AN So I've come to the understanding that every time I update within a reasonable amount of time, I must them wreck all of my good work and forget about all writing obligations until I am literally two days away from a two month mark. ASDFJKL; WHY.
Part of the lateness is due to me not having a real clue as to what this chapter should entail. I had a few vague ideas, but most of it is seat of my pants work, so. Which is also a contributor to the shortness of the chapter, but hey, can't always give you 10,000 word beasts ;)
BUT STILL HEY FIRST UPDATE OF THE YEAR, HOPEFULLY THERE CAN BE SOME IMPROVEMENTS.
Riza slipped out of the house, closing the door softly so as to not wake Winry. She was impressed with how the girl had held up during the interrogation, ignoring Olivier's abrasive manner and the less than peaceful atmosphere of the table as she had recounted the story. She looked exhausted and exceptionally anxious as she had spoken, but not a hysteric mess, which Riza assumed many people would have been.
Winry had been pulled together all through the rest of lunch and the car ride home, but the moment she had kicked off her shoes and sunk onto Riza's couch, she had crashed. Riza had been a little alarmed at first, seeing the bone-deep weariness in Winry's face, but the girl had waved Riza away, mumbling something about just needing to sleep. She had been out for about ten minutes when Riza had decided to call Roy.
Riza leaned against the brick pillar of her stoop, so that she still had a decent view in the house and of Winry, while still being protected from the gentle drizzle. Her phone trilled softly as she waited for Roy to pick up, a sound that fit in perfectly with the serene quality her street was giving off.
"Riza," he sighed. It was part relief, part strain, which was exactly how she felt. Hearing the details of Winry's story had rattled them both, and not just because they were staring a monster in the face. More than that, the way Winry had been so insanely calm about it, swallowing back whatever screams and tears she probably wanted to loose as she dutifully detailed everything before practical strangers... it was awe inspiring and a little disconcerting, say the least.
"I know, Roy. I know."
"How is she?"
"She's sleeping. She looked absolutely dead on her feet when we got home."
"I'm glad she can sleep after all of that. I don't know if I'd ever want to let my guard down after that."
"Well, that's why she's with me, isn't it?"
"Yep. Riza Hawkeye, resident bodyguard for those in need."
"Or too stupid for their own good."
Roy snorted at her jab, then fell silent.
"Does it seem like we're in over our head?" she murmured, and even to herself, Riza sounded like a scared little girl. "Like...we think we can do it all, because so far, we've been forced—or have chosen—to do everything by ourselves, but now...this is dangerous, Roy. This is scary."
"I know, Riza," he sighed, and she could just imagine him, leaning his head on the steering wheel of his car, or on his dorm window, or his bed frame, like the thoughts that filled his brain had made it all too heavy for him to hold it up by himself. "I don't know what I expected...or if I expected anything at all. How can you expect that some nice fifteen year old girl you know from school is going to be kidnapped by a gang of psychopaths?"
"How can you expect that she'll make it out alive, less than a day later, all due to her bravery and wit?" Riza countered, glancing back through the window at Winry's sleeping form. Roy chuckled, and she imagined him shaking his head.
"You don't. You just...get swept along when it does happen."
They both fell silent for a moment. Riza drew in a breath, trying to find the courage to say what she had been thinking about ever since she had heard Winry's story.
"What did Captain Armstrong have to say on the matter?" she asked. She had guessed that Roy had chased after Olivier in the restaurant to talk about more than wasting food, but hadn't wanted to mention it in front of the other two.
"She...said that they had reason to think it was more than just a possibility of having a precedent on the matter," he admitted, and even though this was in theory good news, he sounded awful. "Just little things here and there that were written off as accidents or isolated events. But now that Winry was able to give details that had never been available before, they're thinking that the net is cast a little bit bigger."
Riza opened her mouth to say something, then paused. Roy's words only seemed to reaffirm the thing she had been thinking from the moment she had heard Winry's story, but she desperately didn't want it to be true. If it was...then they were woefully unprepared for what came next.
"Roy...do you think...maybe...that Winry and Maes—"
"Are connected? Without a doubt." Riza closed her eyes at his words, because the sudden cold edge in his voice that she had been dreading was far worse than she had imagined.
"There is no way two kids from the same elite private school can be victims of exceptionally questionable crimes. Plus with the police, or at least, Olivier and Miles are thinking that Winry's kidnap wasn't a first for the Ouroboroughs...the dots seem to line up a little bit too nicely."
"Do you think maybe the Hughes' are into something?"
"Or rather, not into something. Most likely, they upset the Big Bad by not falling in line, and so they…were punished. I mean, can you honestly imagine them being involved in anything of ill repute?"
"No," Riza sighed, tugging the sides of her sweater a little closer around her. She didn't even have to pull to mind the bright, open faces of Maes' family to decide. They were the most decent people she knew, and would never get wrapped up in anything with the Ouroboroughs.
"Anyway, Falman said that Maes was the target of a gang. And while it would be nice to not be dealing with lunatics like the Ouroboroughs, there's no way we're going to have two gangs ballsy enough to mess with the most powerful people in the city."
"Roy, we can't handle this one. There is no way we can fake our way through, not with everyone's lives on the line! These people are willing to destroy children just to get to their parents. We can't...there's no way we can do this."
Riza leaned back against the pillar, feeling her breath catch and jerk as she realized just what they had waded into.
"Riza, hey, Riza, listen to me," he said, voice that terribly soft sort of soothing that he only used when she was completely falling apart. "It's alright, no one said we had to do this by ourselves, alright? We just...get some help."
"Friends...and, you know, the police." Riza bit her lips, desperately trying not to let all of those words of utter terror and anger rip out of her. She knew that she would regret everything she would say, and now was not the time to antagonize Roy.
"The police, huh?"
"Yeah, they kind of have the market on catching bad guys."
Riza gave a dry chuckle, sighing. She glanced down the street, watched a car go by, thought about school and how she was expected to go back on Monday, like nothing had happened, like the biggest thing on her plate was an irresponsible boyfriend and finals.
"I think you may be onto something there, Mustang," she mused. "We by ourselves can't hope to deal with things, but with a little bit of help, boosting us up and holding us steady, we can break the surface."
"That's my girl," Roy laughed, and it filled her chest with hope, hearing just a little bit more light in his voice.
They were quiet for a while, breathing into the line and letting their thoughts take over. Riza closed her eyes, suddenly wanting him there. She had been forced to be conservative with Roy at lunch, with Winry and Ed there, but all she really wanted at the moment was to have him hug her, or stroke her hair, or hell, even hold her hand and look into her eyes like he only let himself do when they were alone and tell it was alright.
"Am I gonna see you before school next week?" Riza asked, clearing her throat and trying to not think like an obsessed sixteen year old.
"Maybe. Winry staying with you does kind of throw a kink in our plans. Now we've gotta find somewhere else for our weekly hot, private, make out session."
Riza rolled her eyes, not even dignifying his comment with a response.
"I'm gonna talk to Madame Christmas about this," Roy said after a beat, voice changing into something that was a little bit too casual to be real. "You know, spread out our net. A group of gangsters has to pass through a brothel at some point."
"And then one of the girls can try to get something out of them?"
"Maybe, if they drop by soon. With them all having tattoos, it shouldn't really be that hard to tell if it's them."
"No, no it shouldn't."
There was another stretch of silence, then Roy sighed.
"I better get going. Make sure that Winry doesn't fret herself to death or something, you know, keep her eating, and all that."
"Of course, who do you think you left her with? I am the ultimate mother hen."
"That you are, Lieutenant. And Riza?"
"Take care of yourself, alright? Can have you dropping dead on me."
"No, I suppose you can't."
"Alright, then. Bye."
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
Riza smiled slightly as she hung up. She turned to open the door, then paused. She blinked, realizing what they had just said, so casually, like it wasn't anything new, didn't have any extra value. They had just said they loved each other for the first time.
She stepped inside, a little bit shocked at the realization. Their relationship, while abnormal, wasn't the most bizarre thing in the world, yet something so normal as saying 'I love you' seemed odd and out of place. But at the same time...it was kind of nice, being able to indulge in the typical, if only for a moment.
Riza closed the door behind her, and walked to the kitchen. Winry was still sleeping on the couch, so she made sure to be quiet as she made herself a cup of tea. A few minutes later the girl stirred, sitting up on the couch.
"What are you making?" Winry asked, still sounding tired, but a little bit better than before.
"A cup of tea. Would you like some?"
"Could I actually get a cup of water, please?"
Riza filled up a cup for Winry, and walked it over to her.
"How are you feeling?"
"Better," she admitted. "Not like I'm about to pass out at any given moment."
"It's a miracle, what sleep can do for you."
Winry was quiet for a moment, then sighed.
"I keep thinking about it."
"That's not exactly surprising," Riza said, taking her mug of tea to the table. "You underwent an extremely traumatic event, and you have nothing to show for it except for a few scrapes and bruises. You're little more than a walking miracle, Winry. I know I'd think the last few hours were a little surreal if it were me."
"Being kidnapped wasn't surreal," Winry said, eyes aimed at somewhere near Riza's feet. "It was the escaping that was so weird, because I know that little old me shouldn't really have been able to get out of there. Not with such a fantastic plan."
"That is the biggest load of crap I've ever heard," Riza said. Winry looked up at her, surprised. "You're smart and know how to get things done, and you're telling me that it's strange for you to have done the same thing under an extreme set of circumstances? Ridiculous. Something like that isn't going to change who you are, Winry, it just brings all of what you are to the surface."
Winry gave Riza a soft smile and nodded, though she didn't look entirely convinced. They fell silent again, both content to work on their respective drinks. Riza finished her mug of tea and walked to the sink to wash it out.
"Oh my gosh."
"What?" Riza looked around, a little alarmed at Winry's tone and the sound of her (thankfully empty) cup hitting the carpet. Winry had an almost blank look on her face, staring into the distance. Riza glanced around, feeling a little paranoid after her conversation with Roy, then looked back at Winry.
"Envy knew what I was studying. He knew that I sang." Winry turned to look at Riza, eyes widening. Riza braced herself for the dark, ugly repercussions of being kidnapped, thinking that yes, now would be when Winry broke down completely. This would hardly be the first time Riza had to go pick up the pieces, but she never liked doing it, for anyone.
But to her surprise, Winry was grinning at her, looking excited. She leaned forward on the couch, shifting her legs so that she wasn't sitting on them. It was like she was half a second away from leaping into the air and dancing about.
"Oh my gosh, Riza, we can tell who the leak is! Or at least narrow down the number of options!"
"By the fact that they knew your schedule and field?" Riza stared at Winry, some of her excitement bleeding over. She blinked and ran through the options, and yes, they were a lot slimmer than previously.
"Before, I was imagining that it was a student or something, somebody that was being blackmailed into handing over information, but there's no way a kid can find out that sort of stuff, not unless they asked me directly."
"And can you think of anyone that you've told that could be threatened into giving you up?" Riza made sure that her voice was level and not laced with the excitement she was starting to feel coursing through her body. This could potentially be an amazing break through, but if it was, then they were dealing with something so much worse. She had been like Winry in thinking that it was a student that gave the Ouroboroughs information, or someone of no consequence, but now it seemed that someone in power, or at least someone with access to school files, was working with the gang. That meant someone who worked in the office, and had access to everyone's file. It could honestly be anyone from Margaret, the unpleasant secretary, to Bradley himself. An if that was the case...they were in for a lot of trouble.
"No, no, not like this!" Winry really did jump up now, looking like she had just discovered a lost civilization. "I know that none of my friends would do this, there's just no way. Just like Maria could never have been involved in Maes' accident, no one could be involved with me! It's definitely someone higher up, someone that knows the inner workings of the school!"
Riza closed her eyes, feeling the excitement of having chipped off another clue dissolve as the rational part of her reasserted itself.
"Well, it's good that we can narrow our scope for sure," she sighed, "but I'm not exactly sure we'll like what we'll find on the other end of it."
"At this point, Riza," Winry sighed, flopping back on the couch, energy seemingly spent, "there isn't really anything that I'll enjoy about this whole thing."
Riza turned back to the sink to wash her mug, shaking her head and thinking that this was the sorry truth.
AN Like I said, short chapter, but I think there was some good stuff in it. It contains a couple ideas (exactly one and a half) that I've been kicking around for a while, but haven't been sure where to put it, so I'm glad they're finally reached the light of day ;)
Be Not Afraid - The Dirt Daubers
Stars - Helen Jane Long
One Flight Down - Norah Jones
Timshel - Mumford & Sons