed years ago, but had rarely seen outside of the few times that he’d witnessed Mustang get really upset about something. There was no doubt in Havoc’s mind that Mustang was desperately clinging to his composure, but it was going to fail him. The Face had become thin and brittle, and could shatter at any moment. What would happen then, Havoc did not know.
“Are you okay, sir?” Havoc asked timidly, knowing that he would be rebuked for the question, but feeling the need to ask. The lieutenant himself was on the verge of tears and could not imagine what horrible feelings must be eating away at his superior’s insides—had been eating away at him for days now.
Colonel Mustang clenched his jaw again, and for a moment did not answer. When he did speak, his voice was low and contained, sounding almost bored or perhaps quietly irritated.
“Of course I am.” He said without looking at him, still staring at the opposite wall. But, as Havoc watched, the hairline crack in Mustang’s composure opened up into a gaping fissure, exposing his raw helplessness to the world. Mustang covered his face with one hand as the tiniest of gasps escaped from him, signaling the exact moment when he started to fall apart.
“What h-have I told you about asking stupid questions?” He managed to scold brokenly before his shoulders started to quake under this sudden ambush of grief that he was still frantically trying to suppress. He was doing everything he could to keep himself under control, but it wasn’t enough. Colonel Mustang broke down and sobbed violently into his hand.
Havoc froze, unsure of what to do. He had expected Mustang to yell at him, to rage and vent his sorrow via angry words rather than tears. Havoc was more than willing to be a scapegoat, if that’s was Mustang needed. He had not expected this wracking reaction... this sudden, brutal eruption of misery and concealed pain.
“I gave them to him.” Mustang wept harshly.
“I gave him those f-fucking pills, Jean! He wasn’t sleeping well, so I gave them to him!”
“Oh... Colonel, I...” Havoc stammered, wanting to console him but not knowing how. “It’s not your fault, you couldn’t have known...”
“I should have known! I should... sh-should have watched him more closely... I just keep fucking up, and now he’s paying for it!”
“Hey, that’s not fair.” Havoc argued, trying to sound stern and not exactly succeeding. “You didn’t make him take the pills, you didn’t hand him the knife. He did that all on his own...”
“I betrayed his trust when he needed me!” Mustang talked over him, shaking uncontrollably and starting to hyperventilate in the clutches of his sick emotion. “I might as well have slit his throat myself...”
Havoc had never seen Mustang cry. He had half believed that the elegant, collected colonel was incapable of such human weaknesses, as powerful as he was. And now... to see him so painfully deluged by misery... to watch this unbreakable man as he quickly dissolved into hysterics... it stole the breath from Havoc’s lungs and overwhelmed him, making him feel as if the world had been turned upside-down.
Havoc grabbed Mustang’s shoulders roughly and faced him. “No. Listen to me, Roy.” He said firmly, even as Mustang’s harsh grief made tears spring to Havoc’s own eyes. “This is not your fault. If he really wanted to kill himself, he would have found a way to do it no matter what. There is nothing that you could have done to stop him. Nothing, okay?”
Mustang shook his head, unable to speak, half of his face still covered by one gloved, blood-daubed hand. His breathing was still shallow and panicked and his dark eyes held some unfathomable anguish that slammed into Havoc like a fist to the gut. The colonel leaned his head forward and rested it against Havoc’s chest as another wave of sobbing overtook him. Havoc did not hesitate. He wrapped his arms around the grieving man and pulled him into a fierce, crushing embrace, clenching his teeth as he, too, succumbed to his tears.
Every man has a breaking point, and they had just discovered Mustang’s.
As impressive and imposing as Mustang had been moments ago—as strong and foreboding as he had pretended to be in the face of this tragedy—he was like a child now, brutally lamenting the unfairness of the world with forceful, intense sobs that shook him convulsively. Havoc held him even more tightly, trying to ease the breaking of his own heart as he silently comforted the colonel.
“Shh... He’ll be okay.” He tried to soothe, but even to his own ears the words were unconvincing.
“Don’t patronize me, Havoc.” Mustang wept angrily into the lieutenant’s chest. “That’s the l-last thing I need right now.”
“I’m not. I’m... I’m just saying that we don’t know anything yet. Maybe we got him here fast enough. He could be fine.”
After a beat Mustang nodded resignedly, taking several deep, shuddering breaths in an attempt to calm himself. “You’re right.” He rasped, gently pulling himself away from Havoc. Havoc let him go, wiping his eyes on the cuff of his damp uniform. Mustang wiped his own eyes impatiently, cursing tearfully as his hand brushed against the cut on his cheek.
Havoc watched the man collect himself. Slowly he straightened, raising his head and rolling his shoulders back as if he were standing at attention. His face went entirely blank as his guarded mask was replaced and he became the dauntless colonel once more. After a moment, the only visible sign of his brief breakdown was the over-brightness in his read-rimmed eyes and his heaving, quickened breath. Havoc’s insides churned to see him retreat so effectively back into himself, withdrawing his anguish and containing it within him. This was far more terrible to witness than his breakdown, for tears are open and honest and can be comforted while this brick wall was nothing but a lie and it acted like a barrier between Mustang and the world.
“You don’t need to be here.” Mustang said expressionlessly, “You can go, if you want.”
“I’m not leaving you.”
Mustang looked up at him blankly, but then—to Havoc’s deep relief—the man smiled very faintly. The Face was still in place, but he had not closed himself off to Havoc entirely.
“Come on.” Havoc said softly, “Let’s go outside for a while. Clear our heads.”
Mustang gave a tiny, painful laugh, wiping his eyes again, “You just want to go outside so that you can have a cigarette.”
Havoc favored him with a lopsided smirk and reached into his pocket, flipping a cigarette into his mouth before offering the pack to Mustang. “Join me? I know that it’ll help calm you down.”
The pale smile that touched Mustang’s lips faltered and disappeared. He looked down at the little cardboard box and sighed.
“Yeah.” He rasped after a moment, looking both tired and awkward as he snatched the offered pack of cigarettes from Havoc and pulled one out. He put it to his lips and led the way toward the small balcony that they could see next to the waiting area.
Havoc fell into step behind Mustang, watching him closely, wondering what would happen to him if Hughes didn’t pull through. Havoc realized that the colonel’s emotional wellbeing was balanced precariously on the narrow blade of a knife, and any fell slip could send him over the edge. Havoc half-feared that Mustang—in his brutal grief—might follow in Hughes’ footsteps if something went wrong... but then he quelled such bleak thoughts. If it came to that, they would deal with it.
Either way, Havoc fully intended to watch the colonel like a hawk for a while.