Crescendo

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AN: This is what happens when it's seven in the morning, I have yet to go to bed and get a plotbunny that will not cease to gnaw on me. As per usual, unedited, un-beta'ed and only faintly once-overed. Spoilers exist herein, so ye be warned.

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When the rain came, it was not due to subservient melancholy generated by any given number of histrionic manic-depressives the world over. Rain is more science than psychology, caused by moisture trapped in the atmosphere, gathering in clouds until the density becomes too great or too heavy or too something, and then all at once, the heavens open up and they cry until the pressure hiccups to a halt, and the drizzle meanders down to earth half-heartedly, without purpose or pretense.

Some people found the rain depressing. Riza Hawkeye found it…enlightening. She liked to sit in the windowsill of her small militaristic apartment, cleaning a gun (because the fresh air of a rainstorm coupled with the sharp sulfuric tang of gunpowder went together like black and white) and being herself. She wasn't often granted such a liberty, because in order to catch the rain at just the right time, one had to make sure they were done one's extensive paperwork, didn't have to wake early for any reason the next morning, and had a clear line of fire to the door, in case any random number of unsavory intruders decided to come knocking.

And so Riza sat, and she cleaned her gun, took it apart and inspected its innards like some soothsaying hedge-witch inspecting the intestinal tract of a bird, looking for the whims and omens and portents of the future, and then she put it all back together again, because when you knew people like Roy Mustang, you had to become an expert at fixing things. Even things that, on the surface, appeared to need no fixing at all.

It was three days after Maes Hughes death. Three days since they'd lowered Roy's best friend into the ground, and three days since his daughter's heartbreaking queries, asking with all a child's fresh innocence Why are they burying Daddy…?

Roy had coped, because Roy was going to become Fuhrer, and people of even moderate ambition can do little else than cope. And Riza had stood by, silent and stoic, alert to every individual nuance of Roy's extensive reservoir of emotional torrents. For the most part, things had carried on as normal, as if Maes Hughes was just a single, simple ripple in Roy's life, and had left no more impact than a stone upon the surface of a still lake.

But every day since, he'd come to work smelling like cheap alcohol, cigarette smoke and some nameless, faceless woman that he wouldn't recall the name of in a week, or two weeks, or whenever. He wasn't edgy, but he was on-guard, and every tightly controlled movement within his office was often enough to lure his fingers into their prodigal position, so near to snapping that Riza could sense the pre-emptive alchemic reaction. A few people had dropped by to usher sweet condolences in Roy's general direction, but such people didn't so much look at him as they looked through him. It was a political nicety, yes. Everyone knew of Roy's desire to become the best of the best. And when people are the acquaintances of such blooming greatness, they tend to let their shallowness bleed through their pretension.

"So sorry about the Brigadier General, do you know how his family's holding up?"

And Roy responded with a coy smile, the sort that lovers shared in each other's tumultuous companies, the sort that they offered only after the lights had gone out and the sun had gone down and the stars were a dusting of intrigue across the obsidian sky. "He was a good man," he'd said. "Good man."

And then the harbingers of such damaging words would trundle out of the room largely unobserved, and Roy would clench his hand briefly into a fist and his face would harden and he'd look, for all the world, as if he were carved of stone. Pygmalion in reverse, Riza thought wildly, desperately. Something was turning Roy Mustang to granite from the inside out, and there was nothing any of them could do to stop or save or help him.

Not that that sort of impediment had stopped Riza before. When it became necessary, she was not averse to teaching her superior a lesson or two, or three…or as many as was integral to beating what she had to say into his brain.

They'd gone out drinking, after the funeral, just they two together. She'd known that Maes was Roy's usual drinking partner, and had also known that she made a very poor substitute, seeing as how she didn't drink, and couldn't be easily conned into picking up the tab. But Roy had smiled his little, self-satisfied smile that kept the world from noticing the grief behind his eyes and he'd drank himself into oblivion, and Riza had driven him home.

Two nights ago, she'd stood on his doorstep, fumbled through his pockets for his keys, pushed his door open and entered hell.

It wasn't anything so dramatic as flashing flames or ubiquitous, siren screams. The bright vermillion splashed across the walls was paint, and not blood, but bore an eerie resemblance regardless. The only chains present were the ones Roy had inflicted on himself, through grief and culpability and sepia-hued self-disparagement.

So Riza had set her lips in a thin line, dragged Roy roughly to the low couch that occupied the center of his living room, and she'd left him there. She had little patience for those that wallowed in pity, and she certainly wouldn't add to their neglected stockpile of desecrated sympathy. Even…especially when the one doing the majority of the wallowing was Roy Mustang.

And the fact that she'd found a clean blanket and a tolerably fluffy pillow to buoy him up from sleep was the fact that she was allowed to care, and had nothing to do at all with sympathy, because sympathy was a dangerous bedfellow that Riza did not care to court.

Work had continued the next day as if nothing had happened. Roy had paid her very little attention, had answered all of her questions with absent-minded little 'Hms' and 'Ahs' and it was Business as Usual. Roy liked Business as Usual, because it meant he had something to hide behind, some monotonous façade that would not dredge his thoughts over the razor-edged escarpments of guilt.

And now, on the third day, she was sitting in a windowsill, dissecting a gun and watching the rain and hoping -knowing- that her Colonel could/would pick up the pieces. If he didn't drag them all to hell with him, first.

But no. Knowing Roy, she knew that he would not wantonly sacrifice subordinates, would not let them crash and burn, and if anyone had to do any sort of crashing and definitely any sort of burning, he would invariably ensure that it was he, Roy Mustang, that did it, providing of course that it was his fault that such measures had to be taken in the first place. He might have, before, but now…now with Hughes dead and with Roy hoarding a little stockpile of repetitive it was my fault idioms all to himself, he would be hard-pressed to stand back and watch anyone else suffer for his ignorance.

Or arrogance. Or vanity. He had sins aplenty, all wrapped up in one neat little parcel, formed and pressed and packaged by the military that had made him a man.

Riza had read somewhere a long while ago that some cultures didn't consider their boys to be men until they'd killed. And Roy's hands were swathed in a gaudy combination of transience and flame. Death walked in his shadow, and having once been lucratively employed by whatever dark being bartered in disaster, one was never entirely free of it.

Riza knew this. Roy knew it too, subliminally. He just chose to ignore it until it made itself manifest in a cacophony of nightmarish, hellish remembrances that sent him crawling back inside a bottle of alcohol in a pitiable attempt to outrun his past.

When he wasn't running from it, he was running towards it. He claimed to look to the future, and yet…

It was still raining. Riza was still cleaning her sidearm, and Roy Mustang was standing in the rain outside her window. A flash of lightning illuminated him, and he was still wearing that damnable smirk that he so often wore, when he thought the world was at his feet and that he could get away with murder.

Riza might have jumped. Might have helped and might have reached for the gun that was already in her hands, if she hadn't have been half-expecting it.

Roy tilted his head, and the raindrops caressed his face like a series of jilted lovers, rebounding just a little too harshly when they contacted with his skin. His hair was plastered back, slick and wet and demon-dark. Riza frowned at him, and knew he saw it, because his smirk became a little too fixed. And then he remembered himself, tapped on her window and folded his arms patiently while she struggled to get it open.

"Is the door that much of a hassle, Colonel?" she asked in lieu of any sort of propriety, as she tasted the smell of the moisture-laden air on her tongue, along with the sharp acrylic snap of lightning. Roy raised an eyebrow, ran a hand through his hair and clambered in through the entrance she'd provided for him, straightening a little ways away from her and dripping water on her floor. Black Hayate, who had been asleep in a basket in the corner, came awake and sniffed the air.

Roy still smelled of cheap liquor, cheaper women and stale cigarettes. His eyes were clear, but the alcohol hung on his breath like a haze that simply wouldn't dissipate. "Thought I'd be unconventional, First Lieutenant. Surely you can appreciate that, mn?"

She looked at him, he looked at her, and the question hit the both of them at approximately the same time. The aching, tender whisper of What am I doing? And then Roy sighed, and Riza frowned, and the whole world came crashing to technicolor.

"You keep a nice apartment, First Lieutenant," he said conversationally as he glanced around at her threadbare existence. "Nice and…clean." Apologetically, he shifted from foot to foot and studied the water that had pooled at his feet. "Here, I'll fix-" he began, crouching as if he expected to be allowed to draw an array across her floor. Firmly, she caught him by the arm and hauled him out of his crouch.

"They have towels for that sort of thing, sir."

He blinked at that, as though the thought had never occurred to him. Likely, it hadn't. Seeing as how he was currently valiantly near to a drunken coma, and how he was in her apartment without any real consideration for its occupant. It was three in the morning, why had he expected that she'd be awake?

"Ah. Well, then, carry on, Hawkeye."

"Sir? I'm not the one that needs to." Her words were perhaps a smidgeon colder than they could have been, but she'd never had heaven's tolerance of drunkards and of fools. She left to find a towel, and when she returned, Roy was shivering. Sighing, she dropped the towel to the floor and inched it around with one bare foot, and she held out her arms and he half-collapsed against her.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, and the words weren't directed at her. "About…for everything."

Riza sighed a little, but just a little, because a girl's exasperation was countered by a matron's unending affection, and she held him, even as he clung to her, and rubbed his back and murmured, 'Shh, shh, it'll be all right,' somewhere near his ear. Any moment, she expected him to come to his senses, to pull away from her and be a fingersnap away from being Roy Mustang again, and not some… penitent beggar asking for forgiveness from a source he could no longer see.

She wasn't sure how long they stayed like that, with Roy mumbling nothings against her shoulder and she allowing it, before he regained some thread of coherency and did as she had predicted, drawing himself upright and swaying only a little.

"I want…" Roy whispered, more to himself than to her. She was a silent observer in this private battle. "I need…" And then he stopped, anguished, and looked at her as if she held all the intricacies of the universe. If she could have opened her heart and poured the answers he was looking for into his hands, she would have, then and there. But Riza was only human; she didn't have all the answers, or even much of an explanation, and all she had to offer was herself.

She gave him an once-over and busied herself removing his waterlogged jacket. Somewhere along the line, she'd gotten nearly as drenched as he. "What you want," she told him softly, but with a firmness that was not to be refuted, "is a cup of strong coffee, and what you need is a good night's sleep."

"Mn," he murmured, half-agreeably, not fighting as she tugged his jacket off of him. "I'm tired," he offered after a time, during which she'd hung the trench coat on a rack to dry. Riza didn't ask him to elaborate, because she knew a double-entendre when she heard one, and Roy was a master of subtleties, just as he was a master of fire.

She left him standing there, still dripping water, unmoving, and she fetched him a cup of coffee and returned in time to see him straighten up from where he'd knelt to pet Black Hayate. The dog had crept from its basket to nudge about forlornly in the hopes of receiving affection, and Roy had obliged, because he was still only human, too.

"Here," Riza told him firmly, taking one of his hands in hers, wrapping it about the steaming mug. It was several hours old, and re-heated, but she doubted he'd notice or care, no matter his usual tastes. And so Roy had cast her a faintly grateful look and sipped the coffee and wringed water from his clothing like one might flay sins from their soul, and neither of them spoke because they weren't overly fond of saying things that needed words.

A while later, he left the same way he'd come, strangely enough. He'd paused once and only once, set his broad, scarred hand on the windowsill and turned to look back at her. It wasn't the first time he'd ever looked at her for looking's sake, but it was perhaps the first time he saw her.

"Sir…?" she asked carefully, because although she'd done her level best to defuse the time bomb that was Roy Mustang, one could never quite be sure of the outcome until it announced its wellness or blew up in one's face.

The pause was monumental in its entirety, until he spoke again. "…Thank you…Riza."

"For what?"

His smirk was back. "For the coffee, of course."

"Right, sir. Ah…you're welcome, then. For the coffee." She smiled, and he smiled, and they shared a secret more clandestine than any alchemic treasures. And then he proceeded to clamber out into the coming dawn, and Riza remembered why she loved the rain.

Criticism?