AN: Riza and Roy and the difficulties of being strictly professional. Spoilers for the whole of Brotherhood, and rated T to borderline M-ish (but nothing explicit) for adult themes, so keep that in mind.
Disclaimer: Fullmetal Alchemist and its characters belong to Hiromu Arakawa; I own nothing. The snippet at the beginning is from the song Into the Fire by Thirteen Senses.
This Line Drawn in Coal
by Miss Mungoe
Come on, come on
Put your hands into the fire
Her father had used to tell her she was much too trusting – that she dropped her defences without resistance the minute she felt assurance in the presence of another.
Riza was inclined to disagree – she didn't trust everyone, not anymore. Life had long since introduced the thought of betrayal; War had driven the lesson home like a bullet between the brows. Now she trusted a select few, but those she did she trusted fiercely, and was rewarded thus in return. There was little Fuery, whose skills never failed to disappoint in hard times. There was Breda, who'd go to enormous lengths for small victories. There was Falman, who for all his easygoing nature was a pillar in rough situation, and Havoc, who, for all his love of pretty ladies would drop every single one to aid his comrades.
And then there was Roy Mustang, whose entire nature served as a contradiction to the trust that was placed in him. The man who surrounded himself with rumours, pulling them around his shoulders like a cloak until there was no telling who the real man was beneath the talk that surrounded him. But for all his discrepancies, Roy Mustang was also the person Riza trusted the most. Theirs was a partnership based on a faith that relied wholly on unconditional sacrifice – the willingness to take a bullet for another, but also the willingness to be the one to put the bullet in the other. He'd given her his back and she'd guarded it since, a shadow ever at his fingertips, clinging to his every move. His eyes in the dark, and shield in the light of day.
The nature of their relationship had prompted questions even early on, but Riza had never been one to make a point of listening to rumours. She knew of their existence, but so long as they did not impact her work with the Colonel, they were of little consequence. The Colonel, on the other hand. had never made a point of ignoring the rumours, and had in the beginning dropped remarks that had only served to strengthen his reputation as a notorious womaniser. She'd never lingered on the nature of the remarks, knowing them for what they were, and knowing even more surely, the danger of allowing herself to pretend they were something else. There was a line there, and they both knew it, but sometimes Riza wondered if the person who'd once said 'lines were meant to be crossed' had known the true destructive power behind that remark.
The first one to gently toe the border had, unsurprisingly, been him.
It had been an all too normal day, and they'd been on their way back to the office from a meeting. She'd been at his side, a pile of neatly organised folders in the crook of her elbow. They'd rounded a corner, and he'd turned, a word at the tip of his tongue, and in her surprise she'd caught herself only a second too late. It was in the early days before they'd perfected their routine of moving-and-following, and so the folders had gone tumbling out of her hands. She'd been quick in moving to pick them up, but so had he, and gloved hands had bumped against hers in an entirely too innocent manner as she'd gathered the scattered documents. Then he'd lifted his gaze, and his breath had been startling against her neck, warm like the rest of him, but the moment had been broken by the convenient clearing of a throat, and they'd sprung apart.
Maes Hughes had granted them a less-than-subtly raised brow and an even less subtle grin, and Riza had spent the remainder of the day avoiding his curious gaze. The Colonel had acted like nothing out of the ordinary had happened, though his eyes on her back had burned like hot coals, and she'd had an increasingly hard time concentrating on her work.
The incident saw a repeat occurrence some weeks later, when his hand had lingered on her shoulder just a little too long for office professionalism, and when her breath had caught in her throat Riza knew she'd done it. He might have toed the line, but she'd let him, and left her defences completely open in the process.
She'd wondered a moment, if this wasn't what her father had actually meant.
Something shifted between them after that – a near imperceptible change in their dynamic, their gentle banter and the familiar push-and-pull of their conversations. She'd considered the line, drawn it out in her mind like chalk over asphalt, or coal over pale limestone. She'd gently thumbed the edges, smudging the marking where it ran a clear border in her mind, seeming between her common sense and her heart. The last few years had seen her make a series of difficult choices made without hesitation, from joining the military to destroying her father's work, but in this she faltered. Teetering between action and inaction, her finger rested on a imaginary trigger, but the clear-cut ways of her life offered no answers in her new predicament.
Then another incident followed at the heels of the preceding one, and her choice was made for her.
A late night in the office over a mountain of paperwork had seen him particularly weary, and right out of her usual routine she'd brought him a cup of tea. But her hand had lingered against the plate as she'd placed it into his, and when he'd put it down to curl his fingers around her wrist, tugging her forward gently, she'd come willingly.
The kiss had been a fleeting thing – the memory of it still just a brush against the edge of her mind. He'd been pleasantly simmering warmth and the smell of ink, and his hands in her short hair certain in their pursuit. There'd been no interruption this time but her own – a firm hand on his chest and a soft push, and there'd been distance between them again. But the smile curling along her mouth remained into the early morning hours as she watched him work, and there'd been a strange lightness to his movements that had before seemed so sluggish.
They didn't bring the subject back up for some days following, but she caught Maes Hughes' secret smiles in the corridors, and the Colonel seemed less inclined to indulge in his wilful moods, even on rainy days.
Then she'd heard the whispers, following at her heels like shadows in their own right, forever lurking and always just out of her reach.
Have you heard?
They say she spends entire nights in his office.
Mm, I saw her come out just this morning – her uniform wrinkled, and you know what that means.
'Diligent', isn't she?
Yeah, quite the 'trooper', if you catch my drift.
Well, knowing Mustang's reputation it's probably the last we'll see of her. Shame, too. Heard she'd made quite the name for herself after Ishval.
Oh, but you know office romances never work in this career. You can never put your work away if it's waiting for you at home, too.
And though she'd never been one to listen to rumours, the ones that lapped at her back like wildfire got increasingly hard to ignore, and once she'd let them settle like weights, they'd come one by one, until her heart felt like a stone in her breast. And so she'd made another choice, and her resolve had at once been her enemy and her friend. But she carried the remains of her father's legacy on her back, and knew better than most the danger of putting soft flesh next to wild flames.
He'd read her thoughts on her face before she'd had the chance to voice them aloud, and had accepted her choice without ceremony. He'd apologised for his presumptuousness, and the whole thing had been rather too formal, but she'd nodded her head and when he'd proposed they put it behind them, she'd agreed. A lesser camaraderie would have crumbled from a lesser complication, but they'd been through too much to be defeated by something as mundane as human emotions, and so they persevered, picked themselves up and dusted themselves off, and redrew the line in ink this time.
The hurt lingered as from a phantom wound, but she'd tucked it away beneath her ribcage for safekeeping – to indulge in on better days when her duties to the military and the Colonel didn't rest quite so heavily on her shoulders. She stored it away with her could-have-beens and her what-ifs, righted her shoulders and pushed forward. Maes Hughes no longer sent her secret glances, but carried their hurt for them, open and unmasked on his face. When asked, he'd say he mourned those who didn't have a wife as lovely as his, and before he could be questioned again, proffered pictures of the bulging stomach that was all his future hopes and dreams. Riza made a point to avoid him when she was not at the Colonel's side.
Months passed, the bulging stomach was no more and the new pictures held before her were of bright green eyes in a small rosy face. The hurt rested a little lighter behind her ribcage, but the memory of warmth skittered across her skin from time to time, and her what-ifs lurked always just at the edge of her mind. But the line remained, whole and uncrossed. The arrival of the Elric brothers threw a wrench into their usual routines, but Riza was nothing if not adaptable, and learned to incorporate the two boys into the Colonel's usual affairs. She met a pretty mechanic, and was inspired to grow her hair out.
The Colonel had noticed, of course, and as before, the remark had been all too innocent. The line yielded under his soft touch, but she'd drawn away, pulling her guard up like a wall in the wake of his compliments. But she let her hair grow long regardless, aware of the gaze lingering like heat on the slope of her neck. But though wary of her own heart, her trust was an unyielding force, and she remained unmoving at his side. The Queen in the Game he played with the Government, his eyes always on the opposing King's throne.
Then Maes Hughes was no longer showing her pictures, and the Colonel retreated to somewhere within himself where she could not follow. The grief clung, a shadow like herself but suffocating where she protected, and festering despite her attempts at purging him of its presence. War loomed on the horizon in the guise of an eclipse, but Riza Hawkeye was not so easily deterred, and dug her heels in with gusto.
Then the opposing King moved, and like a pawn she was taken, and suddenly she was no longer his shadow, but had in return been granted her own.
She'd felt many kinds of fear in her life – fear for herself, and for the safety of others; fear for the state of her home and her country, and for her future. Pride's presence at her back brought another kind of fear – a chilling, numbing kind piercing like the Northern cold, and clinging like a cover of rime across her skin. She withdrew to the dark, and longed for the warmth of fire like a starved soul, frozen fingers grasping for candlelight though it would take a roaring bonfire to thaw the cold within her.
And so, though he'd been the one to toe the edge of the line so many times, she was the one who ultimately crossed it.
Scrubbing a hand over her face, Riza allowed the dark to swallow her up, until it reached into every corner of the cramped apartment and until the vice around her windpipe lessened enough for her to breathe again.
A wet nose nudged against the fingers in her lap, and she scratched behind a soft ear, drawing strength from the sole companionship awarded her in her solitude. She'd shut the window and covered the curtains with a thick blanket – refusing to let so much as a sliver of light escape into her refuge. Pride would grant her rest, for a few hours if nothing else. Eyes closed against the dark pressing heavily against her lids, she breathed, and tried not to lose herself to the near-suffocating blackness.
A knock on the door had her jumping despite herself, and her eyes flew open, breath lodged in her throat–
–only to be expelled in a starved breath, and she leaned her head back against the wall, feeling stubborn tears prickle at the corners of her eyes. It could have been anyone – someone sent to check up on her, if Pride deemed her sudden need for privacy entirely too suspicious.
But it wasn't just anyone, bless the Colonel and his impeccable timing.
There was a pause, then a hand pressed against the door. When he spoke next, there was a note of warning in his voice. "Lieutenant, are you there?"
She swallowed her fear like bile, and breathed a little easier. "Yes, Colonel," she answered, voice hoarse, and she winced – knowing how it must sound.
He paused again, then, "The lights are out in your building, it seems."
She did not correct him. "Yes, there's...been a maintenance issue with the electricity." Or a bullet to the building's central circuitry – the details didn't really matter.
The following pause was too long for someone usually so quick-lipped, and she knew he saw the truth even in the dark. She'd not told him the specifics of the Führer's son save his identity as a homunculus, but he'd needed less evidence to decipher harder riddles in the past. And so he didn't question her further as he let himself inside, picking the lock easily from the outside. The deliberate click of the doorknob was impossibly loud in her ears, but then he was in her apartment and the door was closed softly behind him, and Riza wondered idly if she wasn't perhaps on the verge of throwing up. The soft pad of paws across the floor cut through the silence, and she heard him kneel, and the soft murmur of a greeting returned.
Then his warmth was before her in the dark, and his hand scorching against her forearm, and she wondered idly how long it had been since she'd dared indulge in human company as close as this. "Are you alright?"
Even though he spoke the words, the answer was already implied in his tone, and she wouldn't insult him by lying. But, "I will be." Because if she didn't believe that, she didn't know how she was going to make herself keep going from one day to the next.
She couldn't see his eyes through the dark, but as close as he was sitting, she could trace the contours of his face with her eyes, although she wondered if it wasn't perhaps drawn entirely from her memory. The hand on her forearm shifted then, fingers curling around her wrist and her hand, and then he was rising to his feet, tugging her with him.
"Have you eaten?"
The question was of such a mundane nature she almost smiled, but it also severed to underline the severity of the situation, and the danger of his presence. When he moved towards the kitchen, she let her hand fall against her side, and heard him pause.
"Colonel," she said, the title a comfortable thing – a feeble guard in place of those Pride had stripped her of. "You shouldn't be here. He–" she stopped, the words dead before she could speak them. A reality with eyes and ears in her own shadow had taught her to school her tongue, and even the impenetrable dark couldn't convince her Pride wasn't still watching.
He sighed, and when he spoke next his words were decidedly wry. "I got you into quite a fix with this, didn't I?"
She shrugged, although he couldn't see the gesture. "I knew the risks going in." And there was an implication there than spoke of more than just their camaraderie, and by the sharp intake of breath he'd caught it.
And as she expected, "That doesn't really excuse it."
"But it does," she said, and her remark brooked no argument, and she could almost imagine his patient smile in the dark. For all his eccentricities, her own stubbornness was a force to be reckoned with, and she wondered sometimes if she wasn't just as difficult a partner as he.
He said nothing else, but she filled the silence with ease, their wordless language as familiar as her own mother tongue, and she relaxed against the warmth. And for all her misgivings, and the fear that clung like dark hands to her limbs and the roots of her heart, she relented – and with her next breath, shed her guards like garments.
The line yielded, bent, broke in half and shattered like glass cracking under pressure, and she drew herself to him with a sigh-like-an-invocation in the darkness, cold hands clinging to the soft fabric of his civvies – tugging and tearing to get to the warmth that simmered beneath. His answer was a furious thing, exploding like fire in the air and engulfing her whole, until the heat had curled its dearly welcome touch around the very roots of her being.
"A dangerous venture," he muttered against her mouth, but did not seem inclined to push her away.
"Very," she agreed, but rather than heed the wisdom of her own words, nudged him down the length of the room towards the modest bed sitting in the corner. His legs hit the edge hard, but when he drew her with him, the gesture so like the one in his office so long ago, she followed.
There was no trace of their once awkward dance of moving-and-following, but a combative push-and-pull that so dearly reflected their easy banter, and their silent language yielded way for another kind of prose of sounds drawn from deep within and lured into the dark. It was his name, the title chucked aside along with their garments, and hers was a drum in her ears, repeated until it seemed hammered into the surface of her eardrums.
When he sank into her it was with a simple breath – the movement a dearly longed for plunge into the uncertainty that had long guided her actions, and she clawed greedily, pulling him ever closer in hopes of purging the cold at her core and chasing away the memory of leering eyes and a vicious grins in the shadows. He responded in turn, and allowed her to take as she saw fit, though he'd had so much taken from him already.
In the end it was a rather desperate affair – nothing like she'd ever imagined, and oh, how she'd imagined, because theirs were years of unresolved tension glowing like stubborn embers in a fire-pit, always stoked just before the point of growing cold. But their timing did not allow for perfection, and so they would take what they could get and treasure it, because there was no guarantee they would make it through the day of the eclipse. The line lay crumbled at their feet, the once clear-cut border mangled like the alchemical circle on her back, but as with her father's legacy, Riza could not make herself regret.
"There'll be light in the morning," she spoke into the dark, and had to swallow her next words, and with light there'll be shadow.
"In the morning," he repeated drowsily, but the words were a reminder rather than a conviction, and when he drew her close the pressing blackness seemed a little more bearable, and the vice around her windpipe rested a little lighter. She curled against him with an ease drawn from years at his side, and a yearning the past weeks had seen grow like a hollow thing at the base of her ribcage. It was far from safe, but then they very rarely played it safe, anyway.
And Pride would grant her this – these few hours basking in a warmth smouldering like the core of the sun, to thaw the numbness in her weary heart.
"No going back now, Lieutenant?"
She opened her eyes to regard him across the room from her hospital bed – the sun behind the window casting an odd play of light across the familiar expanse of his face, but there were no leering eyes watching her from the slivers of shadow. She smiled lazily, resting her head heavily against the pillow.
"I wouldn't want to, Colonel."
He smirked, and watched her from eyes that had just moments before gazed into the eternal dark – tracing the contours of her face as though for the very first time. She noted new lines at their corners and the shadows beneath them, but there was a rare humour there she hadn't seen trace of in a long time.
He didn't insult her by asking if she was sure she did not wish to redraw the line again, because he could read her thoughts on her face as easily as ever, and so he simply leaned back against the pillows with an easy smile curving along the severe lines of his mouth. It was the most relaxed she'd seen him in months, and she watched him until her eyelids grew heavy and sleep tugged lazily at her mind and her tired limbs, drawing her away from the hospital room and the afterglow of a victory hard-earned but earned nonetheless.
This time she welcomed the dark, and did not fear the light.
AN: One of my favourite pairings, simply because their actions speak so loudly even if they don't say much.