Title: Castles
Beta: Fishuu
Summary: Mangaverse; Royai. Roy shows Riza his castles in the sky.
Warning: Royai (possibly one-sided), spoilers for manga (specifically Chapter 94).

Riza had never been a romantic woman, never one for personal hopes or ideals. Practical and pragmatic, she refused to let herself dream, never searched for that all elusive castle in the sky or sought after her knight in shining armor, because she knew the world wasn't like that. It wasn't for fear of being hurt – no, she was strong enough to handle whatever the universe decided to throw at her; after all, she was her father's daughter and the best sharpshooter at the military academy – but it just seemed pointless to her to live for dreams alone, especially when she knew those dreams were nothing but empty, hollow husks. She wasn't an optimist, wasn't even a pessimist – just a realist.

She supposed it was her upbringing that'd ingrained that attitude in her. Living sparsely in the countryside with her father, in their creaky old house filled with the musty scent of old books and dust, it was hard to breathe. She'd never gone out and lain under the stars in the wet dewy grass; she'd never danced outside in the midst of a thunderstorm and tasted the rain. Maybe it was because their household lacked a woman's touch. Maybe it was because her father rarely doted on her: no stories, no books, no toys. Consumed by that ever-hungry fire of his alchemy, he spared no time for her, and it frightened her sometimes to look into his eyes and see nothing but flames.

It wasn't that her father didn't love her, of course – she had no illusions about his devotion to her. It was just that he loved his research more.

And so, when Roy Mustang first came under her father's tutelage, she was . . . hesitant, wary that he'd be just another alchemist thirsting after knowledge, willing and ready to let the drive devour him the way angry flames devoured fuel.

It turned out he wasn't though, was so different from her father that the only similarity they shared was their interest in fire alchemy. Strong and self-assured (and handsome, she'd thought when she'd first seen him), he drew a marked contrast to her sickly and aged father. And he had a life; he went out regularly and often, left his studies to meet with friends (or to make out with girls; she'd seen him kissing one in front of a shop in the middle of the street and had he no shame?), didn't lock himself up in an office all day long with ancient alchemy texts.

And yet – and yet, she still avoided him. When he entered a room, she left it; when he looked at her, she looked away. It wasn't that she didn't like him – actually, he was remarkably pleasant company, according to the girls in town – but maybe it was her fear of growing too close, because then he would leave and she'd never see him again. And, too, she wasn't particularly beautiful, so there was little chance of that happening (once she admitted that she'd wanted it, that is).

So she never approached him and though they lived in the same house for months and months on end, they never spoke until twelve weeks into his training when he accidentally blew up their stove.

"Sorry," he said, looking decidedly bashful, after they'd put the fire out. "I guess"—and here, he gave a twisted smile—"my alchemy's still not up to par."

She scrubbed at the soot and refused to meet his (dark) eyes. "No, it's not."

"You're – Riza, right? Sorry I've never spoken to you before now."

"It's fine," she heard herself say. "It's not like I sought you out."

Awkward silence. "Do you need any help?" A plaintive offer, because he'd sensed her hostility.

"No," she said curtly. Then, just when the tension was getting thick enough to cut through: "Don't want you burning the house down."

He laughed, and it sent shivers running down her spine.

They talked more after that, and she learned more about him. Son of a whore (he'd laughed at that too, and she started noticing how he threw his head back and let it rumble through his body), never knew his father. Like her, she'd said: I can't remember my mother.

But other than that, he was so different from her – all these high-blown ideas and dreams, so confident in his own beliefs and morals. "I want to protect the nation," he'd said one day they were walking down the street in town. "If I have to enlist in the military to do that, then that's the cost." A smile, almost a smirk. "Equivalent exchange."

"Alchemists," she'd muttered.

And bit by bit, just like that, she started falling for him before she could remind herself that, no, he'd never want her back, he can pick and choose with no shortage of girls, and besides, he probably just saw her as his teacher's daughter. She started reaching for that illusionary castle in the air before she could stop herself, and by the time she remembered, it was too late.

And then her father died, and Roy left to join the military, just as he'd said he would, and she thought that that was it. But still she dreamed about him – his dark eyes, his deep voice, his confident strides, him – and she couldn't help but wish.

She never expected to see him again, certainly not on a battlefield when they were fighting for their lives, and she also never expected that she'd be the one to save his life. But that was how things turned out, and they renewed their acquaintance in the mess hall that afternoon, talking about what they'd seen (horrors), talking about how she'd coped (the military), talking about how he'd changed (he had, and it was all in his eyes).

Then the war ended, and she thought again that that'd be it. The End, the dream's over, back to the military academy to finish her studies.

She surprised herself by chasing after him and requesting a post under his command. He surprised her by accepting her request and placing his life in her hands.

At first, she protected him to protect him, her knight in shining armor (though he never knew that). And then, gradually, it wasn't just him she started to fight for, but his ideals, his hopes, his dreams – and then they turned into her ideals and hopes and dreams. Their castle in the sky.

And she'd never be able to thank him enough for that, for teaching her to dream and to live for those dreams, to live for love just on the hope that maybe, someday, he'd love her back. Such a far cry away from the old Riza of the past who'd run errands for her father.

And that was why she kept her gun trained on the back of his head. Steady hands, steady voice even though her shoulder was bleeding and her heart was screaming. "That's enough, Colonel," she said, "I'll clean this up."