There was no time to rest after the Promised Day. Roy returned to work as soon as he was able to do so; his promotion to Brigadier General meant there was no question of stopping to recover for longer. He rounded up his team and moved them all back to East City, where they set up temporary headquarters in one of the many abandoned office suites and got to work on the reconstruction of Ishbal.
It soon became clear that the temporary headquarters were not going anywhere. The upper brass was still too busy rebuilding Amestris’ military from the ground up to think of anything like assigning Roy a larger suite of rooms. Roy gave in and set up a camp bed in his office, and pretended not to notice the way various personal items and illegally requisitioned supplies were making their way into the outer rooms. Part of being a commander was knowing when to turn a blind eye, after all.
They worked themselves into the ground for three grueling months; establishing contact with the scattered nation of Ishbal, requisitioning supplies, and negotiating reparations through two minor uprisings and an outbreak of residual violence in the east. The result of this effort was that they seemed to have bought themselves a period of peace—or at least, lack of outright hostilities—that meant that some work could begin to be done.
It couldn’t have come at a better time. His team was exhausted; he could see it in Fuery’s yawns, in Breda’s endless cups of coffee. Havoc, banned from smoking by his doctor and suffering from the twin ills of nicotine withdrawal and rehab exercises, went through a pack of chewing gum a day. The only person who didn’t show the strain was his perfect Lieutenant, at least outwardly. Her uniform was always crisp, her work always completed on time but Roy, who knew her better than most, could see the signs of strain: the tightness around her eyes, the sallow tint to her normally golden skin. That, in the end, was what made up his mind for him.
He called them into his office one Thursday afternoon, a stack of papers center stage on his desk. He saw their faces as they came in: jaws tightened, apprehensive. Only the Lieutenant remained impassive as he gestured for her to hand out a packet to each of the men.
Falman, with his sharp mind for details, realized what it was first.
“Brigadier General,” he said slowly, “this is…”
“Have it filled out by the end of the afternoon and get out of my office,” he said. “You’re on leave till Monday.”
There was a moment of stunned silence, and then the whole team scrambled at once with a chorus of the most enthusiastic “yes sir”s that he’d heard in months. He fancied that the paperwork was done in record time, because the office was empty by 4 PM.
He leaned back in his chair and allowed himself to discard his jacket and undo his tight collar. Closed his eyes for just a moment.
His eyes flew open and he sat up out of instinct.
It figured, he should have guessed that she’d be the last one out of the office.
“Got your leave paperwork, have you? Here, I’ll sign off on it for you.”
She adjusted her clipboard, a tightly defensive gesture.
He raised his eyebrows at her.
“No?” he parroted.
“I’m not taking leave, sir,” she said.
Good lord. He groaned aloud and rubbed a hand over his face. His stubborn lieutenant.
“Dare I ask why?”
“I won’t be taking leave unless you do as well,” she said patiently. “We both know you’re just going to sleep in your office all weekend.”
“Ridiculous,” said Roy. Damn her. She knew him too well; that was exactly what he was going to do. “Lieutenant, I gave you an order to get out of my office.”
“Sorry, sir,” she said, sounding not at all sorry. “Can’t do it.”
The problem with having indispensable subordinates, Roy reflected, was that threats didn’t work on them.
“This is insubordination,” he said, without much hope.
She folded her hands.
“Unfortunate, sir,” she said, and waited.
“Fine,” he said, and grabbed a blank set of leave paperwork and a pen. “Fine, you win, Lieutenant. Now please turn in your paperwork.”
She extracted it from her clipboard, properly filled out as he had expected.
“Here you go, sir,” she said. “May I ask what you’ll be doing for your leave?”
Going back to his apartment, he supposed—such as it could be called. He didn’t think he’d seen the inside of the place in weeks. Probably covered in dust.
“Oh, this and that,” he said airily, scribbling his signature on first hers, then his paperwork. “What about you, Lieutenant? Any big plans?”
“I expect I shall meet up with Lieutenant Catalina,” she said. “Perhaps get some shopping done.”
Two could play at this game, he realized.
“Ah ah ah,” he chided, waving his pen. “See, that’s a mistake right there. If you stay in the city, talking to other personnel, it's too easy to get pulled back into work. How do I know you won’t be back in the office over the weekend?”
“I could say the same for you, sir,” she said sharply.
They stared each other down for a minute, deadlocked. Finally, she sighed.
“My father’s house,” she said. “It’s far enough out in the country, and it would be pleasant at this time of year. Hayate would like it. We could—” hesitation, for the first time “—we could both go.”
He very nearly dropped his pen in surprise. They did not socialize overmuch outside of work, partly because Roy barely had a life outside of work, but partly because it would have been inappropriate. There were boundaries. He didn’t intrude into her private life. This, he felt, was crossing a boundary.
And yet...she had offered.
He coughed, and recovered himself.
“Perhaps you are right, Lieutenant,” he said. “It could be good for both of us to get away from the city for a while. Country air, all that.” His experience with the country was limited to the time of his apprenticeship with her father, and she knew that.
Her eyes widened, and he saw that his surprise in her offering was matched by her surprise in his accepting.
Where did that leave them? He supposed they would find out.
“Very well,” she said, composing herself. “I need some time to pack. Shall we meet at the train station at—” she glanced at her watch “—nineteen hundred hours? That should put us on the train at nineteen-thirty. We’ll arrive rather late, I’m afraid.”
“That’s quite alright, Lieutenant,” he said, beginning to gather his jacket. “I’ll meet you there.”
His apartment was indeed covered in dust, mail piled unread on the floor just inside the door. The only thing in his kitchen was a loaf of moldy bread and half an onion. He cursed the dust, cursed the mail, and cursed himself; threw open a window to make breathing a little easier, rolled up his sleeves and got to work.
It was a close call making it to the train station, given the time it took him to dig out acceptable civilian clothes, which were as covered in dust as everything else and so he was forced to rinse them and hang them out to dry while he tied a cloth around his mouth and dealt with a number of spiderwebs.
Hawkeye was there before him, in civilian clothes that weren’t wrinkled or dusty, with Black Hayate on a leash beside her. She gave him a dubious look as she approached, which he probably richly deserved.
“Have you eaten dinner, sir?” she asked. He waved her off.
“There’s no need to be my nursemaid, Hawkeye. And drop the sir. We’re on leave, remember? I’ll get a sandwich on the train.”
“Yes,” she said, with a twitch of the mouth that made the whole thing—spiderwebs and all—worth it.
It was almost twenty-two hundred hours by the time they arrived in the country, and a long walk lay ahead of them to her father’s house. Neither of them brought much luggage, however, and the night air was clear and pleasant. They walked in silence, Hayate running on ahead of them or hunting around in the brush until Hawkeye called him back.
Around them, the hum of nature. Roy was a city boy at heart, used to the racket of cars and people at all hours. He had been surprised when he realized that the country made noise too, buzzing and chirping and humming.
They were at the house before he realized, cresting a hill and suddenly it was right in front of them, roof peak black against a purple sky.
He hadn’t been back since they buried her father, since the day she entrusted her back to him.
“I thought maybe you’d sold the place,” he said, as they carried their bags up the twilit walk.
“I thought about it,” she said. “I found I didn’t have the determination go through with it. The village headman looks after the grounds, and I come up here when I can to make sure things are in order.”
“I’m sure no one ever faulted your determination, Lieuten—Hawkeye.”
She huffed a laugh.
“Thank you, sir. I mean, thank you.”
They shared a smile at both making the same mistake. Military habits were hard to shake.
She let them in through the smaller kitchen door rather than the front door, which had been out of use long before Roy came to study under her father. It must have been a grand house once upon a time, but by the time Roy arrived it was halfway to degradation. Master Hawkeye had already separated from his remaining family, so it was only father and daughter rattling around in the empty rooms and hallways.
He stepped through the door and for a moment he was back in the past. The dim kitchen was the same as he remembered. Master Hawkeye had always eaten in his study, and so Roy took his meals in the kitchen with Riza. That was how he remembered her, sitting across the table from him in the sunlit kitchen while they both studied—her the homework set to her by the village school, him her father’s alchemy texts.
The lights flickered on, and the memory was lost. It was the same kitchen, yes, but things were different now. The years had changed them both.
“I’m going to let Hayate out,” she said, setting down her bag. “Feel free to take one of the ground floor rooms. The beds will need sheets,” she continued distractedly. “I think they’re in—”
“I think I know where they are,” he broke in. She looked up at him half in surprise, then shook her head.
“I suppose you do,” she said. “Come on, Hayate.” She slipped out the door, the dog at her heels. For a moment he watched her figure cross the lawn, then turned away.
The sheets were in the linen cupboard like he remembered, a little musty but not moth-bitten. He’d slept on worse.
When he was done, he made his way back to the kitchen and opened cabinets until he found a pair of chipped mugs. He had triumphantly filled up the kettle with water and lit the stove when he realized the problem. He swore; naturally at this point Hawkeye came back in.
He turned to her.
“I was trying to make tea,” he explained. “I forgot there’s nothing in the cupboards.”
There was a suspicious movement of her mouth. His lieutenant was very good at laughing at him without changing her expression.
“We’ll have to go to the store tomorrow,” she said as he turned off the stove. “It was a good try, s—it was a good try.”
“Yes, well, I suppose that’s why I leave the logistics to you. Going to turn in?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Then I’ll see you in the morning, Hawkeye. Good night.”
“Good night,” she said.
How strange it felt, to wish one another good night, and how familiar.
Roy slept better than he thought he would, in spite of the musty sheets and slightly damp air. It was possible that actually getting to lie horizontal, with a pillow, in something that wasn’t a camp bed or a desk chair helped with that.
The birdsong woke him. This, too he remembered from his apprenticeship. Birdsong was supposed to be romantic and pretty, not some twittering assholes screeching right outside his window at ass’o’clock in the morning. He groaned and rolled over, feeling first for an alarm clock that wasn’t there, then for his uniform jacket and pocket watch, which weren’t there either.
It wasn’t an auspicious start but what the hell, no one was there to witness his struggles. Besides, he was on leave. He dragged himself to the bathroom to splash water on his face and shave and headed for the kitchen. He knew instinctively that Hawkeye would be awake. She had been a light sleeper since Ishbal and like him was used to irregular hours.
She was wiping dust off some plates, having already unbolted and opened the kitchen shutters and started the icebox. Three steps ahead, as usual.
“Morning, Hawkeye,” he said, suppressing a yawn and squatting down to pat Hayate.
“Morning,” she said, leaving off the ‘sir’ but conspicuously not substituting anything in its place. That was alright with him. ‘Mr. Mustang’ was ridiculous and would make him feel old, and ‘Roy’ would make them both uncomfortable. They would probably need a lot longer than three days of leave to work up to first names.
As he rubbing Hayate’s ears, the thought came unbidden that he called her by her first name once upon a time, in this house. He forced it away and turned his attention back to what Hawkeye was saying.
“I thought we could go to town and see about some food. The milk delivery doesn’t come out here anymore, but we should be able to get everything else we need.”
“I’m not the one who needs to drink his milk, Hawkeye,” he said in his driest tone. She gave a soft snort. “Do old man Mayer and his wife still run the general store?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Alright then.” He slapped Hayate’s rump. “Lead on, boy.”
Hawkeye opened the door and they headed out into the morning sun.
Old man Mayer still did run the general store, his wife was there at the counter and recognized Hawkeye as they walk in.
“Well, if it isn’t Miss Riza!” she said warmly, coming out from behind the counter to hug Hawkeye. “I didn’t know you were in town!”
“We just got on the evening train last night,” said Riza, smiling. “We’ve just come for some groceries.”
“Oh?” Mrs. Mayer said, peering at Roy. “Who’s this?”
God, was he really that old?
“You remember Mr. Mustang, don’t you?” Riza was saying. “My father’s student.”
Mrs. Mayer gave a gasp.
“Roy? Why, you little rascal, you have grown up! Goodness gracious, how long has it been?”
“Far too long, madam,” said Roy grandly, bowing over her hand like an old-fashioned gentleman. He’d always liked Mrs. Mayer. She had the same brisk efficiency his mother did, running her little store like an empire while her husband chewed tobacco and played checkers with the village elders.
She laughed heartily at him.
“My, you haven’t changed, have you? Are you still in the military, young man?”
Yes, having just been promoted to new heights after spearheading a coup against the heart of the military establishment.
“It keeps me busy,” he said instead.
“Now, you’re not here on military business, are you?” she said, with a knowing glance between them. Best to head this off at the pass.
“Ah, no,” he said smoothly. “Miss Hawkeye kindly agreed to let me look through some of her father’s things. I’m just imposing on her for the weekend.”
“And the pantry is empty, I’m afraid,” said Hawkeye. “Have you any fresh produce?”
“Of course, Miss Riza,” said Mrs. Mayer, allowing herself to be distracted. “Snap peas are in season, and we’re beginning to get some very nice tomatoes…”
Hawkeye shot him a sharp look while her back was turned. It said, as clearly as if she had said it aloud: “I don’t need you to protect me, sir.” He gave her his best blank “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about, Lieutenant” in return. She gave a little huff that indicated they’d be having words later. Well, fine. Out here in the country an unmarried girl taking up with a man was still feed for the gossip-mill, he’d be damned if he’d give people a reason to talk about her that way.
They escaped with their groceries and a bone for Hayate and started on the walk back to the house.
After a little ways, Hawkeye spoke, readjusting the bag on her hip.
“If you’re that eager, you’re more than welcome to go through my father’s things. I didn’t have a chance to sort through the library after he died, so it’s all still there. A bit cluttered, though.”
He looked at her. She looked back: “that’s what you get, sir.”
“Fair enough,” he said. “I’m sure I’d get bored sitting around for the next three days anyway. Anything in particular you want cleared out?”
“Mostly the library,” she said. “Though the attics would be helpful if you could get to them.”
God only knew what was in the attics. Ah, well.
After a while, she spoke again.
“I was thinking of donating my father’s books to the research library in Central,” she said. “But he would have hated them going to the military.”
Yes, that would set Master Hawkeye rolling in his grave alright. He had an extensive library of alchemy texts, some of them rare and purchased at great expense; one of the reasons Roy had wanted to be apprenticed to him.
“What about the Elric brothers?” he said. “Fullmetal may not need them anymore, but Al is studying the connection between alchemy and alkahestry. He might get some use of out of them.” He certainly would. He’d never met such a pair of voracious readers as the Elric brothers and from what he’d seen, Ed’s interest in the theory of alchemy hadn’t waned despite not being able to practice anymore.
“That’s a good idea,” she said, smiling. The light caught her hair, gilding the sharp line of her nose.
“I do have them occasionally,” he managed around the sudden clench of his heart. She shot him a look before her expression turned pensive.
“Edward and Alphonse...they know how much harm alchemy can do, but they’re dedicated to the kind of alchemy that helps people. If they can take the knowledge in my father’s books and use it to create something better in the future...that would be nice.”
He cleared his throat.
“I agree, Hawkeye.”
They had a simple lunch, much better than the canteen food at HQ by virtue of actually having taste.
Afterwards, Roy yawned. He found himself strangely tired, even though they had done nothing with the morning but walk to town and back.
“I think I’ll start on the library,” he said, stretching. “At least assess the situation.”
Hawkeye murmured her assent, and he set off through the long, empty hallways till he reached the library.
It, too, was the same as he remembered. He had to stop on the threshold, breathing through the memory of the last time he was here. Master’s gaunt, hollow face; the sound of his coughing. No wonder Hawkeye had left this room alone.
It seemed his weekend was destined to include dust and spiders, he thought resignedly as he unshuttered the big bay windows and allowed light and fresh air to pour into the room. He could see now the big armchairs draped in sheets, the stacks of books and scrolls on the floor.
“What a mess,” he said aloud. He sat and reached for the nearest pile, then promptly had to stand up and go rummage in a closet for some rags to clear the dust before he could continue. Since the shutters had been closed none of the delicate texts would have suffered light damage, so at least there was that.
He meant to sort the books into things that could be sold and what could be kept or given to the Elrics, but somehow he couldn’t keep his eyes open. The square of sunlight from the window moved across the floor, striping his legs. Outside, the breeze blew, bringing in the scent of cut grass and those fringy white flower bushes that climbed the outside of the house. Somehow, he found himself leaning against an armchair, limbs heavy. Perhaps he would rest his eyes for just a moment...
"Roy? Roy, wake up."
Someone was touching his shoulder. With what seemed like infinite effort, he pried his eyes open. It was Riza, bent over him, her hair loose. It looked warm, like liquid sunlight. He smiled at her, feeling achingly fond. He couldn't remember, now, what was so important about rank. It seemed silly. She was his Riza, that was what mattered. He tried to tell her this, but found himself slipping into unconsciousness.
Sharper this time, and something wet and snuffling was pressed against his face. He groaned and opened his eyes and was greeting by the sight of Hayate's panting muzzle.
"Hi boy," he said weakly, attempting to sit up. Hayate, in his enthusiasm to lick Roy's face, trod on his stomach.
"Hawkeye, would you mind getting your animal off me?"
"Hayate, down," she said in a tone that brooked no disagreement. Hayate clambered off, and Roy stretched, wincing at the kinks in his spine.
"Sorry," Hawkeye said. "I tried to wake you, but you fell back asleep again." Roy could dimly remember this, though he thought it might have got mixed in with the tail end of a dream.
"Thanks," he said. "How long was I out?"
"Only a few hours, I think," she offered him a hand up. "I would have let you be but I thought we might want dinner soon."
"Probably best," he agreed. "Or else I'd be too awake to sleep tonight."
He could feel it now, the bone-deep exhaustion finally setting in as his body realized that no, it really didn't have any responsibilities for the next few days.
"I didn't get much done on the library," he said. "Sorry."
"Don't worry about it. The books aren’t going anywhere."
Between them they managed a passable dinner. Both of them were used to cooking, even if their lifestyle meant they were limited to simple meals that could be make on the go. It was just some chicken and potatoes that night, but Hawkeye dug a bottle of wine out of the cellar and Roy sliced some fresh tomatoes and drizzled them with oil.
It was...nice. The wine, to Roy's limited palate, was light and sweet, fitting to the sun still slanting in through the windows and the warm breeze. They ate mostly in silence, cutlery clinking, and Hawkeye pretended not to notice when Roy slipped Hayate some scraps. Afterward, they cleaned up, elbows bumping at the kitchen sink as Roy washed dishes and Hawkeye put them away.
"I'm going to take Hayate for a walk," she said. "Do you...?"
They set off across the wide grassy fields in back of the house, Hayate running on ahead barking at squirrels. Roy dug up a stick to play fetch with, and if Hayate inevitably brought the stick back to Hawkeye and not him, well he couldn’t be faulted for obeying his mistress.
He felt strangely morose as they walked back through the purpling fields with fireflies beginning to blink around them. He was still not sure whether he had dreamed Riza leaning over him that first time, warm and close with amusement lining her eyes, but thinking about it made something squeeze painfully in his chest; a wordless longing that threatened to choke him.
“Can I make you that cup of tea now?” he said when they were back in the kitchen.
“That would be lovely, thank you,” she said. He made two mugs of their store bought tea without incident, and brought them to the table.
They drank in silence. Silence with Hawkeye was easy and comfortable. It was an indescribable relief to be around someone with whom no artifice, no posturing was necessary—or wanted. He couldn’t help but think of her as a clean straight line, direct and unbroken from start to finish. Or perhaps, like her namesake, a hawk, sighting prey with single minded precision.
He shook himself and drained the last of his tea. That was enough poetry. He was tired, he should sleep. He placed his mug in the sink and wished Hawkeye goodnight. She was still sitting at the table as he left, and he very carefully did not look back.
To his surprise, he slept deeply and easily straight through the night. Hawkeye was already awake when he ventured into the kitchen, reading a book with a scraped-clean plate on the table in front of her.
“Good morning,” she said, marking her place in her book with a finger. “I went ahead and made eggs and bacon for breakfast, there’s still some left in the icebox.”
“Eggs and bacon sounds good—no, don’t get up, I can manage that much myself.”
“If you say so,” she said, smiling and sinking back into her seat. Roy busied himself with the icebox, with heating the pan Hawkeye had left on the stove, starting the bacon frying and cracking two eggs in beside it. As he sat down with his plate, Hawkeye raised an eyebrow at his slightly charred bacon.
“The crispy bits are the best part,” he said, pointing his fork at her. “Besides, it’s still better than canteen food.” The Eastern Headquarters mess hall was infamous for bacon that was somehow rubbery and burnt at the same time.
“I can’t argue with that,” she admitted.
“What are you reading?” he asked. She turned the cover towards him; a book on gardening.
“I didn’t know you were interested in gardening,” he said in some surprise. Unlike him, Hawkeye did have some semblance of life outside work. He knew she enjoyed novels; that she spent time with Lieutenant Catalina on her days off. He felt strangely cheated to not have know this about her, which even he recognized as blatantly ridiculous. He couldn’t give less of a damn about the private lives of his other subordinates and in fact knew more than he cared to about Havoc’s.
“Winry lent it to me,” she said. “She grew up in the countryside, so she’s quite knowledgeable. Apparently when my mother was still alive, the gardens used to be quite beautiful here. I’ve had the thought I might try and restore them, but,” she shrugged, “I think it’s probably impossible considering I can’t give it my full attention.” She had a slightly wistful look.
“Lieutenant,” he said, “you’ve given exemplary service in your time in the army. You could have a discharge with honors many times over if you wished to retire and take up gardening. I’ll not have you following me out of blind obligation.”
Her chin came up, and she squared her shoulders.
“With respect, sir,” in a tone that meant, ‘you’re an idiot’, “I chose to walk this path of my own will, and I won’t abandon it now.” She looked down at her hands, shoulders dropping. “I know there’s no possibility of atoning for the blood on my hands. Even so, there’s no way I could give it up and live a carefree life. The only thing I can do is to try and give the next generation a better world. That’s why I truly believe in your vision, sir.”
He cleared his throat.
“Ah—thank you, Hawkeye. I appreciate your faith.”
“Besides,” she said, “you’d never get your paperwork done if I wasn’t there.”
He clutched his chest.
“How harsh! Hawkeye, I’m wounded.”
She ignored this in favor of getting up to put her dishes in the sink.
“I’ll be outside if you need me,” she said, normalcy restored, and left Roy alone with his thoughts.
He returned the library, determined to make up for his lost progress yesterday. He began with Master Hawkeye’s most prized texts, which were kept in a glass case at the back of the library, away from the damaging effects of light. These he set aside for the Elric brothers, flipping through them in a precursory way. Then he turned his attention to the rest of the collection, of sorting out alchemy from philosophy and history and deciding which texts should be kept and which given away.
It was hard work, and mind-numbing, but that was okay with Roy. In some ways, it was a relief to clear off the shelves and pile everything on the floor, changing the layout of the room and sweeping away the ghosts; Master Hawkeye and his own naive younger self gone with the dust. Only Riza lingered.
He took a break around twelve hundred hours to make a sandwich out of the previous night’s leftovers, which he ate standing up in the kitchen. He could see Hayate out the window, happily lolling in the shade of a big oak tree, so Hawkeye must have been somewhere nearby. He poured himself a glass of cold water, a welcome relief against his parched throat, and got back to work.
By midafternoon, he had reached the bottom shelves of the big bookcase by Master Hawkeye’s desk. When he had been a student, he had never been assigned anything from those shelves and now he could see why—they were children’s books, placed low to be easily accessible to short arms. Fascinated, he removed a squat volume with somewhat threadbare blue binding. For all Master Hawkeye’s qualities as teacher and alchemist, he had not been an affectionate father. It was hard to reconcile in Roy’s mind the grim and driven man who had been his teacher with someone who would allow his daughter to crawl on the carpet of his study and read a book of fairy stories while he worked.
He opened the book to the frontispiece, which was labeled “Propertie of Riza Hawkeye” in a child’s uneven capitals and spelling. He smiled, imagining a small and solemn Hawkeye labelling her property with infinite care, and flipped through the book. A sheet of paper, tucked in halfway through, fluttered out onto the floor. Carefully, for it was brittle with age, he picked it up and unfolded it.
It was a child’s crayon drawing, and even if he hadn’t recognized the subject matter he would have recognized the handwriting—same as the the frontispiece of the book. A stick figure with shockingly yellow hair stood on a flat lawn beneath a tree, a brown and black lump with four legs.
“My name is Riza. I am five. When I grow up, I want to have a dog,” it read.
Roy laughed out loud, delighted, partially because he never would have pegged the lumpy figure she’d drawn as a dog and partially because even through the years the phrasing was so very Hawkeye. He could just see her little determined face in his mind’s eye. Still chuckling, he got up. This he had to show her.
She wasn’t in the kitchen, so he headed outside. The air was thick and hot, buzzing with distant insects and the cloying smell of those small white flowers.
“Hawkeye?” he called.
“Here,” came her voice, somewhat muffled. “I’m out back.”
Roy followed her voice around the side of the house, having to fight his way through some bushes to do so before he burst into a little clearing. She was sitting on the ground, blinking up at him.
“What is it?” she said. She was flushed from the sun, sweat glittering in the hollow of her throat. There was a smudge of dirt on her cheek. She had opened the top buttons on her shirt, revealing both the shiny pink scars licking their way up her back and the thin white line that slashed diagonally across her throat.
Blood pounded in his ears.
“Riza,” he said, and dropped to his knees beside her. Reaching for her was simply the only natural thing to do; an inevitable conclusion to something years in the making. She made a small noise of surprise, and their foreheads were touching. Their eyes met. Up close, he could see the flecks of gold and amber in her irises.
“Sir,” she said softly, very deliberate. “Are you sure?” All the distance they’d so carefully maintained between them over the years hung the air, fragile and cobwebby. All those tacit agreements, silent understandings communicated only by glance. His cautious, meticulous lieutenant.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m sure.”
She began to smile, a slow thing that lit up her whole face, and reached up and cupped one calloused-roughened hand around the back of his neck.
“Good,” she said softly. “Roy.”
Their lips met, soft and tentative, no more than a slow exchange of breath, hot and close. He bent his head to kiss at her jaw, to bury his face in the crook of her neck. She gave a shiver at the contact and huffed out a breath against his ear. He repeated the motion and she twitched noticeably, hands seizing at his shirt.
He pulled back, hands creeping up her waist under the hem of her shirt.
“Are you by any chance...ticklish?” He punctuated this with a sweep of his hands up her ribs. She shrieked and shoved him, her elbow landing painfully in his stomach. They both fell back in a heap upon the grass, but he didn’t let up until she wiggled her way out of his arms, laughing and gasping for breath.
“That was a dirty trick!” she said, face red. Her hair had come down and was half over her shoulder. He’d never seen anything more beautiful.
“Sorry, sorry,” he said, propping himself up on one elbow. “But you can’t expect me to find something like that out and not take advantage of it.”
She frowned at him, but she wasn’t really displeased.
“I guess I can forgive you,” she said, a smile softening her eyes. “If you’re very sorry.”
“I am,” he said earnestly, as she bent over him. “I really am.”
They were both covered in dirt and grass stains, so Riza filled up the old enamel bathtub for them and they took turns scrubbing and rinsing off, not bothering to bathe separately. It was strange, at first—Riza’s mind was as familiar as his own, but her body was new to him. He couldn’t quite meet her eyes out of sheer embarrassment and he suspected from the flush on her fair skin that she felt the same. They’d seen each other wounded; caked in blood, mud, or soot but never naked. The intimacy was—heart-stopping, was the only word.
It wasn’t until they were dried off and dressed that they were able to regain their footing. Riza, drying her hair with a towel, met his eyes in the mirror, rueful. He shrugged.
“Sounds good,” she said with slight relief.
Over dinner he showed her the drawing he had found in the library, which had gotten rather crumpled from being dropped on the ground and then sat on.
She laughed, like he thought she would, and smoothed the paper.
“I had forgotten about this,” she said. “All the children from school were from farms and had dogs and I was so jealous...I begged and begged Father for one, but he never agreed.”
“I can see why you were so drawn to them,” he said, a touch slyly. “Dogs are such loyal creatures, always following their masters rain or shine.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“Even a womanizer like you should know that going around comparing women to dogs isn’t the best approach.”
“I’ll have you know I am an expert on what women want.”
She actually rolled her eyes at him, a rare event. She usually made her feelings clear through a series of pointed looks and subtle eyebrow movements. He grinned. Yes, he was acting juvenile but damned if it wasn’t fun.
They cleaned up mostly as they had the night before, but allowing touches to linger this time. He tucked a lock of her hair back behind her ear while her hands were immersed in soapy water, she pressed her hip against his as he dried the dishes she handed him.
They took Hayate out. It was another beautiful evening. While they walked, she told him about working on the garden, the slow process of separating one overgrown mass into plants that were meant to be there and weeds.
“I must have pulled out a dozen daisies thinking they were weeds,” she said, laughing slightly. “And so after that I tried to identify everything before I so much as touched it. I have a better idea about things now.”
“Do you know what those small white ones are? On the big bushes?”
“Honeysuckle, I think,” she said. “Those are meant to be there—I remember the bushes being much smaller when I was a child. Without anyone to trim them they must have just grown up around everything.”
“Hm,” said Roy. He rather liked them like that, the way the green and white bushes seemed to have joined to the house, climbing its walls and covering up dilapidated brick and mildewed plaster. Taking away the ugliness.
He put an arm around her waist and they were silent for a while.
“I thought maybe you were waiting for the right time,” she said finally.
“If we waited for the right time, I think we would have been always waiting,” he said. “There’s never going to be a right time so long as I’m still your commander and you’re still my subordinate.”
“I think I realized that too, after the Promised Day,” she said. He glanced sidelong at her.
“Is that why you invited me here?”
“I wasn’t totally planning to,” she admitted. “But I was—tired. I’d almost lost you. I couldn’t—I couldn’t bear the thought of that.”
He turned his head and kissed her temple in silent apology. She sighed.
“We’ll have to deal with what to do next.”
“Tomorrow,” he said.
“Ducking work again, I see,” she said with mock severity.
“Tomorrow,” he said more firmly. “Take it as an order from your commander, Lieutenant. One night of avoiding our responsibilities won’t hurt.”
“I suppose not,” she conceded, and they started back to the house.
They undressed and got into bed next to each other, Hayate on the floor at the foot of the bed. Both of them tended to be light and uneasy sleepers, a souvenir from Ishbal, and had a soldier's instinct to awaken violently at unexpected touches, so they didn't get too close. It was enough to just be curled toward each other, feet bumping together. This close he could smell her shampoo, fall into the rhythm of her breathing as a slow accompaniment to his own. It was more than he thought he'd have, this cocoon of warmth and darkness.
He woke early and abruptly, one minute asleep and the next awake with the feeling there was something important he should be remembering. The first thing he saw was Riza's face across the pillow from him, blinking solemnly at him.
Ah, yes. That was it. He couldn't suppress the smile spreading across his face.
"Hello, there," he said stupidly. She smiled at him.
"I'm a lucky man, to wake up to such a beautiful woman in my bed."
She snorted softly.
"Don't start with me. I could remind you that you're in my bed."
He leered at her.
"You're a lucky woman, to have such a handsome man—ow!" She had kicked him lightly in the shins.
"If you're going to make a nuisance of yourself, you can go in the kitchen and start water for tea. I need to take Hayate out."
"Yes, Lieutenant," he said, rolling out of bed.
She came back in just as the water was boiling. He had gone a step further and heated up the frying pan to scramble the rest of their eggs in with leftovers potatoes and the last of their bacon. Through the window, he could distantly hear the sound of church bells from the direction of the village. It was Sunday, and their last day of leave.
As if responding to his thoughts, she spoke, somewhat reluctantly.
"The last return train to East City is at fifteen hundred hours. We should probably leave here around fourteen fifteen if we want to make it with time to spare."
He inclined his head, deferring to her judgement on logistics as always.
“Roy…” she said.
“Time to stop ducking our responsibilities?”
“The fraternization laws,” he said.
“Yes,” she said. “The Amestris military forbids relationships that cause partiality on the part of the superior officer or otherwise interfere with the chain of command—”
“You don’t need to recite them to me,” he said, waving her off. “Ridiculous. I was already partial towards you.” Her mouth twitched.
“Well, I would avoid repeating that to a military tribunal,” she said drily. “I’m only saying that it would leave you vulnerable.” Her hand strayed to her throat, rubbing the thin white scar there almost unconsciously.
“Then I’ll do as I’ve always done and entrust my back to you.”
She sighed in annoyance.
“That’s what I thought you’d say.”
“Lieutenant, if you have serious reservations about this—”
She met his eyes.
“Sir, I have no intention of letting you go. But it is my job to think of these things.”
And that’s what made her his irreplaceable lieutenant, his Riza.
“Fair enough,” he said. “Fair enough.” He hesitated for a moment, then took the plunge. “In that case, you should know: I still intend to climb as high as I can in the military, but if old man Grumman succeeds in reforming the military and restoring power to parliament, there might come a time in the future when I’ll have more freedom to move in the civilian arena. If that time comes, I want you by my side.”
He had risen from his chair and was pacing back and forth in an attempt to calm his agitation.
“Of course,” she said, puzzled, eyes tracking him. He turned to her.
“Riza, it’s not a bodyguard or logistics man I’ll need if that happens,” he said. “I’ll need a partner.” He watched her eyes widen as she grasped his implication.
“What exactly do you mean by that?” she said, with a hint of a wobble in her voice.
He cleared his throat and locked his hands behind his back in parade rest. He could feel his own treacherous face heating up.
“I mean that in this country, it would be hard for a bachelor to become president. Do you take my meaning?”
She was for a moment openly speechless.
“I—sir, I don’t know what to say—I mean, yes, I understand,” she said, then visibly recovered. “I will keep that possibility in mind.”
Face flaming, he went to go sit back down, but Riza caught his wrist, stopping him. His pulse was still pounding like he’d been in battle, beating against her fingers.
“Honestly, Roy,” she said softly, rubbing her thumb against the inside of his wrist. “As if there was any danger of me saying no.”
“Yes, well,” he said nonsensically. She gave him that familiar fond, exasperated look and raised his hand to her mouth, brushing a kiss against his knuckles.
“We’ve been together long enough, you ought to know by now.”
He couldn’t help the smile spreading across his face.
“Yes, you’re right.”
The rest of the morning was busy. Roy packaged a number of books to send to Ed and Al, leaving the rest under dust covers to be dealt with in the future. Riza washed the sheets and cleaned the kitchen. And over it all, a heavy, dragging reluctance to leave. He wanted to stay a little longer in this empty, echoing house that smelled of honeysuckle where he could look at Riza as much as he liked.
Somehow, though, afternoon found them at the train station, suitcases in hand. The train was full of people, families traveling back to the city from a weekend in the country. They had to share their car, unlike the way up where they’d virtually had the whole car to themselves. The train was on schedule, so they arrived in East City just as it was beginning to turn to dusk.
They walked out of the station together and then paused briefly on the steps, suddenly awkward.
“Do you need help getting home, Lieutenant?” Roy asked, gesturing at her suitcases, which were heavier with the addition of the books for Ed and Al.
“Thank you, sir, but I think I’ll take a taxi,” she said. “Your place is nearer to headquarters, isn’t it? I wouldn’t want to make you go out of your way.”
Roy groaned at the mention of his apartment, remembering.
“What is it, sir?”
“My apartment is covered in dust,” he explained. “I think there may be a colony of spiders living there.”
“I had never unpacked from my move to Central, so when I moved back here I just left all the boxes as they were,” she said in sympathy. “I haven’t even used my closet since I moved in. You could,” she hesitated, minutely. “You could sleep on my couch if you wanted.”
It was tempting. But…
“I think I’d better go deal with the spiders,” he said, rubbing a hand over his face. “See, Lieutenant, you’re a good influence on me. You offered me a perfectly good excuse to duck work and I didn’t even take it.”
“Very good, sir. Can I take that to mean I’ll see you bright and early at the office tomorrow?”
“Bright and early, Lieutenant.”
He looked around. There was a steady stream of travelings exiting the train station and going down the steps, but no one was paying attention to them. They were off to the side and in the shadow of a column, and both wearing civilian clothes. As far as risk went…
He held out his hand to her and she came easily, linking her hands round his waist and resting her chin on his shoulder. He ran a hand down her back, soaking in the warmth and strength from her compact, well-muscled body. She pressed a kiss to the corner of his jaw and then their mouths met, electric and urgent. For some glorious indeterminate amount of time, Roy forgot about everything else. Then Riza pulled back.
“Hayate, down,” she said sternly, in a tone of voice that probably shouldn’t have been as enticing as it was. Hayate, who had been up on his hind paws to share in the excitement, sank to a crouch with ears down.
Roy sighed, and they untangled themselves, setting shirttails and collars back to rights. For a brief moment their foreheads rested against each other.
“Good night, Riza,” he said.
“Night, Roy,” she said. “Till tomorrow.”
“Till tomorrow,” he said.
By the time Roy got to the office the next morning, his whole team was assembled, looking much more like functioning humans than they had the previous Friday. A round of salutes went off as he walked in, with the accompanying “Morning, sir!” The energy level was high—Havoc rhapsodizing about the date he went on to an unlucky Fuery, Falman and Breda debating the merits of Parliament’s new trade deal with Xing.
“Good morning, sir.”
He looked up. Hawkeye was standing over his desk, uniform perfectly crisp. Roy noted with satisfaction that the dark circles around her eyes were gone and she looked well-rested and at ease.
“Morning, Lieutenant,” he said. “What do you have for me this morning?”
She passed him a stack of papers.
“For your signature, sir. And we have a report from a civilian liaison in the southwest sector of Ishbal that some aid shipments are arriving without critical supplies. I suspect some merchants are undercutting supplies in order to pocket a portion of the money.”
“Well, we can’t let that go on. Get me Colonel Baker on the phone, would you?”
He didn’t look up from perusal of the forms.
“How was your leave?”
“Very good, sir,” she said. “I worked on my garden.”
He signed his name with a flourish and looked up, casually.
“Oh, yes? How goes it?”
She smiled, a small, secret thing.
“I think things are beginning to sprout, sir.”