Of course he'd made them take Havoc first. And when Riza had seen the Lieutenant, face down in his own blood with two charred holes through his back, she had understood why. She'd been shocked and delighted to discover Havoc was still breathing, had seen them halfway out to the ambulance, just far enough to make sure they were safe. Then she had sprinted back to find Mustang passed out cold and Alphonse panicking because - of course, of course - with no sense of touch, he couldn't check for a pulse. She should have sent Alphonse, should have stayed. Above all the half-articulate fears that circled at the back of her mind, one thought stood out. It was possible that the Colonel might not wake again, and there was a conversation they were supposed to have, in a situation like this. Now she was sat in the back of an ambulance with the Colonel by her on a stretcher. One ambulanceman was holding his wrist, the other one sitting by her, stony-faced and ready to move, and she couldn't even spare a thought for Havoc lying maybe dead in the van ahead of them, and all she could think was that it could be too late, after everything.
Then his eyes had cracked open, thank God, but he looked appalling, white-faced, glassy-eyed, and he was trying to speak to her.
"Riza." And when he called her that, she knew that it was happening after all, that necessary conversation, and she was so relieved and at the same time, she desperately didn't want it to take place. The conversation they needed to have if he was dying. But he was looking at her, and she could see the terrible strain on his face, how he was holding it together, so she did too.
"Riza. Inside pocket." For a moment she was thrown, thought she'd misheard. His voice was scratchy, tight with pain. Then she got it. She leaned over him and felt in the inside pocket of his uniform jacket, pulled out a set of keys. His apartment. If it became necessary, she would need to clear it of anything incriminating.
He still was looking at her, intent and desperate. She looked down at the keychain. Clipped on to his apartment keys was another ring, and on it was a single, small key. A key that wouldn't open any lock in his apartment. He wouldn't be that stupid. It would be for somewhere else, and, if necessary, she supposed it would be up to her to discover where, and to make use of what she found. Why did alchemists have to be so damned ridiculously secretive? She slipped the keyring inside her own inside pocket and nodded to him.
He smiled back for a moment. "Good." He winced in pain. "Riza? Lieutenant." Somewhere in her chest, she could feel nausea rising up. She ignored it; kept her eyes on him. "You may have to" - he breathed - "to go on ahead without me. If - it comes to that, can I entrust it all to you?"
"Of course." What could she say? You're an idiot, I'm an idiot? This is intolerable? How could I ever succeed? "Of course."
They held each other's eyes a moment longer. Then, because they both knew now what this situation was, she leaned over, daring, and pressed a gentle kiss to his forehead. And before she'd even moved her lips away, the ambulancemen were already shouting to each other, moving urgently forward, diving quickly around her, pulling her away, checking, pushing, blocking her view. His hand, the one with the array cut in, was dangling off the stretcher. She couldn't even reach over and take it. They were in her way.
She sat up straight, leaned her back against the wall. Held it together.
It had been something of a long night.
As soon as she had taken in what the ambulancemen were doing, they were already outside the hospital and her commanding officer's stretcher was being borne away, handed off to shouting doctors. She had to run to keep up. When she had explained that her task was to guard the Colonel, they had asked her to remain outside the operating theatre. She had checked inside it, to reassure herself that there was only one entrance to need guarding, nowhere someone could conceal themselves inside. She considered that she should remain in the theatre - after all, she did not know these people, and after what they had discovered in the laboratory, after what had been done to Havoc, there was much reason to be paranoid. But as she went to make her arguments to a nurse, she saw the surgeon slice the first long, clean cut down the Colonel's side, and then, somehow, she found she had lost the argument already, and allowed the nurse to usher her from the room.
They'd offered her a chair outside the operating theatre, but she'd stayed standing, not trusting herself to stay awake otherwise. No one had come to her for a very long time.
Some time after two in the morning, the surgeon came to speak with her. Riza was surprised to notice that she was a tired-looking young woman in surgical whites, perhaps only a couple of years older than herself. When her speech didn't begin with real news, Riza realised the Colonel must still be alive. Instead, the surgeon recited a list of facts. Internal bleeding, a lacerated kidney. They had breathed for him, pumped sterile saltwater into his veins to replace the lost blood, stopped the bleeding inside him, closed internal wounds, cleaned and checked and repaired. But people weren't car engines, and so now she was given another list, of the many bad things that could happen now. Infections were possible, pneumonia, inflammation. Worse, it was likely that the bleeding might return, and that if it did so they might not be able to stop it again. The treatment was now only to watch and to wait. The surgeon said that the Colonel's chances would be better if he survived the night. The statement sounded odd, tautological. Riza was becoming so tired that everything in front of her seemed distant, a picture on a cinema screen. Lieutenant Havoc was still in surgery, the doctor added. It was his spine.
Then there had been silent, lamplit hours standing inside a hospital room, her back braced a little against the wall, watching the man in the bed breathe. His face was colourless, his hair in his eyes. All that fierce, contained energy seemed to have evaporated from him somehow. He looked empty. Looking at him like this made her feel drained herself. In the quiet, she permitted herself to remember a late summer day when she was fifteen. Together they had hacked through the forest of head-high weeds in her father's garden, to get at the blackberry bush by the fence, and she had turned her head and noticed for the first time that he was beautiful.
The woman at the hospital room's door was wearing a huge fur coat which was damp and musky from the rain outside, and a big cloche hat, and about half the usual amount of make-up. Riza supposed that it counted as a reasonable disguise.
"So, darling, my nephew the Lieutenant. What's his first name again?"
"Gotcha." And she shouldered her way in, straight past Riza's supposed blockade of the door. Madam Christmas was always the same, as unintimidated by Riza's uniform and gun as she was by her adopted son's. She always managed to make Riza feel as if she was still a skinny fourteen-year old in a school pinafore.
Riza followed her in, and found her standing, unmoving, by the head of the Colonel's hospital bed. Not liking to look, she glanced over at Havoc. He was half-awake and full of morphine, looking over at the visitor with sleepy eyes.
"She's your aunt, Havoc."
Havoc frowned in a vague, inebriated way. "That's not my Auntie Vera," he muttered. "She's way too tall." Then he shifted his head on the pillows and was out again.
Riza hazarded a glance at Madam Christmas, and noticed that the woman was paying no attention to Havoc or to her. She watched her openly. She had her back to Riza, and hadn't moved. The man she was looking at was lying still unconscious, still in danger, his face so sallow it was almost translucent, his beard coming back in.
She pulled a comb from her big handbag and closed it with a snap. Then she leaned over the Colonel's bed, put a hand to the side of his face, and combed his hair, briskly. Riza watched her smooth the fringe back from his forehead.
Madam Christmas said quietly, either to herself or to Riza, "He always has his hair in his eyes. I'm amazed he can see what he's doing, that he hasn't lit himself on fire yet. It's way too long in front. I always tell him to do something about it, but ..." She straightened up, went to open the door. "And he needs a shave."
As always with this woman, Riza felt a little unsure where to put herself. So she just nodded, and said "yes."
Outside the room, Madam Christmas leaned against the wall, still silent, but rummaging through her handbag with agitated hands. Riza watched her as she popped a cigarette into her mouth, sucked at it, tried to light it with a match. After a moment, Riza leaned in and flipped the cigarette round. Madam Christmas had been trying to light the filter tip. Riza took the box of matches from her hand, struck one against the strip at the side of the box, watched it spark, fizzle and the tiny flame come to life. She held it up to the cigarette end. The cigarette was a little damp, but after a moment, it caught.
Madam Christmas took a long, deep draw, then thanked her wordlessly with a narrow-eyed smile. She closed her eyes, exhaled a slow stream of smoke through her nose. "Aw, hell. I probably shouldn't of come."
The woman's composure obviously meant so much to her, Riza thought. To be able to contain herself, to remain standing and to continue on ... She thought for a moment. Then she said, "Still."
Riza was appalled when she realised, a moment after waking, that she must have fallen asleep. She had only sat down for a moment, to rest her legs and stretch them out. People had tried to relieve her, several times, but it was quite impossible. It was her first duty to guard the Colonel, both for her job and for the private bargain that the two of them had made. And, although he had handed her everything already, it was still proper that if he died, she was at his side. And afterwards, she would have other duties to perform. Whatever happened, it wasn't possible for her to sleep yet.
She had been lucky, though. The occupants of both beds were breathing evenly. Her failure had had no consequences. She crossed to the window, to let in the breeze. When she returned to her place by the door, she found that Mustang was looking at her, sleepy but focused. She closed her eyes for a moment, pushed her lips together tightly, took a deep breath, gathered herself together. Then she smiled at him, and brought him a glass of water.
She held it to his lips, and he drank it slowly, in sips. Then he smiled and greeted her. "Lieutenant."
"Welcome back, sir."
Riza took the shaving brush from the mug of warm water, tapped it on the edge to get rid of excess water, then rubbed it briskly across the dollop of cream in the pot, working up a lather.
"Your mother told me to do this." Mustang's eyebrows raised a little.
"If you're unhappy with it, you had best take it up with her."
She dabbed lather along his jawline, chin, upper lip in quick, smooth motions. Then she picked up the razor. "Sir? Please try not to fidget."