A/N: Based on the gaiden 'His Battlefield Once More'. Its not necessary to have read that before reading this story, but it might help to make some things a bit clearer.
Thanks go out to S. J. Smith who beta'd the beginning of this story and offered some very honest and helpful advice to improve my writing. Massive thanks must also go to Mebh, who has been a huge source of inspiration and encouragement while I was writing this. I don't think I would have finished it without her motivating me. Thanks as well to Miskcat, who (thought she may not know it) was my greatest source of inspiration and also the author who first converted me to Royai.
Disclaimer: I do not own FMA, Hiromu Arakawa does.
"If I were to order you to take the lives of tens of thousands of innocent citizens, what would you do?"
The words echoed in Riza Hawkeye's mind as she strode through the deserted streets, the threat of rain hanging dangerously in the clouds above East City. The oppressive sky mirrored her thoughts, her mind clouded with worry as her memory replayed the events of the afternoon and the soft, innocently spoken words of her colonel. The words that had caused- before she could remind herself sternly to be calm, professional- her heart to lurch sickly in fear for the man she had sworn to protect.
Why… would he ask that question now… Riza's thoughts chased her in circles around her head, her mind a battlefield; worry and concern fighting anger as she questioned how he even dared to ask such a thing, how he, surely, of all people, should know better…
… The afternoon had been an unremarkable one, the tension of the promised summer storm not yet present in the Eastern skies and the mood within the office had been relaxed, cheerful even. For once, it seemed, her fellow officers had managed to find something close to a work ethic and so the team worked on peacefully throughout the hours, the comfortable silence broken only by the scratching of pen nibs against paperwork and the occasional (almost certainly highly inappropriate) joke passed quietly between Havoc and Breda. Hawkeye remembered feeling that it was almost too quiet, that she had not heard a certain lazy, confident drawl cut playfully through the silence as Colonel Mustang attempted to present her with an indisputable case as to why exactly he was permitted, no, indeed required to delegate a particular stack of paperwork to her more than capable hands, for oh… more than half an hour, at least. She glanced up from the document she was reading about workers' permits for Aerugoan immigrants, schooling her features into a reproving frown as she prepared to find him staring off into space again, no doubt daydreaming to avoid his tedious workload.
Instead, her expression softened as she looked up to find her colonel fast asleep in his chair, his head slumped to one side; paperwork forgotten mid-sentence on his desk. Her colleagues had not seemed to notice, shockingly too focussed on their work to pay attention to the others around them in the quietly industrious office. She continued to watch him discreetly, a look of near-maternal compassion finding its way onto her face (after all, he did work hard, whatever impression he strove to give out to others) along with a hint of something else, something deeper, less platonic, that would have shocked most who knew her. Mustang seemed so peaceful sleeping there, all his carefully constructed masks erased; the tensions that shadowed his waking hours temporarily lost to the calm oblivion of sleep. Hawkeye knew she should wake him, scold him with unsympathetic words and a long-suffering tone, but she felt unable to move, hypnotised by the gentle, almost imperceptible rise and fall of his chest and the way his dark hair fell chaotically over his eyes.
Suddenly, the colonel shifted in his sleep, a muscle in his cheek beginning to twitch almost unnoticeably- but to her it was as if he had cried out in fear and pain. She had spent far more times than she would admit to anyone watching him sleeping, sometimes from afar like now, sometimes curled up closely in his arms, and she knew the contours of his face better even than she knew the mechanisms of her most trusted handgun, knew each fleeting, subtle expression and the inner emotion that it betrayed. He was having a nightmare.
Well… perhaps not actually a fully-fledged nightmare; Hawkeye thought to herself as she appraised him silently, but certainly an unpleasant dream. Mustang's face was not twisted in that expression of horror that he wore when his dreams were haunted by fire, but she could tell that he was trapped inside a memory he would rather have forgotten. She debated silently as to whether to wake him or not; she did not want to risk startling him, but neither did she want her fellow team members to notice their commander's unconscious vulnerability. Eventually, however, the decision was made for her as he moved in his chair again, his eyes squeezing even tighter shut and his mouth almost silently muttering, 'just thirty more seconds…'
Hawkeye did not know what her colonel could be referring to, what memory was playing in his head, but she knew she had to wake him, and quickly, before he spoke any louder and attracted the attention of the others. She walked over to the side of his desk- for once, relatively free of clutter and abandoned papers- and gently shook his shoulder.
"Colonel," she spoke softly, almost a whisper. Too softly, it seemed, for he refused to wake, only turned his head away from her, mumbling in a way that sounded almost irritated. Evidently, however, her voice had been loud enough to alert the other military personnel in the room, for at the sound of her voice, Havoc lifted his head enquiringly.
"Did someone…" he trailed off as he noticed Hawkeye standing over the comatose form of their superior officer. "Ha! Is the colonel sleeping on the job again? Guess its alright for those who can get away with it… hey, about that, Hawkeye, how come you're covering for him now? Shouldn't you be threatening him with your gun or something?" Havoc's playful tone seemed to break the spell of calm that had been hanging above the office. Breda, Fuery and Falman all looked up from their work, their faces expressing the same disbelief that Hawkeye was not making any effort to scold Mustang that Havoc had voiced.
"Oh, yeah… the colonel really is asleep," Fuery commented, his voice sparkling with amusement. "I thought it was kind of quiet in here," He got up from behind his desk, holding a pile of folders and walked over to stand near Hawkeye. "I was meaning to ask him to sign these… I've only just remembered about them."
The others seemed to take Fuery's movement as an excuse to get up themselves and crowd around the colonel's desk, each of them at least having the decency to bring stacks of paperwork with them to lend credibility to the pretence that they were concerned purely with work and not with whether or not their first lieutenant was going to yell at their commanding officer.
Hawkeye managed to barely suppress a sigh. This could not have gone any worse- not only had she failed to wake the colonel, but she had inadvertently succeeded in attracting the attention of the entire team. Now she had no choice but to wake him sharply, with all of his junior officers staring down at him. Certainly not ideal. She moved to the other side of the desk, standing next to Havoc and Fuery.
"Colonel!" she called loudly, inwardly cursing her overly observant teammates for putting her in this position. Mustang gave no sign of having heard and continued to sleep, oblivious to the group staring down at him. She called his title again, not having to fake the exasperation and irritation in her voice. The others soon joined in and eventually he began to stir. He looked up at them with dark, confused eyes, still heavy from sleep.
"Hmmm…" he mumbled incoherently, still disorientated and clearly disgruntled at being woken up so rudely. "Why is everyone here?"
Hawkeye allowed herself a small smile, relieved that her colonel's waking had gone so smoothly. Too many times she had seen him start awake, shocked into action by even the softest sound, the slightest touch. Today, however, he seemed drowsy and confused, struggling to escape the hold of sleep. "You've finally woken up," was all she said, playing the role of the stern first lieutenant to perfection.
Mustang looked at her wearily , then scrubbed his hand across his eyes, presumably in an attempt to shake off his tiredness. "I've slept too much,"
"We did call you several times," Hawkeye replied, a trace of playful reproach in her tone. "Are you tired?" He moved his hand to rub at his neck, irritation flashing in his eyes for the slightest of moments. Whether at her or himself, Hawkeye could not be sure.
"No…" and here, Hawkeye could tell he was lying, "I wonder if my senses have weakened? When I was on the battlefield I woke at even the smallest noise, but recently I'm no good at all."
Hawkeye continued to look at only Mustang, but she could feel the stares of the other men behind her, sense their surprise. The colonel almost never mentioned his time in Ishval, going to great lengths to avoid the subject and becoming instantly guarded whenever it was brought up. So she was taken aback to hear him mention the war, however obliquely, and she could tell that her other team members were too. She knew that her colonel's dream must have cast his mind back to that time, evoking fiercely repressed memories and emotions that even she, who had seen and done so much herself, could not fully understand.
"Were you having some kind of dream?" She kept her tone casually dispassionate, trying her best to pretend as if she was simply mildly interested and not trying to secretly assess his psychological state. Mustang did not reply for a while, instead choosing to swing his chair back and forth listlessly as his eyes stared away into some middle distance, never meeting hers.
"…Yes." he replied eventually, his voice subdued, a startling contrast to his normal, stridently confident tones. He turned his chair even further away from the team and gazed out of the window, towards the bustling streets of the city beyond Headquarters' walls. Despite the crisp, mid-autumn sunlight spilling in through the wide panes, it seemed to Hawkeye as if his face were suddenly bathed in shadow; his back was turned to her and she could not guess his thoughts, nor understand the strange mood that seemed to have gripped him since his waking.
The colonel spoke again, softly, a tentative, dreamlike quality in his voice, almost as if he were speaking the words to himself, rather than addressing his team. "If… I was to order you to take the lives of tens of thousands of innocent citizens, what would you do?"
Hawkeye had to force herself to remember to breathe after hearing him ask the question. She could tell that the rest of the team were as shocked as she was and discomforted to hear their commander give voice to the shadows of doubt and self-accusation that they only abstractly knew lived within him. She, of course, had seen it many times before. The room felt flooded with a stifling, intense disquiet that only increased when the colonel turned his head back to face them, his gaze cold and unrelenting.
… Riza shook her head as if to rid herself of the recollection as she continued to walk through the ever-darkening street. The team had quickly recovered from their surprise and, with a unanimity that displayed perfectly their shared understanding, had given a reply that left no room for protestation or further doubt. "The colonel would never give that kind of order, of course." She almost smiled as she remembered the different ways in which the men had expressed the same thought; Breda with a scowl hovering around his face and his usual blunt tone, Falman's typical calm betrayed only by a slight hint of some indiscernible emotion, Fuery with his eyes wide and a quaver in his youthful voice. Havoc had kept his head down, speaking the words as if they were the most obvious thing in the world, a truth so unshakeable that he could not understand why it needed to be confirmed.
They had then proceeded to throw mountains of paperwork at him, another unspoken but unified attempt to dig his mind out of a mire of self-loathing and doubt. She felt a wave of affection for her comrades stir inside her, warming the cold dread that had clenched her heart since that afternoon. The men had not been shaken by their Mustang's words; they were loyal to a fault and would not abandon him even as he struggled to fight off his demons. Still, Riza could not help but feel a spark of anger at the way her colonel had seemed not to care about the discomfort he must have known his question would cause, or the fact that she could not escape the creeping suspicion that his words were spoken not to the team as a whole, but to her only; a personal challenge, as if daring her to doubt the choices she had made all those years ago.
Riza turned the corner quickly, cursing slightly under her breath as the swollen clouds finally surrendered to the pull of gravity and the first, tentative drops of rain fell from the sky. Luckily the end of her journey was near, so she continued to walk forward at the same brisk pace, holding her military briefcase firmly. She pulled up her jacket's hood, her only concession to the steadily intensifying rain, but the flimsy material did little to protect her from the drops. Riza could see her destination ahead of her; a modest apartment in the ground floor of a converted terraced house. The narrow, austere structure had clearly been built sometime in the past century, before the fashions in East City's architecture turned to larger, gaudier buildings- a smug statement of Amestris' continued wealth despite years of war. She knew the salary of a State Alchemist could surely afford more luxurious accommodation but somehow the unassuming building provided a pleasing contrast to Roy Mustang's intense nature. Taking a deep breath, Riza crossed the street cautiously and approached the front door. The communal entrance was unlocked, this being one of East City's less threatening districts, and she opened the door easily. So far so good. Now came the more difficult part.
She stood outside the door to Colonel Mustang's apartment, hand poised to knock on the dark wooden surface. She had her own set of keys, of course, but she felt it best not to barge in uninvited- Roy greatly valued his privacy at the best of times and, if his strange mood that afternoon was anything to go by, this was hardly the best of times. Riza rapped lightly on the door, mindful of the late hour and the neighbouring apartments. A sudden chilling wave of uncertainty gripped her as she did so- surely she was overreacting? Roy was probably fine, his question earlier that afternoon, while awkward, was surely not some ominous sign of mental instability, or any of the other fears that she may have. She was foolish to come here tonight… she was just being paranoid and he certainly would not appreciate her checking up on him like some kind of-
The chattering rush of doubt fled from Riza's mind instantly at the sight of his face as he opened the door. He looked so achingly tired, as if he had not slept in weeks. He stood, leaning slightly against the doorpost, a look of concerned confusion on his too-pale face. He had removed his jacket and undone the top button of his shirt, but somehow the shedding of uniformed formality did not make him appear more relaxed. Instead it only served to emphasise the deep shadows of tension she could see etched into his eyes.
"Riza, what-" Roy broke off suddenly, the briefest hint of fear darting across his face. His eyes glanced suspiciously around the otherwise empty hallway before he straightened slightly, his features schooled into the confident, impassive mask he wore all too convincingly. "First Lieutenant Hawkeye. A pleasant surprise, despite the late hour. May I ask what your purpose is for visiting?"
She nodded sharply, not at all taken aback by his use of military formality. They could never be too careful, after all. Their relationship, such as it was, was forbidden by military rules and neither of them could afford to see their dream jeopardised by discovery of these moments of weakness. The military lead the field in surveillance equipment and was known to have no reservations about using it on potentially dangerous members of their own ranks.
"Colonel Mustang, you forgot some reports concerning the approval of military subsidies given to the Lior reconstruction effort. Since these documents require your signature by tomorrow morning, I decided it was necessary to stop by and deliver them to you. I would also appreciate this opportunity to discuss the contents of these files with you, as I know you have given them only a brief glance at best, and the matter is somewhat sensitive."
His brow furrowed slightly at her last words, no doubt picking up on the veiled meaning behind them. Roy despised serious, concerned talks, particularly those to do with him and his psychological demons. He hated indulging in 'useless self-pitying nonsense'; a fact that only served to make his question earlier that day more confusing and worrisome. But he nodded anyway and motioned for her to come into the apartment.
As soon as the door was safely shut behind them, Roy turned to her, sighing deeply and running his hands through his untidy hair. "Alright, Riza, what's this really about? I've already signed those damn reports; they were one of the last things you all threw at me this afternoon. In fact, I think you watched me sign them yourself."
Riza set down her briefcase, the prop no longer needed now they were no longer acting their parts. She opened her mouth to speak, but was stopped by Roy, his impatience halted as he noticed her wet jacket and shoes. Like the rest of her civilian clothes, her flimsy, delicate heels had done little to protect their wearer from the rain's attack.
"Wait, Riza, tell me in a moment. You need to get dry first, look at you, you're soaking! I didn't realise it was raining…" He trailed off, looking momentarily lost before gratefully accepting the wet jacket she handed him, happy to be guided by the warm reassurance of practicality and courtesy. Whatever else may be going on, Roy Mustang never left a woman standing rain-soaked and shivering in his hallway. He took her jacket into the kitchen, calling over his shoulder, words spilling nervously out of his mouth, "I'll just hang this over the stove; it shouldn't take too long to dry. I'm afraid I don't have any slippers or anything, but if you come into the sitting room, I'll light a fire and that should warm your feet up soon enough. I'd make you some tea, too, but I've only got coffee in at the moment…"
Riza called out her thanks at his retreating back, listening to the sound of his movements around the kitchen as she slipped off her wet shoes. She too felt grateful for this small reprieve of necessary domesticity, a postponement of the difficult conversation she knew would eventually take place. Riza had been anxiously awaiting the chance to talk with Roy ever since that afternoon, but now she was actually in front of him, she scarcely knew what she wanted to say. She certainly had no idea how to start such a conversation and her own conflicting feelings only made matters worse. Riza knew she should still be angry at him- and she was- but that anger was being increasingly pushed aside, replaced by concern and worry as the true extent of her colonel's fatigue became apparent to her.
Returning from the kitchen, Roy led her into the sitting room, a small room plainly furnished in pale colours and soft rugs. He motioned for her to sit on the plump sofa, its rich burgundy colour and showy gold brocade a sharp contrast to the elegant simplicity of the rest of the room. A hand-me-down from his mother, no doubt. Riza glanced around the room, noticing with dismay the generous glass of whiskey sitting on the desk by the far wall. Still… she reasoned … it's just a glass… at least he doesn't seem to be trying to drink himself into unconsciousness this time…
She sank into the soft cushions gratefully as Roy took one of his ignition cloth gloves from his pocket and lit a fire in the modest fireplace, the flames leaping from his fingers to dance on the waiting logs in the grating. He remained, staring silently at the flames for a few moments, waiting, she told herself, to see if the logs had caught properly, before turning back to her. The fire had already began to fill the small room with a cosy warmth and soft, golden light but she found herself suppressing a shiver as she looked into his eyes. He seemed so lost and uncertain, like a scared child rather than their powerful, confident commander. A sudden, vivid recollection passed through Riza's mind; a small, dark eyed boy standing in front of her father, proudly hiding his fear as he awaited the man's anger. She sharply dismissed the memory, fervently trying to ignore how similar his expression looked now.
Riza took a deep breath, deciding a direct approach was best. Roy surely knew why she was there, anyway. "Roy... what's wrong? Why did you ask that question today?" She tried to keep both her anger and concern hidden, but she could tell by the sudden coldness of his expression that she had not succeeded. Still, she reasoned, she had every right to be angry at him. Aside from being unprofessional, his question had wounded her deeply. Does he not remember how many people I've already killed for him?
Roy sighed deeply, turning his head away from her, watching the fireplace again. Eventually he spoke, his voice soft and halting, betraying his fatigue and uncertainty. "I don't know, Riza, honestly I don't. It just… I had been dreaming of Ishval again before you woke me, but it was different from all my usual nightmares. Normally I never dream of anything specific, just vague flashes of memories, but today… it was like I actually was there, in Ishval, twenty three years old again and terrified. I was back in my tent again, the morning after I was shot at by… by that Ishvalan. Do you remember?"
He turned back to face her now and she nodded mutely, unnerved by the intensity in his eyes. Yes, she remembered that time well. She had been on a mission several miles away, unable to watch over him as she had been trying to do ever since the day she had been torn between shooting him and saving him and had chosen the latter. The dark despair that had gripped her when she'd overheard on the military communications line that the Flame Alchemist had been shot by an Ishvalan while eliminating guerrilla cells in the city of Akabah had been matched only by the joyous relief when the transmission had continued to say that Major Mustang was completely unharmed and the quick action of Captain Hughes had neutralised any further risk.
Hughes had told her later of how shaken Roy had been by the incident; how he had stayed in his tent all night, not sleeping and turning away all visitors. Eventually Hughes had, in his typical fashion, simply barged in without waiting for invitation and had somehow convinced Mustang to get up and face the day. Hughes had refused to divulge any details of the conversation to Hawkeye, saying, with uncharacteristic coldness, that it was no concern of hers. All she knew was that when she saw Roy on the battlefield the next day, he had been fighting with brutal, demonic efficiency, steadily destroying enemies and jumping recklessly into danger without a hint of fear. Without a hint of any emotion at all. That night he had turned up at her tent, risking the bullets of nervous sentries to stand silent and lost at her doorway. She had gathered him wordlessly into her arms and held him, shivering softly, the whole night, his tears sliding slowly down his face as they spilled unnoticed from haunted, unsleeping eyes.
Again, Riza had to force her mind away from the memories, to remind herself to stay focussed. It was clear to her that Roy needed to share this with her, that his dream that afternoon was key to the strange melancholy that gripped him now. He needed her to be strong and clear-headed for him and she could not afford to be drowning in ghosts.
When he did not continue speaking, she prompted him, remnants of anger making her words harsher than she had intended. "And then what, Roy? Why did that dream make you pointlessly question our judgement, challenge our loyalty to you?" Dark eyes flew to hers in surprise, hurt and confusion clear in their black depths.
"Is that… what you think I meant?" Roy gasped. "No, Riza, I never meant that, I swear. I just… I don't know what I meant," He admitted with a sigh. He sounded so tired, weighed down by his burdens and his all-consuming guilt that clung, parasitic-like, to his soul, feeding on his hope and self-belief. That afternoon's outburst portrayed it perfectly and solidified the first lieutenant's growing suspicions; that her commander would never be free from his ghosts, no matter how many years past or ranks he climbed. They grew, in fact, as time went on and the hardships they faced increased. She thought, after they had both recovered from the first, sharpest pains of Ishval and finally learned to move forward, that she would never again have to witness such depths of despair ever again. It seemed that she was still naïve, even then. His raw, violent anguish the night after Hughes' funeral had taken her breath away with its intensity, but what had truly terrified her was the hateful self-recrimination she saw in his eyes. The murder of his best friend had stabbed a rusted blade into the slowly healing wounds in Roy's soul, brutally tearing them open and driving the festering, poisonous guilt closer towards his heart.
"You might not know, but I think I do," Riza replied softly, meeting his shadowed gaze evenly. "I think you were trying to torment yourself with the answer, to confirm your belief that none of your team would ever commit such terrible acts as you did- proof of your own moral cowardice and despicable nature. You were trying to punish yourself because you can't let go of your guilt, even after doing so much now to atone for it." Riza's voice was little more than a whisper by the time she had finished, but it seemed to echo in the silence of the small room. She almost couldn't believe the words had left her mouth; that she had dared to voice what they had both left unspoken for so long.
Roy's eyes filled with pain at her words, but he made no attempt to refute her statement. Instead he walked to the sofa and sat down hesitantly, never breaking eye contact, as if she were some wild creature he was afraid of startling. "I know you're worried about me, Riza," he began, speaking with a hesitancy never normally heard in the voice of the proud, confident Colonel. "And I'm not going to try and patronise you by insisting that I'm fine, because you can clearly see that I'm not. I don't even know why I said what I did, but I expect you're right in your assessment of it. You always did know me better than myself, after all."
He shot her a gentle, weary smile and Riza felt her breath catch in the back of her throat. Even now, looking so worn and defeated, he was still so beautiful and, in these rare moments that they shared together, it was almost shameful how hard she had to fight to keep herself from leaning over and kissing those care-worn lips, kissing away the lying smirk or the honest sorrow. As always, she reminded herself that he valued her far too highly for them ever to indulge in that. Whatever moments they may have shared in the past, well… those were desperate times and they could not afford for such behaviour to become a habit.
Roy continued speaking, turning away from her gaze to stare down at his hands. "I suppose I just wasn't really thinking straight when I spoke to you today; I'm so tired recently- as I'm sure you've noticed- and sometimes I can be a little… disorientated… when I wake up.
"It's nothing," he added quickly, noticing Riza's look of alarm. "Just lack of sleep slowing my reactions a bit. And today, I just seemed unable to separate what I was thinking from what I could say out loud. Sometimes it all seems so…"
He trailed off abruptly and stood up, a frown marring his features. He seemed to withdraw into himself, becoming distant even as he stood before Riza's eyes. "This is ridiculous. There's no point discussing it. I should be able to handle these things on my own, without making a fool of myself in front of my subordinates, and if I can't, well, that's my problem and I'll have to deal with it. I know what I said today hurt you, Lieutenant, and I apologise for that. And I apologise for causing you to walk all this way in the rain for nothing. But sitting around here complaining isn't going to help things at all."
Roy strode over to the desk and grabbed the waiting glass of whiskey, swallowing down the harsh liquid until nothing remained. Setting down his glass, he turned to face her, an almost childish petulance glaring in his eyes- as if daring her to keep her temper after his self-destructive display. Riza knew he was hoping she would get angry at him and walk out, letting him avoid what he considered to be a highly uncomfortable conversation. She was sorely tempted to do just that, but she refused to let him to manipulate her emotions so easily. He needed to realise that he could not keep her at arm's length the way he did with everyone else he cared about, now that Hughes was dead.
So, swallowing down her anger, she walked over to where he was standing, lightly pulling him away from the desk- away from the reach of whiskey bottle that she knew was hidden there. Riza could feel the gentle tremor that coursed through his body at her touch, her own skin answering with shivers that danced upward from the hand resting on his arm. It had been a long time since she had touched him; too long, her traitorous mind whispered; and even something like this- the sturdy barrier of crisp cotton between their flesh- felt unacceptable, hardly appropriate behaviour from a first lieutenant towards her colonel.
Yet Riza knew that, tonight, she would have to be bolder still if she hoped to reach him. He had turned his head away again, the brief glimpse of vulnerability she had been granted since she had first entered his home that evening threatening to retreat behind a brittle wall of cold indifference. She could not allow that to happen, not now that her blindness to his suffering had already led them to this. Letting go of his arm, she moved her other hand up to rest on his cheek, turning his face to look at hers.
"Roy," she spoke gently, her heart aching in sympathy for the quiet pain she could see expressed so eloquently in his dark eyes. Yet even that pain was, in some twisted fashion, something for which to be thankful, for it meant that he had not yet shut himself away completely, that he was still being somewhat honest with her. "Please, don't do this. Don't try and push me away. I know you don't want to talk about this, but we have to, Roy. What you said today… you really scared the team. You scared me. Please… just tell me what you're feeling right now. You know that nothing you could ever say would make me turn away from you."
Roy shrugged out from under her hands, laughing bitterly. "What I'm feeling now? Weren't you listening before? I'm tired, Riza; I thought we'd been though this already," His condescending tone pulled at the threads of her already frayed patience, but she sternly reminded herself to remain calm. His abrupt change of mood had frustrated her, but it was only what she had expected- Riza had known that getting Roy to talk with her, to admit his fears and sorrows, would be no easy task. He wanted to appear strong for her, be the powerful, confident leader rather than the shivering, tear-stained young soldier whose shadowed eyes still haunted her sleep. So he would hide his emotions away, attempt to distract her with whatever method available; only ever turning to her when his pain grew beyond his control, when his despair was too great for him to handle on his own. An image of the night of Hughes' funeral- only three weeks ago now… god, it feels like a lifetime- flashed into her mind but she repressed it sharply, along with the stab of grief that accompanied it. Hughes had always been able to talk with Roy, to help him out of his moments of darkness. But Hughes was dead.
He continued to talk, his tone venomous as he paced restlessly about the room. "Why can't you just accept that there's nothing wrong with me and leave it at that? I don't need fucking babysitting all the time, Riza, despite what you might think. Honestly, you're just as bad as Hughes is; the two of you can never seem to leave me a-"
Roy stopped suddenly. His face drained of all colour as he realised what he had just said and he stumbled backwards, a look of anguished horror on his face. His back hit the wall and he sank down slowly towards the floor, his knees huddled up to his chest, his head cradled in shaking hands.
"Oh… god… what'swrong with me? I can't even remember that my best friend is dead!" Roy lifted his head to meet her anxious gaze, his black eyes wide with terror and grief. But not tears; at least there are no tears. Selfish as she may be, Riza didn't think she could bear to watch Roy Mustang cry again. Rain falling from a perfect, blue sky… sweet kisses that tasted bitter from tears. "Riza…" Roy gasped imploringly, his voice little more than a broken whisper.
She didn't need any more invitation. She sank down to her knees beside him, pulling him into her arms and stroking his soft, dark hair as he rested his head on her shoulder. Riza held him tightly, feeling the tremors racking his too-slender frame slowly subside. "I'm so pathetic…" Roy muttered harshly against her hair. "I keep telling you I'm fine and then I go and say something like that… I wish I could stop being so weak."
Riza felt her heart clench painfully at his words. He was wrong, more so than he could ever realise. She could not even begin to articulate what it was she saw when she looked at him, but it was not weakness, had never been weakness. "Roy… that's not true. You're not weak, you're the strongest person I know. So please… don't ever think that."
She felt Roy shake his head, his face still buried against her shoulder; like a child seeking comfort from the dark, she thought to herself. "No, Riza, I've never been strong. I've always had to lean on the strength of others, taking it all until they're left with nothing. Hughes…" his breath hitched slightly, "Hughes was always far stronger than I could ever hope to be. He was never afraid to admit the truth… he died trying to expose it, for god's sake. Hughes was never afraid to be honest. But me… I'm an alchemist, I'm supposed to love truth but I'm too terrified to ever face it when its right in front of my eyes… too terrified even to tell you I lo-
Again, Roy cut himself off, and this time, Riza was grateful. He had come so close- too close, dangerously close- to speaking the one word that was truly taboo between them. More than Ishval, more than their own psychological frailties, more than the scarred secrets etched upon her skin, this was the one thing that must always remain unspoken. Riza could never explain to herself why, exactly, this topic was so forbidden for them, she just knew that it was. The fraternization rules, the risk of discovery, the need to not be distracted from their goals… all of these paled to insignificance next to the certainty that Roy would shatter into a million pieces if the words 'I love you' were ever to pass her lips. She imagined it would be the same for her, except she knew it was something he would –could- never say. That mouth, which had kissed her so tenderly and surely, had whispered declarations of her beauty, her courage, her absolute necessity, but it would never shape the sounds of those three words, no matter how much she may yearn for it. Riza knew that it shouldn't matter- after all, those simple words, so casually used, could never begin to encompass how she felt about him, how completely essential he was to every fibre of her being and she knew that he felt the same way. Still, she imagined it might have been nice to hear it, just once.
She shushed him gently, her fingers curling even more tightly into his hair as her other hand rubbed small, comforting circles into his back. Selfish, she most certainly was, and greedy, too, but she would make the most out of this rare opportunity to be so close to him. "Roy… its okay. You don't need to explain anything to me. I understand." She spoke clearly and surely, trying to convey, with no room for doubt, that she did understand. She understood everything. And it was okay.
Roy sighed deeply, pulling away from her to look into her eyes. "Thank you," he said simply. The raw anguish seemed to have disappeared from his voice, though she could still hear the soft strains of exhaustion and quiet sorrow interwoven in his words. She feared they would remain for a long time yet. "It means so much to me that you should understand. I wish… I wish I could be stronger, that I could give you everything that someone as… wonderful… as you deserves, but I can't. Not now, anyway. I'm so sorry, Riza."
She shook her head wordlessly, tears bright at the corner of her eyes that her pride would never allow to fall. Such painful honesty from him was difficult to listen to, after years of half lies and dancing around the truth. Years of hoping, foolishly wishing that this could ever become more than it already is… at least I can stop that pathetic dreaming now. But oh, how bitterly the truth stung. She knew she could –would- accept any amount of suffering for herself if it meant that he could carry on, but sometimes the burden of such self disregard grew momentarily too great. Tonight, it seemed, was one of those times. Their transfer to Central loomed and, in a matter of days, their lives would change irrevocably. She did not know when, if ever, she would have such a chance to be so close to him again.
Silently, Riza moved towards him; far closer than I have any right to be… her hand returning to the back of his head, her fingers lacing into that beautiful, unruly hair, her forehead gently touching his. She was afraid- terrified- for a moment that he would push her away, that he would find her forwardness inappropriate now that the worst of his despair had cleared. But it seemed that he too could sense that this small moment may be the last of its kind, that soon the flimsy bubble they had built around themselves would be shattered by the razor-sharp world of Central's politics; a world made infinitely crueller by the vicious murder of his best friend. Without hesitation, Roy returned her embrace, bringing one hand up to gently rest at the back of her neck, his thumb just above the tip of the tattoo that had bound their lives together. His other hand moved to caress her cheek, his delicate fingers warm against her skin. Roy closed his eyes and she did the same, content simply to feel the comforting closeness of his body, to hear the soft sound of his breathing. Simply to hold him like this, to know he was alive and that she could protect him, in some small part, from the demons he faced; that was enough for her. It would have to be enough.
They remained that way for a long time, how long, she did not know exactly; as she listened to the soft pattering of the rainfall on the street outside slowly quieten and then still completely. Riza found herself wishing that they could stay in this moment forever, stop moving ceaselessly forward and instead remain still, held tightly in each other's arms. She knew, however, that duty, in all its many forms, would always come first. Slowly, reluctantly, she let her hand fall to her sides and moved away from him. He brought his eyes up to meet hers, their black depths filled with a quiet, sorrowful regret.
"You can't stay tonight." It was not a question, but she shook her head anyway. Emotionally, she was already distancing herself, forcing herself to be the cool, detached first lieutenant that she was to everyone else in the world. Riza could tell by the change in his eyes that Roy was beginning to do the same. He stood up, helping her up as he went. He seemed a bit unsteady on his feet, a fact Riza put down to the not insubstantial glass of whiskey he had drank earlier that night. Perhaps when he wakes up with a hangover next morning, she thought to herself ruefully, he'll finally learn his lesson about acting stupidly in a fit of pique. Abruptly, Roy turned and walked out of the room, heading down the corridor. Riza struggled to fight back a stab of alarm at his sudden exit before remembering: her jacket. Roy had hung it in the kitchen to dry. Of course.
He returned, holding her now-dry jacket in one hand. He held it out to her with a soft smile, "Wouldn't want you to forget this, Lieutenant. The rain might have stopped, but its still cold out at this time of night." She took the jacket from him and slid her arms into the sleeves, returning his smile.
"Of course not, Sir. Thank you for your consideration." Turning away from him, she moved out into the corridor and slipped on her shoes, noticing with annoyance that they were still not completely dry, before picking up her briefcase. She had reached the door and was preparing to turn around and bid him goodbye when she heard him move up behind her and felt his hand rest lightly on her back. She turned to face him and found herself staring into a pair of intense black eyes, his face only inches away from hers.
"Goodnight, Riza," Roy spoke softly, almost a whisper. "And thank you. For everything." She nodded tightly, closing her eyes to prevent the shameful tears from welling up again. After a second or two she opened them and began to move away from him, towards the door.
Riza did not know what it was; the remnants of his strange, impulsive mood from before, the effects of the whiskey, or simply a fear that this was the last chance he may have. As she turned to go, Roy's fingers curled around her wrist, preventing her from leaving as he drew her towards him once more. He wrapped one arm around her shoulder and softly pressed his lips against hers. The kiss was chaste and heartbreakingly gentle- as if he believed that she would vanish from his arms if he were to try and hold onto her too tightly- but she still found herself gasping desperately for breath when he let her go. Longing and regret painted dark shadows across his face and she simply could not bear it any more- she knew she had to leave, immediately, or else she would never be able to tear herself away. He made no further move to stop her as she hurriedly unlatched and opened the door, needing suddenly to be far away from him, before they could betray themselves any more than they already had.
"Goodnight Sir." She saluted calmly, professionally.
"Goodnight, Lieutenant," her colonel replied, his voice equally emotionless as he shut the door behind her, the soft 'click' of the latch echoing throughout the silent corridor. Riza waited until she was out of the tiny, darkened building and into the street before taking a deep, shuddering breath, angrily brushing away the tears that threatened to fall. Nothing had changed and she had no reason to cry. Tomorrow they would move forward as they always had done, this moment of weakness never spoken of again.
She hurried through the rain-soaked streets, the night's chill quickening her step. Far above her, the stars shone tiny shards of light in the clear, ink black sky as Riza Hawkeye walked on through the dark, never once looking back.
A/N: Thanks so much for reading! This is the first fanfiction I've ever written, so I'm a bit nervous so I'd absolutely love any reviews you could give, particularly ones to help me improve my writing.