by Tari Gwaemir
A birthday present.
Sunrise through a broken window, its cracked panes stuffed with rags. The light filtered through the dust-choked air to settle on the paper-strewn table, piled high with books that served as pillows for their heads. Eyelids shifted; one student, half-caught in the cobwebs of a dream, blearily opened his eyes only to be momentarily blinded by the light, dim and distorted as it was.
He yawned and sat up in his chair. His companion, still asleep, let out a soft snore. The man leaned back to stretch, then curled up again in his seat, drawing his blanket over his toes. The mornings were cold in a garret room with broken windows.
He leafed through the scattered notes, diagrams and mandalas traced out in red ink across the margins, endless lists of words in black written neatly down the page. He picked up the book that had served as his pillow--thick, bound in leather with crimson letters--and stared somewhat blankly at the elaborate woodcut illustration of a phoenix on the page. He sighed and yawned again, rubbing at his eyes with one hand. He shook the other man awake. "Mustang. Get up. It's morning."
"Mm, go away, let me sleep--"
"It's almost seven. Your exam's in two hours."
"What? Why didn't you say so?" Roy lifted his head from his arms, his eyes wide open. There was ink smudged on his cheek, traces of words written backwards on his skin. He gathered the papers on his side of the table into a messy pile and stood up with a jerk, the blanket falling to his feet.
"You're in a hurry," the other man remarked, watching him search for a clean collar and a comb.
"I promised to meet her at eight," Roy said absent-mindedly. "Whatever happened to my gloves? Oh, there they are. Well, Hughes, I'm off. If you don't see me tonight, you'll know what happened."
"Don't forget this," Hughes murmured, holding up a parchment scroll.
Roy's eyes widened. "How could I forget? My magnum opus!" He tucked it carefully in the pocket of his outer coat, then hurried out the door.
Hughes shook his head ruefully and called out, "Only you, Roy Mustang, would stay up the night before an exam, not to cram but to write poetry." There was no response. "Eh," he muttered, "the bastard probably will pass with flying colors."
He presented it to her with a flourish. She looked at it bemusedly.
"You suggested that I be more, ah, creative in my attempts," he reminded her, still holding out the scroll. "Happy birthday, Miss Hawkeye."
She took it gingerly and unrolled the parchment. After a long pause, she looked up and said, "Dactylic?"
"Too affected?" he asked, trying to not to look worried.
She did not smile. "You have ink on your face," she said instead, her voice grave, as she raised her hand to his cheek. Knowing a rare opportunity when he saw one, he leaned in and stole a kiss.