"Youth is like spring, an over praised season more remarkable for biting winds than genial breezes. Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits." ~Samuel Butler
He stopped a few paces behind an old oak tree on the other side of town where she sat with her back toward him, the purple sunset shimmering iridescence on what he could see of the one side of her face. He stopped and watched her for a moment, breathing in and out with the poise and steadiness she had in everything she did and observed as her newly short hair rustled about the back of her head, wondering if he had ever seen her sit in such a way that she did now; with her knees pressed up against her chest and her arms firmly wrapped around them. It was curious that somehow, she still looked as strong as she always did. Even in a position that should have been making her look small, she still seemed hard, firm, and resilient to him.
Maybe that was because she always had the beauty in her face and spirit that could make his knees buckle right beneath him.
He knew she must have heard him coming toward her, especially with the quietness of the wind around them and how the birds seemed to be completely silent that day. It was almost as if the universe stopped working so everyone was allowed to catch their breath, at least that's what it felt like to him. He guessed it was quite different for her, that she must have been feeling like everyone was moving so fast around her and she was standing perfectly still, watching the blurs of the bodies of people she once loved run past at lightning speed. How horrible an ache like that would be…
"Are you alright?" he began carefully, still keeping his distance. His voice, though it was only a tone above a whisper, sliced through the calm like a million daggers. The death of the silence made him shiver.
She refused to waver from her stillness, as if she were in a deep meditation and couldn't be disturbed by anyone, or anything. She sat there on the ground perfectly still, taking her time to process the fact that there was someone there with her, and he stood behind her not knowing what to say in the least. He had no family that he could remember losing like she did, and what was worse, this happened right in front of her. Any death would be devastating for the people around it, but the death of her own father must have been eating away at her insides, and chewing out immense roots of her soul.
Finally, he witnessed a small glimmer of humanity in her thick skin, when she ever so slightly turned her head toward the sound of his voice, and he could see a small streak of wetness drip from her eye. His heart melted into pools of empathy for her, almost immediately, and he had to force himself to not run over and hug her so tightly she would be a step away from suffocating in his love. Being untainted by destruction, war, and greed, he still had a childlike soft spot for tears in his heart, and though he had never seen her cry before today, most of that soft spot was taken up by her.
"If I told you to leave, would you even listen?" she whispered, looking away again and swallowing the rest of the tears that were begging for an exit from her eyes, deep into her chest. He clenched his jaw and stood straighter, holding his ground and saying nothing. After all, she had to have already known the answer to that question. She had to have known that there was nothing that could have made him leave her like this. He supposed he loved her more than it was humanly possible, if there was such a thing as loving someone that much, and he was going to be there when she cried to wipe away the tears, and he was going to laugh along with her when tears dripped from her face from infinite laughter.
She shook her head and let out a quiet, airy, sarcastic laugh, wiping away some of the saltwater from her cheek. "I didn't think so."
He took a few steps closer, still far enough away for her to feel comfortable, and looked down at the top of her head with all the love a person could hold burning through his soul, his whole body fighting to not lurch itself at her.
"I'm not going to leave you," he stated calmly, brushing some of his black hair out of his face.
"You were going to anyway," she replied, unemotionally, "what's the difference if you walked away now, Roy Mustang? There's not much keeping you here anyway, I suppose." He stayed quiet; thinking saying what he wanted to say would only pour salt in her wound, and stared down at the autumn leaves that lay at his feet. He knew they were going to have to have this conversation sooner or later, he just hoped it would have been later. It didn't have to be right after a death in her life, and it was a death in his life as well; her father, and his master.
"You're really going to do it?" she asked innocently, the roughness in her voice momentarily disappearing. "You're really going into the military, Roy?" He sighed heavily, looking back up at her, still looking off into the sunset. There was no other answer than the truth, even if he were able to lie to her in the first place. He was standing there in his new uniform, and he was going to be leaving for central in a month for his entrance exam to be a state alchemist, and with the way her spirit sang for peace, he didn't expect her to be proud of him for it.
"Yes," he whispered after a moment, now finding it hard to look over at even the back of her head. The sarcastic laugh escaped her again, which hurt him even more than how much it stung to say that word to her in the first place.
"Of course you are," she spat, quietly. He heard her sniff beck some more tears, and looked over as she scrunched her face in her emotional pain and shook her head at the thought of him.
"Don't," she stopped him with all the abrasiveness of sandpaper against soft skin. "Just," she shook her head again, "Just, don't even bother. I know where I stand, there's nothing you need to say."
"I thought you of all people would at least try to understand…" he said before thinking. The fact that she actually believed he was going to leave her without even thinking about how she would be affected stung him so deep in his soul, it radiated all the way down to his feet. How dare she even think that? Even for a god damn second! There was never a single day that went by that didn't consist of him showing her some kind of shivery! He kissed her like every single one was their first, and even though their relationship had to remain a secret for the sake of his education with her father, he was never short on making sure she was cared for and showed some kind of affection when no one was looking. He loved her with everything! How dare she consider he didn't!
She dropped her arms to her side and looked over at him with a monotone look on her face; that expression she got whenever she was feeling something so intense that her body chose not to register it physically. He learned from living with her for so many years that this was one of her body's self-defense mechanisms. When she was ever in trouble with her father or when someone hurt her in any way, he watched her stand there, completely cool and still, with that blank look on her face. Of course, she thought clearly enough to come up with an excuse for whatever she had done, or a good comeback to burn one of her peers. It made her seem invincible for a moment, at least to the people she was forced to use it on, but what they didn't know was that all the emotions would come rushing out later on, and she would have to leave her house for hours, being alone to do whatever she had to. He could only guess what those things were. Maybe she went to this tree and cried until she had nothing left. Maybe she was using the trees on the outskirts of town for target practice with her b-b gun to get her anger out. Maybe she did nothing but lie on the ground and look up at the sun, somewhere where there was no one who could ever find her. Who knows? He tried to follow her once, when she was very angry and he was worried about her doing something she would regret, but she stopped him and ordered him to leave her alone, assuring she would be alright and would be back by supper. She had the look of pure seriousness on her face, and he was forced to obey her, but he couldn't help being curious about it when she came back and had burrs all over her shoes. Of course, he never asked out of respect for her. She had to do whatever she had to do, and there was no stopping her, nor was it any of his business.
"What's there to understand?" she asked, looking him straight in his eyes. "Please. Tell me. Educate me as to why you want to go and get yourself shot to hell."
"I'm not going to go get myself shot to hell, Riza," he stated, anger beginning to boil in his brain.
"Then what is your damn plan? I'm sorry, that's right, I'm a little new. You never even mentioned anything about it to me, you know, your girlfriend, the only other person you'd be leaving behind. You must have forgotten, didn't you?"
"Don't you ever say I would forget about you," he said, feeling his eyes turning red.
"What the hell am I supposed to think?" she asked. He could see her defense breaking down, and her emotion of hurt pouring through her face. Had she been this mad any other time throughout their days together? He guessed not. "I trusted you… I… don't trust anyone… and I trusted you Roy." She turned away from him quickly, feeling tears begin to fall.
"You can still trust me, Riza," he said, sitting down next to her. "I promise."
"Your promises don't seem to mean much anymore," she scoffed.
Instead of saying something in protest, he looked off in the same direction she faced, figuring that would be the wisest choice. Fighting with her was like holding a handful of sand; if you clenched your fist as tight as you can to make sure it stays there, it'll all run through the crevices of your fingers. There's a better chance of coming out with more sand if you just open up your hand and let it rest in the center of your palm. He could feel Riza slipping away from him, and though he knew he would lose some of her love in the process, he also knew he couldn't live if he lost it completely.
"I have my reasons," he began after another moment. He spoke quietly and carefully, as if she were a skittish, wild animal he was trying not to scare away. "I have to do it, Riza, and I'm sorry if you don't understand, but you know that it's the only way we're going to have a good life."
"No it isn't!" she exclaimed, grabbing his hand that lay on the grass and leaves on the ground. It made him jump from the warmth in her palm, but he knew she was breaking down even more, since she was resorting to touching him. "You always made it seem so easy when you talked about it before, and you never said anything about going into the military. Thousands of men don't do what you want to, and they have long happy lives with the women they love. Why can't you do something like that?"
"Those men are also probably incapable of doing what a soldier needs to," he stated harshly, still not looking at her. "There's nothing for me here."
She slowly drew back her hand to place it on her own lap, and looked down, silently.
"I thought I counted for at least… something…"
"You don't provide a paycheck," he said, thinking at this point if he just said nothing, she would never talk to him again. Of course though, being a man, he spurted out the first thing that popped in his head.
"You're doing this for money?" Damn it, say something right for once you idiot! This is exactly why you shouldn't have dated her. You knew you were leaving when you started studying alchemy and you still had to get your stupid heart stolen by a fucking… a fucking girl! He looked back over at her, wiping away more silent tears. She's not JUST a fucking girl, obviously. She's amazing… and strong… and beautiful… UGH! You shouldn't have even let yourself notice it! You're so God Damn stupid falling in love at the worst possible minute!
You should have just fucked her and left her like that! It would have ended up hurting her hurt less…
He almost literally smacked himself across the face for thinking that. He wasn't that kind of man, and she wasn't that kind of girl. If it would have hurt her, it was all the same with only a few minor conflicting technicalities, and no matter how cliché it may have sounded, he never wanted to hurt her at all. Of course, despite all his naivety, he knew that couldn't be avoided.
"Not just that…" he began, but stopped himself quickly.
"I have to do this for me," he stated simply, exhaling and trying to convince himself that he was just talking at an open sky, like he had rehearsed a thousand times before. "My whole life, I've never done anything that made me feel like I mattered. Right now, I'm this… tiny little bug on the surface of the world, crawling around until I get stepped on and die." He nervously peeked over at her, expecting her to say something… anything, but she just looked back at him, continuing to listen to his reasons like a child would to a teacher. He breathed in deep again, and went on. "I haven't lived very long on this earth, but what I've seen in those few years make me realize that this country needs a change, and if I can be a part of that change… if… if I can prove to myself, as a man, that I can at least be a small part of making those changes…"
"You think they'll listen to you?" she started. "They call state alchemists the dogs of the military for a fucking reason."
"It's not that way forever," he retaliated quickly. "If I can go up enough ranks…"
"Last time I checked, the only way to go up ranks is killing people," she interrupted. "Could you even do that?"
His train of thought completely derailed itself. Of course he contemplated the fact that if they found him to be a good enough alchemist, which he hoped they did, he was probably going to be on the front lines, and as his personality stood now, he even felt bad about killing animals or pests. He figured they would teach him something about how to get over things like that eventually, though, and he would cross that bridge later.
"I suppose…" he said, "if I needed to…"
She arched her neck and looked up at the sky, that was now a lot darker than it was when he had first walked up, which seemed to fit her mood perfectly. It was like she was expecting him to say something like that. She looked him in his eyes and sighed.
"I can't be with a murderer," she stated simply.
His eyes widened at her in pain, as she squeezed out a crooked grin and looked away again. No… No god damn it! Don't do this to me! Don't… fuck, what am I even asking her to do? Wait for me? I know she's better than that… Damn it, I don't know… maybe it's better this way… She should find someone else who would love her like I can't… wait… God damn it… am I saying I can't even… love her? I'm fucking pathetic… Why did she want me in the first place?
"So that's it?" he whispered at the ground, his voice cracking once. "We're over? You won't wait for me?"
"I don't want to stick around to find out what war turns you into after it chews you up and spit you out," she said, numbly.
There was an eerie silence that drew across them, either of them could even think for a moment, until a cricket off in the distance decided to break the stillness.
"Very well then," he said after a minute of searching her face for any sign of remorsefulness, and finding none. He pushed himself off of the ground to leave her. If he stayed there he swore he was going to lose himself in the moment and cry in front of her, and he would never do that.
"Roy," she stopped him with no more of a whisper, but he didn't look back. "Just because I can't be with you, doesn't mean I don't love you, ok?" He finally turned around to see her sitting in the same fashion she was when he first found her, only this time he found it harder to look at her poise. It shredded his heart like a knife.
"I understand." That was the only thing he could crack out.
"I just have this… nagging feeling to…" she began, and let out another light laugh, thinking how ridiculous she must have sounded, "it's pretty stupid, but I feel like I have to protect you."
His heart stopped. That was his job! He was the man, as sexist as that sounded in his mind, and he was supposed to be willing to take a bullet for his woman, not the other way around… then again, it was kind of attractive that she would want to… defend him.
"If you die there…"
"Don't even think that," he stopped her, but still took no steps closer, "I'm not going to die there, Riza. I won't."
"How can you be sure of that?" she yelled, all of a sudden a thousand times stronger than she was only a minute ago. "You can't make me that promise, and expect me to believe you." She lifted herself off the ground and walked up to him to look right in his face.
"I won't die," he repeated.
"Then prove it to me," she said taking a step backwards. "Let's pretend, you're a soldier on the battlefield, and I'm your enemy. Try to stop me from killing you by using your alchemy."
He smiled at her for a moment, until he found that she was serious. She stood perfectly still as he cocked his eyebrow, pulled out a piece of chalk from his coat pocket, and dropped to his knees to draw a transmutation circle on the tree bark. That's when he felt two of her fingers slam into the side of his head, right above his left ear.
"Bang!" she exclaimed. "You're dead. Now what good is your dignity, or your paycheck?"
She kept her fingers there for a moment and stared down at him as he slowly peered back up at her, tears now in absence from her eyes and a hard kind of beauty growing in them instead. He would be lying if he hadn't admitted he had been a bit cocky from the start, but the thought of death did creep upon him every once in a while, and he was always able to shake the feelings off and sleep soundly at night. It was nothing like what he felt now, with the true, raw terror of a real gun pointed at his head held in the soft, compassionate finger tips of the girl he loved more than anything. He wasn't ready to die, he could hardly even drink!
…In fact, he was still a virgin…
And what was worse, if he died on a battlefield he would never be able to see the smiling face of his beloved, never be able to kiss her, or marry her, or have children, or watch them grow old together with all the beautiful memories they were sure to make along the way.
But on the other hand, what kind of man is unwilling to take that kind of risk?
He reached up, softly removed her hand that rested on his head in the formation of a pistol and took it in his. Still kneeling there, stationary, he drew it in so it touched his lips. He didn't kiss it right away, instead just kept it there for just a moment longer so that he could take in her scent and remember her for what she was right now; young, and beautiful, and strong, and willing to do anything to keep him safe, just as he would do for her. Most importantly, though it was vain of him, he wanted to remember her as… his. His woman who was young, and beautiful, and strong, and willing to do anything to keep him safe.
Finally, he sighed and tenderly kissed the milky white skin on her hand, which made her tear up, but she blinked them away as soon as she noticed them. He focused on the once hard and unforgiving hand slowly transform into a trembling, gentle one, as she dropped to her knees to sit in front of him in the same way he sat in front of her.
She was angry at the thought of him leaving her all alone there in the world while he fought a war, and expecting her to wait for him, but right now, with the way he looked at her, the gaze of a wise man spreading on his face; she was beginning to face the reality of it. She thought if she could only talk him out of it… promise him she'd marry him or something he would change his mind. When he gripped both of her weak hands in both of his strong ones, he didn't have to say anything, she knew he was gone, and there was nothing she could do about it. The thought killed her inside. Right now, her future with him seemed so incredibly far away, and she was starting to fall apart.
"I'm willing to die for my country, just like I'm willing to die for you," he said sincerely, and for the first time in their argument she actually found herself believing him. Despite that, she sucked in more tears and slowly shook her head in sadness, almost refusing to believe him, as her head lost its fight to gravity and began sinking down so she looked at only their intertwined fingers that rested between them.
Even though it killed him to see her like this, he removed his one hand from their lock, and softly brought them under her chin so she would look at him. When she was looking at him, knowing that her face was probably beat red, and she probably smelled of dried tears (she hated that smell) she didn't care in the least, and she knew he didn't either. The love they felt knew no age, or eyes, and this was the purist moment that displayed it in their short relationship.
Oh dear god, she thought trying to give herself false hope, please say you're not going… please…
"I'm going to live," he went on, kissing her forehead, which only made it harder for her not to cry, "I'll live for you, and my country; the two things I love more than life itself."
She sighed heavily and placed her hand on his cheek, trying her best to smile and failing, her eyes still screaming for him to stay. After a second he did the same, and before either of them knew it their foreheads were touching and both had closed their eyes, as if they both knew that this was it for them, a sweet, tender goodbye that would last forever in the other's heart. The palm of his hand traveled to the back of her neck and he pulled her closer until he could almost taste the tears on her lips. For a moment, they debated silently to themselves whether it would be a better idea to just walk away, and leave the almost-kiss to its purpose, or to give in to the other's warmth, which both of them wanted more than anything. They opened their eyes simultaneously and looked down at the other's lips, finding it hard to not give in to their arousal.
And despite the way his head screamed no, he brushed some of her hair away and planted a soul shattering, tender kiss upon her lips, giving into the way his heart was screaming yes.
"I will always love you," he whispered against her lips after a moment when they parted.
Riza closed her eyes, implanting the memory of that kiss in the back of her mind forever, before she pushed herself away from him and stood again.
"I suppose since you're going into the military, no one's going to be calling you Roy anymore," she said quietly, as he (heartbroken that she didn't return his sentiment) stayed on the ground and peered up at her. She began walking past him, in the direction of her house. "So, I hope you find what you're looking for when you're there…"
He listened to the leaves crunching under her feet as she walked away from him, feeling numb and broken, and looking out into the distance with the stars glimmered down on him.
He realized that he really wasn't lying to her when he said that he would live through the war; that he wouldn't die there because of some random enemy with a gun and no respect for humanity. After all, she was the only person who could destroy him.
******Hope you enjoyed this! Just a flashback with Roy and Riza when they were teenagers, because I've been itching to do at least one. Don't worry, I'll be going back to Anything for You pretty soon, but to take some time off and clear my mind, this just kind of came out of me.
Reviews are always appreciated, even if they're something bad, but I hope you liked it! Thanks!******