Royai Day Festival Theme: "Together Until the End"
Disclaimer: Hiromu Arakawa is the wonderful, beautiful genius behind Fullmetal Alchemist.
Deep, brassy rings gonged steadily, rippling through the rare, peaceful lull drifting lazily in the Führer's office.
It was ten o'clock.
At first, Riza believed she miscounted the number of strikes, but a quick glance to the ornate grandfather clock decorating the east wall verified the time – it was ten o'clock and the usual morning chaos had yet to ensue. There were no trampling crowds delivering truckloads of commotion and even more paperwork, and the resulting serenity oozed eeriness.
It wasn't that she missed the mayhem; it was just her routine. After hearing the bell ring ten times, she shooed the flurries of paperwork-bearing officers, advice-spouting lobbyists, and gift-showering citizens out of the Führer's chamber so that Amestris's new leader could concentrate on his work. But today she and Roy Mustang were alone in the office and there wasn't a single distracting being who needed to be banished.
And if that wasn't strange enough to throw the day for a loop, the Führer's desk would do the trick.
White gold beamed from the large office window in streams, splashing directly onto its polished mahogany to shower it in a mist of glittering Armstrong sparkles.
The radiating glow accentuated a small miracle – the desk, Führer Roy Mustang's desk, was completely and utterly paperwork-less.
But Roy didn't seem to notice as he sat behind it, holding his favorite fountain pen in a writing position against the bare top where documents would normally have lain. He probably did it subconsciously, a disturbing habit formed while feigning to work, but Riza didn't have the heart to be truly frustrated with him. After all, during the past few days he didn't take the time to slack off once; he actually plowed through all his documents at the furious, jaw-slackening pace specially reserved for week-old procrastinated reports. In fact, he worked so far ahead that now he had nothing to do.
Even so, he didn't seem satisfied. Every few minutes he convulsively swallowed, a nervous tick he's had for as long as Riza could remember, and he frowned out of the sunny window overseeing the front of Central Headquarters. His discontent despite his freedom spoke volumes. Something disturbing was eating away at him, troubling his mind more than the time he glimpsed Alex Luis Armstrong in a miniskirt.
"It's a nice day, isn't it sir?" she said casually, trying to alleviate the strained aura darkening the room. "And it looks like you won't have much to do. There aren't any meetings scheduled for today, and nobody has any work for you."
Startled, he signed his signature onto his desk.
"I ordered everyone to leave us alone today unless there is an emergency," he replied nonchalantly.
"Then you should have just taken the day off," she promptly admonished, irritated at his careless attitude toward his own well being. "You've been working too hard. Please... don't burn yourself out." His skin was a few shades paler, and his pupils were nearly dilated to the size of saucers. It was worrying. "Are you feeling unwell?"
"I'm fine." He smiled weakly to back up his assertion and opened the top drawer of his desk, carefully depositing his pen in its designated spot. Using the tabletop as support, he stood from his chair. "I'm going for a walk. Come with me."
She eyed him critically as he slipped his long, black coat over his uniform.
He was not fine.
But she let his lie slide after a short internal debate and followed him out of his office – one step to the left and two steps behind as usual.
When they entered the hallways, something unusual spiked Riza's immediate concern.
Everyone they passed scattered hastily and pressed their backs to the walls. The officers stood stiffly at attention, saluting instead of striking a thumbs-up pose or slapping their boss on the back while gaffing the customary, "How's it going, Führer?" "My daughter told me to tell you 'Hi' Mustang!" or "When are you going to pass that miniskirt law, sir?" (the answer to that being "Never!" since Roy still hadn't recovered from what he darkly referred to as "The Incident").
She hoped the preoccupied president didn't seriously threaten to incinerate anyone who talked to him. He already obliterated the men's hope for miniskirts, earning himself animosity from once loyal subordinates, and Amestris couldn't afford another rebellion.
Stepping outdoors and happy to escape the heavy atmosphere, Riza inhaled deeply, letting the clean air wash away some of her stress. The courtyard, empty of soldiers taking their breaks, wasn't as lively as usual, but unlike the inside of the Führer's chamber, the solitude felt welcome.
The two officers toured the grounds in silence, strolling leisurely underneath the vivid cerulean sky. With a bit of luck, the refreshing mid-morning walk would clear Roy's head of whatever was running ramped through his thoughts.
Finally, after circling the entire courtyard more than one and a half times, the Führer addressed his subordinate.
"Hawkeye?" He continued taking slow, steady strides forward.
She glanced up. "What is it, sir?" She studied his back, looking for the source of his troubles.
"You don't need to follow me anymore."
For a second, she paused mid-step then continued trailing him, still marching in time.
"On this walk or in general?"
His reply was quick.
"In general," he clarified. "You see, now that I'm Führer, you..." He trailed off, falling deathly silent.
...aren't needed, Riza finished.
The crunching of gravel beneath their boots sounded too similar the roar of gunfire as the reason for his odd behavior became clear; he's been trying to find a way to have this conversation.
"It doesn't matter," she said to his back since he wouldn't stop to face her. "Whether or not you need me, I'll be there."
If he heard any hurt hollowing her voice, he ignored it and corrected himself.
"I meant that I don't want you to follow me anymore."
Riza breathed in to argue defiantly. After all they've been through, he wanted to abandon her now?
The Führer coughed lightly to clear his throat. He continued, almost sounding embarrassed.
"I want you by my side instead," he said softly.
Her exhale of soaring relief was a sigh of exasperation.
That was it? He just wanted her walking next to him? Feeling foolish for the misunderstanding, she increased her gait.
"Okay, sir," she agreed. "If that's what you wish."
He wheeled around, forcing their walk to come to an abrupt stop. She caught herself before stumbling into him, but his flaring eyes threw her off balance - it couldn't be clearer she didn't give him the answer he wanted to hear.
A muscle in his jaw clenched nervously then slackened as he opened his mouth to speak.
"I'm not asking as a superior officer." He squared his shoulders, fingers playing with the opening of his pocket. "I'm asking as a man."
Riza blinked, a little confused, and Roy swallowed, building his courage.
"So this is a request, not an order." He pulled out a small, felt box and held to her determinedly. "Stand beside me for the rest of our lives."
Roy looked at her expectantly, heart beating a violent tattoo against his chest while she blankly stared at his hand.
For several nauseating, anxiety-filled eternities he waited for her answer.
"I know that you want to help shape Amestris," he said to the ground, finding it easier to speak to the clumps of dirt, "and if you accept my offer, you may not be allowed to continue your career in the military, but maybe... no, not maybe... well, I don't know for sure, but I imagine that the First Lady will have considerable pull on the... erm... Amestris doesn't need a leader who's thought of as a... well... womaniz- I should... no, I want to be a familyma- damn it! This isn't coming out right!" He scratched the back of his neck, desperately praying she received all his telepathic messages that he really wasn't the manipulative, exploiting jerk that he felt like. "It sounded so perfect in my head."
Wasn't he the man who confidently spoke to millions of judging citizens on a regular basis? Yet here he was, rambling like an idiot.
He took a deep breath, still holding out the box. "In another words, there's only you." Redirecting his gaze back to his assistant, he noticed her look of amusement. "You're the only one I ever want by my side. Will you be there?"
Already knowing her answer, he smiled cockily.
"You're an idiot, sir."
He sighed, defeated by the familiar term of endearment and removed the ring from its container.
"Forever there to put me in my place, aren't you?" he observed, taking her hand in his own. The gold band slid easily onto her ring finger, like it always belonged there.
She entwined her fingers with his and gently squeezed his hand reassuringly.
"That's the plan, isn't it?" she asked.
"Yeah," he closed his eyes, enjoying the warmth radiating from her voice and soft embrace. "Together until the end."
Author's Notes: I'm absolutely refusing to look at Chapter 108 spoilers (even though it's torturing me to the point where I sporadically start screaming in frustration), so this probably contradicted Arakawa's awesome ending. Sorry! And I can't even go on the Royai thread to celebrate the festival because I'm terrified of spoilers. Gahhhhh I think I'm dying from withdrawal.