Over the Boundless Landscape
Secrets Illuminated in Darkness
For Russell Tringham, the day had begun as every other before it, and showed, at least in the early stages of its duration, no signs that he should think it to be anything but ordinary. He had awakened late, thus being forced to quickly shove the breakfast Fletcher always prepared before making the rounds down his throat, and was then headed off towards the mine without a single backwards glance or second thought; a normal start to a day whose routine, as he recalled, had only been broken some minutes ago, with the arrival of Miss Riza Hawkeye. Of course, their meeting didn't appear as too much of an abnormality in his mind, either, as there were always tourists wandering about Xenotime at all hours of the night, let alone just past sunset. True, it had been some time since he'd had to share the house with someone other than his usual company, but this had also been something which he had experienced in the past, during the period in which the mine knew its greatest success. And Riza had appeared common enough—more solemn in terms of appearance when considering the glimmering jewels, fresh produce, and joyous attitudes that had made the town in which she would be vacationing famous, but, other than that, hadn't seemed too different from the countless other travelers whom he'd met in Xenotime throughout the years.
In fact, Riza Hawkeye had, to him, seemed like little more than one of the many visitors' faces residing within his memories: Obscure, distinguishable only by her time of arrival, as well as by the fact that, unlike the countless other expressions he remembered, he was actually able to grant her face a name. He believed her to be, at first glance, strange only in the fact that she was unluckier than any guest of Xenotime had been since they had first struck the new, rich vein of gold, and when he aired his desire to have her share his and Fletcher's home for the week, he did so based on the fact that he could find nothing about her that would cause him to mistrust her, and he had known enough untrustworthy people in his life to believe in his own skill at discerning such qualities.
She had disguised herself well, and he had been careless.
From the fireplace he had come, fresh logs dropped clean and unlit into the flue, as the suitcase dropped down the stairs, and it was upon that suitcase, popped open by force on the final step, that his gaze now rested. As his eyes ran over the gun that lay atop a pair of scuffed black boots, seeing every scratch on the wood laid into the handle, knowing every imperfection in the metal, he understood immediately just why it was that Riza Hawkeye had appeared ordinary before him, and yet also knew everything that should have made him aware of this fact long ago. The seriousness of her countenance, the judicious spark in her eyes which couldn't be masked even by her smile, even the way she walked, straight and precise in both step and posture, had all been attributes made permanent by her training, which she had been unable to hide, and which he had, during his initial glance and all those thereafter, managed to overlook.
They were stepping up their game, thought the young alchemist, blue eyes narrowing. The last time they showed up, they'd asked outright for the location of the Elric brothers, speaking of a sighting just a few days previous, but had been shown the Tringhams instead. Russell had been forced to admit his past crimes, risking arrest when he told them that it must've been he and his little brother who had been seen, no doubt confused for the brothers whose identities they'd stolen so very long ago, but the soldiers had waved it off since no official charges had ever been pressed, and the only one who could do so was missing. They'd come just a few more times after the exposure of his misconduct, each time barking a tale of the discovery of an Elric, and each time they were told the same story over again, until they just stopped arriving, tired of following a dead-end road.
But perhaps the passing years had made them more desperate, willing to investigate Xenotime once again, and more covert in their exploration of what had ceased to be a possibility.
"Who the hell are you?!"
Russell started at Edward's sudden outburst and turned to look up at friend and foe from his place at the bottom of the stairs, remembering the deadly instrument resting near his feet. Knowing immediately his required action, Russell grabbed the weapon from its place in the trunk, swiftly slamming its carrier shut, and, wooden handles of the case clutched in his sweaty palm, began to walk swiftly, but calmly, up the staircase.
His eyes never strayed from the back of the strange woman at the top of the stairs, his muscles poised to send him bolting should she show any indication of having a weapon to replace the one hanging at his side, perhaps in the bag slung over her shoulder, but he found she didn't move even the slightest. In a brief instant of contemplation, he wondered if her stillness was actually a product of inexperience, wondered if she was merely a nameless face in the ranks, chosen for a mission she knew next to nothing about, and was unable to fulfill without the aid of her missing armament. After all, everything he now remembered about her that would hint at her career were, in actuality, attributes which could be picked up with only the most basic of military instruction. If this was true, he thought, and she was little more than a grunt, then he was very lucky. Still, he was not so cocky as to let his guard down, despite his beliefs about her status in both the ranks and battle abilities, and was sure to keep alert.
When he reached the top of the stairs, all signs of that alertness vanished, replaced by an easy smile. Not completely certain of the contents of her bag, he pressed the weapon to her jacket in such a way that it would appear he was patting the back of an old friend, sure she would know its pressure; with Edward so close, he dared not threaten her openly, for Edward could not know about the woman what Russell knew—it would cause a panic he had no desire to witness nor attempt to calm.
"Edward," he placed a hand on the frightened alchemist's shoulder, "calm down! I would've come up first to warn you if I knew you were sleeping up here. This," he tilted his head towards a silent Riza Hawkeye, "is our new friend and houseguest, Riza."
Even as Russell's fingers softly reached the fabric of his long-sleeved cotton t-shirt, Edward barely moved, as though full meaning of the contact was lost to something he saw in the eyes of the woman before him, away from which he seemed unable to tear his gaze. Even as he spoke, and for a few moments afterward, Edward appeared not to hear him, as though his words were being blocked by something silently communicated between he and the stranger. He would never know what it was that occurred between the two that would merit such focus, or if it was simply a mingling of their own shock which silenced them so, though he assumed, if only on her part, that it was because all that had made her dangerous was now being held against her spine. It was only after a long silence, broken once by the loud whistling of a tea pot and the sound of a door sliding open, that the churning mixture of fear and surprise, swirling with the activity of his mind, began to subside, replaced with a form of composure which comes with familiar company, and a response was, at last, given.
"Hou…" Edward's voice was low, words passing his lips just as slowly as his eyes moved in Russell's direction. "Houseguest?"
Russell nodded, removing his hand. "Uh huh. Fletcher found her in front of the Crudus, staring up at the 'no vacancy' sign. It was a kind of pitiful sight really," he added with an easy chuckle, jostling her in mock playfulness. "We thought we'd take her in for the week, though I'm afraid she'll have to take the guestroom. You don't mind, do you? Sorry to spring it on you so suddenly."
Blinking twice, Edward turned back to Riza, his eyes running slowly up and down her figure, as though fitting her image to the identity Russell had given her. His body was still tense, and his breath coming swiftly with the aftershock of the unexpected meeting, but it was clear in the gradual vanishing of these characteristics that his anxiety was fading, pushed back by the words of his most trusted companion.
At last, he straightened, gaining his own small, embarrassed smile; Russell's smile could only grow.
"Oh, uh…No, of course not. I'll just take the couch," Edward said distractedly, flattening his clothes absently. "It's, uh, nice to meet you, Riza."
Riza didn't move.
"Thanks, Ed," Russell interjected quickly. "Fletcher's got some tea going downstairs. I'll show Riza to her room and then we'll all join you guys in the kitchen, ok?"
Edward nodded, "Alright." He flashed one last polite smile in their guest's direction, before making his way around her—Russell was careful to slide the gun out of his line of sight— and down the creaking staircase, leaving Riza and the elder Tringham alone before the door to the guestroom.
His smile faded the instant silence returned, an expression of muted anger and concentration taking its place.
"I've got your gun," whispered Russell into the ear of the woman next to him, pressing the barrel against her ribcage; her body twitched, but she was otherwise unresponsive. "Come with me."
Russell felt Riza's sidelong glance collide with his cheek but did not look back, guiding her instead towards a room on their left—his room. He was not forceful, she was not uncooperative, moving slowly but with little influence from him, but his focus didn't wane in the slightest. She turned the knob and pushed open the door, Russell at her back.
The room they entered was dark, blackening further when the dim light pouring in from the hallway was snuffed by the closing door. Its only means of illumination came in the form of a single beam of moonlight shining through the large, rectangular window opposite Russell. Though he knew this room well, knew of every scrap of clothing on the floor and piece of furniture residing in the shadows, he might've sworn that there existed only the glittering pool of silver on the floor, and that the rest of the familiar space had been swallowed by darkness, leaving nothing but infinite shadow in every direction. A chill running suddenly up his spine, he turned away from what just might have been the universe's only glimmering light for the briefest of seconds to look at the painted wood behind him, which the deep pitch refused to reveal, before shaking off his irrational fear and turning back to where he knew the soldier would be.
Riza stood, back facing him, near the far edge of the silver plane, unseen eyes gazing through the glass. Gun raised, Russell began to move slowly towards her, lips parting as he prepared to demand her bag.
"You can put the gun down."
Her soft, almost amiable tone made him stop where he stood, placing him just on the edge of where darkness gave way to silver.
"I'm no threat to you, Russell."
Riza's voice entered the darkness as lightly as a faint summer breeze, yet still managed to sound just as sure and powerful as the tone reserved for those who've served in the industry he so despised.
The elder Tringham gritted his teeth, but otherwise refused to acknowledge that she'd ever even spoke. "Let me see your bag."
A pause fell between them, filled with silence so heavy it was palpable, its presence personified by the alchemist so that he could almost see it writhing in the shadows, curling about his ankles, just beyond the glimmering pool.
In the enduring stillness, waiting for the passing of an eternity, Riza, at last, took the strap off her shoulder and passed it to the boy at her back, never, at least as Russell could see, looking in any direction besides the one which held the window.
Russell snatched the bag from her, his calloused fingers colliding with her own for a brief instant, and, holding it in the glow of the moon, began to rummage through it. What he found were a couple of books, a rotted ribbon, and a single piece of paper—by the seal, he judged it to be a document passed from a superior officer to his underling, perhaps being the written proof of the order he was certain she had received. From its place amongst the other far-less incriminating articles, he lifted the script, its gold stamp shining in the light, and read its contents silently.
"…Vacation?" Russell frowned. "Is that how they're officially justifying it? Makes sense, though, I guess. They accepted their demotion reluctantly enough, so they wouldn't want their new superiors finding out about their little investigation—at least when they refuse to officially sanction it."
Russell lifted his eyes in Riza's direction, "And she's a Lieutenant. Not particularly high in the ranks, but not all that low either. However, she's not acting on her own—this order came from a General. From Mustang…General Roy Mustang…" The name held no relevance for him, but the rank did. If someone that high up on the chain was ordering an investigation, that meant the threat was far-greater than he had initially assumed; considering his predicament, though, there was little he could do to fight it past what he was doing now.Sighing, he slipped the order back into in the bag. "There's a lot more behind this than just a few scattered remnants of insane loyalists and their captains."
The document did little to change his opinion of the soldier. As he had previously thought, a Lieutenant wasn't very high in the ranks, and this particular Lieutenant had done little to show that she truly deserved the title. In fact, it seemed highly probable that her rank was temporary, granted unofficially for the duration of this mission but promised to become legitimate should she complete her orders successfully, just so that she might have a taste of the pride every soldier takes in having more stars pinned on their uniform.
He scanned the contents of the bag once more, expression grim, and then looked back to Riza. She was the same as when his eyes had initially left her.
"You're right," he began. "You're no threat to me, because you know I'm prepared to use this." He clicked the safety off and on, eyes looking straight down the barrel at the back of her neck. Then, grip still tight on the handle, he slowly lowered his aim. "But I don't want your life—I simply want you to get out of mine.
"I'm going to give you back your bag and your suitcase, and even your gun, but only once you're on a train and getting the hell out of my town. You'll be staying in this room with me until that happens tomorrow morning, at which time you'll get on the first train that arrives here, regardless of where it's going. Once you do get back to your headquarters, you can tell whoever you answer to that you've found him. But I warn you: The instant you come back looking for him, he'll be gone, hidden so that you won't be able to find him even if you search for another two years, and all of Xenotime will swear up and down that you were simply confused like all the others."
Russell tugged a golden watch from his pocket, raising a thin cover to expose its face. From the hour it expressed, he judged that the first train he spoke of would arrive just before dawn; a little under twelve hours from now. This meant that until that time, barring his explanation to his family of why Riza was unable to leave her room and why she would be leaving so soon after arriving, he would have to be in here, up and awake all night, until she was gone; a small price to pay to keep her and the bastards she worked for from getting their hands on him. He didn't like the idea of leaving her alone for even that small window of time, but he also didn't believe that much would happen, either. She hadn't spoken and had barely moved since he'd found her at the top of the stairs. She was scared; scared of him and the gun; and would be unable to do anything because of it. Just as well, she must know that escaping would not help her, as she had nowhere to go, and could be easily found by one who knew the layout of the town. A small, triumphant smirk appeared on his face; they had sent little more than an easily frightened grunt, and because of this, they had failed once again.
Russell nodded conclusively, smiling as he turned back to the soldier by the window.
What he saw as he looked up was the silhouette of Riza Hawkeye, moving slowly, with almost inhuman deliberation, within the confines of her silver prison. An ebony statue given a breath of life, she stepped closer to the window, hand raised to brush against the glass. Silver shards danced over her fingers as they touched the transparent barrier, their brilliance a sharp contrast to the rest of her blackened form. Her head shifted, and Russell knew she was looking at her hand, sparkling in the evening splendor which graced it, but the light shied away from her face, leaving her emotions in the dark.
Riza ran her fingertips gently across the glass. "Why didn't you mention it to him, Russell Tringham?"
"What?" Russell's eyes narrowed.
"Why did you not let him know what you know, that I'm not just some tourist, but a soldier on leave? You knew my profession long before you read the orders in my bag. You knew because you recognized my weapon. And yet you didn't bother to change my name. Why does my career matter and not my name?"
Russell ground his teeth. He hadn't expected her to question anything that had transpired. Either way, though, considering the ulterior motive she was 'cleverly' masking as a vacation, he found he didn't really feel like divulging anything personal, nor did he want to speak with a soldier about the man he'd worked so hard to shelter from others of her kind.
"My reasons are my own," he answered vaguely. "And I see no—"
"And just what are those reasons?" she interrupted, voice infinitely more substantial. "Are they anything like the reasons you used to justify your lying to an entire town?"
Russell's stomach tightened; he could feel the guilt and the self-loathing, coupled with that of Xenotime, beginning to churn in his gut. He clenched his fists, quelling his emotional nausea with the more timely sensation of anger. "You're going to talk to meabout lying when you've been keeping the truth from me from the very beginning?"
"I was following my orders."
"Was carrying around a gun part of those orders?!"
Riza's fingers twitched. "Dammit!" she spat to herself.
"I'm not as easy to fool as you think I am, Lieutenant Hawkeye," Russell growled; the guilt he felt for his acts in the past still haunted him years later, and he found it easy to give himself over to his temper when someone like her brought them up—someone who had no right to mention his mistakes. "I know your real excuse for being here—why you have that gun, why you're not in uniform and why you're in Xenotime at all. So just cut the crap!"
Riza turned to face him now, bringing a portion of her visage into the wash of light. Her eye, placed above sheltered lips, was wide with shock and filled with anger as it fell upon him, and he could sense the same from the other hazel pupil which the darkness concealed, but Russell was unfazed.
"What the hell are you talking about?" she shouted. "Everything you read in that letter explains—"
"Shut up! That letter is a lie and we both know it! It's nothing but a cover-up for murder!"
"The murder—or, in your terms, execution—of the fugitive, Edward Elric, as ordered by Fuhrer King Bradley!"
A quiet, barely audible gasp sounded from the unseen lips of the soldier, her body suddenly lurching back as though shoved by a powerful and unexpected force; at the window, her hand jerked violently, her nails squealing against the glass. Through it all, he watched her eye, saw the chocolate-brown pupil darting back and forth in her cornea. All of her emotion he perceived in that eye, as she seemed incapable of saying a word.
"You thought that was secret kept from everyone but military personnel, didn't you?" he sneered, relishing his victory. "Unfortunately for you, it was leaked to my brother and me about two years ago. We were taken for the Elrics and almost killed, but they found the real brothers before our sentence could be carried out—but not before we overheard them discussing the orders that came 'straight from Fuhrer Bradley himself!' Naturally," he added, "I remember the make of their guns quite well."
Riza's eye froze, locking onto his, but she failed to respond.
To the face of Russell Tringham, there came a triumphant scowl. He had won—he was sure there would be no further argument. After all, what could she say? He had spoken the ultimate truth, revealed the fact she'd been working to hide since the first day she'd received the order. No longer could she feign innocence—not with all the evidence he had stacked against her. She would be silent for the rest of the night, unable to argue any more, since she possessed nothing tangible to prove the validity of hers or of any future claim, and after the sun rose, never again would he, Edward, or his little brother, have to see her again.
Riza's quiet voice cracked. Russell's irritation returned.
"Because of that, you've kept his existence a secret for this long?!" She barely got above a whisper, her eye unmoving as she questioned him. "You've kept him hidden from the rest of the world simply because you still don't trust the military!?"
"I've kept him safe."
Riza lunged forward.
Her fingers wrapped about his wrists, nails digging into his skin. Before he could react, she jerked him toward her, her stolen belongings crashing to the floor as his grip failed. In an instant, he was pinned against the window, arms twisted behind his back.
"Bull shit you've kept him safe!" Riza snarled in his ear. "All you've done is kept him away from his family, from his friends! What you've done is kept him imprisoned! All because of an order that died the second Bradley did! Not to mention the fact that you chose to hide complete memory loss; hide it from everyone except the people of a town that barely know him! People who can't help him at all! Did you think it would just go away if you waited long enough?! Were you that frightened of a military that can't send out a single troop without running the order by at least one-hundred other people that you didn't even bother to try and find someone he knew?!
"Or did you think they were just better off thinking he was dead!?"
Russell's ears rang and his shoulders throbbed; her viselike hands held his arms firmly and painfully in position. He gasped, lungs fighting to expand against compressed ribs.
"Don't talk like you understa—"
Only when he felt the contact did he realize that she'd spun him around and slammed him against the window. His shoulder blades were instantly throbbing, his breath leaving him on impact. He saw her visage fully now, ablaze with silver, clenched teeth sparkling in the moonlight. Their eyes locked.
"As God is my witness, Russell Tringham, I will kill you if you say one more word!"
And in that moment, as the blood drained from his face, he had no doubt that she would.
"Two years. Two years he's been dead to so many people and alive only to you; and even then he was dead. His mind had passed on to some place than might have been reachable if not for you and your cowardice. Now, who knows? So long without a mind may have permanently barred us from his memories, and the blame would rest solely on your frightened, ignorant shoulders. It would be your fault for fearing the release of a truth that could only have helped him, instead clinging to some ancient threat you only recalled because you were too weak to forget your fear. And so you lied with your silence, manipulating an entire town into doing the same! You would've kept on lying, too, even after I'd left. Hell, you were going to lie to the military—again!— once I reported Edward's presence here. And all for the sake of your own fear and paranoia!
"My hatred for you, Russell Tringham, is surpassed only by my disgust!"
He could smell the sweetness of her breath and his head began to swim with it, with fear, and with the pain in his chest, wrists and shoulders; the latter had only grown worse—her nails were like knives in his skin.
But he had not looked away, and he did not look away even when the only audible noise was her breathing. Once their eyes met, they stayed firm, and Russell had felt the full force of her fury hammering against his skull, and still it pounded silently and relentlessly into him as time dragged on. But still he gazed, unblinking, into her dark-brown eyes.
He saw himself reflected in them, an ugly, frightened shell of himself that he'd never seen before. Could that be what she'd so easily reduced him to, with little more than threats and minor pain?
Or maybe everything she'd said was true, and the Russell he saw in the vengeful mirrors before him was a Russell born that night two years ago when he'd chosen to run, brought to life once more by the utterance of its birthing truth. That time, he had believed himself to be doing the right thing, had thought without a doubt that returning to Xenotime, not risking a stay in Central for more than one night, was the right course of action. And, yes, perhaps that still held true; he cared very much for Edward, and his safety was a prime concern. But perhaps it was also true that his mind had concocted that excuse to save himself from acknowledging that he was afraid. Afraid of the military who'd almost taken their lives, afraid of what they hadn't seen in the underground after they'd found him. Too afraid even to recall the faces of the only other soldiers they'd ever trusted besides the Fullmetal Alchemist: A man and a woman, a Sergeant and a Lieutenant, who'd rescued him and his brother from their prison and taken them to the real Elric brothers.
Russell watched the face of fear twist into an expression of anger and shame. His own fear had kept him from remembering those nameless officers, and as such he had forgotten completely about people just like them: People, both military and otherwise, who had sympathized with the plight of the Elrics since long before Russell and Fletcher had ever even met them. Instead, he'd focused on the sheltering of Edward, on the protection of a happiness that was based on the dull acceptance of his life as it was and not as it had been. He'd thought nothing of the pain of those that might still remember the Fullmetal Alchemist, of those that had known him, did know him, and wished for his return, focusing instead on his own anxiety.
The true nature of her hared of him became utterly clear now, and was, at the same time, fathomless. Russell now saw it in her eyes and heard it in the speech that still rang in his ears—the abhorrence that can only be expressed by one who has known great suffering, as well as been witness to the pain of others, to the one who had been that suffering's author—yet he knew it was coming from the very core of her being, and he could not begin to comprehend the depth of emotion that existed there.
With this realization came an influx of sorrow and disgrace as he hadn't known since his first days in Xenotime. It solidified in his throat and rushed over his brain, making his head pound while he seemed to be suffocating, and only now, now that the power of his own emotions at last overrode her own, did he finally look away, glaring at the shimmering carpet.
The pressure on his body abruptly subsided, and Russell found himself sliding a short distance before his feet touched solid ground. Out of the corner of his eye, Russell watched Riza's hands returned neatly to her sides. She took a small step back. Russell could not look up.
"I won't leave as long as he's here," she assured him flatly, not a hint of question in her tone. "I'll keep the details about my identity from Edward and Fletcher. You tell them yourself."
Riza bent to retrieve her things, having to gather up the few articles that had fallen from her bag when she'd grabbed him, and then straightened. Without another glance back at him, she turned for the door, her form disappearing into the darkness around the silver square. The yellow glow of the lamp in the hall revealed her likeness for a brief moment, piercing the surrounding darkness as it did so, and then vanished, leaving him alone; the only being in a cold, silent universe of black and white.
* * *
Russell and Flecther Tringham.
Riza should have immediately recognized the names of the two brothers who had once impersonated the Elrics, having heard about them time and time again over the past two years. She should've recalled the face of her commander, exhausted and irritated, as he told his subordinates of the supposed sightings in Xenotime he had investigated, proven false by the Tringhams' testimony. She should've recalled the glimmer of sadness in the general's eye when their existence dashed his hopes, as well as her own sorrow, rising from within the small, unperceivable portion of herself into which she had tucked it. She should've recalled the reluctant mentioning of the imposters whenever one of the radical groups—composed of low-ranking soldiers who had deserted the military to fulfill the last orders given by the late Fuhrer, as they would be unable to do so legally while ruled by a government who decided against enforcing now-pointless orders made under the old regime—happened to appear in the paper after entering Xenotime, making a scene the moment they stepped into town.
But the passage of time, and her own reluctance to keep something that had proven its futility many times in her memory, had made her blind to the importance their names should have immediately held for her. And so she had felt nothing, not even the slightest twinge of suspicion when they smiled and told her their names, and had gone with them without a second thought regarding their identities.
And perhaps, she thought, throwing open the door to the guestroom, this was not only due to her own ignorance, but to the way she had first viewed them upon entering town. What she had seen were two polite young boys who were willing to give without the promise of anything in return; two kind strangers who accepted her without question; two children with clear blue eyes that betrayed a tentative mingling of youth and maturity; two children who reminded her of someone she very rarely equated anyone to. It wasn't until after the discovery of their prisoner that she had felt a slight tug at the back of her mind, eventually expanding into the memories flashing before her, and saw them at last for what they truly were:
Riza's hand shook, thoughts entering her perception like salt enters a wound, as she slammed the door loudly behind her. For a few moments, her fingers rested lightly on the knob, while her eyes stared blankly into the darkness, glazed with rage and unable to focus. She couldn't even recall being curious about the contents of the space now shrouded in darkness. It only mattered now that she was away from the boy who had caused her and so many others to suffer. She left off the lights and relished her solitude, without care for the surroundings which granted it to her.
When at last her fingers fell, so, too, did her belongings crash dully to the carpet. The contents of her bag tumbled outward, spilling into the empty pitch. Their cry as they landed echoed briefly, and then all was utterly silent. Her now-free hand strayed to her head, the other clenched at her side, and pressed itself to her forehead. Within her skull, her brain was throbbing, writhing and thrashing about with innumerable sensations, and she could do nothing to cease its constant, painful motion. For back in the room across the hall, everything she'd ever felt and suppressed over the passing years had suddenly come surging out, forming into a single wave of anger that she had been unable to control. Remnants of that wave remained, trickling through her veins and into her muscles, filling them with energy and making them tremble, but the pain brought with it was unbearable to the point of exhaustion. And so she stood, with excess energy begging to be released and no physical desire to release it, a figure shaking in agony before the door, yearning strangely for a few moments of feeling nothing as she had known in the hall, yearning for the shock-born numbness that had carried her to Russell's room—just a few moments of that wonderfully dull insanity that had come before madness.
But she remained inexorably conscious. And all she could see was the face of Russell Tringham, smiling at her deceptively while pointing her own gun at her chest. And all she could think of was him, alone in the room she now occupied, living a life that was not now, and never should have been, his own. Riza clenched her teeth.
The voice was thick and raspy, unfamiliar. It came again, accompanied by a loud banging.
Her clenched fist throbbed against the door.
A useless aid for her agony, her hand fell from her forehead, slipping down her front before landing roughly at her side. She stared once again into the darkness of the room, seeing through her now-adjusted pupils that it was incomplete, its perfection broken by the light that crawled beneath the door and the dim glow coming through the window. In with the former, arriving in the silence, came laughter, light and sweet and innocent.
Fletcher. Fletcher laughing with one whose laughter no one had known for what seemed like a lifetime. And even now it was unheard—his joy silent next to that of the younger Tringham.
But she could imagine it, could see him down in that small living room, happiness manifesting in a smile as he raised a tea cup to his lips—the motion of his throat as he swallowed, the warmth of his breath as it left him in a sigh, the sound of his voice, rich with contentment. All existing but a few steps away.
In a sudden burst of motion, she damned the pain and marched through the darkness towards the window, hating the light just beyond the door and all that came with it, all its tempting pieces of his present existence that it placed before her, but that she couldn't bring herself to fully look upon. For that existence, she knew, was false; nothing more than a visual reproduction of the man she knew, born of the fear and ignorance and lies of one stupid child.
Yet, as she stared out over the boundless landscape, painted ebony and silver by the light of a moon she could not see, she knew that she had been seduced by that lie. Even knowing that his soul was hollow and his mind filled with empty, pointless memories, she loved him still, if only for the fact that she had felt that love again; that overwhelming, untainted affection she could only vaguely recall. She loved what he made her feel even as she hated it; loved how warm and familiar their embrace had been even as his violent rejection left her raw.
Loved the very sight of him even as it tore her apart.
Riza lifted her hand to the window, running her fingers over the night-chilled glass. The dim light did not reveal her face, but she supposed she wouldn't have looked upon it had she the ability. Her eyes remained on the abyss at the edge of the horizon.
It was there that he truly existed, dead at the furthest edge of her perception, shrouded in obscurity.
One last flare of heat rose in her chest, and she slammed her fist against window, feeling her cheeks contort in a scowl as the world shook before her. And then her hand fell to her side and her body grew cold. She saw him smiling in her mind's eye, and at last heard his laughter rising up the stairs and through the door.
A cloud passed over the moon.