Hawkeye was surrounded by idiots.
As she jogged through the tunnels, torch in her left hand and revolver in her right, she found herself mentally reviewing the roster of untrustworthy disgraces she'd picked that morning. After Edward's phone call, the Colonel had taken a quick decision. Given the apparent strength of the enemy, the paramilitary nature of their activities, and the strong possibility that they were led by a disgraced former State Alchemist, Gregor Milne, it would be appropriate to contain the threat with military force. There was also the unspoken fact that the Colonel, quite rightly, did not trust the military police. From the perspective of their private goals, it would be preferable that Mustang's command dealt with the matter directly first. They could pass any information and prisoners over to the military authorities later, after what was necessary had been done.
Of course, there was also the fact that the Colonel couldn't stand Milne. Hawkeye herself had never met the man, but she was always content to dislike before the fact any alchemist who made chimerae. It saved time.
There had been no need to empty the office; and so Hawkeye had found herself quickly picking out a small team of enlisted men to accompany herself and Mustang. Hawkeye habitually maintained a list in her files of enlisted men with a proven record of competency and courage, for occasions such as these. After all this was over, she was going to be striking some names off that list.
She had only left the Colonel with his men and Edward for four and a half minutes. Alphonse, as everyone but Edward must have realised, barely needed her help to finish the fight. He'd nevertheless thanked her very nicely for turning up. She liked Alphonse.
Then they had got back to the junction to find Mustang missing, and five soldiers and Edward entirely unaware of the fact. One of the troopers, Private Livingston, was sitting against the wall, shot in the arm. Hawkeye would show him some leniency. A second, Captain James, was currently applying a pressure bandage to the first man's wound. He had failed either to observe or to prioritise; his attention to his comrade wasn't going to get him out of this, and the fact that he was technically the second in command here worsened the offence. The third and fourth, Warrant Officers Zavoysky and Muller, were currently in a frankly unnecessary two-to-one fight with one of the mercenaries. Hawkeye dropped the mercenary with a single shot to the knee. The men jumped. So they should. The fifth trooper, Private Woods, was standing turned away from them at the entrance to one of the tunnels. His posture and cocked gun suggested he was keeping look-out, yet he was clearly surreptitiously lighting a cigarette. Woods' wisest option right now would probably be to drop his smokes and run straight down that tunnel.
Meanwhile, Edward had his complete attention focused on restraining a foe who clearly posed no threat. Hawkeye felt somewhat more inclined to be lenient with Edward. He did have a more solid excuse than the others for behaving like an adolescent boy. Of course, that was precisely the trouble with Edward. He spent most of his life squaring up to the responsibilities of a man; and then, just as Hawkeye began to take this for granted and trust him to behave as an adult, if not as a soldier, he would do something that reminded her that he was, like all teenage boys, thoroughly idiotic. Alphonse, as usual showing himself the exception that proved the rule, quickly restrained Edward's opponent.
The enemy having been subdued, and guilty parties noted, Hawkeye moved in to deal with their remaining problem. She cleared her throat and called out. "Where is the Colonel?" Six faces turned to stare at her blankly. Woods attempted to discreetly drop his lit cigarette behind his back. It hit his shin on the way down.
With her stomach clenched into a tense ball of anger and worry, Hawkeye ran down a straight, doorless corridor towards the large room that had served as Milne's headquarters. In order not to be mastered by the worry, Hawkeye was working on distracting herself with the anger.
The Colonel himself, she decided, had clearly done something stupid enough that a reprimand would be appropriate. Hawkeye had little doubt about what had happened; the Colonel must have split from the group to pursue a retreating enemy. She had guarded the man for years, and knew that, in the middle of a fight, high on adrenaline, cortisol and most of all his own power, he was occasionally prone to dropping his guard. It was a bad habit which he knew of, but never seemed to be able to shake. Privately, Hawkeye worried that this might be because she was too good at her job; that her protection of his back now sometimes extended to his relying on her to bail him out of dangerous foolishness. On the battlefield, others saw the Colonel as a courageous and inspiring leader and a devastating human weapon; she saw the sixteen-year old boy who had once fallen off her father's roof trying to show her he could stand up without a handhold.
As they neared the door, Hawkeye motioned for her men to stay still, and popped her torch into her jacket. She'd judged that the Colonel's most likely location was the headquarters, and so she'd taken the two soldiers who'd accompanied her to go to Alphonse, the only two whose competence she could still trust and whose noses she had no desire to break. She stepped forwards on the balls of her feet, her gun cocked. Bangs, rattles and the sound of conversation echoed from within the room. Alphonse had told her that Milne and most of his men were securely held here. She guessed that the escaping mercenary had been intending to free them. It should have been no trouble for Colonel Mustang to incapacitate him before he did so, unless — well.
Hawkeye made eye contact with Vittorio and Jenkins, and showed them her left hand, the first three fingers held up. Silently, she counted them down from three, then she bent her knees, put her left hand to the doorknob and her shoulder to the door, and pushed up hard. As the door flew open she dived through it, at the same time drawing and cocking a second revolver with her left hand, wheeling round to get a good survey of the room, and landing in a crouch.
In the centre of the empty, high-ceilinged room was the concrete pen Edward had transmuted, and from it was coming a torrent of applause. The clapping hands and surprisingly cheerful faces of the captured mercenaries peered out from a series of narrow holes at eye level, like the windows of a sheep truck. There were a few whistles and cheers mixed in with the applause, and a single shouted comment Hawkeye didn't quite catch. She looked at the captive men, automatically bringing her guns up in their direction as she did so. They fell instantly very silent.
Edward wouldn't have been so inattentive as to cage these men but leave them armed. Dismissing them as a threat, Hawkeye made a half circuit around the cage, motioning her men to do so from the other side. The room was undoubtedly empty, but one should always be thorough. At the end of the room, she saw a bloody, blackened sprawl and a large patch of charred concrete. Milne. Alphonse had filled her in on that part of events too. She didn't feel particularly sorry for him. And it was certainly going to be quicker now to wrap up the paperwork.
Vittorio called out from the other side of the pen. "The room's clear, ma'am!"
"We're moving out. Follow me!" With Vittorio and Jenkins at her heels, Hawkeye jogged back out. Although she told herself it was no more likely now than before that the Colonel was injured, the worry was rising back up. Her fingers itched. As she ran, she heard an echoing shout from one of the men from the cage. "Marry me!"
Hawkeye was halfway back to the junction when Edward's speaker and radio mike popped out of the wall. Edward had put a little logo on the microphone. Cute. She raised an eyebrow. Jenkins and Vittorio gawped. Hawkeye made a mental note of the gawking. While she would still recommend these two for future assignments, they would definitely need a reminder to keep their heads when faced with the unexpected.
When Edward told her he'd got the Colonel, he delivered the news with cheerful finality, as if this meant problem solved. She couldn't share his relief yet. Edward's news could turn out either to be good or bad. Unconsciousness and a head wound probably meant a concussion, but there were also worse possibilities. In Ishbal, Hawkeye had once seen a fellow soldier with a head injury walk away from the battlefield joking and complaining, only to drop dead an hour later, felled by a bleed in the brain. Ed didn't seem to realise how serious matters might be (had he read that field medicine pamphlet? At least Alphonse would have) and she didn't enlighten him. He didn't have enough knowledge to do much with the information, so the best thing she could do was to get to the Colonel as quickly as possible, and assess the situation from there.
Hawkeye signed off briskly, and set off again at a run.
After a thirty second sprint down the tunnel from the junction, she spotted them. Edward was trudging ahead, carrying the Colonel over his shoulders in a fairly competent fireman's lift. He really shouldn't be doing that. If the Colonel had a neck injury, he could be worsening it. Mustang's head was down and Hawkeye could see blood in his hair. Entirely against her will, her stomach rolled. She sped up. Coming to a stop by Edward's side, she saw that Jenkins and Vittorio had kept pace with her. She nodded at them, and without further instructions they carefully took the Colonel's weight up and helped Ed lower him to the ground. She noticed Vittorio holding Mustang's head gently in one hand as they moved.
She kneeled beside the Colonel and took a good look while Edward babbled his report. The blow had been to the back of the skull. It had been with something sharp enough to break the skin — that cut would need a couple of stitches — but there was no perceptible indentation below the wound. That was a good sign. The Colonel's lack of responsiveness was not. She couldn't rouse him by shouting his name or by squeezing his hand. So she popped open the top three buttons of his jacket, made a fist and ground her knuckles into the skin above his sternum, hard.
Mustang's eyes shot open. He looked at her, confused, and almost petulantly, said "Stop that. It hurts." For a moment, she saw him at sixteen, sprawled on the remains of her father's herb garden and clutching his arm.
He looked up at her glassily. She leaned forward and tutted at him, not unkindly, then brushed his fringe back and looked at his eyes. His irises were so dark it was difficult to be sure, but his pupils seemed very dilated. She turned to Edward. He was sitting back on his heels about a yard away, taking it all in. She motioned him over. "When you examined the Colonel initially, did you look at his eyes?"
"Do you mean like checking his pupils to see how dilated they were?" Edward crouched by her, seeming momentarily embarrassed. "Yeah, they were. I think the left one was kind of bigger." That was bad. Hawkeye felt her chest constrict a little. Well, at least Edward had read that pamphlet. "Doesn't that mean he's concussed?" But apparently, not that thoroughly.
"No, Edward, it doesn't mean that." This came from the Colonel. He was frowning, and suddenly seemed more alert.
"It means that it would be best for us to move the Colonel to hospital quickly." Hawkeye chimed in. "It could be the sign of a more dangerous injury." She didn't mince her words in front of the Colonel; he knew at least as much about field medicine as she did, and moreover he wouldn't want her to.
Edward cocked his head, thinking it over. Then, with a quick movement, he leaned over Mustang, examining his eyes intently. Edward was frowning in concentration, as if he was trying to make out bad handwriting. His shoulders were rigid, his arms held defensively across his chest as he tried to make the examination without touching any part of the Colonel’s body with any part of his. The awkward posture left him rocking slightly on the balls of his feet, so that he seemed in danger of toppling forwards. Hawkeye attempted to stop the corners of her mouth from twitching.
The Colonel looked back. His expression was an attempt at his usual impassive wall-face, but he wasn't quite on form, and besides, Hawkeye had learnt to read the wall-face a long time ago. Right now, she could see concern, confusion, and a generous pinch of panic. I don't like the way this afternoon is going, his expression was saying.
Then, from down the corridor came running feet, and a familiar metallic clatter. Edward's head whipped round so fast that his braid hit his cheek. The Colonel blinked, and then turned to look too. Edward wobbled, put a hand out into thin air to steady himself, and then toppled forwards straight onto Mustang's chest.
Alphonse clattered to a halt. His head was canted slightly to one side. He said, brightly but a slight squeak to his voice, "Hello!"
Ed sprang off Mustang and and onto his feet several yards away, so fast he was a blur. “What the fuck!” he yelled, pointing wildly, accusingly at Al. “You made me fall over! You made a ton of noise and you startled me and I fell and it was totally your fault that I fell! Don’t do that! I was – I was –“
“Brother – that’s not fair, I can’t help it! You know I always make a noise when I walk! And how come you didn’t notice me? What were you doing that -“
“I was checking his eyes! For the pupil thing, the thing, the concussion thing. That was in the first aid pamphlet?” Then, inspired: “Lieutenant Hawkeye told me to do it!”
“All right,” said Alphonse, in a mild, unruffled tone that suggested he was saving this one up for later. Hawkeye knew that tone; she’d used it often enough herself on the Colonel.
“What?” howled Edward. “What are you implying? You traitor, that’s a complete lie! You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Whatever it was that Alphonse was planning to tease him about later, Edward had obviously already worked it out. Not for the first time, Hawkeye was a little glad to be an only child.
Mustang, meanwhile, was staring, open-mouthed and frowning, at the whole bizarre exchange. A good deal of colour seemed to have come back into his cheeks. If this hadn’t been an emergency, she would have taken the opportunity to tease him about it a little. As it was, she decided to save this one up for later.
She interrupted. “Edward, Alphonse. We’ll need a stretcher of some kind to transport the Colonel, please.” Mustang tried to mutter a protest but she carried right on over him. “Some kind of rigid material like wood would be ideal, to prevent unnecessary movement of the neck.”
“There was a door back there!” Ed jerked a thumb back towards the junction, speaking far too loudly. “I’ll just go now and use that! Back right away!” And he was down the tunnel making his escape already.
Alphonse said, “I’ll make some ties. I’ll need a jacket or something from one of you guys.” You can have Woods’ pants, Hawkeye was tempted to say. Instead she just unhooked her cavalry skirt and tossed it to Alphonse. He caught it, and clapped.
Two hours later, Hawkeye popped her head outside of the door of Mustang’s room and was pleased to find that Edward and Alphonse hadn’t fled. They were sitting side by side on small wooden chairs in a corridor of the town’s small hospital, staring quietly at the opposite wall, on which hung a yellowing painting of a cottage with some fat, jolly peasants on the steps and a curling piece of paper saying “Please Wash Your Hands.”
Mustang was inside the room, sitting up on the bed in his shirt-sleeves. He was looking decidedly less drunk now and more like himself. Another heartening sign: he was being bad-tempered. On the other hand, it seemed that that the doctors shared Hawkeye’s suspicion that this might be something worse than a simple concussion. They were awaiting the results of x-rays which would determine if he had a fracture and possibly a collection of blood between his skull and the membrane around his brain. The latter was apparently likely, and it would mean some unpleasant-sounding emergency brain surgery.
The Colonel had harboured some unrealistic hopes that he was going to be spending that evening in the restaurant carriage of a train to Central, rather than having a hole drilled in his head by a rural brain surgeon. He was dealing with the wait by griping endlessly about the fact that he wasn’t allowed a glass of water. Hawkeye didn’t have anything against helping him distract himself — and, to a degree, her — from worry. However, after half an hour of it, she’d decided to call in reinforcements. At least the Colonel’s rank had secured him a private room while they waited. Hawkeye didn’t like to think what both their moods might have been like if they’d had to stick it out in the main bays. There they’d been sandwiched between a garrulous local drunk who’d fallen off a wall, a fractious child who was crying his way through a tetanus shot, and the child’s angry mother, who was bullying the nervous intern wielding the syringe for making her son cry.
"You can bring your chairs into the room and sit with us, if you'd like." Hawkeye tried to make it sound like a kind gesture.
Edward opened his mouth, but then paused for a moment, rubbing the back of his neck. Hawkeye guessed he'd been about to say that no thanks, they were good, but that part of his brain, the usually dormant part consisting of sensible things his mother had drilled into him, was giving a good metaphorical kick in the shin. Impending maturity? Hawkeye hoped so. It would certainly save Alphonse some work.
Alphonse stood, picking up his chair and thereby committing his older brother to action. “Thank you, Lieutenant. How’s the Colonel?”
“He’s still awake. We’re still waiting for some x-ray results, but I’m afraid it’s likely they may need to operate.”
They sloped into the room with their chairs and sat down by the end of the bed. Ed looked at the Colonel. The Colonel looked at Ed. Then Mustang looked down and started inspecting the cannula in his hand very closely, and Ed looked to one side and started reading the fire evacuation procedures on the wall with great interest. They were both wearing matching looks of frowning innocent concentration. Hawkeye and Al looked at each other for a moment. Then Al made a tiny choking noise, and Hawkeye found the corners of her mouth twitching up irrepressibly, and so they both settled for looking out of the window instead until they could trust themselves not to laugh.
The door opened and a doctor they hadn’t seen before, a middle-aged woman, marched briskly through without knocking. She glanced round the four of them, giving the room in general a cheerful smile. If she was surprised that one of them was seven feet tall and wearing a suit of armour, she hid it well. Hawkeye supposed that even in a small hospital like this, casualty department doctors were used to a life of surprises.
"Good afternoon, Colonel," she said, spreading a series of x-rays on the bed. "Some good news for you. According to these" — she gestured at the x-rays — "Your skull and its contents is in showroom condition. No fracture, no hematoma – just a nasty concussion.” Hawkeye found herself slowly letting out a breath. “We'll keep you in for observation until tomorrow, and if there's no change, you can go back to Central and enjoy your concussion at home. Rest up, no reading or writing for a week" — the Colonel gave Hawkeye a cheerful glance — "and no alcohol for two weeks." Hawkeye gave the Colonel a cheerful glance of her own and he looked sourly back at her. "Since we're not operating, it's all right for you to eat or drink if you don't feel too sick." The Colonel and Hawkeye exchanged a glance now of mutual lack of cheer. Neither of them were fond of hospital food. Hawkeye thought that later on, she would go back to that place they'd had lunch to see if she could procure some take-out for them both, and perhaps a cold glass of beer while she waited for it. She was still in uniform, but it had been that kind of day.
The doctor retrieved her x-rays and moved on. The door clicked shut, and there followed a slightly awkward pause. It was, predictably, broken by the scrape of Ed’s chair. He stood up, and started heading for the door, looking straight ahead of him and talking as he walked. “Well, I’m starved. I missed lunch dealing with your chimera crap so now it looks like your brain isn’t broken, I’m going to go eat, and then Al and I have to go catch the night train out West, and then I guess we’ll send you a report in a couple weeks. Maybe.” He opened the door and, with his back to them, raised a hand in farewell. “See ya, Colonel. Try not to break it again while I’m gone.”
Alphonse lingered in the room for a second, his gait slightly stiff, shoulders hunching down in mild embarrassment. “Um, ” said Alphonse, buying himself thinking time. “Colonel? I really hope you feel better soon. Goodbye, Lieutenant Hawkeye.” The sentence sped up as he got it out, and on the last words he bolted out the door too.
Finally, the First Lieutenant and her Colonel were alone in the room. For a time, there was a comfortable silence.
Hawkeye sighed, half-consciously. She considered the afternoon it had been, and the many, many things she wanted to say to her commanding officer. Finally, she gave him a sidelong look and said, impassive and straight-faced, "Look, Ma, no hands."
Mustang lifted an eyebrow, presumably attempting to take the direct hit with some style. "Lieutenant?” he said. “Sometimes I'm not entirely sure that I like you."
Ed sat next to Al on the edge of the main square's fountain, with his feet propped up on his suitcase and his mouth wrapped around his fourth cheese pastry. These things tasted all right. He would definitely buy them again if he saw some.
He looked out across the square, at the tall windows of the houses opposite, with the late sun reflecting in them, and washing fluttering from rails on the sills. He could still smell the Colonel's stupid cologne. It must have rubbed off on his shirt. God, it was worse than Havoc's stinking cigarettes. He was going to have to have this shirt boiled, no, fumigated, and then he was going to send Mustang's office the bill. Suddenly and vividly, the moment returned to him when he had crouched on the tunnel floor with Mustang a warm, heavy dead weight in his arms, and he felt a vague press of relief that it had all turned out okay.
"Brother? What are you thinking about?"
Ed started slightly and turned to Al. "When we get your body back, I'm going to write a pamphlet on street food. Top ten greasy snacks of Amestris, ranked in order, and the best places to get 'em. You can help me with the research."
Somewhere behind them, a horse's hooves clopped slowly on the cobbles and cartwheels rattled. Their shadows were long in front of them as the town clock chimed seven. Beside him, his brother cocked his head and gave him an invisible smile.