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A guiding hand

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They had left their windows wide open, letting in a soft breeze to relieve them from the heavy summer heat. The curtains were rising and falling without a sound, fluttering in the air like ghosts. Even the streets around the house were quiet at that hour; the only thing that broke the stillness of the night was Riza's voice.

"As for Senator Harn's wife, she was wearing a very elegant apricot-colored dress. With her signature high hairdo, of course.”

Their blankets had long been kicked away to the bottom of the bed in a messy pile. Roy was lying on his back, facing to the ceiling, one hand playing idly with a lock of Riza's hair.

"Apricot?" His eyebrows furrowed slightly. "That's the yellow with a touch of pink, right?”

"That was pretty much it, yes." Riza was lying on her side, her head against her hand, elbow propped up on the pillow. The room was covered in shadows, but the flickering lights from the window on the street allowed her to see the outline of Roy's face.

"And you said Harn had a royal blue jacket...That must have made for an odd contrast.”

Riza smirked. "Yes, that's what several people seemed to think. It looked as if the General and his wife had not consulted with one another before coming to the gala.”

A sly smile spread across Roy’s face. "Ha! And you just know the rumors about their marriage are already flying high. It's sort of ironic, considering how Harn is constantly babbling to the Parliament about the “traditional family” and the “sanctity of marriage” and whatnot." His hand came to lightly circle Riza's wrist, his thumb tapping the back of her hand. "I’m sure you now understand how crucial fashion is in Central. It's not just a matter of taste: it's inherently political.”

"Sure," she answered, unconvinced. "Anyway. The Harns didn't capture the guests' attention that long, since the buffet was brought shortly after.”

Roy hummed appreciated. "And that was a good one. I've rarely tasted crab this delicious.”

"Yes, and they must have put as much effort into the presentation as in the cooking, because the set-up was magnificent. Everything was served on glittering silver plates, which reflected the glow of the chandeliers. On each table, the dishes were arranged in a sort of pyramid, culminating with the piece of meat or seafood. It looked extremely fragile, some sort of house of cards, or crystal architecture, defying gravity - but they all stood the evening without crashing down. It was breathtaking.”

This had become the most constant part of their day. Almost every night, as they lay in bed before going to sleep, Riza would describe to Roy a long list of the things he hadn’t been able to see during the day. When they had first started this habit, as they were working on the the reconstruction of Ishval, Riza's descriptions had been much more pragmatic, like a mission report: which building seemed in need of repair? Which tribal leader looked unsatisfied during their morning meeting? She did her best to give him this information as the day went by, but there were always important details that she missed.

As the years had passed and the two had distanced themselves from the military, Riza's description had slowly become more lyrical. She began to tell him about beautiful sights that he was missing – a particularly colorful sunset, or the way the city lights looked at night. As time went by, she started to enjoy these conversations and more more, and they became increasingly long. It got to the point where, as Riza saw something pretty during the day, she found herself immediately thinking of the way she would describe it to Roy later at night.

"You should try to write a book," he had told her once. "You're so good at this - I can picture in my mind everything that you're telling me about like I was seeing it."

"It wouldn't be the same," she had answered, shaking her head. "I like hearing your reactions."

He had arched his eyebrows, smirking. "And yet you scold me every time I interrupt you.”

"Stop being overdramatic,” she had retorted. “Now let me continue." They had left it at that.

Sometimes Riza would rest her head on his chest as she went on with her stories. This was what Roy preferred.  Ever since losing his eyesight, he had grown much fonder of physical contact, even casual, with her - after all, it was the surest way he could know that she was by his side. But Riza liked to remain slightly further, just next to him, so that she would be able to observe him during their late-night conversation. His face would take on such a special expression at those times, almost peaceful, or...serene.

Serene. That would have been the last word anyone would have chosen to describe Roy under normal circumstances. Despite his reputation as a slacker, he was a man that was constantly busy thinking about one thing or another, pondering, planning his next ploy – or his next date with a certain Lieutenant. His eyes in particular had always betrayed the constant working of his mind: they were restless, always darting around the room to study the people they were talking to, noticing details in their postures, noting suspicious movements out of the corner of his eye.

And, Riza knew it well, even the moments of rest didn’t bring Roy much serenity. More often than not, his sleep was plagued by violent nightmares that would wake him screaming in the middle of the night - or at least, that tensed and distorted his expression as he slept.

This had not changed since the Promised Day. But since Roy’s fight in the underground of Central, his blind eyes had lost their piercing look and had taken on a milky appearance. In the first few weeks, Riza had hated meeting that blank stare - it reminded her too much of what his eyes used to look like, as well as symbolizing her failure as a bodyguard.

But eventually, she had come to see a certain beauty in them, and in the calmness they brought to Roy's expression. He was still as expressive as ever, with his trademark crooked smile and taunting eyebrows. But in the evening, when they were alone together, his face truly relaxed. As Riza described the day's events to him, he would focus entirely on her voice, letting his mind recreate the image she was painting. His eyebrows would loosen and his forehead became smooth, free of its usual furrow; his mouth would fall half-open. At this particular moment, Roy took on a serene expression that Riza had never seen on him before, and she never got tired of looking at it.

"I need to tell you, unfortunately," Riza broke the silence that had settled, "that you were not the best-dressed man at the reception.”

Roy propped himself up on his elbows, frowning with surprise. So much for serenity.

"What? Who was?”

“You’re not going to be happy about this,” Riza said, trying to hide the small smile in her voice. "But Colonel Birks made quite an impression. He wore a rather daring suit, made of a black  fabric from which red velvet patterns stood out.”

Roy huffed with indignation. "Velvet! Nonsense. He obviously can’t stop pushing the boundaries of extravagance – and of bad taste.”

"I don't know," Riza said evasively. “I thought it was pretty elegant…and I wasn't the only one.”

Roy ran a hand through his hair, ruffling it. "Outdressing the president should be considered insubordination," he muttered under his breath. "I'll call Ms. Zhao tomorrow. I need something more avant-garde for the next gala. Maybe with some silk mixed in with a cotton suit?”

He lay down again on the bed and raised his arm, inviting her to come closer. Riza moved to nestle up against him, putting her head on his shoulder, a hand on his chest. Roy wrapped an arm around her waist and buried his nose in her hair. Whenever he did that, his breaths would tickle Riza's neck, making her giggle; she would always pretend to be annoyed but it, but they both knew better.

After a moment, Roy tucked some of her hair away from her face. He brought his lips close to her ear. "Tell me again what you were wearing." 

Riza felt a shiver go down her spine. That deep voice that Roy used when he whispered always got a reaction out of her, no matter what cliché or silly thing he would say.

A wry smile crossed her lips. "At this point, you know my wardrobe better than I do, Roy. ”

"I know," he answered, unabashed. "But I like hearing you describe it."

Riza chuckled. “Well,” she began, “I was wearing the flowy emerald green skirt that Rebecca got me for Christmas, a brown leather belt, and my white blouse. The one with the embroidery on the collar. ”

He hummed in appreciation. "With your golden high heels, I'm guessing."

"With my golden high heels," she nodded, "because even though my feet are killing by the end of the night when I wear them, they do really go well with that skirt." Her hand started to play with the ring that Roy wore as a necklace. "I didn't put much makeup on because of how humid the weather was. But I did wear my bright red lipstick."

She felt his cheeky smile even before he spoke. "I can recognize it by taste, now."

If they weren’t pressed so close together, she would have dug her elbow into his ribs. She rolled her eyes instead. "I also had my gold bracelet to go with the shoes, and the earrings you bought me to complete it all. What hair was in a bun, and, of course, I had my necklace."

She expected Roy to follow up with a flirty comment or a joke; that was usually how this type of conversation went. Instead, after a moment, he let out a sight. When he spoke, his voice had a melancholic tone to it.

"That right there is the one sight that I really miss. ”

Riza felt her smile drop. A lump appeared in her throat. Roy rarely complained about his blindness; even in the months following the Promised Day, he had adapted to his new lifestyle with impressive resilience. At first, it seemed as if his disability had affected his Lieutenant, plagued by guilt, more than himself. Still, Riza knew that he must have carried a lot of silent regrets through the years. There was so much Roy had had to give up, so many compromises he had had to reluctantly accept on his plan to reform Amestris – and on his personal life.

Riza disentangled herself gently from his grasp and straighten up, half sitting, to observe him. One of his arms was folded under his head, and he still seemed to be looking at the ceiling - but of course, that was just an impression. She ran a hand through his hair, brushing them away from his face. He smiled slightly at her touch, but she didn't need to see the pupils of his eyes to know that his heart wasn't in it.

She didn't like seeing him like this. With thoses cloudy eyes, melancholy turned his serene expression into a confused one - like he was a child that got lost and couldn't look for his way home.

Riza laid down again and rested her head on the pillow, her face turned toward Roy. She started to gently stroke his arm. "At least, you can keep in your mind the image of what I – and you – looked like in the prime of our youth," she said after a moment in a playful tone, trying to comfort him. "You won't need to see us get all old and wrinkled.”

To her surprise, Roy's face saddened further.

"Don't say that. Beautiful women are like fine winethey only get better with age - that's what Chris used to say. I always wanted to see how you would look as you grew old.”

Riza raised her eyebrow, surprised. "Really?" she answered in spite of herself.

He nodded. "Not everyone ages gracefully, of course. But I know that wrinkles would look flattering on you; you have such elegant features. And silvery hair never fails to give this distinguished look - at least on women," he added, running a hand through his hair, suddenly self-conscious. His eyebrows furrowed. "Do I already have grey hair?"

Riza felt her shoulders relax. "You're almost completely bald by now, Roy."

He winced. "Please don't joke with that. I don't know what I would do if this were to happen.

Riza simply smiled, and they fell back into a comfortable silence. She watched Roy’s chest rise and fall with his breathing, lulled by the calm rhythm.

"You know, I always wished I could see you grow old, also because it would have meant that we made it."

Riza felt her breath catch in her throat.

She reached up and placed her hand on his cheek, hoping her touch could tell him what her words couldn’t.

“We did make it, Roy.” Now of all time, she wished he could see her face.

"I know," he said. He took her hand and brought it to his lips, pressing a light kiss against her knuckles. "I know."

Riza propped herself up on her elbow. She close her fingers around his, and squeezed firmly.

"Listen. We'll just do like with everything else. When my hair turns grey, I'll describe it to you. And as for the wrinkles," she placed his hand on her face, "you can see that for yourself."

Roy made a small smile. For the first time, he turned to face her, placing the tip of his fingers on both sides of her face. That was something he never tired of doing. Before he had lost his sight, he had always been able to read her like a book, understanding the meaning behind even the most subtle of her facial expressions. Now, he could do it in a much more literal sense, by tracing the surface of her body, reading the lines on her skin as if they were words written in braille.

"And when my face is so wrinkled it's unrecognizable,” she continued, "you will know the story behind each one of them.” She injected a smile into her voice. “The ones I already have on my forehead, for example, come from the stress of having spent so many years asking you to do your paperwork.”

His fingers brushed her forehead, and he smiled, abashed. "And you're all the more beautiful for it, my dear." He reached toward her and, guided by his hands, placed a light kiss on her head. “I can’t wait to see the rest.”