Title - A Fire Without Warmth
Series - manga
Disclaimer - Arakawa owns them, not I
Timeline/Spoilers set during the Ishbalan war
Summary - Even the flames can't warm her
Author's Note - Riza wanted this prompt the moment I saw it. Thanks to SJ Smith for the edits and the title help. It was written for fma_fic_contest's 'firelight prompt. It won third.
She could see the flicker of firelight in the distance through the scoop of her rifle. Her fingers felt stiff under her gloves and the chill wind licked along her cheek. Just a little longer and she'd be relieved for the night.
Riza tried not to imagine the Ishbalans huddled around the dim light dancing at the edge of her vision. They had no choice but to light campfires as night wicked away all the sun-gathered heat. The Ishbalans who had built the fires were safe enough for now. No one moved in the evening, and, even though they were relatively close to the front, it wasn't possible to triangulate the cannons without better light. Even the military's 'living weapons' tired and preferred not to be out where scorpions and nocturnal predators could get them as fast as an Ishbalan bullet.
Shifting her grip on her rifle, Riza could almost justify letting the Ishbalans past the line. A nighttime slaughter might balance the books after all the things the military had done to them. She no longer even cared if her own life was forfeit. It would be more peace than she deserved.
"The hawk flies high," a voice said behind her.
"To better see its prey," she completed the password. Riza turned to see Jenkins there to take her place. "All's quiet."
Riza trudged back to camp. Campfires had been lit there, too. Most of the soldiers had gone to bed. Lights out had been called at least three hours ago, but a few stragglers huddled next to the flickering flames. She spotted a familiar face staring blankly into the fire. Riza sat adjacent to him, wondering if he was thinking the same thing she was; fire would never comfort them again.
Roy's face turned from the campfire, his eyes studying her momentarily before he looked away. "Can't sleep," he muttered.
She thought she heard a 'I wish you kept your back to yourself' in his words. Riza knew she wished it, too. "Just got off duty."
He sighed, shifting on his seat. He glanced at her again and she read volumes in his gaze. He worried about her. He regretted that she followed him into hell. Roy blamed himself for everything bad that had happened to her. Riza wanted to tell him that it was all her own choices. That much was true. She didn't know why she was so compelled to follow him, to protect him. No, that was a lie. She knew. Riza just chose to ignore it because her own actions in joining up, in following him here, killed those tender feelings before they could even be born.
Riza stripped off her gloves and held her hands out to the fire. The warmth barely registered with her. "My father would never build a campfire," she said, not even sure why she was bringing it up. "I always wanted one when I was a little girl. The kids at school would talk about roasting marshmallows and telling stories around them. Father always said fire wasn't to be played with."
"He told me that every day," Roy said, then muttered, almost inaudibly, "should have listened better."
Riza chose to ignore him. "Father wasn't much for going outdoors anyhow, I suppose. I would rather my first campfires hadn't been here."
Hearing the hint of blame in her voice, Roy winced. She shouldn't hold him responsible for her choices but she was tired and cold, and after a day in hell, even the fires couldn't warm the frozen parts of her. Roy started to hold a hand out to her, but it fell into his lap. What could he possibly do or say in this place to comfort her or himself? She heard him sigh. She wanted him to hold her right now. Riza suspected he wanted the same.
All they had was professional distance between them and a crackling fire to fuel their nightmares. For a moment, Riza wished she had never heard of alchemists.
"I'd better turn in. They want me in the north quadrant tomorrow," he said, dragging to his feet.
"Be safe, sir."
She didn't watch him go. Riza stared into the flames, wondering when they would consume them all.