To be the daughter of a haunted and reclusive alchemist is to walk down a black hallway with deliberate slowness after receiving an unwelcome revelation. Riza's bare feet leave hot prints on the cold hardwood panels. Though she is wearing the same nightgown as always, thin and white and tied loosely at the waist, on no other night has she ever felt so exposed. Age is only an arbitrary number; it reflects nothing of a person's mindset. The girl who sits on the edge of her bed and traces her fingertips over squares of light on the sheets is so much older than thirteen, and so tired. Waiting is a thing Riza is familiar with. Waiting for her father to change his ways. For the boy who studies with her father to show genuine interest in friendship. For her long-dead mother to send some reminder of her enduring love. But there is only so much faith you can hold in the world and in people before you recognize you're blinding yourself with hope, and Riza is tired of waiting. Sitting on her bed in her own ordinary room, she suddenly realizes exactly what she has to do.
She drops to her knees and rummages through her dresser. She will require: seven pairs of panties for each day of the week, three pairs of socks, two dresses, a toothbrush and paste, fifty cens she once found on the kitchen counter and stashed away because this now represents the whole of her savings. All the while she listens for sounds of footsteps in the hall, precise and hurried. Berthold Hawkeye steps. But the house remains quiet as she strips off her pillowcase and stuffs her few belongings inside. "Thank you," she tells her pillow, the sponge for a thousand tears. It hurts to breathe by the time she's running downstairs, taking the steps two at a time. She's almost through the kitchen when—
"Miss Hawkeye? It's a bit late for you to be up, don't you think?"
Roy is standing by the counter, halfway through the gesture of raising a cup to his mouth. He's getting older but there's still such softness in the face giving her an unreadable expression. She's surprised he's not yet harsh and jaded, that he speaks with a fifteen-year-old voice that matches his years. She is grateful for his endurance but knows it's temporary. Time and study of alchemy will one day burn away his innocence. Riza knows that much because her father once said I love you but now those words have acquired the opposite meaning on his lips.
"How come you're not in bed?" he asks. Curiosity is written in his crossed arms and tilted head as he leans back against the counter. "And what's that stuff?"
"Uh . . ." Riza sets the pillowcase down by the wall. "Just some stuff Father wanted me to bring down."
"Oh, okay." He jabs a thumb at a pot releasing coils of steam. "I was making tea since we're out of coffee. There's leftover hot water if you want some."
She comes over because this is the cleverest solution: pretend this is a night like anyother and have tea with her father's student until he goes upstairs. She fills a cup with water and adds in the necessary components, appreciating the strong scent coming up from the tea leaves. Riza runs her fingers around the edge of the cup of warmth and takes a gulp. There is still not enough sugar and so she stirs in another spoonful. The spoon clicks against the sides of the cup, one of those small porcelain sorts that's so fragile she's always afraid it might shatter if struck too hard. There is something meaningful about the sharp, quick taps of her spoon.
"It's late for you to be running around," he points out.
"Same for you. Studying alchemy late again?"
"Yeah. You know Master Hawkeye, assigning a lot to read every night. And then I got thirsty. So."
Roy takes another sip of his tea and his eyes narrow because he prefers coffee, the kind with a heavier milk-to-water ratio than what her father takes. The longer he stays, the shallower her breathing. Riza closes her eyes and hears little clicks inside the darkness, the sound of Roy stirring his tea. When she opens her eyes and gathers her senses, he's still sipping the tea instead of getting upstairs. He needs to go before her father wakes up and finds her downstairs with a pillowcase full of hope.
"You should get back to bed," she suggests. "Father always wakes you early in the morning."
"After you." He gestures casually to the staircase beyond the kitchen doorway.
"I'll just finish up this tea."
"I can wait. It's nice to have company, don't you think?"
Riza hides her mouth behind the cup to avoid answering. Would it be easier to go back upstairs and pretend she'll be going to bed, then come back downstairs and sneak off without Roy noticing? Were it not for a sudden thump of noise through the ceiling, she'd do the wise thing. But was that her father getting up? Could he have heard the noise from downstairs? Riza knows if she sees him tonight, her shell of resolve will flake off and that'll be the end of it. So instead she sets down her teacup—drops it, there's a crack of porcelain hitting wood—and grabs her pillowcase. She heads for the entrance hallway and snatches a jacket from a hook on the wall. She shrugs into it, but her shoes are nowhere around. Bare feet never killed anyone, and she has only minutes to go if that second thump was real and not paranoia breathing fear into her ear. But everything seems magnified tonight, like Roy's voice calling to her from the kitchen doorway.
"Miss Hawkeye? Where are you going?"
"I'm off for a walk. Get some sleep, please."
Later she will remember two silent people facing each other in a hallway and a wall clock somewhere tick tick ticking as one hand leaps between seconds. She will remember feeling as if both have been immersed in glass and are standing on shards and her own body contains a shatterpoint. "At two in the morning?" he asks, sipping very carefully on the cup of tea he brought with him.
The front door makes no sound as it yields to her hand, or maybe it's just that Riza's perception has compressed to a single focal pinpoint: Roy's footsteps still following her as she walks out to the porch. They stand looking out across flat miles beneath an unlit sky. She hopes for rain not tonight but tomorrow morning. Dead leaves scar the path leading to the main road. Each crunches hard and falls to ash under her feet as she walks to the gate in the whitewashed fence and quickly swings it open. She hears him keep following but stopping inside the perimeter.
"You're going out looking like that?" Roy asks, leaning his forearms against the fence between them. His eyebrow raised at an angle is a question, but Riza looks at the vertical wooden bars and thinks instead of diary entries scrawled into a secret blank book her father knows nothing about. She writes about prisons, cages, and windows with narrow panes without ever understanding why.
"Go home," she tells him. "I'll be back in a bit."
Riza walks off alone and feels stones and pebbles as pressure points under her toes. The year is tipping close to winter. Trees lining the road are barren or hold on to one, two, ten dry copper leaves. Moonlight comes through a gap in two clouds and carves into her with a blade of light. She looks down and considers the ways in which a person can be held prisoner. It's not always physical. Not just the tight space of four aching bedroom walls that imprison a girl with dreams in her eyes.
It was winter before and this is the painful part of echoing seasons. The year repeats its months and she wishes she could reach down into time and bring up a silver bicycle with bits of paint peeling. She would sit again in the basket while someone else pushed hard on the pedals. Riza walks down the road but feels the bicycle riding beside her, that day running in parallel to this one. There's a turn a mile ahead that Roy took so fast the whole sky tilted sideways. They sped into hard wind bearing down from the east as the bike slanted so far. He'd only been living at the house for a few days, him eleven and her only nine, when he offered a ride through the countryside. That was when she still wondered if they might be friends but then her father sat her down for a talk and that was the end of it.
"Hey, wait up!"
Riza's spine is suddenly cold inside her body and clothing. As if a chilled fragment of moonlight just ran its knife-edge down the length of her back. She turns and sees Roy jogging after her. His hands are deep in pant pockets and she wonders if they're so cold they're burning like her own stiffened fingers holding on to the pillowcase. "Thought I told you to go home."
"Yeah . . ." he says like a dusty afterthought. "It's nice out here, though."
The moon sinks away away behind clouds again and now Roy is nothing but small movements inside faded starlight. He falls into step beside her as they advance through pockets of darkness down the black river of the road. Riza likes moonlight but she likes sunlight better. Yellow food tastes best to her. Bananas. Pineapples. Lemons rolled in far too much sugar. The kind of food her father so rarely buys for the house. She thinks maybe this is the reason.
"So we started some lessons today about combustion as a chemical principle."
She can't see his face, nor does she need to. Small talk, as if such a thing could mean anything tonight. Though the cheerful inflection in his voice, how he cradles the thought of studying alchemy, is a nude glimpse of his adoration for education. And why shouldn't Roy love the only reason he's staying with them? That's what her father said after the bike ride when Riza was lying in bed with the blanket pulled up to her chin. You will address him as Mister Mustang and keep your interactions to a minimum. I never want to see you going anywhere alone with him again. Don't forget that. Then her father patted her hand through the blanket and didn't notice his daughter wincing. But the minute he left, Riza held her hands up to sunlight slanting through window blinds. Her bandaged hands and knees would take days to feel better. It was her fault for wanting to ride in the basket anyway and not Roy's for braking too quickly.
"Hmm?" Riza hums absentmindedly. There is moonlight again and she sees Roy looking at her like he is seeing something else or maybe he's gazing too deeply inward.
"Did you catch what I said?" She can tell by his smirk that he's been thinking about this for a while and wants to come off as clever. "I, uh . . . so in chemistry, there's this thing called a combustion reaction that combines hydrogen and oxygen. Put together, they make water. Necessary for life. You know."
"I do." And Riza does know because there was a time when her own father hoped she might be an alchemist and gave her preliminary lessons about the unique alchemy he'd discovered through research. He set a candle on a table and taught her about combustion while the little flame pulsed as if it were windy in the study. Riza had a sudden clarity that every object exists bound to its shadow. She wished she could have had such a revelation with alchemy, but her hands were good for nothing but wiping off tears in the bathroom after each failed session.
Roy's voice presses into the silence. "Hey, are you listening?"
"Your foot's bleeding."
Riza looks down and back. There are dark prints on the dirt road where she stepped that came from her heel, now cut open presumably by a stone. She studies the grit and little fragments of gravel sticking to the blood on her skin. "Just a scratch," she tells him. "It doesn't hurt." Or maybe her feet are too cold and numb to feel it.
"We need to get back to the house." His hands make a gesture as if he's washing them under water.
"You go back. I'll just be a bit longer."
"Miss Hawkeye . . ." Not a half-finished sentence because the rest is written in his face and the hands he's rinsing over and over, hands stained with worry. There is a rush of urgent phrases that break on a high note. Your father will worry. That's screaming infection. Where are you going? Miss Hawkeye? Hey, wait! But Riza keeps going because there is worse pain than heel throbbing and she can't turn back on the only decision she's ever made for herself.
"How far do you plan on going?"
"Till I get tired," she tells him.
"We're a mile out."
"Do I look tired?"
Gazes are the most accurate language. Riza doesn't know how to respond to the worry in his, so instead she looks up and ahead. There is a tree with bare branches coming up on the left side of the road. Night makes it look dead or immortal. Years from now she'll wonder if there's really a difference when she gazes into the muted eyes of a woman-shaped monster who will call her such a sad and weak creature, another typical human. Tonight she thinks how beautiful and cold the tree looks beneath moonlight falling down the steep skyline. The branches are dipped into dark and silver light and look like they've been crying. Like the lines of water looked on her face when her father demanded alchemy and she never could do it. People shouldn't know grief at such young ages, but Riza is well acquainted because she raised herself on her own. It would have been welcome to have a friend to tell things to at night, but that is a childish desire. Tonight the act of walking alone (or she should be alone, but that boy keeps following) provides shelter. Wind pulls at her hair and her clothes and brings a soft whisper to break against the shell of her ear.
"So you are, aren't you?"
The wind settles and waits.
"I'm what?" she asks.
"No . . ."
"You're running away. Is that it? And you put supplies in the pillow."
"Roy," she says, then touches two fingertips to her lips. But his name is out in the open now. Riza can't trap the simple sound, formalities cut, back down in her throat where she's kept it these past four years. Maybe it wanted to come out, to see the look on his face. "Mister Mustang," she corrects. "Go home. Leave me alone."
He stands still against the hard wind picking up, like he's just a statue with cloth attached. Only the rise and fall of Roy's chest suggests his is a living body. His eyes are on hers and hold something she imagined in dreams she can't quite remember. She calls it concern and wonders why it should be there. Aside from the one bicycle ride, their interactions have been limited to: meal routines thrice a day when she sets out plates and silverware (and then glimpses snapshots of his eating habits), watching him go out and come in from jogs twice a day (a recent development from the past seven months), collecting his laundry and handing it back (though he insists on washing his own underwear). There's not even a reason why he followed her out here, but Roy has strange habits and she chalks this up to his peculiarities.
"Did something happen with Master Hawkeye?" he guesses. "Did he do something?"
To be the daughter of a haunted man is to not be surprised when he said you will carry the secrets of my research in the contours of your flesh. He pressed his hand to her shoulder and ran his fingers along her bare spine, already knowing that years from now he would carve in red ink a permanent inscription. Riza stood in the barely illuminated study and felt cold light rest in the dips of her upturned palms. She studied the lines as if searching for more than transient distraction while her father mapped out where the design would be carefully set. All of this maybe an hour ago, just before she came down the staircase slowly and realized her father would never change his ways. To him she was blank paper on which to sketch his ambitions without ever considering that maybe she had dreams of her own. But maybe control as the relationship between father and daughter is nothing out of the ordinary. Riza wonders what ordinary is anyway and where to define the arbitrary boundary.
"None of your business," she says. The edge of anger is real and she wants it to hurt him for no particular reason. To cut like the stones that split open both feet, leaving two lines of blood trailing a long way down the road. It's cold and her legs, bare below the knee, are trembling. She shivers everywhere the wind touches her.
Five feet off Roy is a statue again until a sudden gust whips his sleeves into dark horizontal lines. She realizes he's pulled out his arms and is stripping off the coat to hand over. "At least take this." He throws the bundle of fabric. It feels warm and soft like a living surface.
"Did he tell you to look out for me?" Riza asks because her father is a cautionary man and may have suspected distress would accompany the evening's revelation. "Send you to come get me?"
Roy steps back. "What are you talking about?"
"Why'd you follow me?"
"You didn't see your face in the kitchen." All Riza can think is how much younger he seems making that washing motion again. It's all anxiety, the thing you do with your hands when you don't know where else to put them.
"What face, exactly?"
His response came at an angle and held no real answer. "It's been a while since your expressions surprised me. I didn't know we could go back to that."
"You say like you know me."
"We've shared a house for four years. So a bit, hopefully."
"We barely talk."
"That's not true. We've been together long enough to have some memories. But really, your feet look bad. If we're going to talk, come over here." Because of his voice holding the strangeness of worry, she sets down the pillowcase and sits in the short grass by the unpaved road. Riza is warmed when he sits cross-legged facing her. He says, "Like remember those pancakes?"
To be Berthold's daughter is to get used to this ritual: waking up before dawn to the crisp chirp of morning birds, combing fingers through bed hair as she pulls pots out of the kitchen cupboards, setting water to boil for coffee before anyone else comes downstairs. But one morning a few months after her father's pupil settled in with them, she came into the kitchen to find Roy already mixing batter with chocolate chips and a pan set on the stove above a small fire.
She told him you're up pretty early.
Roy spooned a dollop of batter onto the pan and there was the spitting sound of vegetable oil frying. You do this every day for us. Figured I could return the favor.
Riza sat in one of the wooden chairs around the main table and blinked back surprise. One time her father complimented her cooking. Neither had ever offered to help. She was sure this kindness wouldn't last but it meant something that morning. Even now she remembers the sharp tap of his spoon when he stirred sugar into her coffee (maybe this is why, so much later, it's still a meaningful sound). She took a sip and tried to keep a straight face even though it was bitter. Unlike him, she wouldn't learn to prefer coffee to tea until a war many years later. But to sit together quietly in the relative morning silence was worth the unsavory flavor.
"You burned half the pancakes," Riza remembers, and now she is smiling.
"That's being too generous." And it is because he burned all of them and she had to start over, teaching him steps not so much less complicated than his alchemic studies. "But I'm better at some things."
What he says: "Remember that chess game?"
What he means to say: Remember last year when you came to me late one night because you were having a nightmare? When you came to my room and your knock was so quiet you had to call before I heard it? And I came to the door and saw you there in your white nightgown tied at the waist, fiddling with a few strands of hair so luminous that I'm surprised my eyes never hurt from its intensity. But it would be the good kind of hurt that brightens the world with clarity and brings the important things into focus.
One day even the slightest shrug or inclination of the head won't be subtle enough. They will read carefully into each other's body language and detect every hidden meaning. But Riza is thirteen and for now only sees something indecipherable in his eyes that no one has invented the word for just yet. Only years later will she learn this gaze is called fondness and learn to catch it in Roy's cautious glances across the space of a busy military office when he's certain she's not looking.
"You tried to teach me and I was terrible," she says.
"You should have played whites for first-move advantage."
"But I like the blacks." Which is true for no inherent reason.
Roy scoots closer so they're sitting opposite each other but the space between their feet isn't more than a few inches. "Wasn't your nightmare about a white space? Something about a room with the walls and ceiling all curved. And it felt like a membrane, like the inside of an egg. And you were trying to break out but you couldn't. Something like that? So maybe that's why you wanted another color."
What words are there to describe a person who remembers things about you better than you remember about yourself? That's the problem with the dictionary. There's no vocabulary yet invented for some emotions like the sudden shock Riza feels. Touched is still tangential but at least it's somewhat close. "It was a weird dream," she admits, tipping the fingernails of both hands against her knees. Maybe this is why her secret diary is filled with prisons and tight enclosed spaces. Entrapment is the substance of her nightmares. She is always caught inside the unyielding walls of a father's cruel affection which most would call overzealous protection. That's her ordinary world, the fragile existence that makes up her glass body. It is human to dream of cracking open your shell until you reach something different.
"We should try again sometime. I'll teach you chess. You teach me cooking so I don't burn down the whole kitchen." His half-smile is sad and nostalgic. "But we can't do that if you leave here tonight." Roy's hand reaches out and catches one of hers where it still rests on her knee. His fingers tighten as if she's the one anchoring him and not the other way. She responds but not really, just by looking down at their hands joined together. Just like he smiles but not really because the sky gathered for rain is starting to crack at the seams and they're a long way from the house. The cloud-soaked night opens up just a little and leaves droplets on their faces. Just like Riza looks down at their hands and feels something open a little inside her. The shatterpoint of her glass body cracks, just enough to let evening air seep inside and settle in her chest. She's tired of being cold, but she can't tell him that.
"You won't leave me alone, will you?" she grumbles with no real conviction. "I told you to go home but you can't even manage that."
"I heard you," he says and leaves it at that.
Riza tilts her face to the sky. "It's starting to rain."
"Let's say we get back."
Conditional inflection turns it into a question, like he doesn't want to insist too hard. But it's raining harder and something strange is happening to her feet. Riza can feel the pulse of open wounds and the sting of gravel in the gashes. Things of great magnitude tend to settle over slowly. Only now does she feel such pain that it keeps her from standing. But something else hurts even worse: the heart in her chest. Hurting as if it'd been stepped on, but not a bad pain. It comes from the realization that maybe Roy does have some interest in friendship after all if he cares enough to convince her, and it keeps her sitting on the grass with rainwater dripping between her toes.
"Can you walk?" Roy asks.
She shakes her head. Some part of her would like to stay right here where the truth is.
"May I carry you?"
Riza looks at her feet where little sharp stone fragments are buried in puckers of skin. "I guess," she says in response to everything.
This is the second time he carries her like this, one arm below the crease of her knees and the other supporting her back. Riza scoops up the pillowcase and wonders at the symbolism as he falls into step behind his former self on an afternoon four years earlier. "It's like that day when I crashed the bike," he says, remembering the same thing. When they went out on that bike ride and he took a turn too fast. He braked and she landed face-first into dirt and scraped her hands, her knees, so he carried her back and applied cold swabs of antiseptic before wrapping her injuries.
They're a long way off, but he takes the road back at a jog. Rain rinses the dirt off her feet. There's a scent left on her fingers that she recognizes as tea, strong enough that it hadn't washed off her hands yet. There is another smell Riza won't learn to recognize until long after when they lie as adults in a bed, when she hovers over him as he kisses down her body and she twines her fingers into his hair and comments that it's too rebellious to succumb to combing. Eventually she will learn to anticipate a different kind of rhythmic rocking than that of being carried miles down a roadway.
Roy brings her across the threshold of a dripping doorway and takes her to the closest bathroom. Running water is commonplace in main cities, but here water is hauled from wells on the farm's perimeter. He brings a bucket of it from outside along with a dry nightgown to swap out for her soaked one. Once she's wrapped in warm blankets and clothes, he helps clean her feet. She bites down on her lip to keep from crying as they pull fragments of grit out. He washes the cuts out with antiseptic and bandages her feet, then carries Riza to her bedroom. She pulls back the covers. He lays her down gently. His muscles will hurt in the morning from exertion and they're both aware of it. This is why she rests her hand on his forearm, a touch that says thank you. "Mister Mustang? I'm sorry for all that. But . . . don't tell Father. Okay?"
"I won't, but quit being stupid." He sweeps still-wet hair out of her face and she tells herself it's a casual gesture even though his fingers linger a moment too long on her forehead.
"It's just hard sometimes," she admits.
"I hear it gets easier. But I think that's because you find people who make it better. Next time you're feeling like that, come talk to me. You did that one night."
"Maybe," she says, and for now it's enough.
She turns her head a bit as he walks off and closes the door. His footsteps in the hall beyond are precise but unhurried. Roy Mustang steps. One day she will learn them so well that when a shape-shifter tries to fool her she won't buy the act for more than a moment. Some things settle in so unmistakably they're beyond imitation. Riza rolls on her back and considers the ceiling. She figures maybe she's waited long enough and this is the sign of love she was looking for from her long-dead mother. Someone sent Roy to her, didn't they?
To be the daughter of a haunted and reclusive alchemist is to know nothing of liberty, but when she falls asleep and dreams of the white room with walls she can't crack, she's no longer alone in imprisonment. There is a hand on her shoulder keeping her steady, the support she will feel for the rest of her life in unexpected moments, the touch that smoothes over the rough gashes life has gouged out of her. Long after they have grown older—on a day when she lies bleeding from the throat and hears him yell into the darkness, his voice so sudden and large and terrified, nearly weeping because he already misses her—she will look back and realize they must invent a new dictionary to describe what they have become because love is too cheap and ordinary. But for now Riza sleeps and dreams of the voice that brought her back home, not yet knowing that in the morning there would be breakfast on a tray by her pillow. Half-burned pancakes and tea, not coffee, because this time he remembers.
A/N: Greetings from the Lady, and thank you for reading my first attempt at a Royai fanfiction. I hope you enjoyed it! I'm considering writing additional Royai oneshots (or maybe even a longer story) if you liked this one, so please leave some thoughts below so I know if this story was successful. Thank you~