This part is just a few weeks after Episode 51 of the anime. All relevant spoiler warnings apply.
Disclaimer: I own not anything involving Full Metal Alchemist. It belongs to Arakawa Hiromu.
Realms of the Healers (1914)
She enters the old city, wandering in the falling whiteness and with a bundle of small white flowers in her hands.
It was supposed to be nearby, but the buildings all seem to look alike when the architecture is so old.
If nothing else, it looked like healers had been the ones living here. Here and there on the walls she could see places where herbs had been carved in relief as others would use vines or roses. There were even a few sigils against Rex Doloris among the ruins.
Yes, even now it was clearly a healers' sort of place.
He lies limp in the bed, nothing changing.
Nothing has changed in the two weeks he has been there, breathing shallowly between bandage changes.
He is a mess. There are deep cuts on his limbs, past skin and deep into muscle. Half of his face is under heavy bandages. Even now his face is pallid from the blood loss. His left shoulder is a solid mass of pressure bandages.
She sits, watching, as the snow collects in the corners of the window.
He has been trying to wake for the past two days, moaning and ever so slightly moving.
She tries not to look at him as she waits and watches.
The air grows colder as the snow keeps falling, even in the hospital. She shivers, reaching for the nearest coat or blanket she can find.
It swallows her shoulders and the smell of smoke hits her nose and she knows in an instant that she has grabbed his overcoat.
She has found it and stands in the door.
The stone is warmer than that of neighboring buildings, more visually inviting. Herbal reliefs and sigils cover the archway.
She enters the healerkin temple.
Rows of benches fill the ancient chamber, lightly dusted with snow. Alcoves line the walls, statues standing unmoving and silent.
There, near the front. A figure crouched, hands on the ground and hair drifting over her features.
Lady Timerial, the last of the healer-alchemists of old.
Lady Timerial, the Celebrated One of True Love's Night.
She walks towards the statue.
She is inhaling the smell, eyes clenched shut and breath hitching when he gives a small cry and clutches at the sheets with almost ruined hands.
She looks over in shock, really looks, and suddenly the nightmare is real, truly real.
The one she has sworn to protect lies there, carved like a Thanks Day ham. The Flame Alchemist, who lives as much by flair as by flare, is currently not much more than a human soul trapped in a wrecked body.
And when the doctors talk of recovery, they speak of years.
Somewhere in the depths of her mind, she realizes she is crying.
She stands there, looking down at the statue, the kneels, face to marble head.
The flowers fall to the rough half-drawn circle touched by pure white hands.
Lady Timerial's flowers at Lady Timerial's shrine on Lady Timerial's day.
"This is the first time I haven't been home on your day, Lady." The words echo in the open space. "And since I can't leave flowers on their graves, I figured I'd visit you instead.
"This is the seventh True Love's Day since it happened. Sixteen ago they were wed. And I don't understand.
"Why would they have sworn those vows to each other? Why would anyone? Why did they risk leaving me alone?
"Please, help me. I need to understand. Why are your hands on that circle?"
The stone is silent.
His world is pain.
He finally manages to fight his way to awareness, blinking weakly into the bright light.
She is there, wrapped in a familiar overcoat. Her shoulders are shaking, and there is the unmistakable sound that should not be coming from her.
He tries to say her name, but it catches in his throat and makes no sound.
He rests for a moment, blinking.
Something catches in his mind.
His left eye isn't blinking.
He can feel bandages pressing against his face and does not remember the injury.
Every slice from the fight with Bradley is still bold in his mind and a thick brush stroke of blazing agony on his body. Other than a few nicks, the homunculus never scored a blow on his face.
The bandaging feels more substantial than what those tiny nicks would deserve. And it is in the wrong place entirely.
I must have fallen. That's it, I fell over and knocked myself out, or fainted from blood loss, and scratched my face.
Yes, that must be it.
He tries her name again, and this time it doesn't just stick in his throat, but hurts as well. What little extra awareness through the pain he gained from the disjunction between memory and reality is gone in an instant as his breath hisses through clenched teeth.
"What do I do?" she asks nothing and no one in particular as she rises from the cold stone.
She turns to leave, but notices a tiny flash of green at the feet of another statue.
She runs over, brushing the snow away.
Pain-ease, one of the rarest and most prized medicinal herbs of Amestris, and entirely out of season.
She stares in wonder for a moment, then looks up at the statue guarding the fully-grown and potent plant.
"Oh Celebrated Ones. No. No no no no. Nope. Not gonna happen."
The kind eyes of The Merciful One stare down, and the young mechanic looks down to avoid their gaze.
"No. No way. You can't possibly want me to..."
The winter was early.
That suddenly lodges in her mind.
The snow has come weeks earlier than it should normally.
It is going to be a long cold winter all over Amestris, and the time for preparation is almost over.
And everyone is still on BRADLEY'S budgets.
That brings her head back up.
If nothing changed... if they all stayed on Bradley's budgets and the like because...
She stares at the plant, counting leaves, counting sizes...
... calculating how many hours of clear thought this little green wonder will buy, if she follows the words of her mother and only takes what will not doom the plant.
Enough, by a bit. More than enough for proxies at the least, and time for more personal dealings as well if it were rationed carefully.
She gently removes the leaves and tucks them in a pocket on her coat, close to her body.
Enough to make Mustang keep his promises.
She is closer to his side in an instant, one hand on his forehead and the other gently grasping the fingers of his right hand.
There are tear-tracks on her face, but she is smiling.
He tries to say her name again, once the pain has died down to what it had been, and fails again.
He finally settles on a simple hissed and badly mangled "Riza" after seeing the worry in her eyes.
"Just rest, Mustang. You got mauled."
I can feel that quite nicely, thank you. I don't think I'll ever be able to watch a Thanks Day ham get itself served again.
He smiles weakly at her.
They are there like that for many long moments, simply being.
"We won," she tells him, moving his hair out of his eyes.
He squints, pain making comprehension difficult.
"We won. Bradley is gone and so are his loyalists. We won, Mustang." There is suddenly a quality to her smile that he has never seen before. "My Fuhrer."
She wanders into the hospital.
This is a place of the booklearned, not the healerkin, but even so the smells and sounds are familiar.
Sometimes too familiar, as she hears a scream in the distance that can only be from automail prepping.
She does not know how to handle this. She does this for the children in the camps, not for him. It is only chance that the reduction of his pain can save lives.
But it is a compelling chance, and winter comes quickly.
And there is something deep in her that remembers the first law of the healerkin is to fight suffering.
Even the pain of automail prepping is only a battle lost to gain a victory over Rex Doloris.
I don't care what the Celebrated Ones want. I'll give him the herb, but I'm waiting until after Timerial's Day ends. I refuse to offer him aid or comfort on this day of all days.
The word hangs in the air.
She squeezes his fingers. "We won. Everyone made it through. A bit worse for wear, but walking wounded at the worst. The Elrics are fine too. Better than fine." She sighed heavily, with the slightest edge of something at the end. "You were the only one to get seriously injured, so just worry about yourself. Everyone else is safe."
Fuhrer and everybody safe.
The alchemist in him doesn't trust it. There has to be a catch, nothing works out that cleanly.
The young math whiz he was once, before the war, thinks nothing adds right, that there are variables unaccounted for.
The little boy who sat with his mother under a cherry tree in a courtyard and smiled at the sunset just wants the painlessness of deep unconsciousness and his mother there and knows full well he won't get either.
"Just rest, sir. Amestris can run itself for a little while more."
He lets his eye drift closed and again the disconnect between what is and what should be jars him to greater awareness.
She must sense the change, for she is squeezing his fingers and her other thumb is stroking his right eyebrow. "We're all going to help you get through this, sir. I promise."
She's never made a statement like that before, no matter how badly she thought I was hurt.
That wakes him up, really and truly wakes him up.
There is a strangled sound that echoes through the halls, thin and weak and gasping but it grates on the ears and heart like nothing she has ever heard before.
It takes a moment before she realizes where she has heard that particular vocal timbre before.
Not even he deserves to be in that much pain.
The thought shocks her back to herself and she is ashamed of what she was thinking moments earlier.
"I. Am. A. Healer." Her own voice, whispered ever so quietly, makes her flinch and she feels tears trying to start.
I almost forgot why they died. Why they were even there...
She half-collapses against a wall in a side hallway, clutching at her knees.
I almost... forgot...
He is lying there, strangling in his own screams, sheets clutched in hands, her hand caught painfully in one of them, and back trying to arch.
She is up and moving, trying to hold him down because he is hurting and he is healing and at any second he will rip loose what mending has happened and he will be bleeding again.
"Sir, please!" She squeezes his hand back at much as she dares and tries to put her weight on an uninjured part of his left shoulder. "You need to stay still and let yourself heal!"
And then he is trembling, face scrunched up and right eye shut hard.
"I'm right here, Mustang, and I'm not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. The others are doing what they can to keep things sane around here right now, but they've been visiting when they can. You won't be alone through this, I promise." Suddenly her knees will not hold her and the world is too much and she is sinking to her knees and moving quickly to hold his arm with hers and bury her face in an undamaged part of his side after he hisses because she has struck something painful on the way down and she is sobbing, sobbing and trying to stop because this isn't like her and yet there is nothing else she can do...
She is calmer now, balanced enough in who she is that she trusts her legs again.
No one bothered her when she was sitting there, and she doubts many noticed her. Just another crying teenager in a hospital overflowing with injured.
Even with the overall lack of damage to most of the involved military, there was enough damage to enough people to flood the place.
She keeps walking. The sound is gone, thank the Celebrated Ones and the One Who Makes, but she remembers where it was coming from and Edward had told her where he was a few days earlier anyway.
The herb is heavy in her pocket.
Then she is quietly peering in the door and seeing the ever-strong Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye weeping.
'There is someone I must protect.'
And all she can do is hide just outside the door for a moment, mouth slightly open.
'Until the day he accomplishes his goal, I won't hesitate to pull the trigger.'
All the things he had said that day at the river...
This was his goal. The power to change things. Not just the rank to avoid immoral orders, but the rank to make sure no one in Amestris would ever be forced to follow immoral orders again.
The sound of Riza crying keeps jarring her back to the present.
She pulls the fragile leaves out, looks at them.
Was this what you wanted me to remember? That pain is pain and suffering is suffering? No matter whose?
She recalculates dose size and gently rips a piece the right size off one of the youngest leaves. Strongest parts of the herb first.
And then she walks in the door.
oh gods oh gods oh gods oh gods oh gods
Roy Mustang has not believed, really believed, in anything divine for a long time.
oh gods oh gods oh gods oh gods oh gods
Even so, there are some times when reverting to his mother's faith, the soft spoken belief that gods had sent gifts to mankind after the Bright Day so that something could survive in the tortured earth and sullied air, is nearly impossible to resist, when the soft spoken words of the Xingan ex-shrinemaiden become more powerful than all the arrays ever drawn by alchemists' hands.
oh gods oh gods oh gods oh gods oh gods
This is quickly becoming one of those times.
oh gods oh gods oh gods oh gods oh gods
He can vaguely recall that Riza is there, but between physical and spiritual the pain has dropped him somewhere where nothing matters but the agony.
The world he thought he knew is gone.
The unfocused way he saw her when he first opened his eye is the clearest he will ever see anything again.
Even if his injuries do heal, he will always be a liability.
Even with all the rank and power in the world, he can never even pretend he is his own defense again.
oh gods oh gods oh gods oh gods oh gods
And there is movement nearby and someone saying something and then something ever so slightly bitter being held just inside one of his cheeks as a hand holds his head still.
Slowly the physical pain starts to fade and muscles he did not even know were tense relax.
Including his vocal cords. "Hawkeye?" His own voice is thin, drawn out, and he can feel it trying to fail.
The hand leaves his mouth and he can feel it slip into his hand again. "I'm still right here."
He lets himself dissolve into the emotional and spiritual pain for another few long moments. She does not leave, but just stays there holding his hand.
After all, the world is shattering around him.
A long time seems to pass before he finally forces himself back to reality.
He lets his eye drift open slowly, trying to control the wave of fear from only seeing half the world.
Come on, Roy, you're tougher than this. Nothing is going to run out of the wall and attack you in a hospital.
"Some stuff a healer gave me."
"So this is the exchange."
"Left shoulder is going to be a mess once that wound starts healing." He can hear her voice hitching.
I'm surprised I survived that one. Remembered pain makes him wince.
There is an odd sound off to the left and he tries to turn his head but there is a pillow keeping him from turning his head that way.
"The eye was so much of a mess there was no way they could have saved it. There was nothing left to save. And the same shot took out part of your cheekbone..." She looks down at nothing in particular. "I didn't get there in time. As it was...you... you almost..."
"Hawkeye, you aren't even supposed to have headed back towards Bradley's home. What do you mean, 'didn't get there in time'?"
"Car got wrecked, Archer was in the other vehicle, I ran, he got there first. I shot him but you... you were just lying there and you wouldn't respond to anything and... and..."
"Hawkeye, it's okay. How can I blame you for not being somewhere I ordered you not to be and why do you have that much bandaging on that arm?"
She meets his eye for a moment before looking away again. "When the car I was being transported in hit his, Archer shot at me."
"Hawkeye, that's your gun arm." She could shoot nearly as well with both hands, but she was far more accurate shooting from the right and Roy knew that well. "You went into a fight with another marksman with an injured gun arm."
He did not even try to keep the concern out of his voice. It was pointless now, after all.
He was Fuhrer and could do as he wished.
Silence hung in the air.
"I had to shoot two-handed to keep my aim from wavering," she whispers.
"We both survived, didn't we?"
He cannot resist the smile that tugs on his mouth. "Yes, we did."
Fuhrer Roy Mustang has been asleep for several minutes when Winry moves from her chair by the window.
"I'll tell him about the budget issues and the hard winter coming the next time he wakes," Riza affirms without prompting. "Although I still don't understand why you didn't want him told now. And why you aren't telling him yourself."
"Because this is not about revenge. He needs to keep that promise he made about fixing things around here. I found the herb, and part of what needs fixing is on a timeframe that normal healing speeds are not going to work on. And I didn't tell him now because he had more than enough to deal with as it was and healers—well, healerkin, anyway—help suffering. We don't cause it, not if we can help it."
"Country-folk doctors. We're a bit different from city doctors, Miss Hawkeye. The booklearned have their gifts and we have ours."
They both say goodbye and Winry walks back out into the hall after a last warning that there is no hope of finding any more of the herb once it is gone, reentering the normal world of cleaners and medicine and the smell of gauze.
The world that makes sense.
She walks outside downstairs and looks up at the falling snow.
She has sworn her death to him. The realization stops all other thought.
She closes her eyes then, and smiles, and turns her face upwards until the drifting whiteness is tickling her nose.
I think I'm starting to understand, Lady Timerial.