Geh :: This chapter is easy to predict, but I hope you will like it anyway. Hopefully. I'm pretty nervous about it. If it's bad, I promise I won't do it again.
Chapter Three – Collision
Roy woke at dawn feeling like his brain had grown a layer of fuzz in the night. He stretched and nearly rolled off the couch before he remembered where he was.
Oh, the wine.
He slapped a hand to his forehead, remembering. He had very nearly taken her on a cot in the Rockbell's spare bedroom with Havoc sleeping only a few feet away. Probably would have ripped that pretty white dress too. He also remembered asking her to marry him. Again. How much of that disgraceful behavior could he blame on the drink?
Probably not enough.
He growled inarticulately and sank lower into the sofa wondering if embarrassment could kill a person. What would she think of him? Would she be angry at what he had done, or that he hadn't finished what he started?
And suddenly, there was a dog in his face. His view of the living room was eclipsed by a wet black nose and a formidable set of canine teeth. Moist panting ruffled his bangs.
"Hello, Hayate," he mumbled, pushing the shiba inu away from him. "Go bother your master. You probably see her naked all the time, don't you? Lucky bastard."
Hayate whined and shoved his nose back in Roy's face.
"Urgh, why!?" Roy crossed his arms over his face. "Do I look blonde and female to you?"
The dog was not to be deterred. He started licking Roy's arms.
"That's it!" He sprang up with a snarl. "We'll go and wake her up together!"
He lumbered over to the spare bedroom and cracked the door open. The room was bathed in light and last night's raindrops sparkled on the window. A Havoc-shaped lump was snoring softly in one of the beds. The other bed was fastidiously made. And empty. He couldn't say if he was relieved or disappointed.
He looked down at her dog. "Where is she?"
Hayate wagged his tail and said nothing.
Seeing as her dog would not be forthcoming with information, he decided it couldn't hurt to brush his teeth while he planned his search. His teeth felt almost as fuzzy as his brain, and the sour wine taste clinging to his tongue was downright revolting. He found a bathroom and managed to dig up some spare toothbrushes without making too much noise. Hayate parked himself in the doorway and watched ritual quizzically, tail still wagging with such exuberance that his whole body vibrated. It was unnerving to receive such close scrutiny from a dog. Dogs didn't blink enough. What did she normally do to make him stop staring?
He scrubbed his teeth until he no longer tasted any trace of wine and examined his reflection in the mirror above the bathroom sink. His looked somewhat less than suave and handsome this morning. He looked like he had aged five years in the night. Splashing water on his face didn't improve matters, but the cold was a refreshing shock to the senses. Consciousness stabbed into him pitilessly. It felt like sandpaper behind his eyes.
And the dog was still staring.
He wandered back into the empty living room still contemplating his lieutenant's mysterious absence. The house was silent save for the clicking of Hayate's nails on the floorboards. He combed his fingers through his sleep-tousled hair and tried to form a coherent string of thoughts that would lead him to her. It was hard to focus when his mind kept doggedly returning to the events of last night. The sounds she made. Her silky hair pouring through his fingers. Her nimble hands tugging on his shirt. The luscious path of skin on the inside of her thigh. Other places inside her thigh he would have liked to touch.
Holy lecherous Hell on a stick . . . He needed to get out of the gutter. At least for the moment. He could dredge up memories at any time and torment himself at his leisure. Right now, he had a mission. He dug his nails into his palms until the pain brought his present surroundings into focus.
That was when he noticed the back door resting slightly ajar. It swayed slightly and knocked against the frame with every breeze. Hayate followed him over to investigate.
He propped open the door. The yard was tranquil and damp from the recent rain. Last night's fire was only ashes, and discarded wine bottles congregated beside the logs looking desolate and water-logged. A rabbit in the grass caught sight of them and bounced away. Hayate's ears perked up and his body lurched forward, beginning to lunge, but then he stopped and stood still. He looked up at Roy, smiling mouth open, pink tongue lolling.
Roy shook his head. "She's trained you too well."
Hayate twitched his tail and hopped down onto the grass.
He started exploring for clues while the dog did his business. The back of the house needed new paint and a good pruning. An army of weeds had taken over in the shade of the steps and started to annex the side of the building, ever expanding their domain. A pair of rusted garden shears lay buried and forsaken in the foliage. Beyond the fire pit, an explosion of dandelions carpeted the yard, leading up to an old lightning-struck elm that stooped over a tiny shed.
The most likely answer to his lieutenant's whereabouts was the dirt path that wove its way from the yard to a wooded area beyond. Hadn't Winry mentioned something about a secreted lake nestled in the forest last night? He vaguely remembered Hawkeye showing interest in the subject. Would she go there?
As if to answer his question, Hayate walked over and put his nose to the path. After giving it a thorough scent inspection, he barked and looked down the trail in the direction of the woods.
Roy scratched him thoughtfully. "I'm going to go get her. You just wait here. Don't wake anyone else up."
He regarded the diminutive creature with stern authority. Hayate tilted his head and stared up at him.
"This is ridiculous," he muttered. "I'm talking to a dog like he's people."
He scooped Hayate up and put him back inside the house. "You will never repeat this to anyone."
The dog wuffed and sat down dutifully. They watched each other, and he had the distinct impression the dog had a prescient understanding of the situation. Roy closed the door and decided Black Hayate would be rewarded when he got back. If he got back.
He started down the path to the lake determinedly. Hopefully, she was there. Hopefully, she wasn't mad at him for his behavior last night. Hopefully, she wouldn't shoot him. There were an alarming number of hopefullys to consider.
He wasn't sorry for loving her or wanting her. It was beyond obvious at this point anyway. He was sorry he had expressed his wanting under less than desirable circumstances. He was sorry that the jumbled utterances that spilled from his mouth between frantic kisses were never the fluent verses he envisioned in his mind. He was sorry that every time he asked her to marry him it always came out wrong, and she always gave him that bewildered look that made his heart sink.
He had a passing thought that he probably should have changed his clothes, and combed his hair. He probably still smelled like wine and campfire. He probably should have prepared his words, but he couldn't wait. He had to find her.
She pulled in a breath and sunk below the glassy surface, smooth as a pebble, light as a leaf. For just an instant sound vanished, and she was a weightless new creature suspended in the void—empty of thought, fluid of form, waiting to know her name.
A few languid kicks brought her gliding through the water to the center of the lake. The bottom was too deep to touch in the middle, a depthless indigo that swallowed up the light of the sun. She gazed down, hovering, and watched the reflection of the sky shiver and dance as she treaded to keep herself in place. The minutes slowed to a drip, and the morning took on a timeless stillness that calmed the ceaseless rattle of her brain. She took another breath and floated through cool clear space, meditating on nothing but the liquid cadence of her pulse.
She had found the lake exactly where Winry said it would be, down a faint trail about two miles from the house. It was a bean-shaped pool wedged in the crook of a dusky hillside, and it was unexpectedly opalescent blue. The near shore was a tumble of flat-topped boulders, and the rest of its circumference was fringed with a thick border of grass and trees. Weeping willows dragged their flotsam limbs through the shallows. Dragonflies skimmed and nipped at the surface. Sunlight and shadow wagged an ever-shifting war with every new ripple.
At first, she had sat on one of the flat rocks and gazed down into the lake, hypnotized. Then, she had taken off her shoes and dipped her feet in the water. She wriggled her toes in the squishy silt at the bottom, listening to the boisterous songs of the birds in the forest and savoring the smells of pine and wet earth. Silver-sided fish touched their lips to her ankles and scattered when she breathed too deeply. The sun mounted the horizon, beam by beam climbing up, and a waning moon still hung high in the sky, loathe to give up her position of prominence.
Troubling thoughts blazed in her temples like wildfire, burning through her synapses and taking root just behind her eyes. They scattered when she blinked, but they all came back to him.
She knew him once.
She knew him when he clapped his hand on her shoulder companionably, when he narrowed his gaze and concentrated on his target, and when he grabbed catnaps between marathoning administrative tasks. She even knew him when his eyes were bloodshot and raw with tears. She knew his laughter and his silence. His eyes, and his hands, and the timbre of his voice. His thoughts and ambitions, commitments and fears. She had known everything there was to know, and it was simple and perfect—closed like a circle and destined to endure.
She never knew him like this.
Insistent and captivating, and pulling her open at the seams—making her helpless and unable to hide—making her cry out in need—making her fierce and feral.
Had anyone else known him like this?
Did she want to know him?
She felt parched and hollowed out. The water lapped at her legs, cool and inviting.
It might have been for the thrill, or maybe her primal self always knew how it would end. Either way, she slipped out of her clothes and folded them neatly on a rock beside her shoes. The last thing she removed was the leather holster at her thigh. The holster made her more than just Riza. The holster made her Lieutenant Hawkeye, his right arm woman. The one he knew best. She set it above everything else.
The morning air flowed in chilly currents on the skin of her belly, raising gooseflesh. The faceless moon hung high in the sky, and she was bare. White arms, golden hair, and blistered toes. Herself with all the jagged edges removed.
She jumped from the rock and sliced through the placid lake like a knife. Water drummed in her ears. It stripped away thoughts and reduced her to a being of sensation, concerned only with the bend and contract of her muscles and the rhythm of her lungs. The coordinated effort of swimming was the anesthetic that she needed to regain peace.
After making her rounds around the lake, she floated and watched the sun rise. Gossamer veils of mist dissipated, and shadows became more distinct as the world lightened. The lake cradled her, and she slipped into a contented trance. Once, a twig snapped loudly, causing her to look around with a start, but it was only a squirrel leaping from branch to branch above the lake. She lay back in the water and focused on the rise and fall of her chest.
Of course it was a squirrel. What had she expected it to be?
At last, she decided to get out of the lake before she turned pruney. She swam back to the rock where she had stashed all her belongings and nearly climbed out. She was still basking in the serenity she had achieved, humming tunelessly and shaking water out of her hair. As an afterthought, she took a cursory survey of her surroundings, chiding herself for being so lax. Snipers couldn't afford such luxuries. It went against every—
She stopped cold, stifling a gasp before it could form because she was Riza Hawkeye, and Riza Hawkeye did not gasp in surprise.
He was sitting atop her carefully folded clothing pile and smirking at her. She regained her wits enough to cross her arms over her chest, but she knew the attempt was probably feeble. Arms made poor shields. She didn't know he even had such laser-like focus in his repertoire of expressions. They locked eyes—the gauntlet was down. Who would break and look away first?
Roy Mustang broke first.
His eyes drifted over her languorously. "Thank every god in heaven for eyesight."
She was still stumbling over her shock. Nothing was processing. Her mind was like a crashing bicycle that refused to do anything but spin aimlessly. "C-Colonel. How long have you been sitting there?"
His black eyes danced mischievously. "Not terribly long, Lieutenant. You look pale. Are you troubled?"
He looked like a panther again, crouched and showing his teeth when he smiled. She watched him watch a bead of water fall from her hair and descend into the valley between her breasts. His gaze was scorching. Her skin prickled, but she fought the impulse to shy away. She was not about to start stammering or retreat from battle. He didn't have the upper hand yet, even if he did have the high ground . . . and all the weapons . . . and clothes. Those were trifling inconveniences.
She gave him a menacing glare that would have made most men quail. "You could stop staring, Sir. It's rude."
"I agree, it's pretty rude, but I don't think I will." He set his chin on his hands and didn't look away. "It's too bad all your firearms are up here with me."
"Colonel," she said in her most level deadpan. "I swear to God, I will kill you."
"Oh, Hawkeye," he purred. "Has anyone ever told you you're beautiful when you get all angry and start threatening my life?"
"It's shortening by the moment, so enjoy it while you have it."
He shook his head and chuckled like her promise of retribution was merely an amusing anecdote. "I can guarantee I am enjoying. I hope that counts for something. But let's be real here, Riza. I hold the purse strings, so what are you going to do to get your clothes back?"
"Kill you quickly," she growled, edging closer to the rock where he sat.
"Oh please try, Riza," he breathed.
Famous last words.
The Colonel grinned down at her, smug and salacious on his perch. She moved until she was just beneath him, marshaling her confidence and all the low cunning she could muster. Then, one at a time, she raised her hands.
His throat twitched convulsively, and his mouth fell open. She flashed him a dazzling smile that betrayed none of her apprehension. She knew she had nice breasts, and she had caught him enough times to know he didn't always look at her face when she was speaking, but she never thought she would be using her assets as bait before. It was a risky gambit that had the potential to backfire spectacularly, but she had never lacked for courage. He thought he was the only one who knew how to play this game.
One look at his arrested countenance and she knew she had successfully turned the tables on him. He tried and failed to speak several times, but each time his voice cracked and died away. His eyes could have melted through steel. The undiluted longing he couldn't conceal sent a treacherous lance of heat from her sternum to her stomach. She nearly forgot her own composure, but thankfully the next part was easy.
She rose up, hooked her fingers into his collar, and pulled him down until their mouths grazed. The kiss was as light as the sunlight on her skin. Every touch of his lips was excruciatingly gentle, as if she might turn into glass and shatter if he wasn't careful. It made her shiver more than the cold bite of the morning air. She tightened her grip on his collar and deepened the kiss, demanding his whole mouth and forcing him into the fire. The caution in him crumbled away. He responded to her demands with demands of his own. They both surrendered to voracious need. But then, as soon as he reached out to touch her, she braced herself and yanked.
Roy Mustang hit the water with a splash and came up squalling like a soaked cat.
It was Riza's turn to smirk. She brushed her hair out of her eyes, and slithered away before he could grab her and exact vengeance. With a few kicks, she was across the lake, trying and failing to contain her laughter.
Roy ground his teeth together and glared at his laughing lieutenant.
"Now you are going to die," he growled.
He hated hated hated having water used against him, at any time. Although, to be fair, he should have seen it coming. There was a devious glimmer in her eyes when she had kissed him that he was all too willing to ignore because of naked wetness.
But there were certain creamy, shapely, mouthwatering perks to the situation. She was still very much naked and wet. It stirred his body and made him ache just to touch her, but it also brought to mind unbearable questions. Why in hell hadn't he tried to maneuver her out of her clothes before? This was what he had been missing. And for what? Atonement or masochism? In retrospect, the clearly defined lines of their relationship seemed very stupid and rather more like self-indulgent torture than anything else.
Even before he had shared her bed, he knew that she was perfect. Even in blindness—when his fingers traced and memorized a map of skin—when the smell of her took him out of the purgatory of grief—he knew what she was. She could have driven him insane if he allowed himself to dwell on the particulars. Did she embody his desires, or had his desires molded to her shape over time? Most nights he tried not to think about his latent attractions because thinking only led to cold showers and frustration, but now he couldn't remember why keeping his distance had seemed so damn important. He should have given in to her years ago.
He wouldn't deny anything now.
His irritated glare transformed into a predatory grin. Slowly, so she could watch and anticipate what was going to happen to her, he cast off his wet coat and tossed it onto the shore. Then he pulled off his shoes, which took an eon because they were soaked. He had a similarly epic struggle with his socks, and then at last, he shrugged out of his shirt and pants. It might have been a rash decision to meet her on her undressed level, but her reaction was emboldening. She tried to maintain an expressionless distance, but her gaze slipped more than once, and her eyes were approving. So much for changing his clothes and bathing. So much for finding where he had thrown his shoes later. He couldn't have cared less.
When he had reached the end of the trail and found her in the lake all of his hastily compiled plans derailed, and his thoughts had come to a screeching, smashing, catastrophically immoral halt. It was hard enough to think clearly with mental images distracting him. Having the real thing suddenly present itself without warning wiped his eloquent, tactical mind blank.
She wasn't sitting by the lake. She was in it. And her clothes were neatly folded on a rock. All of the implications of that observation felt like tiny bullets destroying him. The heat in his body spiraled downward. His knees jellified. His lungs constricted. His heart thrashed like a mad beast trying to escape the confines of his chest.
There was a reason he had walked here. He was going to say words. Words about last night. Something like that. Something soft and curvy. Words.
It all came back to the fact that he couldn't get a very good look from where he was standing.
He had wanted to sit and watch her. Every instinct screamed at him to find a place to hide and leer as long as he liked, but he knew he had to make his presence known. It was the only fair and chivalrous thing to do, and he had resolved last night to treat her respectfully. But that didn't mean he couldn't tease her. So he had sat and waited for her to notice him while trying to be as respectful as it was possible to be under the circumstances.
He knew her anger was feigned the instant she didn't get out of the water and point a gun at his head. Naked or not, she would have done it. He would have let her shoot him and died happy. This was a far better alternative. Even her prank was bearable if it meant he would get his hands on her. She hadn't retreated very far. She was contemplating him with wide amber eyes and worrying her lip between her teeth.
"You scared yet?" he asked.
She set her chin stubbornly, and her eyes turned steely and defiant. "Never."
He slid through the water toward her with single-minded purpose. She swam away, easily keeping just out of reach of his pursuit. He realized immediately that she was a stronger swimmer, and being lighter and smaller gave her an edge. Evading him wasn't even a challenge for her. But he was relentless, and if he knew anything, it was that having inexorable determination always paid off. He also suspected his motivation was more compelling than hers.
He caught her against his chest and closed his arms like a vice. She squirmed wonderfully. Wonderful because he had to pin her against him. Wonderful because there was nothing to separate them. No fabric, no weapons, no uncertainty. She was wiry and supple as elastic, and her every motion was arousing. She twisted in his grasp, and he strummed the piano-key lines of her ribcage, seamlessly flowing into the svelte contour of her abdomen. At first touch, nothing about her body acquiesced to caresses. Her muscles flexed like molten iron beneath durable skin that held firm against the pads of his thumbs. He went exploring for soft and yielding places—the velvet nook behind her earlobe that smelled like gunpowder and roses—the downy undersides of her breasts that he only skirted with his fingernails. She made purring noises and let her eyes fall closed. Every discovery was his to keep.
He found the fray in the fabric of her neck and pressed his lips to the smoky white scar as if he could drink away the disturbing memory it elicited. He had always known she would sacrifice herself if duty required it, but the concept was abstract. He had never tangibly understood what she was capable of until they cut her throat, and she made him wait. He had thought their bond was limitless. He had thought he knew her. On that day, she had pulled the string of his trust until it snapped taut and started to unravel him. Until it hurt just to breathe. He let her go when his entire being shouted to hold on—all because her eyes had forced him wait. She broke every piece of him, and he had never been angrier at her. If he had words beyond anguished screaming, he would have raged at her.
How dare you try to leave me? How dare you?
Her willfulness when she was dying still amazed and haunted him. There was no surrender in the soldier he held in his arms. If she had died before he could kiss her, would she still have belonged to him? Would she ever belong to him? If he were still a blind man he would never have to see the scars, and maybe he would never have to wonder. Her skin was hot and liquid to his tongue. She tasted like the musky lake water and questions he didn't yet want to ask.
"Don't." Her voice was as soft as the hand that brushed against his cheek. "Please don't think about that right now."
When she kissed him, he knew his steadfast reservoir of self-control had run dry. He combed his fingers through her hair, down her spine, and over the swell of her hips, drawing her desperately closer. He needed her closer. He needed her as close as it was possible for two separate creatures to be. He went on a tactile journey over every plane and angle of her architecture, and found more yielding places. She rocked against him, sending fresh waves of heat crashing through him. The sound in her throat became a resonant moan that he had never heard before. It awakened every instinct in him and narrowed his desires down to the most basic and irresistible. He needed to know her. He needed to take all of her. He couldn't live with pieces anymore.
He hooked his arms around her waist and carried her to shore. Making his coat into a dry and accommodating surface was a matter of clapping his hands together, and he settled her there with as much delicacy as he could manage in his eagerness. She arched her back, grabbed a handful of hair at the nape of his neck, and pulled him down to meet her. They drowned beneath the cloudless morning sky—turning from rosy pink, to gold, and finally rich cerulean. The sun dried the water and the sweat. The earth turned. The lake rippled. Breath swallowed breath. Fingertips and mouths chased each other in a flurry of heat. He clasped her wrists against the stiff black fabric and watched her eyes turn from amber to deep dark bourbon when he enticed her legs apart.
"This time it will be right," he told her.
She peered at him through tip-tilted eyelashes and challenged him with a roll of her hips. "Prove it."
He required no further encouragement.
Need commandeered his mind. He didn't need to ask her to stay. She had never left him. But he needed the assurance all the same. He needed her breathy gasp when he entered her, and he needed her nails rasping down his back. He needed his name on her lips. Even if it was 'Colonel' more often than it was 'Roy.' They could work on that part.
Maybe he was obsessed with her. Maybe it wasn't entirely healthy, but he assured himself he had dealt with far worse. At least this obsession had exquisite fragrance and textures. He lost himself in her, and it was like shedding a heavy ballast that had been chained to his back. It was like sleeping without fire dreams, or breathing without tasting sand or blood. She was the absolution he'd been seeking, and it had taken him far too long to recognize her.
In the calm that followed, they looped their fingers together and practiced a brave new silence. She was familiar, and she was a stranger. They knew each other so well, but this was a formless novelty. He tucked her against his side and nibbled at her ear, reveling in the freedom to show her unreserved affection while she watched the water ebb and flow against the rocks. It felt strange to have so much skin in the place of starched blue uniforms. Her golden hair fell in sleek tendrils across his neck. Her toes brushed his shins. The wind rustled the willows. A cricket started singing in the grass. The world was peaceful and idyllic, and he observed it all with detachment.
He nosed the shell of her ear. "You know this means you have to marry me, Riza."
She laughed because it was the third time he asked, but she gave him his answer, and he knew she was smiling.
"Alright Roy, I will. Are you satisfied now?"
"Yes." He closed his eyes and nodded.
The sun had never felt so warm on his face. A hawk shrieked and wheeled in the sky overhead, and its shadow rolled across them. He kept her hand in his and marveled at her smallness. She didn't seem so small in uniform, but stripped down to her core, she was just a woman with scars on her back and scars on her neck who fit easily in his arms. Hawkeye was not a person to be possessed by anyone, but Riza could belong to him, and he would keep her smallness and her scars a secret from the rest of the world.
He cleared his throat. "There's just one more question I need an answer to."
He felt her brace herself. Her toes raked his shins. She turned to look at him warily, and he grinned at her.
"I think we can both agree that you knew you would be found when you disappeared this morning," he said.
"I admit nothing."
She scowled endearingly. He would never tell her it was endearing. He kissed her instead. There weren't enough occasions in the world to kiss her.
"I'll force a confession from you later. But I still need to know . . ." He ran a hand from her shoulder to her waist and splayed his fingers over her hip. She had many perfect features, but her hips were sublime. He could wax poetic about her hips.
"What were you going to do if someone besides me . . . like, say, Havoc had been the one to stumble across your ever-so-lovely nakedness?" he asked.
She propped herself up and smirked at him. Her eyes had a teasing glitter, and he became aware, not for the first time, that she knew exactly what she was doing. "I think we both know that I would have shot him, sir."
He was in love.
It's already morning. He's been awake.
He wants to parse this moment down and distill its parts, so he can savor the essence—so he can crumble the seconds and make time let him go. Just this once.
He knows the universe blundered. Roy Mustang is a bleak man who made a bleak house on a bleak rock and paved it in memories and despair. He lived in his bleak solitude determinedly because it was the only way to atone for the deaths at his doorstep. He would have lived there until his skin sloughed off his brittle bones, and he grew too old to know what it was to regret. Only when his memory failed him would he ever know happiness.
But here is contentment. And it is enough. And it is more than he deserves. And if he thinks too long the fear creeps in. When will the suspended moment shatter? When will time seize hold of him and throw him down where he belongs?
Her bedroom windows are open. The sky drips over the windowsill in golden rivulets, floods the floor, and pools on her bed. She has an arm thrown over her face to keep it from invading her conscience. He studies her slightly parted lips and wonders if she has any idea how she captivates him. He wants to wake her. He wants to let her sleep. He wants to live inside the sculpted hollow of her collarbone and make his new house there. He doesn't feel bleak when she is pressed close and he has her breath to warm his skin.
He touches her hair, because he never can help himself. She murmurs his name, and it breaks his heart anew.
It isn't fair that he should have this moment, but he will take it and hold it with both hands. He will fight to the death to keep it. He gathers her warm, sleepy body in his arms and holds her close while he drifts back into dreams.
He's loved her since before he knew what love was. Sometimes he thinks it's almost cruel that he never had any say in the matter. It was already decided for him, and his protests meant nothing. But then he looks at her, and he knows this is better than any possible alternative. This is peace.