Late June, 1903. Ashford, Eastern Amestris.


Twenty minutes before Riza's father was expected to arrive back at the manor, Riza's bow had been re-retied, her blouse buttons closed up, her skirt smoothed down, and her hair tousled back into a messy look that looked somewhat like it had been done on purpose, instead of by a handsy teenaged boy. She had left Roy on his own to adjust himself back into presentable shape, snatching his note pages and one of the shortbread cookies on the end table before she calmly slipped out of the room and went to reapply her lipstick. It wasn't so much about fleeing the scene of the crime as it was an intense curiosity as to what he'd written down in his 'notes', coupled with a way to disguise the freshly bitten look of her lips.

Ten minutes before Berthold Hawkeye was expected to arrive back at the manor, Riza would be found in her room, heady blush almost gone from her cheeks and a prim pink adorning her lips as she appeared to be nose first in a lengthy history text about Ancient Xerxian politics. Riza really had been enjoying the book for the past week, but in the slightly disquieting circumstances that her father would bother to drop in her room to inform her about something that had happened on his trip, she would only appear to be reading it.

As it so happened, Roy's notes had been folded neatly into the crease of her book, the lean lines covering paragraphs about the Xerxian Empire. And instead of reading something about the Emperor's role in religious rituals as it related to politics, Riza was blinking down at a rather funny little set of chemical compounds and random elements.

If she didn't know any better, she would have said Roy had failed basic chemistry in grammar school. Since she did know better, the ridiculous organization brought about a second look.

Across the top was a row of long hand elements written out, in some sort of order Riza hadn't quiet figured out the method for yet: Molybdenum, Boric Trioxide, di-Hydrogen, Chlorine, Cobalt, Silicon.

Underneath that was a additional, squeezed in column, that seemed to cross-reference the top, this time in shorthand: K, H2, Cu, Li, Fe, S, Bi, {Electron stabilization + Covalence}.

They were all cross referenced, Riza realized. Molydbenum was checked with potassium, lithium, and bismuth, and Riza's brow furrowed as she tried to figure out why ever someone would combine them. A neat arrow referenced the unfinished balancing of an equation, giving her the combination Mo+KLiBi.

Riza didn't have a head for science the way Roy did, or the way her father wanted her to have, but even she knew she was looking at gibberish. How he thought these notes were helpful, she wasn't sure. Another line gave her a secondary unfinished equation −- Bo2O3 + KH2Cu. Flipping the page over, Riza examined the rest of the paper. There wasn't much else, a few more scribbles, and a scratch out here or there in his writings, a space left empty for the parameters of the exercise, and a word for word chunk of a text on covalence. "When two non-metallic elements bond, they often share electrons, known as valence sharing, or covalent bonding. These atoms will share a sufficient amount of electrons in order to achieve the electron configuration of a Noble Gas."

Then nothing else.

She leaned back in her bed, sinking into her pillow as she sighed in aggravation. It wasn't chemistry. And it wasn't sensical. And while she wouldn't put Roy making everything up just to mess with her out of the question, she had a distinct feeling it was a code that she needed to break in order to understand. The idea that Roy Mustang was just down the hall, probably laughing to himself over her pilfering his codes notes made it even worse.

So Riza did the only thing she could think of to do; she hunkered down to crack it.

For the next three days, Riza spent her free time in her room, working on Roy's notes only when she wasn't busy trying to convince herself attempting it on her own was a waste of her time. Would have been a waste of her thoughts too, as Riza didn't much care for the idea of pining after a ridiculous little note page. Roy's codes weren't anything new, in the time they'd known each other she'd picked up several of the differences between what he said aloud and what he was hoping she'd know he meant.

The first code, the easiest, was the most subtle. Instead of spelling out loud words, Roy told anecdotes, regaling all sorts of stories of mischief, hijinks, or propriety and a scholarly countenance depending on his audience. But he used names to code his messages, usually the names of people but occasionally places; names of customers, accountants, loan sharks, professors, generals, secretaries, call girls, ballet dancers, actresses, and bakers. If there was some way to work them into his colorful stories, he would. And it didn't take long for Riza to figure out that he was spelling things - Roy was careful and precise about the order of his stories, and had seemed to be doing it just because he thought it was clever, and needed practice with it. For Riza's part, she had written one of his stories out using a quick shorthand she'd picked up in school for improving memory. The fact that the emphasis had been on people and places had made his message obvious had been a bonus.

As soon as he'd realized she'd cracked the code, Roy had excitedly made it a game. He made it increasingly complicated, letting Riza reply in her own stories, sometimes with shared memories, sometimes with brief summaries of serializations in dime store anthologies she picked up to read in her free time. They'd begun to gain a knack for communicating without the outside world picking up on their words. But this time, and with this particular code, even with three days of ignoring Roy Mustang's passing smug looks, she still hadn't cracked his exact meaning.

Which meant that when after dinner on the fourth day, her father went to lock himself in his study after an aggressive quizzing of Roy's studies over their plates, Riza had the young alchemist cornered. They had made their way out of the dining room without much fanfare, but as soon as they rounded the hall towards the staircases, Riza's hand had darted out to grab his wrist and pull him to the alcove under the winding staircase.

"That had absolutely nothing to do with chemistry." She accused firmly, trying to keep her annoyed expression affixed to her face despite the general eagerness glinting in Roy's eyes. The corner under the stairs was poorly lit, but even still she was able to make out the slight curving of his lips and the way his dark lashes stood out against pale, vaguely Xingese skin.

"Didn't it?" Roy said, licking his lips instead of laughing.

Brow furrowing, Riza leaned back, squinting at the way the light of the hall draped over his shoulders. It'd been straight from the elemental table, but the underpinnings of it had nothing to do with science. That, Riza had been sure of. "You chose specific elements to represent things, and then created nonsensical balanced equations to communicate." She said slowly, as she collected what she had bothered to figure out from the page. Slipping his notes from her pocket, she held them folded up between them. Roy stepped closer, holding her wrist to his chest as he slipped the pages from her grasp with his other hand. "Then you expected me to relate this to your grand experiment…"

"Ours." Roy corrected, rubbing his thumb over the back of her palm. "At any rate, I thought it would be rather obvious. But for your benefit, I'll give you a key to the code." A shuffle of papers placed his notes back in her skirt pockets as he leaned to wind himself closer to her, pressing Riza against the far wall underneath the stairs. "Molydbenum, reactive to potassium, lithium, bismuth."

"That doesn't," Riza began, before she was cut off by Roy's mouth covering her own. His lips were warm, like heat of the sun sinking in the sky outside. It was languid, and Roy took his time in moving his mouth hungrily against hers, pulling on her bottom lip playfully as he wrapped an arm around her waist. Commentary lost to his mouth, Riza moved in on him, honing in her focus on Roy's words as much as she could. It wasn't easy as she would have liked, especially as his hands kneaded firmly into her sides, tongue sliding between her parted lips. When he wanted to be, Roy Mustang could be terribly distracting for other people's concentration too.

A few minutes passed of them simply kissing underneath the stairs, fueled with an edge of urgency as they both realized eventually they would need to be in other places before people looked for them - or before someone found them. But Riza couldn't say she was too worried about being caught - Roy Mustang was a perfect scoundrel. He was as good at stealing moments as he was breaths and thoughts and she had the sneaking suspicion she rather enjoyed helping him get away with it.

When they finally broke apart, Riza licked her lips as he peered down at her with the same blue-black insatiable hunger in his eyes as before. It wasn't an intimidating hunger; rather, it was the sort that was laced with some level of kindness and affection that Riza was sure she shouldn't dwell too closely on. They were good friends, and it was wonderful to kiss him, and to break his codes, but thinking too hard about it wasn't her style.

"Molydbenum — mouth? And potassium is K, for kissing." Riza said, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth as she leaned back to gaze at him as she traced the line of his shirt collar. "So that makes lithium to lick, and bismuth to…bite."

Roy kissed her nose before he slipped his arm away from her waist and pulled back. "See, you'll figure the whole code out. I knew you would get it."

"That's still not alchemically sound." Riza scolded.

"I beg to differ. We're full of chemistry, you and I."


A/N: We're now officially halfway through! Reviews are extremely appreciated. Stay tight for the next three updates. :) Also feel free to ask anything you'd like, especially in regards to the upcoming chapters, or if you'd like director's cut commentary/things addressed, you can ask here, or on my tumblr. Anything related will be tagged #the soldiers element series/ found at missturdle dot tumblr dot com / tagged/the+soldiers+element+series. Thanks!