The day was already fading away rapidly, the blue almost completely gone from the skies and overwritten by splashes of warm colors and the occasional streak of purple or black. Still, Riza just sat there in her chair, facing the window and continuing to watch Grail Lane, the old, placid street she called home, even after whatever she had originally been watching was long gone – the Mustangs' large, black car, a symbol of their social status. Her fingers absently toyed with her slingshot, feeling the fine, grainy wood that made up the Y-shaped part, and the firm, elastic sling, perfect for loading in a good-sized stone, before she stretched out her arm and placed it on her desk.
A hard knock on her door finally got her out of her chair, and in no time at all she undid the latch and stepped back as the door swung open.
"Why didn't you come down to greet our guests, Riza?"
The girl shrugged, observing her father as he turned something over and over in his right hand – callused, scarred and with long, grimy fingernails. The thing was shiny, and bits of the last rays of sunlight streaming into her bedroom were reflected off it. Whatever it was, it was irregularly shaped, and was made of glass or something similar.
"What's that?" she asked curiously.
"You should've come down to see the boy Mustang create this out of one of my glasses and alchemy," said Mr. Hawkeye, nodding in approval. "Don't be so shy, Riza. And not only that, he's a pianist. I seem to have underestimated the boy." He passed the figurine to her cupped hands, so delicate, soft and flawless despite wielding slingshots, and starkly contrasting with her father's palms.
Riza examined the figure, marveling at how the details had been carved into it – the short hair of the girl that fell partly over her left eye, which was shut as she aimed with a minute slingshot. The arm that pulled the sling and stone back was a bit shorter than the other, and her torso was a bit blobby in a place or two, but it was still something worth showing off. She smiled, and handed it back to Mr. Hawkeye. Definitely better than his cannon, she thought.
"I wasn't shy," she said mulishly. "I just had…better things to do." Better things to do? Like wonder if this Roy Mustang was the same Roy Mustang you met in the park – which he is, and listen to him play the piano while hanging around at the top of the staircase? Perhaps you should've just gone downstairs after all…but…
Blocking out that voice that was screaming into her head, she added, "Is dinner ready yet?"
"Yes," said Mr. Hawkeye, patting her on the head. "Oh…and this is for you. It must mean something, the fact that it looks so much like you."
He placed the figure into her open hand. Riza found herself staring down into the crystalline girl's open eye. For a moment, it looked as though the figure was aiming for Riza's nose.
Dinner that night was quiet, as always – an Ishbalan-style stew whose name Mr. Hawkeye always failed to pronounce correctly. When they were done, Riza cleared the table, hauled the dishes towards the sink, and soon the sounds of scrubbing and rushing water filled the kitchen.
Of course, Mr. Hawkeye also did his share of the work. His slightly dampened rag skimmed across the tabletop after doing its job on the placemats, and when that was done, he checked the table, the three chairs, and the area around them for anything else that needed fixing or cleaning. He finished first before his daughter, and retreated, for the umpteenth time, into his study, where he headed straight for the nearest bookshelf. Instead of pulling out a single volume, his fingers closed around an encyclopedia and a dictionary, and he ripped them both from the shelf. And instead of reading them, he tossed them rather unceremoniously on his desk with two loud whapping noises.
Rather instinctively, his hand shot out to grab a dark blue book tucked away at the very back, veined with a network of tiny grooves of wear and tear. The embossed cursive text used to be golden, but much of it had peeled away, leaving only faint outlines of letters that spelled out Nicholas, Perenelle and Riza Hawkeye.
He sighed, opening the book, which was actually an album. There weren't many words, but there were many pictures. And the first one he saw was a fading, black-and-white photo of a young man in a black tuxedo, standing beside a slightly shorter woman with darker skin and a light gown that fell all around her feet. Her veil was tucked away from her face, and her arms, covered with satin fingerless gloves that reached all the way up to her elbows, were wrapped around the man. Their lips touched in an affectionate kiss.
With another sigh, Mr. Hawkeye flopped into his chair, tracing the outline of the woman's blank face.
"Where…where am I?"
"Lie back down. Your head is bleeding, but thankfully it's nothing serious enough for a trip to the hospital. Here…it's time for me to replace your bandages. The blood's soaking right through the old ones."
"No, I'm fine…I feel fine…"
"You shouldn't have made that public display of alchemy in my village. You know what the people who live here believe in."
"I know…I just wanted to help. Oh…that does feel good."
"I soaked the bandages in a special herbal mixture that helps ease the pain and the cut heal faster. Now, isn't that much better…Mr. Hawkeye?"
"Yes…what is your name, by the way? You don't seem as apprehensive about alchemy as everyone else here."
"Oh…I believe that there must be a reason for the Grand Arcanum – that's what we call alchemy – to exist, even after we've long shunned the tradition. Why else would Ishbala will it so? And you can call me Perenelle, Mr. Hawkeye."
"Thank you…Perenelle. And it's Nicholas."
"Father…Mommy's not coming back, is she?"
"No, Riza…not ever. Not even alchemy can bring back the dead, and dire consequences await those who are foolish enough to try…oh, honey…"
The sound of the impending rain made it seem as though the heavens were crying along with them as they stood by the tombstone that screamed in grim font the name and dates of birth and death of Perenelle Hawkeye. He gripped his handkerchief, black to match his suit and cloak and his daughter's dress, tightly and held it close to his eyes as the tears began to flow and moans of despair and heartbreak emanated from his throat.
Crouching down, he opened his arms for Riza, embraced her much tighter than he had held his handkerchief and pulled the hood of her dress up onto her head. She shook slightly, and he could feel her own tears dripping onto her shoulder. Unlike him, Riza sobbed more silently.
Everyone else had already long gone, and they were the only ones left in that side of the cemetery.
The rain continued, falling even harder and faster than ever before. Father and daughter were getting more soaked by the minute, but at that moment, neither of them really cared. Mr. Hawkeye whispered one word in between sobs, a word that wavered before fading away…
Perenelle…you were the only woman I ever truly loved…
"You're saying Mommy's name over and over in your sleep again. And you fell asleep in your chair again."
Mr. Hawkeye sat up straight in his chair, the ancient album tumbling out of his hands and crashing against his knees before falling onto the floor. He watched Riza swoop down and pick it up, tottering slightly under its weight. The girl thrust it back at him, and he nodded sadly as he took the album from her hands.
"I know…it's been a little over two years since the last time we saw her smiling face. How old were you then…"
"I was five," said Riza, frowning thoughtfully.
"Yes, yes…what time is it?" He glanced at the cracked clock that sat on his table. "I think it's about time you went to bed, Riza."
She kissed him on his unshaven cheek, and Mr. Hawkeye managed a small smile as he embraced his daughter – the same way he had done so before his wife's grave. He ran a hand through her cropped hair, and felt her wrap her arms around his shoulders. Mr. Hawkeye took a deep breath and finally let her go to get ready for bed. The girl walked away and exited his study, leaving him alone again.
If only it hadn't been raining that night…if only that car hadn't swerved…if only it hadn't crashed straight into you and pinned you against that brick wall, smothering the life out of you…
Once again, the album was open to the page that contained the photo of the happy Hawkeye couple, among other equally happy photos. After all, it was an entire spread of wedding pictures, depicting the same man in a dashing black suit and the same woman in a flowing peach-colored dress and veil that somewhat clashed with her skin color.
Feeling his lower lip start to quiver, Mr. Hawkeye tried his best to will himself not to cry, clenching his right hand into a tight fist. It had been two years, all right…two years without Perenelle. He was surprised that he had not gone insane yet…
At least Riza is doing fine…much better than I am, actually. Oh, Perenelle, if only you could see her now…Riza Artemis Hawkeye, already seven…
And yes, she has your eyes…
Several days after Arthur and Roy paid Mr. Hawkeye a visit, the Mustang mansion was bustling with activity, and the entire front lawn was covered with tables, chairs and a huge buffet table, not to mention a small stage and podium. The people, ranging from middle- to upper-class, but mostly in the latter bracket, were either outside, eating and striking up random conversations, or inside, probably admiring the mansion's interior or simply relaxing and striking up more random conversations in either the Mustangs' spacious living room, or den, or library. Indeed, Roy's eleventh birthday party was in full swing.
As for the birthday boy himself, he was inside, sitting at his family's grand piano and playing one of the fastest, most upbeat tunes he knew, while a crowd of children around his age – mostly girls – gathered around to watch and listen. Some adults nearby observed from a distance, nodding in approval at how the boy truly exemplified the Mustang credo, including Regine, who was bragging about her brother to a young man with tightly curled black hair and dancing hazel eyes. As they talked, anyone could see the dreamy glint in her gaze.
"Listen to him play," sighed a redheaded girl seated at the foot of the piano wistfully, fiddling with the bow tie on her frilly, pale yellow dress. "I'll never be able to play as good as he can."
"I know," agreed another girl, who looked like the redhead's little sister.
"I'm gonna invite him to my birthday party, which is one month from now," proclaimed a blonde, clapping her hands and giggling as the many gold bangles on her wrists jangled. "Not only is he gonna play my favorite songs and make me gifts out of alchemy, but he's also gonna dance with me, 'cause he's the cutest, smartest, best, most handsomest boy in Central."
The redhead stuck her tongue out at the blonde. "Dream on, Penny."
"You dream on, Marie," whined Penny.
"Shhh, you two are being so noisy! I can't hear Roy play!" interjected yet another girl, her emerald-green eyes flashing along with her necklace and earrings as she glared at them. "Besides, my birthday comes before any of your birthdays. I'm gonna invite him first and give him the bestest-best place!"
"I don't care, Stella," said Marie. "When I grow up, I'm gonna marry him and we'll make lots of nice music together 'cause I'm a violinist. Then he'll alchemize a big statue of me whenever it's my birthday."
"So what? He knows the violin loads more than you do, and why would he want to waste alchemy on making a big statue of you that's just gonna be really ugly anyway?" retorted Penny. She and the others rolled their eyes and made faces.
Roy couldn't help smiling a bit to himself as he pressed down on a pedal with his foot and crossed his right hand over his left. After all, he was getting a whole lot of attention – and not just from the girls who were either his cousins or the daughters of his parents' friends. Still, it would be nice to hang out with a girl who did much, much more than pester him to play their favorite songs on the piano and/or violin, or create things like accessories, statuettes and rings of flowers out of alchemy. As his fingers glided over the keys, he glanced briefly out the nearest window, squinting at the bright afternoon sunlight that streamed through the glass.
His pinky almost slipped on B flat when he realized what he saw.
There she was, the blond girl with the boyish haircut, walking casually past the mansion and hefting a brown paper bag. At first, he doubted whether it was indeed Riza, but the slingshot sticking out of the back pocket of her knee-length shorts clinched it. But what was she doing here?
And did she just look towards him?
Roy scolded himself for losing focus again. This time, he ended up pushing keys that were several pitches lower than what were supposed to sound.
"Sorry," he mumbled, more to the piano than to his audience.
"It's all right," chirped Stella, quickly scooting onto the bench. "You're still the greatest piano player I know."
"The greatest piano player in the world," added Penny, hopping onto Roy's other side. "That's much more impressive than just 'the greatest piano player I know'." She narrowed her eyes at Stella. "And not just that -
"You took my place!" howled a girl whose brown hair fell to her shoulders in ringlets. "Move it, Penny!" She reached out and grabbed fistfuls of blond hair, making Penny squeal like a chased piglet.
The boy shuddered as he slowly got off the bench, grinning and scratching his head. "Eh…don't worry, you can use the piano. I'm done…"
"Wait!" whined Marie. "What about – "
"Maybe later," said Roy, chuckling nervously. "And…I wouldn't fight if I were you – you'd get in trouble with your parents." He backed away a few steps before walking quickly towards the front door. As it closed with a click behind him, the girls stared after it for a while, almost all of them crowded on the bench.
"Great, now you scared him away!" said Marie, crossing her arms and pouting.
The rest of the girls turned to face her. "What?"
Roy wove in and out of the tables, nearly tripping over a chair, but instantly righting himself as he walked as fast as he could. Thankfully she wasn't too far away, so the adults outside – his parents included – could still keep an eye on him.
"Riza!" he called out. "Riza! Riza!"
She turned around, the hair that partly concealed her left eye rippling as she moved. "R – Roy? Why are you dressed like that? Do you have a party or something?"
Glancing down at his blue jacket and trousers, his red bow tie and his meticulously-polished black shoes, he replied with an air of importance as he jabbed his chest proudly with his thumb, "Well…it's my eleventh birthday today."
Riza's eyes widened and her mouth opened, but no sound came out for a while before she said, "Oh…happy birthday! Sorry…I guess I don't have a gift. My father gave me only enough money to buy some things he needs for his alchemy." She raised a brow and added, "I bet that's what you were looking for – a gift from me, huh?" A bit of breeze later, several strands of her golden locks descended into her eyes, and she hastily brushed them away.
"Maybe you would like a gift from me," said Roy with a small yet warm smile. He pulled out a piece of chalk, worn down by many past drawings of transmutation circles, from a pocket inside his jacket. The stub skimmed upon the pavement, leaving its usual white trail, and when the trails came together to form a simple array composed of two concentric circles, a square and a diamond. He then reached into his pocket again and placed three sparkling marbles at the center of all the shapes, and before they could roll away, Roy began the transmutation as Riza looked on in awe and curiosity.
When normal afternoon sunlight returned, Roy was holding out a small hairclip streaked with various colors ranging from a soft, gentle pink to a dark, mysterious blue. Riza gazed at it, and looked up to watch his expectant expression.
"For…me?" But deep inside, she knew that was a rather stupid question.
"So you don't have to worry about hair getting into your eyes a lot," said Roy, smirking and looking so full of himself that Riza quelled the bubbling giggles that were rising in her throat.
"Thanks…" Deliberately she took the clip, put her bag down next to her and fastened it so that it held the loosest bits of her hair in place. "So…how does it look?"
He flashed a thumbs-up sign at her. "Say, do you want to come to my party? There's probably still some cake left…"
Riza blinked. "Come to your party? Well…I can't," she said, the corners of her mouth turning down. "I have to go home right away after running an errand."
"Wait," said Roy abruptly, "you said your father was an alchemist. I mean, you were buying those things for his alchemy. I never knew that."
"Well, he is. He's going to be your alchemy teacher in a couple of years…Roy Mustang."
Somewhere in the heavens, a songbird called out to its fellows. Somewhere amidst the tables set out for the celebration, a man whooped loudly and was drowned out by several bouts of laughter. Somewhere not too far from the Mustang mansion, a dog let out a bone-chilling howl.
"Wait," he repeated. "You mean – Mr. Nicholas Hawkeye – is your father?" Roy laughed, crossing his arms imperiously and staring intently at her. "So, Riza Hawkeye, where were you when I went to visit your father?"
The girl blinked a few more times and frowned thoughtfully. "Well…I was upstairs," she answered. "I heard you play the piano, and I saw you again when I passed by – through the window. Or at least, I thought that was you, in your mansion. Anyway, I knew that piece – wasn't it called The Requiem?"
Roy nodded. "That was my recital piece. How did you know?"
Riza fingered the clip in her hair and shifted around. Knotting her hands together, she whispered so softly that he had to lean in to hear, "It was one of my mother's favorites. We would always hear it – my mom was the best pianist and singer I knew. She promised to teach it to me…"
"But where's your mom? I mean…I didn't see anyone in the house besides Mr. Hawkeye, when my dad and I went to – "
"My mom is dead. She died when a car slipped on the road and crashed into her and a brick wall. She and the driver both died in the accident. I was only five."
"How old are you now?" asked Roy, for lack of something else to say.
He nodded solemnly, and slowly reached out for one of her hands, squeezing it gently. "I…I didn't mean to…"
Riza shook her head. "You didn't do anything," she replied, slowly pulling her hand away and reaching for her paper bag. "Listen…I have to go now. Father's probably waiting. See you…in two years, Roy."
"Maybe it might not be two years," he said hopefully. "We could probably run into each other like this again…before I start learning alchemy under your dad. Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," said Riza, turning away. "Goodbye."
In no time at all she turned a corner and disappeared from sight, leaving the birthday boy standing on the pavement before his chalky array. Before he could ponder on more important things than his transmutation, he heard clapping footsteps behind him – two sets, judging from how they alternated. Two voices rang out as well, calling, "There you are, Roy! They're waiting for your special violin number!"
"Hmm?" The youngest Mustang child whipped around to see his twin sisters – who, despite their identical facial features, didn't look exactly like twins. One of them had on a silky, sleeveless carnation gown with a red-violet chiffon shawl and pulled her hair back in a tight bun with two matching jeweled sticks. Any chestnut locks that escaped were curled and dangled in front of her ears. The other girl was clad in a bright red, off-shoulder dress with long sleeves, and two small braids, tied with red ribbons, marked a path through her sea of hair.
"It's time for your piece," said Elizabeth, who was in pink. She adjusted her shawl. "Mom and Dad's duet is done. Then after you is the finale."
"The Mustang string quartet," supplied Victoria, chuckling. She took Roy's hand. "I swear I won't screw up the cello like I did last time we practiced."
Her twin smirked. "You better not…remember that Ginny threatened to shove her viola down your throat if you do."
"I know…hey, Roy, let's go!"
Vicky tugged gently at her brother's hand.
"Who was that girl you were talking to awhile ago?" she asked softly. "You should've invited her…"
"Uh…" He raised his shoulders and nonchalantly pushed some of his black bangs from his forehead. "She had stuff to do…"
Lizzie grabbed Vicky and Roy's free hands and hauled them back towards the party. "Come on!"
With one last glance at the corner where Riza had gone, Roy reluctantly let the twins drag him away, where the girls would start fighting over him again and the adults would continue exalting him and the way he was being brought up. He let out a long, low breath.
I did invite her…the problem was, she turned it down. Well, she did have a good reason…but still…
"Roy? What's wrong?" asked Lizzie.
"Nothing…I guess I had too much cake awhile ago."
Whew, at last, an update! XD I blame college. As always.
And kudos to 1st Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye for the inspiration for the hair clip transmutation! Heh.