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1901.

 

Cold light filtered through the windows, casting a faint blue glow over the muted colours of the furniture. The flickering light of the sitting room’s dying fire was the only respite from the chilly air and cool floors of the house. Years of neglect translated into poor insulation and a defective heating system, but Roy had long since discovered that if they closed all the doors and windows in the room, a small flame and a thick blanket were enough to keep warm until Master Hawkeye returned. By that time, Roy was expected to have finished with his reading about Type Two nitrogen arrays, and perhaps even have managed to sketch a few of his own. A difficult feat with frozen hands, but Master Hawkeye was an exacting teacher who cared little for excuses.

Roy thumbed through the pages of his dusty old tome, scanning absently. Kunckel had some fascinating things to say, but those gems were often sandwiched between long paragraphs of exposition, or else buried in anecdotes. He’d been staring at the same page for several minutes when he realized that, despite having read the same line at least three times, he hadn’t understood a bit of it. And he knew why.

He had been listening intently to the sound of Riza Hawkeye’s even breath instead.

Riza Hawkeye, who was now sitting right across from him, curled up in the armchair, socked feet peeking out from under a blanket, her hair lightly gleaming in the cold sunlight. He found himself staring over the edge of his book; she looked serene, maybe almost happy. When she read, her lips moved softly, her mouth silently framing each word, and it drew his attention and held it captive. Any thoughts he’d retained about the isolation of elemental phosphorous quickly lost any residual importance that might’ve lingered.

Much more compelling was the way he wished he could brush Riza’s fringe back behind her ears, to let his hand linger there, just behind her jaw. Maybe he would lean in and lightly touch his nose to hers, and then he would wait. She would let out her breath, and after a moment shift forward to softly, tentatively, brush her lips against his. His hand might settle, curl around her shoulder as he drew her closer. He would press his lips against the corner of her mouth, that place where he could sometimes read her quiet sort of humor, and she would lower her book, holding her place with one finger.

Roy could almost hear her speak, how in the wake of that first moment, she would say: “Mustang,” her voice deceptively steady. For a second too long he would be filled with doubt, fear and dread vying for preeminence in his mind. She had, sometimes, chided him that way with not so much as a look, but this time she would not be speaking with disapproval, only earnest emotion. He would cover her blush with his fingertips, catching her lips with his. Maybe he would even take a chance and dare to run his tongue against her lower lip, just to see what she would do. Riza would back up a little, her nose wrinkling, and he would fear his luck had suddenly run out. But then she would smile, a little shyly, and then maybe they would laugh and try again.

The fire crackled loudly, the wood breaking with a loud pop, and Roy started hard. His book slipped from his hands and landed on the bare floorboards with a loud smack. Roy muttered a curse and dove after it, feeling his cheeks start to burn with embarrassment. As he righted himself, dusting off the cover, he became acutely aware that he was being watched.

“Mr. Mustang,” Riza said dryly, like she was accusing him of dropping it on purpose, “surely the book can’t be that bad.”

He grumbled inarticulately in response, trying not to focus too much on the graceful way her hands curled over the gold lettering on the hardback of her own volume or the way her mouth looked when she was very obviously trying not to laugh at his expense.

“You only say that because you don’t have to read it,” Roy rejoined, then grimaced at how unconvincing it sounded. He quickly busied himself with trying to find the page he’d lost. After a moment, he peeked up nervously, only to catch the way Riza was still looking straight at him. When their eyes locked, she looked away momentarily, her hair falling across her forehead like a curtain and obscuring her face from view. She reached up and brushed it away and Roy tried very hard to ignore the way his mouth went strangely, mysteriously dry.

“I think I’m going to make some tea,” she said, glancing back his way. “Would you like some?”

“Tea would be— nice,” he replied, and winced hard when his voice cracked on the last syllable. It was just his luck; he could see Riza quietly smirking at him again.

Roy slumped back into the couch as she left the room, utterly mortified, irritably flipping through a few more pages until he found the section he had been looking at before. There was no helping it, and he really did need to get this reading done. He sighed, scanned down to a line that seemed passably familiar, and tried to tune out the muffled clatter coming from the kitchen. Fortunately, it seemed embarrassment was a helpful cure to distraction and Roy was soon so engrossed that he didn’t realize Riza had returned until she was nearly in front of him.

“Your tea,” she explained when he looked up at her blankly.

“Oh, thanks.” Roy set aside his book and reached for the cup in her hand. As he took it, their hands brushed. It was no more than the barest contact between his knuckle and her fingertips, but it was enough to send a jolt through him. Tea sloshed over the rim of the cup and over Roy’s bare hand; he hissed in pained surprise.

“Careful,” Riza said belatedly, a little too earnest to be entirely genuine. “It’s hot.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” he muttered as she turned back towards her chair.

She set her cup down next to his pile of books, though, and instead of sitting down went back to kitchen, leaving Roy feeling disconcerted and uneasy. When she came back she was holding a large bleached serviette. She handed it to him wordlessly, without evidence of ridicule, and though this time he made sure not to touch her, he could not help but admire Riza’s slender fingers and wonder what it would feel to hold them, if he would only extend his hands.

Instead he wiped the back of his hand clean, resolutely looking at nothing in particular, carefully thinking of nothing at all. It was then that he noticed the couch sinking beside him, and out of the corner of his eyes he saw Riza making herself comfortable under his blanket. She held her cup in one hand and her book in the other and she smiled.

All of a sudden he was acutely aware of the short distance between them, the narrow, insurmountable gap of cushion between her shoulder and his. He looked down at his feet, and how close they were to hers on the carpet, and when he turned back to his book, it was without enthusiasm.

“It’s warmer on this side of the room,” Riza observed offhandedly, turning a page.

“Yeah,” Roy agreed, trying to ignore the noticeable warmth in his own cheeks. He slouched into the couch cushions and tugged his book closer like one would a shield. “I guess it is.”

There was no way he would get his reading done before midnight.

 

1909.

 

Dinnertime had come and gone hours ago, the creeping darkness outside the office windows held at bay by tightly drawn curtains. Files were scattered in a wide arc across Lieutenant Colonel Mustang’s desk, a testament to the number of cases they’d drudged through since early afternoon. Before lunch, things had been running smoothly enough, but after an unfortunate call from the higher-ups at Central requesting that the project be completed ahead of schedule, they had needed to reorganize their entire day to reflect this new priority. The way things were shaping up, it looked as if the rest of the week would be spent in this manner.

The Lieutenant Colonel snagged the stack of file folders on his right and rifled through them. “Where did the report on Epperson’s team go?” he muttered, the beginnings of a frown at his mouth.

“I think we put it away earlier,” Riza responded. “I’ll get it.”

He nodded absently, distracted by something in the margins of the document in his hand, and she rose from her place and exited to the anterior office. The folder was exactly where it belonged in the rickety metal filing cabinet and it took only a moment to find and collect it. Riza skimmed the dossier as she headed back to the Colonel’s office, only glancing up as she reached the threshold. She paused there, one hand coming to rest on the doorjamb.

He was bowed over his work, writing intently, his pen scrawling wide across the page. He ran a hand through his hair so that it stuck up at odd ends, looking even messier than before, and paused to scratch something out. She bit back a small, involuntary smile.

It was strange, Riza reflected, the ways things had settled into routine so quickly. She’d been assigned as his aide only a few months before. The greatest surprise rested in the normalcy of it all, as if they had been doing this for years instead of weeks... and also in the way it had reopened the door for some things she thought had fallen to the wayside, lost to rivers of blood and the desert sand.

But it wasn’t the same as before, not nearly like when they were young and naive and the stars shone brighter in their eyes than in the night sky, when Roy was a breath of fresh air in her lungs, a hopeful glimpse of all that was possible beyond the lonely walls of her father’s house. They were different people now, and while the echoes of before still resonated between them sometimes, always, like so much background noise, it was only natural that the things she felt for him, had felt for as long as she could remember, would change as well. Riza just hadn’t quite expected those feelings to grow so much stronger, so quickly, and in spite of all the things they had done.

As it stood, she knew exactly what had grown within her that made her want to stride across the room, rouse the Lieutenant Colonel from his work, and kiss him until they were both dizzy.

It would be simple, Riza thought, her fingertips brushing idly over the handle of the open door. It would be easy, easy to shut it as she entered the room, twisting the lock behind her. The soft sound of the bolt would draw him from his concentration and he would look up, perhaps a little perplexed. His eyes would narrow as she approached him, but he wouldn’t begin to suspect her intentions even as she rounded his desk and came to stand beside him.

“The file you requested, sir,” she would say, and he would recognize immediately – from the pitch of her voice, the subtle set of her shoulders, her hips – that she was being teasing. The gears in his mind would be turning swiftly, and he would angle his chair towards her as he took the folder.

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” he would reply, and there would be an edge to his voice, not nervousness but something close, like faintest touch of anticipation, or a challenge. She wouldn’t move and he would smirk, all angles and false bravado. “Was there something else?”

Riza would let her actions speak for themselves.

She would reach out to him and her touch against his cheek would wash away all pretense. His smug grin would fall apart, crumbling like bits of dry clay, until all that was left was unmasked apprehension and hope, as clear on his face to Riza as the expectancy that hummed through her own body. She would card her fingers through his already disheveled hair, smooth it back from his eyes, lean down and fit her mouth to his.

She would kiss him like something fragile, like the thinnest glass, like if she didn't hold back everything would shatter. And maybe it would. This life they had built was still young, still new, like a sapling tree with tender branches, and this could be the storm gale come to uproot everything, a disaster of her own making.

But perhaps it wouldn’t be.

Roy might respond easily, one hand drifting up her side, touching her softly just beneath her rib cage. Riza would press closer, her free hand clutching his shoulder as she slid a knee onto the chair beside him. His breath would catch and his palm would fall to her hip, helping her balance as she settled over his lap, straddling him, and then the kiss would change. Hesitance would give way to the confidence that comes with confirmation and she would bite his lip and pull him closer, Roy’s mouth open and tongue hot beneath hers.

It would be easy.

It would be impossible.

Riza stepped away from the door, giving it a gentle push. It swung open wide on silent hinges, and the Lieutenant Colonel didn't look up from his work.

“The file you requested, sir,” she said, taking a seat, and passed him the documents over the too-broad expanse of his desk.

 

1911.

 

The military car was mostly quiet, the clatter of the tracks below a steady background noise, everything else tranquil save for the occasional passerby outside the door of their private compartment and the sway of a moving train. It was a pleasant change from the usual low conversational murmur that filled the wide-open setting of the general public passenger car; such were the benefits of rank. Roy felt that his recent promotion to Colonel couldn't have come at a better time.

The world outside the train rumbled past, the details of the landscape lost to the late hour and the moonless sky. They'd left Central behind easily over an hour ago, and after passing through the outlying towns, they had entered the long stretch of hilly countryside that bridged the gap to the east. Through the window, the stars outshone the dim lights of farms and minuscule towns, sparse and widely spread out. Roy slipped a hand into his pocket, pulling out his watch by its chain and flipping open the cover—after midnight already. It would be more early than late by the time they hit the next station, and nearly daylight when they reached East City.

He yawned and stretched, arms over his head and legs extending, accidentally knocking his foot against his compartment-mate's. Hawkeye glanced up from her book, taking in his rather unapologetic grin, only to return her eyes to it a moment later. Idly, she turned the page.

“It’s a little early yet to be self-congratulatory, don’t you think, Colonel?”

Roy laughed, propped his elbow against the windowpane and tipped his head against his fist. “Well, it is true the little punk was rash, and he didn’t display the full extent of his abilities. But, no, it went rather well.” His tone softened, grew more contemplative, and he added, “They’d be fools not to certify him.”

“You think so?”

He nodded, turning to look out the window. His reflection gazed back at him. “The kid can transmute without an array,” he said, trusting her to know the significance of that.  “I’ve heard rumors of that kind of alchemy, but I’ve never seen it before. They’ll snatch him right up.”

The Lieutenant fingered the corner of her book for a moment, before marking the page and closing it. She set it on her lap, crossed her hands over the cover. “His age won’t stop them?”

Roy recalled the sharp, jovial edge to Bradley’s smile after the Elric kid had held a spear to his throat, and thought (not for the first or last time) of himself in the Fuhrer’s shoes. There were, most times, at least two answers: what was right, and what was strategic.

“He is, for all intents and purposes, a genius. Letting him go would be a tactical error for the government, regardless of how young he is. They’ll take him in, but his youth will keep him off of the battlefield for a while. Hopefully long enough that he can hunt down his answers and get out first.” He looked back over and smirked. “But in the meantime, I’ll get credit for finding the little brat.”

“Very clever, sir,” she said, rather dryly. “Just try not to recruit too much competition.”

“That midget, Lieutenant?” he replied, his eyes lingering her face before sliding askance. “I’m sure we’d be more than a match for him.”

We ?” Hawkeye repeated, tilting her head to the side so the ends of her hair shifted along her shoulders, soft and shining even in the dim light of the single compartment lamp. A trace of a smile seemed to glint in her eyes. “You can’t handle a child alone?”

Roy feigned shock, clapping his hand over his heart in an exaggerated fashion – though to be honest his pride was a little more wounded than he would ever care to admit. “You would abandon me, Lieutenant?”

She reached up, sedately tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. “I already do enough babysitting without taking on an eleven-year-old too, Colonel.”

He ought to be offended by that, or even just indignant, but his eyes caught on the curl of her fingers, still twined in the ends of her hair near her cheek, and instead found it simply endearing. He liked it – the way her hair clung to her neck now, longer than he’d ever seen her wear it. He couldn’t, in his memory, pinpoint exactly when she started growing it out. But that didn’t stop him from noticing, sometimes, the way it swept across her cheek like a curtain when she turned, the way it caught in the breeze, the way it made his fingers itch with longing to reach over and touch , even for the scarcest moment, if only to find out if it was as soft as it looked.

He felt that way now, suddenly, as he looked at her. He could sense the desire drawing up in him, the way his arms somehow ached for lack of movement, the way he wanted to lean forward and bridge the narrow gap of space that separated them, to run his fingertips through her hair, pale gold and lovely. Perhaps, if he dared, he would graze his hand against hers, and then he could smile tightly, and brush it all away with a laugh and flimsy excuses – or he could let his fingertips run softly across her hand, and take it in his, and stay.

She might hesitate at first, a cautious glance afforded to the door, closed but not locked. Then, all at once, she would make her decision, twining her fingers between his with one hand, tangling like ribbons to knot the two of them together, while reaching over to slide the bolt with the other. Roy would smile, all warmth and pleasure, and wouldn’t give her the opportunity to settle back. He would draw her forward, closer, their knees shifting, interlocking like a jigsaw, and the book on her lap would slip away, falling to the floor with a soft thud they would both ignore.

Softly, deliberately, he’d let go of her hand, and stroke her cheek with the back of his hand, knuckles only just skimming the curve of her lips, the heat of her breath ghosting against his skin. Hawkeye would turn into his touch, press a careful kiss to his fingers, her eyes on his. Roy’s breath would leave him in a rush and he’d cup her cheek, draw her close as they swayed with the movement of the train.

If Roy kissed her then, he wouldn’t see her small secret smile, but he would taste it in the corners of her mouth and feel it in the firm sweep of her tongue. It would be another quiet intimacy shared between them to accompany all the rest, small yet overwhelming in the steady march of their endless striving. Riza's hand on his knee would set him alight, send his heartbeat soaring, and her hair would fall forward, whispering over his skin.

He would stroke it back behind her ears, combing his fingers through the locks, tilting her head to his and pressing short little kisses to her lips with the rocking of the train. Roy would kiss her like it was a secret message, another new code for them to share, another way to communicate without ever saying what they really meant or what they really wanted. And what Roy wanted was something far more satisfying than any medal or promotion.

“Colonel?”

Roy blinked and realized that Hawkeye was watching him curiously. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been gazing at her, lost in his thoughts. He offered her a self-deprecating smile.

“Sorry, Lieutenant,” he said. “Just a little tired. It’s been a long week and I’m looking forward to getting home.” Yet, judging by the long, speculative look she was giving him, she wasn’t convinced. It was hard not to read into that stare, even more difficult to ignore what he knew he saw there. “It, uh – can’t be long now,” Roy added quickly and forced himself not to wince at the unintended edge in his voice.

“No,” Lieutenant Hawkeye dissented, finally looking away. “We have a while yet.”

 

1914.

 

The harsh light of the midday sun illuminated the street, their own shadows shrinking, clinging small and dark between their feet. They crept close to the walls of the derelict warehouses under the protection of what little shade they could find. A cat darted in front of them noiselessly and leaped through a window. Their soft footsteps resonated in the silence. A glint of light on metal high above caught Riza’s attention. She reacted before she even had time to process what she’d seen; pivoting on one foot, she shoved the Colonel bodily into the narrow—but, more importantly, shadowed – crevice between two buildings. He grunted as his back hit the brick wall and he caught her arm to steady their momentum. His breath was loud, close against her ear.

“You saw something?” he murmured.

“Movement, sir,” Riza confirmed. “Two o’clock, the fourth or fifth story up. It looked like someone in the window.”

“Sniper?”

“Probably.”

The Colonel hummed thoughtfully and edged closer towards the open air, trying to catch a glimpse of the situation. Riza moved with him, senses on high alert, gun ready in hand. She trusted him to be cautious when it counted most, but that didn’t stop the way her heart thrummed hard and fast in her chest or the way each crunch of gravel beneath their boots and sigh of wind set her nerves on edge.

They shouldn’t even have been out in the field. She and the Colonel had been supervising this operation from a distance, sensible to the risks of getting involved. An insurgent group had been dealing in under-the-table arms trade, which, all told, was normal fare for Amestris. What made this special was that they were allegedly doing so with the backing of a military-funded weapons manufacturer. According to their sources, a sizable percentage of those arms also happened to be explosive, and thus it was decided that the Flame Alchemist’s direct involvement in apprehending the suspects should be limited at all costs, lest he… inflame the situation.

That was, of course, before their team had gone unexpectedly and alarmingly radio silent. There was no stopping the Colonel when the well-being of any of his subordinates was at risk, and that wasn’t something Riza could exactly object to if she were being remotely honest.

“Good eye, Lieutenant. Fifth floor,” the Colonel said, pulling back from the corner; some small fraction of the tension eased from her shoulders. He looked up, as if pointing, and glanced back down at her. “Do you think you could make the shot?”

Riza considered, then shook her head. “The odds aren’t good, even if they haven’t seen us.”

He nodded absently, his thumb pressing a soft line against her shoulder and down toward her bicep, an unconscious movement. Riza remembered his hand upon her arm with a start and she looked up at the Colonel sharply. For all the long hours they spent together, touch was not something they indulged in, parcelling it only in the most necessary of situations, but the Colonel seemed yet unaware the need had passed. He was assessing the situation, staring out of their hiding spot with a look of studious concentration, his lips pressed together in a taut line.

Riza felt a new need: the intense desire to reach up and kiss him.

She knew exactly how she would, too. She could practically see the way she would reach up and touch the square of his jaw, her thumb just grazing, fleetingly, the corner of his mouth; the way Roy would turn back to her immediately, his frown loosening with surprised confusion, the near imperceptible dilation of his pupils. She would slide her palm to the collar of his coat and tug him down to her and there would be a pause, just long enough to breathe in once, to breathe in the same air, a pause long enough for second thoughts, before she would close the gap between them.

It would be brief but firm to start, steady like the constancy of everything he was to her. Roy would breathe out hard and at the same time grip her tighter, clutching her shirt between his fingers. Her hand would slide down his neck, the pad of her thumb ghosting over the point where his pulse raced in his throat. He would shuffle closer, pressing her back into the wall, his knee brushing between both of hers and his weight heavy and solid and true against her. They couldn't afford to do this, not for any myriad of reasons, among which laid the lives of their team, but that didn't stop the need—

"We need to get closer."

—they needed— Riza needed to be alert. She needed to focus on the situation at hand.

With immense effort, Riza reined in the rush of her thoughts and brought herself back, the weight of the pistol in her hand like an anchor to reality . It took a few seconds further to parse what the Colonel had said, to separate it from the mess of her still reeling mind. Riza realized she must have taken a moment too long to respond because the Colonel turned back to her, brow furrowed like he thought she disagreed. The moment their eyes met, she knew her desire must have shown on her face because he went suddenly still, all but for the way his eyes widened. They were close enough that Riza could feel his chest brush against hers when he breathed out.

She swallowed hard. Of all the unwise, just plain stupid times to be imagining herself entangled with Roy Mustang in, this ranked pretty high on the list.

“We need a distraction,” she said, thickly. And in more ways than one.

“Right,” he agreed, his voice rasping only a little. He cleared his throat and gave her a sheepish grin, as though he were the one who’d been secretly entertaining intensely inappropriate thoughts about her in the midst of a dangerous mission, with lives weighing in the balance. Riza firmly decided they were both better off if she believed he hadn’t. “I can take care of that,” he said.

Riza assented and his hand loosened on her arm, lingering for an instant longer before finally falling away. She could feel the way they both shifted minutely away from each other as Colonel Mustang adjusted his sleeves; she rocked back on her heels. Riza straightened her back, shoulders squared, the stars of her epaulettes flashing. He tugged his gloves on more securely. Her revolver was heavy in her hand. They were ready for anything.

He raised an eyebrow. “Cover me?”

Riza nodded once. “I have your back, sir.”

He moved. She followed.

 

1915.

 

For all that the days grew longer as spring drew closer, the weeks marching forward in a steady procession, Roy felt like time had slowed to a crawl. While he had been working roughly the same hours as usual, with every change of the calendar their preparations for the coming fight grew more complex and his work load heavier. But he still felt he wasn’t accomplishing nearly enough. And it wasn’t just because he’d been deprived of his team.

He hadn’t felt it at first, with work piling up on his desk during the day and all his rigorous preparations usually keeping him up into the small hours of the night. But now that the sun was no longer setting by half past four, he had been finding himself lingering alone in his office, poring over maps and charts in the dwindling twilight, spinning his tires and wasting mundane comments on empty air until the walls themselves seemed to loom over him in the deafeningly lonely quiet. Roy let his head drop in his hands, pressing his palms against closed eyelids, and wished today wasn’t one such evening.

He needed a second opinion, fresh eyes to look at the numbers and angles he’d been pouring over for the last three hours, but it was so late already that there would be no one around to give him one until tomorrow. Admitting defeat, Roy stood up and folded the maps carefully. He gathered some of the books he had been consulting, setting them neatly in a pile on a desk – the one that used to be Breda’s – to be returned to the archive later. Upon grabbing his coat, he flicked the lights off, closed the door to his office, locked it, and walked away, his feet carrying him through the darkened corridors and towards the exit.

He wondered if that door would stay locked tonight, after he was long gone. There had been more than one morning when he’d come back to find everything as he’d left it, save for the gut feeling that something was wrong, that someone had been there and through all of his things. It frustrated him that there was no way to tell whether it was instinct or paranoia that plagued him on those days. It frustrated him that both explanations were equally plausible.

The scuff of another pair of boots against the floor caught his attention, drawing Roy from his tangled thoughts. He looked up. The Lieutenant was walking down the otherwise empty hallway, coming his way with a stack of files in her arms.

Their eyes met and he drank in the sight of her. Hawkeye's carefully applied makeup only just managed to camouflage the outlines of dark circles under her eyes, though in every other respect she looked impeccable. Her hair was all in place, fringe falling neatly over her brow, her uniform straight and well pressed, but it still wasn’t enough to hide the stress that lined her frame from him. He wondered if she saw just how tired he was too, how worried he felt. The months had taken their toll.

They hadn’t planned any meetings for several weeks now. Although they’d never been expressly forbidden to meet, they had agreed upon her transfer that they should avoid being alone together as much as possible, if only to ward off what scrutiny they could. They were already being constantly watched. Roy knew this, remembered the reasons for it like they were etched into his very skin, but that didn’t stop the sheer relief that came with just seeing her. It had been days since the last time he’d even glimpsed her, and his reaction to seeing Riza’s face now was visceral. There were only so many times he could call her without drawing attention, so many times he could abuse the pretext of being drunk, even if such things did distract from their more covert methods of communication. But even that was a poor substitute for what he really desired.

The distance between them closed slowly and he felt as apprehensive as she looked. His eyes flickered aside, checking to see whether anyone was around to suspect them, when he recognized the doors to his left – the entrance to the emergency staircase. Roy let himself look at her again and there was no denying how much he wanted her near him.

The corridor echoed with their footsteps.

He slowed, tempted in earnest now. Roy knew that if he were to stop, to turn and head for those doors with a motion for her to follow, Hawkeye would. He would wait on the landing, the seconds before she stepped through the doorway stretching brittle and thin and endless.

She would be frowning, probably, worry creasing the space between her eyebrows, and she would say something, maybe just, “Colonel,” in that way she had that implied that she thought what he was doing was incredibly stupid. Roy would brush it aside, striding forward and relieving her of the paperwork in her hands, leaning down to drop it all unceremoniously to the floor. Then he would straighten, his hands coming to rest on her shoulders. He would step forward, pushing Hawkeye gently until her back was against the wall, and then he would bend in and hide his face in the curve of her shoulder, breathing her in.

Hawkeye wouldn’t respond immediately, and they would just linger there for a moment, the Lieutenant standing motionless, his forehead pressed against the soft skin just above her collar, his hands gripping the sleeves of her uniform tightly. Then, after a long, uncertain minute, her stance would soften and she would sigh, maybe say it again— “Colonel” —but this time wearily, like a surrender, like a confession. Her hands would lift to rest against his sides, her thumbs grazing across his stomach beneath the edge of his jacket.

Her touch, her breath against his ear, would send electric sparks rushing through him and Roy would exhale, shudderingly. Even there, held together in a loose embrace, she wouldn’t be close enough. So he would lift his head, his palms coming up to cradle her face, fingertips tangling in the soft hair behind her ears, and kiss her hard.

Riza wouldn’t pull away. Roy knew this as well as he knew anything, because while there were many things he doubted, things he questioned constantly, this was never one of them. It wasn’t something either of them had ever put to words, but they had lived it, breathed it for years now. It was as certain and as tangible as the way her mouth would open beneath his, the way she would pull him closer, slipping her hands further under his uniform jacket until all that separated her palm from bare skin was the thin white shirt beneath. Roy would nibble at her lower lip, run his tongue across hers, and hope that it somehow sufficed to say all the things he never had, things like I need you , like I miss you every moment you’re not with me, because it was never the right time, because it felt like it would never be.

Roy didn’t turn towards the stairwell.

They were scant meters apart when another door opened behind him, soft chatter from the office spilling out into the hall. Someone laughed. Roy forced himself to smile and didn’t look back.

“Good evening, Lieutenant.”

Hawkeye nodded as she passed him. “Colonel.”

Roy wondered when he would see her next.

 

After.

 

Riza stacked the final plate into the cardboard box, the now dated newspaper wrapped around it crinkling softly when she withdrew her hands, an old farcical headline about the once-Fuhrer Bradley's political plans for the autumn visible at the top. She stepped back, smoothing her palms down her shirt as she looked around the messy little kitchen. It’d been only a month or so before that she’d finally unpacked the final box from her last move, and now the process was underway yet again.

They were going East.

It was the opposite of everything they’d pushed toward for years, working and plotting and machinating to get the Colonel promoted to Central HQ. But at the same time, it was exactly what they’d intended to do all along. It would be good. It was good.

Behind her, there was the sound of a key fitting into a lock, and then of a door opening.

“You know you still shouldn’t be doing any lifting.”

Hayate came awake from his nap in the corner with an overdue bark as Riza turned. The Colonel stood at the end of her hallway, peering in at her with arms crossed. He’d dressed down–which was to say, in his civilian clothes rather than a uniform, but his overcoat still draped characteristically over his shoulders like a cape despite the warming weather. Her hand drifted up to the bandages still at her neck in an almost subconscious movement.

“It’s fine,” she told him. “It’s nothing heavy, and I have my other side for reaching.”

He did not look reassured, pausing only in his approach to lean down to greet Hayate with a familiar scritch.

“What brings you here?” Riza continued before he had a chance to launch into any sort of lecture on the matter. He raised his eyebrows, clearly unfooled by the misdirection, but the Colonel otherwise accepted the change in subject without protest. Straightening, he shrugged his coat off his shoulders, shifting to drape it over the back of one of the kitchen chairs. There was a file tucked under his arm she hadn’t been able to see before—he took it and slid it across the table toward her. Riza picked it up, giving him a questioning look, and reached for the clasp that held it shut.

“The papers finally came today,” he offered, less helpfully than she might have hoped. Still, if the Colonel was being purposefully opaque, it probably meant a surprise. A good one, even. “I thought you would want to see.”

The clasp came loose with only marginal effort. Riza upended the envelope and a small sheaf of papers fell loose. She righted the stack—they were eerily familiar, but this time the news was wholly welcome.

“Transfer papers,” Riza sighed, and that particular knot of constant unease loosened for the first time in over half a year. Not only were they going East, but she was finally moving back under the Colonel’s command—well, officially.

“And more,” he prompted, stepping around the table to tap at the papers with two fingers. The keloid scar on the back of his hand was pale, healed well before its time. “Take a look, lieutenant.” He smiled broadly, the corners of his eyes crinkling; his gaze was steady, expectant.

Riza raised a brow and complied, shuffling the papers as requested. She knew immediately when she’d reached the pages he was keen for her to see.

“Colonel…” she hedged, a bit more speechless than she’d prefer.

“Brigadier General, soon enough,” he corrected, wearing the very picture of a shit-eating grin. His blusterous pride took a turn for something more genuine when he added, “And you a Major.”

Riza hummed thoughtfully, letting her fingers trace over the official raised seal that crowned the pages that heralded their return to rights. “I thought part of our goal was to undermine our government’s shameless nepotism,” she said, casting the Colonel a wry glance that did nothing to conceal her pleasure at this turn of events.

He exhaled a laugh through his nose, accustomed to this kind of teasing. “One thing at a time, if you please, Lieutenant.”

“And the others?” she prompted, the thought catching her cold.

The Colonel’s smile immediately warmed her. “Them too. Except Falman. Turns out he likes freezing temperatures.”

Riza quirked a brow. “And you like having eyes in Briggs.”

“Hardly,” the Colonel scoffed. “Far be it from me to impede a good man’s career for selfish reasons.”

“Mm. I’m sure General Armstrong shares your sentiments.”

They shared a quiet laugh and Riza was suddenly struck with the ease of it all, standing in her too-small Central City flat together, surrounded by boxes and the remains of a year she’d sometimes thought was endless. She looked up at the Colonel, standing there with one hand on the backrest of her rickety kitchen chair, and all at once the possibilities seemed endless instead.

The responsibilities were still there, to be certain. Some weights would never lighten. But in this moment, Riza felt sure. She let the papers fall to rest on the cluttered tabletop and took a step.

“Colonel,” she said, softly, summoning with one word all of the feeling in her to the surface.

Looking at him now, Riza saw herself. She could see the young girl that she had been in her father’s old house with her father’s apprentice, and the young woman at the start of her career with her commanding officer, and also the woman on the train, still young, on her way to recruit those she would have sought to protect. The man in front of her was not the boy she had known, and what they had seen and what they had done had long since aged and hardened them both together and apart. But, she thought, more together than apart.

“Lieutenant?” he said, tilting his head so his hair fell across his eyes. It evoked roguishness, not at all befitting a commander.

She lifted her hand and, daringly, carefully, brushed it aside. The Colonel’s eyes widened fractionally beneath her touch, his lips parting into another question.

Riza spoke first. “You need a haircut, sir,” she said, affecting a critical tone. “If you are to make a convincing General.” He made a disbelieving sound.

“I’ll brush it back,” he replied. Then more petulantly, “At least when it’s important.” She nodded once, feeling the temptation to smile, and took it upon herself to comb it back herself with just fingers. It was as soft as she’d ever imagined. His eyes searched hers, hunting for an explanation. She trusted he would figure it out soon enough.

“I might need one too,” she said, an offer. “It’s hot out East.”

“It is,” the Colonel agreed, thoughtful. He reached out to nearly mirror her, a hand finding the ends of her hair where it draped over a shoulder and curling it carefully about his forefinger. He swallowed, and added softly: “You’d cut it short? It would be like old times.”

“No,” Riza said. “It would be like something new.”

And with that the rest of her pretenses and hesitations fell away. It was too easy to urge him down, her hand slipping to find rest at the nape of his neck as she fit her mouth to his.

Gravity did not reorient the world around them, but it didn't need to; they'd been orbiting each other as steady as planets for years now, and this was just another turn of their tide. It was a culmination, an interlude, a herald to a new revolution in their old, familiar dance.

His lips were warm and his hand found her waist, drawing her nearer, and all of it was entirely new and utterly familiar. He smelled like spice, the same aftershave he’d been using for as long as she could remember, and his sigh into Riza’s mouth was more content than she’d ever known him. It was easy to envision where it might go from here, to her hands beneath his clothes, their bodies tangled together on her too-small bed, her legs around his hips, his mouth at her breast, his head between her legs. Her imagination had never failed her when it came to Roy Mustang; now was no exception.

It no longer felt impossible. They had time. Not forever, by any means, but now, and tomorrow, and the choices they could make in what days they had. The thought was steadying.

When she drew back, the Colonel’s eyes are darker than ever and fixed entirely on her.

“Lieutenant,” he murmured again, his grip flexing against her hip, like he wasn’t quite ready to relinquish this moment. She didn’t pull away, but only smiled.

“For now,” she reminded him, and then with a touch more dryness: “Really, though. A double promotion?”

“Overdue,” he said, eyes crinkling with quiet mirth. “Seems like Bradley was sitting on the paperwork, for some undiscernible reason. It’s only protocol.”

“Well,” she said, smoothing her palm along the lapel of his shirt. “We know all about protocol.”

That drew the laugh from him and intimacy settled between them, comforting and well at home. Riza patted his chest, then swept her thumb gently against the rise of his collar bone.

“Enough procrastination,” she said. “Help me pack.”

The Colonel sighed heavily, as if he expected her to believe he was as beleaguered as he made it sound. “All work and no play. Here I thought we were turning over a new leaf.”

“I have to be sure you’ve earned your keep, sir,” Riza said, but there was no concealing the affection that welled within her, too long until now denied outlet. She exhaled, letting the emotion settle in her and take new root. “You can start by putting the kettle on.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he quipped, and with a final fond look, stepped past her and further into the kitchenette. Riza salvaged two mugs, not yet wrapped, from the pile meant for boxing-up and pretended not to notice when the Colonel paused first to sneak Hayate a treat from the box teetering on the counter edge. She looked instead out the window and into the street, where the warm light of sunset gilded the cobbled road and rickety buildings across the way with shining gold, and remembered what it was to hope.