Author's Note:For something meant to be just a silly little thing, this took a while. Rated T for Teenage Awkwardness and a long walk to a short joke.
She had surreptitiously snuck downstairs with ultimate caution, refusing to let the age of the creaky staircase interfere with her plans.
Her father was asleep in his room down the hall; well, most likely asleep. It was completely possible that he was still burning the midnight oil over his alchemy texts as she had been doing over her own books for the past few hours. Trying to work during the day to keep them from falling into further poverty and then having to spend all night pouring over the textbooks she would have been reading had she still had time to go to school was an exhausting way to live but it kept them alive. Her father knew about her schedule and while he didn't insist on her behavior very often, he had been adamant that she finish her secondary education one way or another. He had neither approved nor disapproved of her decision to leave public school to find work but she liked to believe it was because a part of him felt guilty about it. He had awkwardly tried to offer to teach her himself but she had declined as his flaky and somewhat intimidating personality meant that she could probably work better alone. She didn't object to the request to complete her education though as she loved to learn and while she did enjoy having a teacher in a classroom to instruct her, she was okay with learning for herself. She was a rather shy person and while she was trying to break herself of the trait, she did feel more comfortable alone, without her peers asking stupid questions and disrupting her.
On the other end of the hall her father's student slept. He was very different from her father in spite of the fact that he aspired to be an alchemist like him. He was kind and polite, always thanked her for the meals she made, but he was also very dedicated to his studies. He had been living there for the bulk of the past three years and she had not seen much of him the first two because of how busy he was and how shy she was. It had only been in the last few months that they have really conversed and even then the exchanges weren't particularly long but they meant something to her. When he came to her house to study she had just turned 12 and he was 14, one of the few boys who had really talked to her and cute at that and she couldn't help but get a crush on him even though they didn't see each other much. Now she was starting to think of him as an acquaintance who she happened to live with or, dare she think it, a friend.
But she didn't want to wake him up either.
This was a private thing for her, her late night snack attack, and she wanted to conduct it in private.
She made her way into the kitchen on careful feet, already knowing what she was going to make. They didn't have much in the way of food, she needed to go grocery shopping tomorrow after work, but they did have the appropriate fixings for a sandwich.
Unhurriedly, she got out everything she would need. As long as she didn't accidently break a glass or something, and she was rather graceful, she was safe to take as much time as she wanted to make her snack perfectly since there was no way the house's other two occupants could hear her all the way downstairs.
She wasn't sure why she felt the need to be so secretive about this. Perhaps it was because she didn't want to explain herself. Maybe she felt like she was taking more than her share to have an extra sort of meal in the middle of the night. Maybe it was because she didn't want her father to know she was still awake because he would surely tell her she should be in bed or because she didn't want to look like a glutton in front of his apprentice. Or maybe she was just so used to sneaking around the house to avoid disturbing the alchemists hard at work that she did it habitually.
Either way, when she heard the sound of the front doorknob slowly turning, her blood ran cold. The jar of mayonnaise in her hand was lucky to be made of glass as her fingers turned red from clutching it like it was her lifeline. In her other hand she held a butter knife, suddenly contemplating its effectiveness as an impromptu weapon.
How had she forgotten to lock the door?
Her brain was screaming at her to crouch down behind the table so the thief wouldn't see her and hope that he wouldn't walk her way but terror made her unable to move.
They lived in a quiet neighborhood where everyone was in each other's business. How could a thief be sneaking around without someone reporting it right away?
The door finally swung open and what she saw made her drop her butter knife with a more than audible clank sound that gave away her location.
It wasn't a burglar at all but merely Roy Mustang, her father's apprentice. Either way, seeing him coming in at nearly one in the morning when she thought he had gone to sleep was strange but the way he was dressed really gave away where exactly he had disappeared to. He was wearing just a pair of shorts and was rubbing his hair with a towel around his shoulders, water visibly falling from the tips onto his bare chest.
Although he had been looking down when he entered, the sound of Riza's knife hitting the floor caused him to look up at her and for a second they stared at each other in complete silence, similar looks of shock adorning their faces.
She found quite quickly that the surprise at finding out that he apparently likes to swim late at night dissipated in favor of her being shamefully surprised by his attire, or lack thereof. When he was 14 he was a rather slender boy, clearly stretched out by his ongoing growth spurts but now . . . she blushed and looked away. After about a year of living there he had taken it upon himself to do the yard work for them and while that had given his skinny frame some help she knew it was his exercise regimen of the past few months that was responsible for the muscles he now possessed. While a mortified part of her was grateful for the view, she had her suspicions as to why he had suddenly started waking up early to run and lift weights and she did not like it.
He was training for the military, more likely the academy than to enlist as he was very smart, and since training the body was not needed to be a State Alchemist, she was thankful that he seemed to want to be an officer and not a State Alchemist. Her father would be furious either way but he would never forgive him if he became a State Alchemist.
In an effort to hide her red face from him, she reached down and grabbed the knife that had landed on the floor, slowing drawing her eyes back up to his face to see that he was smiling.
He chuckled as he dropped the towel from his dark hair back onto his shoulders and walked towards the kitchen table.
"Well, you caught me," he said good-naturedly, still laughing at the circumstances.
All Riza could think was, Caught you? You caught me too. She didn't say anything though and just nodded meekly in agreement.
Roy nodded his head towards the table where her condiments were still laid out, her sandwich not quite finished, and pulled out the chair nearest to him.
"Making a snack?" he asked, folding up his towel to sit on so he would not get the chair too wet as he took a seat.
Riza nodded again as she hastily finished up, putting on the top piece of bread and cutting it in half.
"Do you want one?" she asked softly, thinking that even though he was probably going to bed soon, he must be famished after having just swam.
Roy smiled. "If you don't mind making me one. I'm pretty hungry."
"No, I don't," she said, pulling out the last two pieces of bread as she made another one with impressive speed and offered it to him on the plate she had put her own.
"Thank you," he said, taking one half of it. She gaped in fascination as he devoured it with impressive speed. Living with him had certainly taught her a thing or two about the appetite of the teenage male.
"I didn't know you swim," she said matter-of-factly, as she took a bite into her own sandwich.
"I just started doing it a few nights ago. The lake is nice and empty at this time so I can do laps all I want without having to avoid hitting my head on people's boats," he joked, glad that Riza cracked a bit of a smile at the idea as well.
"You swim in the lake?" she asked in confusion. When she was little she used to walk there with a neighborhood friend, Clara, but they would only soak their feet. The water was so murky looking and since they had no idea how deep it was or what could be living in it the thought of actually going any further out seemed petrifying.
"Where else would I swim?" He asked rhetorically, not understanding the reason behind her question.
"I don't know. It just seems so unsanitary."
Roy furrowed his brows as he popped the last bit of sandwich into his mouth.
"You've never swam in it? But it's right by your house!" he shouted, clearly forgetting that Berthold Hawkeye was probably asleep upstairs. Riza's eyes glanced nervously up at the banister. "If I had a place to swim near me when I was a kid, I would have been out there every day!"
Riza looked down at the sandwich in her hand, feeling misplaced guilt over the fact that she had something that someone else could have appreciated more. She also wondered if he was implying that she was a kid. She was 15 years old and he was only two and a half years older than her. She frowned at the thought.
"Well, I don't know how to swim," she admitted, not looking up.
"Really?" Roy exclaimed, the volume of his voice now dangerously high.
Riza nodded and held a finger up to her lips to indicate that he needed to lower his voice. As if responding to her request, his shoulders slumped slightly as he leaned forward to whisper to her: "Do you want to learn? I could teach you."
Riza lifted her head.
"Really?" she asked in disbelief. She had always wanted to learn but her father had never taken the time to show her; she wasn't even sure if he knew how. But it wasn't just that, she knew. She would get to spend more time with Roy than just their short, occasional conversations, something she had been secretly wanting since she was a kid.
"Yeah. Are you busy tomorrow at around 11?"
"No," she lied. Truthfully she would probably still be doing schoolwork by that time but there was no way she was going to let herself down by using excuses just because she is nervous about being around him for a long time.
"Okay then. Tomorrow at 11 we can walk down to the lake," he said definitively, standing up from the table and grabbing his towel off the seat.
"Thank you for the sandwich."
Riza stared down at her open underwear drawer for a full minute with a disgruntled expression before eventually reaching in to shift around the items there in hopes of finding something that, well, wasn't underwear.
The thought of walking around in front of Roy Mustang in an old pair of underwear and a bra sounded like a nightmare more than a fantasy and she blushed furiously at the thought.
How could she have forgotten that one of the key things needed to learn how to swim is something to wear while swimming?
She had never owned a bathing suit in her life and honestly wasn't sure what a fashionable woman's suit even looked like until she stopped by a shop on her walk home from work. She didn't have any extra money to spare on simply buying one, she could barely keep the three of them fed and warm and she had just purchased groceries for the week, but she was curious and hopeful that it might inspire her to turn something she already had into a similar garment.
The suits came in a variety of colors, patterns, and styles although there was a similar thread among them. Most of the suits were more demure than she had imagined as they usually were one piece that would be either a tank or strapless top and a bottom that either resembled short shorts or underwear with a short skirt part that served no real purpose in concealment, especially if the wearer was going to be doing some really intense swimming. Those weren't the only styles of course. There were also things sold as bathing suits that looked more like dresses, probably designed for women who wanted to lay on the beach rather than swim, and even a few of the two piece style that was starting to grow in popularity but even those had shorts bottoms that, while very short, did cover a good portion of the torso.
Assured that she could create something workable, Riza returned home and went straight for her drawers only to be disappointed.
Even if she was the type to be unembarrassed by exposing her body so ruthlessly in public (and in front of a teenage boy) she could never wear her own undergarments as they were all aged and torn.
With a sigh, she pulled open the bottom drawer of the dresser, where she kept all her miscellaneous things: articles of clothing she never wore anymore but that she kept simply because they still fit her and therefore might end up serving a purpose, hand-me-downs and other random items.
Lifting up the piles she found a pair of black shorts that she used to wear under her skirts when she was a child. Back then the shorts were to keep her underwear from being visible while she played and also to make running more comfortable but now as she held them up to her more womanly figure she realized they would be incredibly tight and short on her.
Deciding to give it a shot anyway, Riza slipped out of her skirt and underwear and pulled up the shorts. She stared at herself in the mirror. They were short all right, only ending at mid-thigh, but certainly acceptable as swimwear. Doing a few lunges she decided that although they fit close to the body, they wouldn't actually affect her movement in any way and the material itself felt like the same kind as the suits in the store so it would probably dry quickly.
Satisfied with her discovery, she walked back over to her bottom drawer to look for a top, finding an undershirt that she used to wear when she was in her preteen years. It was a pale pink color with an elastic portion inside meant to assist the wearer in getting used to the feeling of a bra without actually needing much support yet. While Riza was certainly past that aid in terms of growth, she decided it might be a good idea anyway and put on the top.
Standing in front of the mirror she realized a few uneasy things. First of all, it was too short, exposing her stomach and back in a way that made it hard for her to pry her protective arms away from her torso. Secondly, while it was a bit supportive in terms of lift, the straps were weak from fraying and she couldn't help but feel like one wrong move would result in unwanted exposure and that was a risk she was not willing to take.
Going back to the drawer, a hint of unfamiliar white fabric caught her eye so she tugged it out from under the neatly folded piles. It was a man's undershirt, surely an old rag of her father's he might have stuck in her drawer accidently, that, as she held it up, she realized was probably too small for him. It was much longer than the pink shirt and slim in structure but seemed to stretch to accommodate any body shape.
Riza took off the pink shirt, folding it tidily and placing it back in the drawer, and put on the white one instead. It fell to about an inch above where her shorts ended and had a high enough neckline to make her feel more comfortable. It fit her nicely, stretching where it needed to; the only problem was that it did not have the same bust support as the other.
Well, what other options were there?
The fact was, as she looked at herself in the mirror she really couldn't be displeased with the ending combination. It really did look almost like those suits in the shops and she would not be self-conscious about her lessons in it.
Now she just had to wait the four more hours until she would be meeting him.
When eleven o'clock mercifully rolled around, Riza had only half-heartedly been reading another chapter in the history text she had picked out for the month. Since she had finished assembling her swimsuit, she had not changed out of it and she could barely keep her eyes anywhere but on the clock, restless with tense anticipation.
She hopped out of her bed, leaving the book open so as to remind herself when she gets back that she won't be able to sleep until she finishes her chapter, and walked quietly into the bathroom to grab a towel, selecting the oldest and most torn-up one available so she would not regret mucking up one of their decent towels with the foul pond water.
On silent steps, she made her way towards the staircase. After all her evenings of midnight snacking she was an expert but this night more than any other she didn't want to wake her father.
She wasn't quite sure how he would react to discovering her trying to sneak out to swim in the middle of the night. However, she had an idea of how he might react to know that she was doing so with Roy. Right before he came to study there, her father had pulled her aside and told her that she better give him space and not disturb him as he needed as much time as possible to immerse himself in his studies. She had abided by his request for so long that when the communication barrier had finally been broken between them, Berthold hadn't seemed to notice the change for a while. On a recent occasion however, she had overheard him telling Roy, in the most vague and uncomfortable way possible, that he was not to "waste too much time with his daughter as he had work to do". The romantic implication wasn't lost on Riza and she was sure it wasn't on Roy either even though he had merely replied with an ambivalent, "Yes, sir."
"So that's where my undershirt went!"
Riza froze on the stairs, flashing a panicked look over the rail down at Roy before craning her neck around to look up towards the second floor.
She let out a breath of relief that her father hadn't heard.
"Oops. Sorry," Roy said in a whisper when she reached the bottom step.
"We should get out of here," Riza said with slight trepidation.
Roy nodded as they walked across the room to the front door. Stepping out in front of her, Roy grabbed the handle first, holding the door open for her.
Riza tried to contain her smile as she muttered a thank you.
"You're welcome," Roy said with an unashamed grin, following behind her and locking the door with a key wrapped around his wrist. "You can keep the shirt by the way. It looks better on you."
"Oh!" Riza said in surprise. She had been so worried by the volume of his voice earlier that she had all but entirely missed what he had said. "I'm sorry. I found it in my drawer and I thought it was a cast-off of my father's," she said, tugging restlessly at the bottom of the shirt, her hands betraying her lack of ease at the subtle compliment.
"Hey, it's no problem," Roy said blithely as he walked past her. "Come on."
They walked down the street in a relaxed silence, Riza walking next to him but often falling behind as his stride held more purpose than hers did. She focused on her steps, finding the exact pace to keep up with him. Something about walking with him like that, strong and determined, made her feel like she too could take on anything. She had already done so much in her own little corner of the world, finding a job, continuing her schooling alone, keeping the house together, but she felt bogged down by her life, like there was more she could be doing, more she was capable of. That was something she always admired about Roy: he never doubted himself and was always trying to improve himself and when she was around him, she too was reminded of her own drive hidden beneath the layers of immediate responsibility. She wished someone she knew could see her now: walking with her head high, next to a boy she respected and cared for whose own confidence was infectious.
Her assurance however, was short lived when Roy broke the silence with a question.
"Do you know a girl named Clara?" he asked matter-of-factly.
The pain in her chest was almost instant.
"Yeah," she mumbled, a hint of sadness evident in her tone. "W-why do you ask?" she inquired, stumbling a bit over her words.
Roy shrugged. "Just wondering. Sometimes when I run in the morning I see her outside getting ready to go to school. I usually just nod a greeting at her but today she actually introduced herself."
"Oh," Riza replied softly. He was thinking of another girl while walking with her. He was thinking about another girl who had the courage to approach him out of nowhere. He wasn't thinking of her.
"She's about your age, right? Are you two friends? I mean, she lives right by you," Roy asked with innocent curiosity.
"She's a year older than me. We used to be friends when we were younger but we lost touch."
After my mother died, Riza added to herself. She didn't want to bring up such a depressing topic. But I guess my time out with Roy is already ruined.
Roy nodded. "Yeah, I know how that is. People get older, interests change," he said casually, although Riza couldn't help but think he sounded insightful, or at least older and wiser than her.
And Clara is closer in age to him.
Preparing herself for disappointed, Riza gathered her bravery: "Why do you ask?"
Roy thought about it for a second, tilting his head up towards the bright moon above. "I guess I was thinking about how you don't seem to go to see friends very often so I was wondering if you knew that there were girls your age in your neighborhood at all."
He was thinking about me, Riza thought, her chest no longer feeling strained. Of course, he was thinking about what a loner I am, but still.
"Oh, well, I'm too busy to see friends very much," she said honestly, leaving out the fact that she really didn't talk much to the few friends she did have anymore.
"I've noticed," Roy said sympathetically. "I wish your father would let me get a job too so I could help pay the expenses but every time I ask, he refuses and insists that what Aunt Chris pays him is enough even though I know it isn't. Don't get me wrong, you keep everything running perfectly, you have amazing organizational skills, but if there was another source of income then you wouldn't have to work so hard."
Riza could have hugged him at that moment; could have if she had someone else's nerve.
"Thank you for trying," she said with a shy smile.
Roy grinned morosely back at her as they slipped into another bought of quiet that only lasted a few paces.
"You . . . you're training for the military, aren't you?" Riza asked, knowing the answer but fearful of it anyway.
"I am," Roy said stoic but sure. "Are you going to tell your father?"
Riza's eyes widened at the suggestion. "Of course not!" she shouted, following him into a copse. "That's your decision, not his, and if he finds out, I don't even want to know what he would say."
"Thanks," he said, bending back a tree branch so she could walk past him. "What do you think about it?"
A bit surprised that he had asked for her opinion, she tried to formulate the best way to answer him. She thought it was a very noble thing to do but at the same time, she selfishly didn't want him to leave her alone in the house. She feared for his safety but was sure that he would always make the right decisions even if they are not easy to make.
At the sound of her name, all the structured, coherent thoughts went flying out of her brain and the only thing she could spit out was a worried, "Please don't die."
"We're here," he stated, now making it obvious that he had called her name not to hurry her answer but to keep her from walking into the lake. She stopped abruptly at the edge of the water, her cheeks turning red, thankful for the cover of darkness. "And I'll try not to," he added with a laugh.
Riza stood stark still, afraid to look him in the eye, staring out at the calm water, having forgotten entirely that she was a bit frightened that she might end up drowning by her lack of technique.
Suddenly she felt a strong hand on her shoulder that sent a shiver down her spine.
"Ready?" he asked.
"You're kind of a natural at this, huh?" Roy asked, watching closely as Riza practiced the front stroke again, looking up every once in a while to make sure she didn't bump into him.
"Well, you're a good teacher," she replied, moving from her stroke into treading water.
In the mere two hours they had been out there she had mastered floating, treading water, a general swim, the front stroke, and the back stroke. Thinking about it, Riza realized that it was probably only so easy because she was not a child and Roy could tell her exactly what she was not doing correctly in order to improve. If words weren't enough, he could very clearly show her with a demonstration or, on a few occasions, move her body himself or take her hands which always made her heat up and forget about how cold the water was.
She wasn't going to deny that it gave her a bit of pride to know that she had impressed him. Her technique wasn't perfect she knew but she wasn't exactly afraid of drowning should Amestris be spontaneously overrun by water.
"Do you have to get up early tomorrow?" Roy asked suddenly, treading with greater ease than she did.
Riza nodded, hoping that her struggle to keep her body above the surface wasn't too embarrassingly obvious. Having never swam before she wasn't strong enough to keep up the treading for too long.
"We should probably go in then," he said swimming a side stroke towards the shore. "It's really late."
Riza swam after him, thinking for a second about putting up a fight to stay so she could make the night last longer but she was incredibly tired from both the time and the physical strain. That history chapter would have to be put off until tomorrow.
As she followed him up onto the shore, being able to touch the floor of the pond as she switched to walking, she felt the real weight of her clothes sagging down from the pond water they had collected. On top of how heavy her steps now were, the air felt so much colder than it did before she went in. She tried to keep herself from shivering and looking weak but the effort was mostly futile as the gooseflesh rose on her bare arms and legs.
Roy turned towards her with both towels in his hands as she nonchalantly stretched her arms above her head to try to cover up how freezing she was. Once her muscles were soothed, she went about ringing out her shorts and the bottom of her shirt, twisting the fabric around until the water dripped onto the ground, lightening the load.
When she looked up from her task, Roy was standing very still before her, his mind clearly somewhere else as he gazed at her, his eyes scanning down her body at a leisurely speed before he rapidly pivoted himself away from her.
Almost like he's . . . embarrassed about something?
She couldn't tell what he was thinking and before she could think too much more about it he turned back towards her, keeping his eyes ardently locked with hers as he gently laid her towel around her neck. For a second Riza was wondering if something might happen but he turned his back to her and started toweling himself off as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. She followed suit, barely able to warm up before he announced, "Let's go" still facing away from her.
The walk home was quiet but not in the same way that the silences before had been. Roy walked at a more brisk but uneven pace that Riza was struggling to find a rhythm with, his face determined as if he really needed to get back to the house as soon as possible.
Something was wrong. She could tell. But she wasn't quite sure what.
He appeared to be shaking slightly but that wasn't unusual as she was too from the air on her damp skin. His face seemed redder but again, she imagined that was probably the result of the cold. Also, every time she tried to walk next to him, he seemed to turn away from her and increase his pace but never to the point of trying to leave her behind, more so to the point of keeping her from seeing him from the front.
What did I do wrong?
When they had made it back to the house, Roy finally stopped walking, his body turned away from her but with his head towards her so that they could talk.
"You can go inside and use the shower," he said in his usual tone, not betraying any indication as to his weird behavior. "I just want to wash off with the hose." He smiled stiffly, unintentionally proving that he was trying to cover something up as he slipped the front door key off his wrist and handed it to her.
"Oh, okay," Riza replied, grateful she could clean off properly but suspicious as she watched him carefully and didn't make any move towards going inside.
"I'll only be a minute. We can meet in the kitchen when you are done and make some more sandwiches if you want," he said forcefully, now sounding almost like he was determined to get rid of her, at least for the moment.
Riza furrowed her brows in confusion but decided that trying to get more out of him would probably be futile. Maybe she could ask him after.
"Alright. I'll see you then," she said a bit defeated, retreating inside.
Slowly she walked up the stairs to avoid waking her father. She had thought the night was going so well until Roy had started acting funny. This was supposed to be the time alone with him, and frivolous time out with someone whose company she enjoyed, that she had always longed for.
She closed the door of the bathroom with a sigh, lifting her head to come face to face with her own reflection in the full length mirror hanging on the back of the door.
Her hands went flying to her mouth to stifle her gasp of surprise as she suddenly realized something: the undershirt she was wearing became completely see-through when wet.
Roy's strange attitude suddenly made sense.
Living with him certainly did teach her a lot.
Cheeks burning in humiliation, Riza took the fastest shower she could manage and rushed into her room, locking the door.
When Roy knocked on it a few minutes later to ask if she was hungry she mumbled that she was tired and would have to take a rain check on that snack.
Focusing more on her studies now seemed like a good plan.