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greywing

Exile


Fear and longing. On some level he'd suspected that this would happen. But not like this. Not in the darkness of the night, filling him like a rising tide that swelled along the shore of his heart, inexorably erasing all the flimsy fortifications he'd tried to erect during the day. It hurt, he realized, to think about everything that had happened, all that he had lost, all that he had done. It hurt to lie here and listen to this foreign silence seeping through the too thin paper walls—he heard the sighing of the trees, the drunken laughter of people rooms away, a conversation in a language he could not understand and thus sounding somehow both threatening and beautiful. Sometimes he thought he could hear everyone breathing in the rooms and spaces around him. He thought everyone could hear him.

So this was exile.

Exile. The word left a bittersweet taste in his mouth when his lips silently shaped it. Exile. It clung to him like another uniform, ill cut, heavy, and dragging. It felt like everyone could sense his awkwardness, his foreignness, his wrongness, as if there was something about him now that marked him as murderer, fugitive, and exile. It felt like everyone was watching him. Sometimes he could forget during the day, during the times when he could think about nothing else but the next destination, the next meal, the next place to lodge at, the next mode of transportation and always, always the nearest escape route.

He could forget about Amestris.

Until it would hit him, like a familiar scent inhaled deeply—no, her scent, wafting through the air, emanating from where she walked by his side, cutting through all the strange smells to fill him with memories of his office, his men, his life before.

Being with her made it so hard. Having her here made it so much easier.

He should have left her behind. She should have left him to fate.

But he hadn't been able to tell her no. And she wouldn't have listened. Now they hardly ever spoke.

Even though she was sitting outside his room.

She was a shadow on his wall, an outline projected by his side by the bright moonlight outside his closed door (though it was hardly a door—he could have punched a hole through it; he could have burned it down with a snap of his fingers). He could follow the slope of her shoulders rising and falling with her breathing, the slight movements of her head—left, right, left, right, now still, now tilted back, maybe to look at the too bright moon that hung like the face of a laughing god in the sky.

He resented the way she felt the need to protect him still. He was grateful for her company and touched by her loyalty.

Nothing was right anymore.

"Why did you come with me?" he whispered into the darkness, hoping she wouldn't hear, hoping she would. Her silhouette remained unchanged; she didn't move. He wanted to trace her outline on the walls, to draw her there, to burn her image forever in this place, to leave a testament to their ephemeral lives. He wanted to erase her. He wanted to touch her.

Then she said, "I didn't see any other choice" so softly that it was a whisper. But he could hear it, so clearly it was as if she had said it into his ear—these walls were so thin.

"Do you miss it?" He was still whispering.

"Sometimes," she answered.

"Do you regret it?" The words must be forced.

She was quiet. The rustling leaves of the trees laughed at him.

She turned her head; he studied the outline of her profile. He could read nothing in her shadow face, not even the moving lips, saying, "Do you regret what you did?"

Sudden exhaustion washed over him. "I wish I could have done it another way."

She turned away. "Whatever you would have done, I'd still be here."

He wanted to hold her. He wanted her to hold him.

He wanted her to take him home.

He closed his eyes and said no more.

Fear and longing.

So this was exile.


Their second night in Xing, the first time in many days of traveling, they shared a room. It cost less. It raised less suspicion. They could protect each other. It made sense.

He had wanted to say no. She had been waiting for him to say no.

Nothing made sense anymore.

In the small room with nowhere to retreat from each other, they learned the meaninglessness of the years they spent together as colonel and first lieutenant. The bed looked as if it could barely fit one; he offered to sleep on the floor. She shook her head in protest; he insisted. They argued. He ordered her to stand down.

In the moment she hesitated, they realized there no longer was a protocol.

"We can share the bed," she said at last and he stared at her. He almost looked afraid, but then it became a kind of anger burning half-heartedly in his eyes. "I mean we can take turns sleeping. One of us can keep watch while the other sleeps."

He nodded curtly and turned away.

He felt smaller somehow now. Deflated. Empty. He had nothing to fill the cold void of his lost ambitions.

Sometimes he pretended he didn't understand why she was still with him.

The room held no hiding places. When she changed her clothing, she ducked behind the paper screen set up in the corner. She appeared in silhouette on the panels and, unknowingly, began to enact a shadow play just for him. When she began to slip out of her jacket, he began to look away but then stopped, unable to. Next she worked at her shirt, crossing her arms around her middle, grasping the shirt at the hem, pulling it up and revealing the curves and planes of her torso, then yanking the article of clothing up and over her head. Her hair, long and loose, caught in the collar for a moment and then slipped free, spilling across her shoulders. Her fingers began to struggle at the button and zipper of her pants.

He was already standing by the screen on the other side. They were right next to each other. He could touch her.

He did.

He laid his hand flat against the screen. Cupped her cheek. Trailed down her neck. Shoulders. Breast. His fingers brushed across her stomach and stopped.

He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the printed patterns.

"Sir?" she whispered. They were always whispering to each other now. He only shook his head mutely; the paper was surprisingly rough.

"Sir," she said again and this time her tone was different. "Sir, it's alright."

Suddenly he felt it. Pressure against his forehead. He opened his eyes, remaining still, and could see her silhouette pressed against the other side of the screen. It was her fingers he felt, sweeping across his forehead as if she were smoothing his brow. So little separated them.

They were no further apart than the thickness of paper.

"Sirů" she repeated and this time it sounded almost like a plea.

He abruptly turned away and stalked towards the bed, where he lay down and closed his eyes. "Good night, Hawkeye."

Not yet, he had wanted to say. Not like this. Not when the pain was so fresh. Not when he couldn't think straight. Not when he'd be using her only as an escape.

Not when he hadn't learned to want her yet as Riza Hawkeye rather than the soldier that had always been at his side, the presence that kept him from falling apart, the object that reminded him of home.

Not now when so much of it would be desperation and so little of it would be love.

And so he listened to her moving around—her clothing rustling as she finished dressing, the soft pitter-patters of her footsteps as she traversed the room—and then the sound of her magazine sliding out of her pistol and then solid click of it being pushed back in. He heard her settling by the door and then she whispered across the distance, "Good night, sir."

He heard her as if from the other side of this big, wide world, the world they were trying so hard to hide in, the world in which they were so successfully losing themselves.