Laughter is the Sun
D M Evans
Disclaimer- not mine
Pairing – Roy/Riza, Gracia/Maes, implied foursome
Rating – PG-13
Summary – It's the longest night of the year and Roy's ghosts are making it longer
Time Line – Manga based, two years post Ishbal
Author's Note #1 – Written for the fmaot4 Winter challenge. Thanks to evillittledog and mjules for the beta and the suggestions. My prompts were snowflake and dona nobis pacem (grant us peace)
Author's Note #2 – Being that Arakawa has stated in interviews that there is no Christmas (or Valentine's Day) in FMA (makes sense since it's not Earth and has no Earth-based religions), we wanted to use some sort of holiday for a winter celebration. Throughout our history, many cultures have marked the Longest Night of the year as a day of celebration so I decided to borrow from that long tradition for this story
Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face – Victor Hugo
Sitting in a chair he had pulled up to the window, Roy watched the first snowflakes hitting the window of the drafty old rental cottage. It was usually too warm to snow in the East but he was two days of train travel away from there, back to where he had mentored in alchemy. His teacher's crumbling mansion was seeing slightly better days now. Roy had diverted some of his State Alchemy money into preserving Hawkeye's library for future alchemists. He hoped those alchemists might be found in the half dozen war orphans being cared for within the walls.
How many Amestrians had died in that damnable desert? How many Ishbalans? How many souls shriveled? His, for certain. It would have been snowing here the day he killed a child. Roy would never forget that boy's face, never forgive himself for what he had done. He could tell himself he had no choice. The ten year old had a gun pointed at him, after all. The truth was he had only been at best nine years older than that boy and he had been terrified. Roy hadn't been ready to die. Neither had that Ishbalan child. Pale under his tanned skin, he had shaken as he held the gun, his red eyes wide. Tears had stood in those red eyes and the stench of fear had filled the devastated room; stench from the boy, from him, who knew? Roy had stared down that long barrel and with trembling fingers, he barely made a spark, so afraid that he nearly lost control of the transmutation and almost immolated them both.
It had been longest night the day the boy died, and Roy had felt every second of it, each one ticking by like a century. He had lain in his tent then thinking about other longest nights, of family and gift giving, of playing in the snow and surreptitiously hitting young Riza Hawkeye with snowballs just to see her jiggling the snow off. Now, looking at the snow of another longest night, all he could think of was that poor boy's face and the heat and grit of the desert.
Roy's skin twitched as a hand soothed along his neck. He glanced away from the window, leaning into Riza's touch. "You're melancholy," she said softly. She leaned on the back of the chair he had pulled to the window.
"Can't help it," Roy replied, resting his head back against the soft, padding chair. "I can't get that boy out of my head."
Riza slipped onto his lap then kissed him lightly. 'You have to learn the art of forgiveness, Roy."
He tucked into her. "It's too soon."
"Longest night is coming. I know it's hard for you." She let his raven hair trickle through her fingers. "We're here for you."
Roy took a huge breath, trembling against her. "I shouldn't have come. I'll just ruin your holiday."
Riza pressed her lips to his forehead. "You won't and we would never think about leaving you behind. We love you too much."
He put his arms around her, hugging her until her bones creaked. "You're far too good to me."
"Not possible. You deserve everything we give you." Riza's strong fingers kneaded his shoulders, feeling his muscles slowly releasing from the knots they were in.
"I don't want to talk any more," Roy whispered, his head dropping onto her shoulder.
"We don't have to. I can get you some tea or something stronger, maybe a little food," she said hopefully. He ate so rarely. He was getting too thin.
"Maybe you could just do what you're doing now," Roy murmured.
Riza pulled him closer and started massaging his back.
X X X
"Is he actually sleeping?" Maes asked quietly as Riza joined him and Gracia in the cottage's living room. Unlike the cavernous rooms of her childhood home, this room was tight and cozy with lots of soft, worn furniture. Only the leaks around the windows kept the room from being perfect.
A fire crackled in the massive stone fireplace. Riza missed having a fireplace. She had loved them as a little girl and it didn't hurt that her father was also a flame alchemist. He used to make the flames dance and change shape for her when she was a child. Riza absently wondered if Roy would do the same if she asked.
"Barely," she replied at last. "He's tossing and turning. He'll notice I'm gone soon enough."
"What can we do to help him?" Gracia asked, worry hot in her green eyes.
"He needs to let go of the things he did in Ishbal," Riza said, slumping on the couch. She clung to a pillow for comfort.
"It's not in his nature to let things go," Maes pointed out, leaning over the couch to rest a hand on Riza's shoulder.
"I know. Maybe if we could just make him smile or better yet, laugh," Riza said, squeezing the pillow she held. "It would do him so much good."
"I don't know about making him laugh but we can relax him." Maes grinned lasciviously.
"Add feathers and you'll make him laugh, too," Gracia offered with a wicked look.
"You know, that actually sounds like fun," Maes said then leaned in, giving Riza a quick kiss. "We'll think on it. Why don't you go back with Roy?"
"Thanks. I appreciate all your help. You could have found something more exciting to do with your longest night holiday, especially if Roy insists on being morose," Riza said softly as she got up.
Gracia put her arms around Riza. "I would have wanted to be with you and Roy no matter what. You're both special to us."
Riza hugged her back. "It means a lot, Gracia." Riza meant that. Gracia wasn't part of the soldiers' world. She didn't know all the things they had seen. Riza wasn't even sure that Gracia knew how much blood those she called special had shed. That kind of acceptance felt almost overwhelming.
Riza disengaged from the other woman then went back to her and Roy's bedroom. Roy had sprawled into the middle of the bed. Riza snuck under the covers, trying to roll him to one side without waking him up. He groaned unhappily, snagging the covers as he rolled. Riza tried to yank them back.
"Riza?" Roy asked blearily, snuggling into the pillows.
"You're hogging the covers and the bed, Roy. Scoot over," she said gently, pushing on his shoulders.
Roy moved a little more and once she claimed her share of the bed, he rolled up against her. Roy's fingers slowly made their way down her side.
Riza brushed back his hair. "Feeling better?"
Roy put his finger against her lips. "No." He kissed her gently. "But I need you close tonight." He nuzzled her neck. "You always protect me. Keep my demons away tonight."
Riza cuddled him tight. "Always."
"You have to come outside as soon as you're dressed," Maes said, banging on the bedroom door.
"Whazzhewan?" Roy slurred, trying to wake up.
"Come on, you two. Don't sleep the whole day away. Put a wiggle in it!" Maes demanded.
Riza rubbed Roy's chest. "Your friend is the weirdest thing."
"Isn't that why we love him?" Roy sat up and Riza snorted at that. "Give us a minute, Maes. Don't we even get breakfast?"
"Fine, fine, I'll put on some bacon," Maes called through the door.
"What's he so excited about?" Roy grumbled, flopping back onto the pillows.
"Well, it is our vacation," Riza swung out of bed and went to the window. Peeling back the curtain, she grinned. "I think I know why Maes is so excited. There must be a foot of snow out there."
Roy rolled his eyes. "What is he? Five?"
Riza came over to him and pulled Roy into a kiss. "Be nice. Come on, slugabed, get up and learn to play."
Roy managed a weak smile. "Yes, ma'am."
Riza couldn't hurry Roy along as he dressed and ate his eggs and bacon. Maes danced around the table like the antsy five year old Roy had pronounced him to be. Riza and Gracia just watched their men, grinning.
"How long does it take you to chew?" Maes thumped his hands down on the table in front of his friend who glared.
"Don't make me get the chop sticks my mother gave me. I'll go even slower then," Roy threatened.
"Try it and I'll kick you all the way back to Xing. You can visit some of your distant relatives," Maes shot back.
Roy's glower deepened and he slowed his consumption even more. His onyx eyes fixed on Maes as if daring him to complain.
"So, how long do we have to wait for our boyfriends to mature?" Gracia asked dryly.
Riza laughed sharply. "We won't live that long. I've known Roy since he was a boy who came to study with my father. This is as mature as he gets," she ignored his hot look and continued, "At least he's not always trying to sneak peeks of me naked any more."
"Only because you let him see you naked now," Maes replied, leaning against the kitchen counter.
"Hey, can you blame me for trying to peek?" Roy asked, pouting.
"Not at all." Maes waved his hand, while the women wagged their heads.
"And I still sneak peeks. I'm just better at it now." Roy smirked.
Riza rolled her eyes. "Men."
"It's inborn. Last time I visited my best friend, her two year old ran in naked, shook his little thing around and told us it was his favorite toy," Gracia said, smiling broadly.
"Keep picking on us and we won't let you play with our favorite toys," Maes huffed, eyeing his fiancée sourly.
"Is that a threat?" Gracia asked as Riza snickered.
Maes wrinkled his nose at her then stole Roy's plate. "You're done, buddy. Get your boots on."
"Hey!" Roy protested, reaching after his food.
"Sloths move faster," Maes whined, dumping the plates on the counter top.
Riza took Roy's hand and pulled him up. "Let's go before Maes explodes."
"Fine," Roy grumbled.
Everyone dressed for winter - Roy purposely going slow just to irritate Maes, slowly more every time Maes whined - and Maes hustled them outside. The sun glittered off the snow, looking like a field of jewels. No clouds hung in the robin's egg blue sky.
"Beautiful," Riza breathed.
"Hmmm," Roy rumbled, an expression on his face that said he was determined to remain blue. "I'm out here. Now what?"
"That's our goal." Maes pointed to the steep hill behind their cottage. He went around the building and came back with a huge wooden toboggan.
"You have to be kidding." Roy snorted, disbelief gleaming in his dark eyes.
"It'll be fun," Maes assured him.
"I haven't been on a toboggan since I was a kid," Riza said enthusiastically. "I used to love sledding on these hills."
"I'm game," Gracia bubbled, linking arms with her lover.
Roy sighed but took Riza's hand. "The things I let you get me into," he groaned, kissing her cool cheek.
"Let yourself have fun," she chided gently. "Let yourself not see that boy's face today."
Roy's eyes dimmed then he seemed to brush the cobwebs away. "I'm cold and Maes wants to slide down a snowy hill on a piece of waxed wood. This doesn't seem like a bad idea to anyone but me?"
"You're right, Riza, they're both five year olds at heart." Gracia laughed.
"It's okay, so long as they play with us," Riza replied, making Roy trudge up through the hill's thick, pristine snow.
Once they got to the top, Maes set the toboggan down, eyeing up the safest path. "Okay, I steer. Gracia, love, you get on behind me."
Maes sat in the front, tucking his long legs under the curve of the toboggan. Gracia sat down, wrapping around him then Riza got on behind her.
"Guess that leaves me pushing and jumping on," Roy said. "Ready?"
"Get us moving!" Maes said enthusiastically.
Roy pushed the heavy toboggan over the hill and leapt on behind Riza, holding on tight as they started careening down the incline. His arms convulsed around Riza when they flew over a little valley. "Hey Maes, watch the dips!"
"Um, hard to do." Maes looked over his shoulder, revealing snow-encrusted glasses.
"Oh, great, who let the blind man steer?" Roy moaned, tucking his head into Riza's shoulder.
"Like we could have stopped him," Gracia cried, tightening her grip as Maes whooped, sailing over a hump in the snow.
"Maes, tree! Steer right!" Riza shouted.
"Your other right," Roy added when Maes changed the angle, taking them more directly into the pine tree.
"This thing doesn't steer!" Maes bellowed.
The young lovers squalled as the man-eating tree swiped them off the toboggan, which continued to the bottom without them. They rolled head over tail down the snowy slope, eventually spinning to stops.
Riza sprawled in a drift. "Now I remember why I haven't ridden a toboggan in years."
Roy raised his head, coated with snow. "I survived Ishbal only to be killed by an idiot with a sled."
"That was fun! Let's do it again," Maes said, getting up and dusting off.
"I'm engaged to a maniac," Gracia moaned, sitting up. Balls of snow clung to her honey-hued hair.
"You must be if he thinks I'm doing that again," Roy said, staggering up. He wiped snow from his reddened cheeks.
"Awww, come on, be a sport. That was great." Maes pouted, trudging after the toboggan.
"Only if I can steer," Roy conceded.
"That's probably for the best. You're so short, you can't see over the rest of us," Maes laughed.
"Son of a bitch!" Roy chased Maes down the rest of the hill.
The ladies laughed and went back to the top, waiting for their men to wear themselves out. Roy tackled Maes into the snow then snagged the toboggan, starting to drag it up. Maes helped him. They all piled back on and Roy took them over the hill. He managed to hit an ice patch that spun them in donuts until they were all flung free of the toboggan for another trip down the hill the hard way.
"Can I go in now?" Roy moaned, sprawling half-buried in a drift.
"I think I have snow in my gutchies," Gracia added, stomping her feet.
"We can't quit now," Maes retorted. "We have to conquer this damn hill!"
"Hey, Maes!" Riza called and when he looked, she hit him with a snowball.
He laughed. "Oh, so that's how it's going to be. A war it is!"
"Partners?" Roy asked.
"I claim Riza!" Gracia cried quickly, scrambling to the other woman's side.
"Hey! She's mine!" Roy protested.
"I'm the only non-soldier. I'm sticking with the sharp shooter." Gracia stuck her tongue out at him.
"Fair's fair," Riza said, putting an arm around Gracia briefly then started assembling artillery.
The snow ball battle lasted a while, leaving dents and footprints all over the hill side. Finally Gracia and Riza caught Roy in a sneak attack, taking him to ground. All he heard was 'pile on' and found himself under two women who were trying to bury him in the snow. Maes turned traitor and joined them, packing snow around and into Roy's clothing until the alchemist was wiggling, screaming and laughing all at the same time.
"Get off!" Roy begged and they finally released him, leaving him chuckling on the snow.
Riza leaned in and kissed his blue lips. "I think you're feeling a little better."
Roy put his arms around her. "Yes, thank you," he said then stuffed a handful of snow under her shirt.
"Roy!" she screeched, shoving his head down in the snow.
After several more tussles and one successful toboggan ride down the road the hill, they retired inside and Roy started a huge fire in the stone fireplace. After they all went to strip off their wet clothing, Gracia started some hot chocolate for everyone. They retired in front of the fire, still rosy cheeked, wet haired and happily worn out.
"This was a good idea," Roy said, sipping his chocolate that Gracia had stirred up with a peppermint stick.
"You have no idea how glad we are to hear that, buddy," Maes said, sucking on his peppermint stick.
Roy's eyes collected a few ghosts. He ducked his head. "I can imagine. I'm sorry."
"You don't have to be," Gracia said gently.
"We knew laughing would drive some of the melancholy out," Riza said, putting her head on his shoulder. "And it did. It was so nice to hear you laugh again. And we're not done yet."
"Oh?" Roy asked intrigued.
"Finish your chocolate first." Riza ruffled his hair.
He offered up a little boy's grin. "I can do that."
The small talk came infrequently as they just simply drank in the warm atmosphere - not to mention hot chocolate – all of them purely content to be in each other's company. Finally, mugs cleared away and the fire crackling, Riza pulled Roy to her on the thick, soft rug. Her lips fluttered across Roy's cheek as Gracia's arms went around him from behind. Maes' fiancée laid her head on Roy's shoulder as Maes' arms encircled them both.
"I like this plan," Roy said throatily.
"We were hoping you would," Riza said, slipping a hand under his shirt. She was determined to let him know just how much he was loved.
Roy stared out the same window he had the night before. It was longest night now and the snow had begun to fall. A hand brushed his sensitized skin and he turned to look at Riza. Behind her stood Maes and Gracia. They looked uniformly worried and Roy didn't bother trying to mask what he was feeling inside.
"Are you feeling all right?" Riza asked.
Roy glanced back out the window. "I feel like I've been granted a measure of peace," he whispered.
Riza's only response was a heartfelt kiss.
"We're going to light the longest night candles," Gracia said, gesturing to the long bayberry candles set about the room.
"And exchange gifts," Maes said, as eager as a kid tired of waiting for a longest night feast to end so he could get to his gifts.
Roy wrapped his arms around Riza. "You've already given me the best gift you could, yourselves."
Riza led him back to the fireplace. "Told you once, you deserve everything we give you."
"This time, I believe you," Roy said, sitting on the couch, taking her into his lap. He cast a final glance out the window and didn't see the ghost of a little boy staring in. Maybe finally he was beginning to heal.