by Lady Norbert

A/N: This fic is alternately titled, in my head, "Why Are They Doing This To Me?" - because I really would like to know. Apparently it's not a good idea to get Team Mustang muses living in your head; they decide they want a story of their own. The king and queen are getting ready for another adventure with the rest of the pieces.

This fic is a direct sequel to my previous FMA story, Flowers of Antimony. It's a good idea to read that before you read this, if you haven't already, so that you understand any references I make back to that plot. Those of you who have read FoA will remember that it was a very slowly-developing story, so if this chapter seems to be lacking in action, you understand why. I guess I just love to tease you all. ;)

Those of you who have read FoA will also remember that the story and all chapters were titled with actual alchemical terms. This one is all chess terms, and as with that one, I will be providing the definitions. The terms won't always relate to the plot of the chapter where they're being used, but sometimes they will.

Brilliancy: A spectacular and beautiful game of chess, generally featuring sacrificial attacks and unexpected moves.

Standard disclaimers apply; Arakawa owns all and I'm just playing in her toybox. Enjoy, and remember, reviews are love!

Chapter One: Irregular Opening

Irregular Opening: Chess openings with an unusual first move from White.

Winter potatoes have never been one of Roy Mustang's favorite foods. They aren't necessarily bad; it's just that he's eaten what he sees as more than his fair share over the years.

In Ishval, however, the winters are no less bitter than the summers are scorching. It doesn't snow, but the temperatures - in some areas particularly, and most especially at night - dip to extremes that make him long for the heated apartment he left in Central, or even for the drab semi-comfort of East City. Apart from whatever foods can be imported from the rest of Amestris, and whatever surplus has been avariciously stashed away in warmer months, the only rations to be had are the damned winter potatoes.

To her credit, Roy's wife is a resourceful chef, a trait she's retained from her younger days of caring for her heavily distracted father and his schoolboy apprentice. Sometimes, when the master would get too involved with his researches, it would be up to her to reuse leftovers for days until he remembered the need to buy groceries, and she developed a talent for turning the same foods into different dishes. Now in adulthood, Riza has worked out at least six ways to cook the potatoes that make them decently palatable for Roy, and meals at home are perfectly acceptable. (More than acceptable, really, when one factors in just how long they'd had to wait to have a home together, neither separated by the abominable anti-fraternization laws nor forced to share a cramped room in the barracks. When those details get taken into consideration, Riza's dinners seem downright magical.)

The house they call theirs in Ishval is small. This is deliberate; they agreed that it wouldn't really go very far toward getting the Ishvalans to trust them if they lived in better quarters than the natives. So their house is simple, and modestly furnished; at least the revitalization of the region has included electricity and running water, meaning the house has both. It's big enough for a pair of atoners and their dog. Most of their belongings remain in Central City, either in storage or at the Fuhrer's mansion with Riza's grandfather, because there's absolutely no place to keep them in the little domicile; they've pretty much limited themselves to the essentials and a few small comforts. But despite his reputation as a man who enjoys the finer things in life, Roy honestly doesn't mind how plain the house is.

Riza's there, which means that it's home.

They have a vegetable garden out back, like most of their neighbors, and he's been working there for the last hour to collect more of the unfortunate tubers. He brings in the basket, Black Hayate at his heels, and puts them in the kitchen. His wife (his wife, his, he's never going to get tired of being able to say that) is at the stove, making dinner. They've already put in a long day of work - there are no days off, it sometimes seems - but she hates to garden and he hates to cook, so the division of labor at home is no difficult arrangement.

"Dare I guess what we're having?"

"Potato soup."

"Hm." It's a decent compromise. He has always loved her soup, and loved to watch her make it, ever since he was a teenaged boy with a crush on his teacher's pretty daughter. Some things don't change no matter how old you get. He moves behind her to fold his arms around her waist, chin on her shoulder. "It's going to be another frigid night in Ishval."

"Sir, consider the time of year," she says, absently slipping back into subordinate mode for a moment. "Every Ishvalan night is frigid right now." As if he doesn't know.

"Uh-huh." He knows; he just doesn't care very much. The spot just behind Riza's left ear fascinates him, no matter how often he investigates it, and he's busy warming his nose on her skin. She chuckles and reaches up to run her fingers through his hair, brief and soft.

This is their third winter in Ishval since the reconstruction began, though only the first since their marriage. It's been a rough road. The people still don't entirely trust them; their reputations from the war are too severe. It's gotten better since they started, and there's no denying that the presence of Scar and Major Miles - being natives of Ishval - has helped greatly. The sincerity of the rebuild has been fairly well established. Still, it's a slow progress, or at least it seems that way to Roy. He's a patient man, but there's something about the desert air that wants to suck the patience right out of his soul. Between the harsh conditions and the loathing of the people and the sheer staggering amount of work to be done, he's privately rather convinced that if he had not had Riza with him all along, he would never have lasted even the first year of the initiative. But then again, Fuhrer Grumman has never been a fool, and he promised Roy from the beginning that he would have what he needed to achieve the rebuild.

Interestingly, there seems to have been an improvement in the Ishvalans' acceptance of the Mustangs since the wedding, although Roy is at something of a loss to explain that. Maybe it's because they're now living in the same kind of house as the people, instead of the allegedly more comfortable barracks; or maybe it's because they've proven that commitment isn't a problem for them. (Really, it never was. They've been committed to each other for years. It's just that now they can let other people see that fact.) He doesn't get it, but he's grateful for anything that makes this process easier.

"Could you feed Hayate, Roy? This is just about ready."

He kisses her neck - a gesture which is part suggestion, part affection - and goes to get the dog food from the cabinet. "C'mere, boy. Sit...shake...good boy." He doesn't feel like going through the whole routine of tricks that Riza devised for training when the dog was a puppy; both of her men are hungry. Roy watches Hayate for a minute, half-smiling, and rubs the little guy's ears before joining Riza at the table.

"The soup smells good," he offers, pulling her chair out for her.

Her smile is fond, if slightly wry. She knows his feelings about the winter potatoes, just as she knows his feelings about everything else. "Thank you. I put in some extra pepper this time, since you liked it better that way."

They have a rule that they do not discuss work over meals. They sleep and breathe their projects every other moment of the day; Riza argues that they do not need to eat them too. So instead, she picks up her spoon and says, "We received a letter from the Elrics today."

"Resembool is still in one piece?"

"It seems to be. Winry sent a new picture of the baby."

Roy gives a bark of laughter. "Fullmetal's going to wear out his camera before the kid's out of diapers."

"Probably. And we're supposed to expect an invitation in the near future."

"To what?" He eyes her warily.

"Al and May finally announced their formal betrothal. They're going to have two ceremonies - the royal wedding in Xing and a second one in Resembool. We'll be invited to that one."

"That's good. I think they'll be happy together." He doesn't feel the need to elaborate on his opinion of either the alchemist or the princess. He defied both Lust and a direct order to flee, while she drew a transmutation circle in blood. Because of their actions on two very different days, Riza's still breathing and for that, Alphonse Elric and May Chang will always be two of Roy's favorite people. "We're not going to have to set up another month of guard duty or anything, will we?"

"I don't think so. The Emperor won't be coming for the Resembool party, so they're going to travel in a much smaller caravan. And they're not going to come until the railroad across the desert is finished, which will make things easier too."

"Ling's not coming? Why not?"

Her eyes mock him, lovingly. "I imagine it has something to do with the Empress's pregnancy, General."

"Oh, right." Sheesh. Babies everywhere these days. Falman's second kid was born in the fall and Ling's having one and Ed's probably trying to start a second one, which is a mental picture Roy does not need while he's eating. (Or conscious. Or breathing.) Not that he himself minds babies, and he'd like one or two of his own in time, if they should be so lucky. It just seems like there are an awful lot of them in his personal acquaintance of late.

He showers later, and Riza is already asleep by the time he joins her in bed.

She always looks tiny to him, somehow, when she sleeps. When they're awake she's just the right size; she's healthy, and strong, and he takes some kind of sappy delight in the way she fits perfectly under his chin. Burrowed into the quilts, however, she seems almost doll-like. Fragile.

Your precious woman is dying, Mustang.

He gives himself a violent shake, trying to forget that voice. She's not dying, she's not, she's right there and she's whole and safe and there's no blood. A fading scar, yes, but no blood. He gets under the covers and pulls her close, proving to the shadows how solid she is, trying to shut out the memory of a dirt floor with a red stain growing ever larger.

"Roy?" The word is mumbled, and she blinks at him in the desert darkness; he sees just a hint of light reflected in her eyes. "Are you all right?"

"Fine. Go back to sleep...I'm sorry I woke you."

She's too disoriented to be very concerned, which slightly amuses him because it's so unusual for her not to worry. Instead, she kisses him briefly and huddles into the hollow of his chest, and in less than a minute she's out cold again. He holds her, breathing the scent of her hair until it chases away the specter of the gold-toothed doctor, and when he does sleep, there are no nightmares.

Small favors.