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The Pain in Between

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Neither one of them anticipate how awkward it will be when Roy moves in for the time it will take him to decode the alchemy transmutation circle on her back. It’s not like they can just fall right back into the routine they were in before he left for the Academy, after all. His leaving hurt them all in their own ways and it’s clear that no one in the house wants to talk about it or what it might mean.

Shula is eager at first, bounding inside like she’s a young cub. She sticks at Roy’s side long enough for him to put his things back in his old room before roaming around the house. By the time she comes back though, she’s a lot more subdued and slow-moving, her tail almost totally still and her eyes no longer bright and not saying anything.

Riza can tell right away that the lion daemon is disappointed. Things have changed in the Hawkeye house, but definitely not for the better. It started to fall apart right as her father’s health, both physical and mental, began to rapidly decline, like the two were tied together intrinsically. She struggles to look at the daemon, feeling a stab of shame – she could have done so much more – but then Wojciech nips at her fingers.

You did the best you could, he practically scolds her. You did more than you should have.

Most of her knows that. It was almost impossible to manage the upkeep of both the house and her father, along with working in the town in order to scramble together some sort of money to support them. And she was also healing and in pain from the tattoo the entire time too. Every time Wojciech catches a glimpse of her back, she feels a burn of resentment rising in him. Near the end, he wouldn’t even be in the same room as her father and he ignored her father’s Vidya outright. The two daemons were never close, truth be told, but she never saw such a level of disrespect or such coldness on Wojciech’s side before.

But then, Wojciech has always been incredibly protective of her, like it’s his duty to watch over her when no one else has. It’s why Roy and Shula’s leaving hurt him so terribly. He grew to trust them – not with himself, but with her. She thinks he feels guilty at times for pushing the two of them together back when Roy was her father’s apprentice, as if it was his fault for her getting hurt in the end. It’s not, of course, but Wojciech is obstinate.

It’s difficult to gain the wolf’s trust, but even more so to gain it back. Riza cannot miss the wariness in Roy’s body and eyes whenever he’s in the same room as Wojciech. One upon a time, Wojciech would come to him willingly, happily, but now her daemon prowls in the dark corners of the house, his eyes glaring in the night light, and even Roy can tell that he’s not exactly welcome here despite Riza opening up her home and heart to him again. Maybe she’s softer than her daemon – maybe she just misses Roy that much that it’s easier to forgive him for what she knows wasn’t meant to be cruel – but the past few years has hardened Wojciech in a way that neither of them anticipated.

He was all she had when he thought that there might be something more. In his mind, Roy and Shula didn’t just leave them to join the military; they left the two of them alone to suffer.

“So, ah, how do you want to go about doing this?” Roy asks nervously over breakfast. It’s nothing much, just the last scraps of food. She hasn’t had the chance to go grocery shopping and is low on money besides. Roy might’ve paid for the funeral, but she’ll be damned if he thinks that he’s going to pay for everything else during his stay as well. Maybe Wojciech isn’t the only stubborn one here.

“It’s simple, isn’t it?” Riza replies while picking up their plates. He immediately goes to stand up to help, but she waves him down. She was doing this on her own before he came into her and Wojciech’s lives and she continued to do it without any help after he left. She can feel the sting of her dismiss without looking at him and a burst of pride from Wojciech. “You study the alchemy notes and figure out the key to my father’s research.”

“Yes, but you–” Roy swallows.

Riza turns from the sink to face him and gives him a flat look. “It’s just my back, Mr. Mustang.”

Roy’s face turns red, but he sits up straighter in the chair. “It’s Roy. You don’t have to call me that.”

The word “anymore” is implied, but not said out loud. Her father is dead. There is no one holding them accountable for being proper. She could touch him if she wanted to – she could touch Shula, if she wanted to (and she does, despite everything, despite them leaving, she does) – but she holds herself back regardless. Wojciech’s distant nature is bleeding into her, she thinks. It’s not that she doesn’t trust Roy – she wouldn’t have told him about her father’s flame alchemy research if she didn’t – it’s that she’s, well…

She’s afraid.

Wojciech lets out a huff from his spot in the doorway. Shula’s tail flicks irritably, her eyes locked on the wolf, but neither one of them say anything. Riza wonders how long it will take before whatever damaged befell them will be repaired. Her daemon is prone to holding grudges and Shula is so prideful.

Once everything is cleaned and put away, they retire to the study. Both she and Roy decided the night before that they would get started on decoding the notes as soon as possible. She’s both worried that the time it takes will be too brief and that it will be too long. She doesn’t want him to go again, but she’s not sure how long she can handle him being here either, especially with the way she catches Shula looking at her longingly. Riza missed them.

Even though he’ll have to look at her eventually, Roy turns away as Riza takes off her shirt and bra, choosing to murmur something to Shula. She lays belly down on the couch that they pushed in here last night, resting her head on a pillow and clutching a blanket underneath her chest to cover herself up as best as she can. Wojciech lays down on the ground so that she can reach down to rest her hand on his head if need be. It’s the closest he’s allowed Roy to come to him since the night her father died.

(There’s an image that Riza can’t forget: Roy turning to face them, a stunned and panicked look on his pale face, his eyes wide, dust from her father’s hawk daemon sliding through his fingers, and then reaching out to Wojciech on instinct – and Wojciech, taking one step forward without thinking, then rearing back and leaving the room as quickly as possible and Shula hiding her face in her front paws, the hurt so palpable in the room that it physically pained Riza…)

Roy eases himself on the ground next to the couch with a notebook and pencil in his hand. Shula sits at his back, her body pressed against his so that he could lean against her if he wanted, and it’s like the two daemons form a protective barrier around them, both keeping Roy and Riza apart and yet together somehow.

The second Roy’s fingers touch her back again, she takes a sharp intake of breath and he jerks his hand back and mumbles, “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Riza sighs, closing her eyes. A mixture of distrust and concern sparks in Wojciech’s mind, but he doesn’t move. “Your hand was just colder than I expected.”

“Not for long, hopefully,” Roy says, a clumsy attempt at joking. It shouldn’t make her smile, not in the least bit, but it does. He’s trying. It might not seem like it, but she can tell that he’s trying as best as he can. It’s just terribly difficult to appease a wolf.

She hears him blow on his hands and then feels his fingers on her skin again. In all honesty, he probably doesn’t need to touch her, but it makes her feel better. It’s like he’s acknowledging that she isn’t just a piece of information to look at and study. She’s a human being; she’s real. This will mark her forever as it will mark him once he cracks the code – as surely as he marked her the night he first touched her daemon on accident and Wojciech settled.

“Did it hurt?” Roy asks quietly, though both of them know that the answer is an obvious one. He’s trying to fill the void of the silence.

“Yes,” Riza tells him, not even trying to be gentle. “It took many long sessions.”

She can feel the tension in him through his touch on her back as his fingertips glide over the transmutation circle. It burns her again, like he’s painting over it with his touch, and she tries not to shiver. She wants to look at him. She wants to roll over and face him. It’s so stupid and silly of her, but she wants to kiss him. Even now, even after everything, after the all the loss and pain. She just wants him back home. Instead, she stays stock still.

“I can believe it,” Roy says. “This is the most complex array that I have ever seen in my life.”

“How long do you think it will take you to unravel it?”

“I don’t know,” Roy admits. “Weeks?”

There’s a lull of silence between them as they all contemplate what that might mean. Weeks of Roy and Shula being in the house. Will it still feel lonely? Can they even come close to falling back in their old routine or has too much changed? Will any of them be able to stand it? There’s so much tension lying in the room between them now. It feels like both Wojciech and Shula are ready to tear into each other.

“Riza,” Roy breathes and he’s so close and his touch is so feather light that it makes her want to cry. She hasn’t cried in a long time. Warmth from Wojciech swells up inside of her, but he can only do so much and knows it too. “I should never have left you.”

“You did what you thought was best,” Riza tells him, opening her eyes and turning her head to look at him. “I don’t resent you and I’m not angry either.”

It’s not an empty or cold tone; her voice is filled with understanding that she truly believes in. It took a lot of time for her to get over his leaving and the sparsity of his letters, but she did it in the end. She knows that he didn’t mean to hurt her. It was time for him to leave. Maybe she should have left too.

“I knew that your father wasn’t exactly stable, but I left anyways because I was greedy and I wanted more,” Roy says, stilling his hand and lying his palm flat on her lower back.

“You shouldn’t feel ashamed for wanting to do more with your life,” Riza points out. She knows that Wojciech doesn’t necessarily agree, but he’s a hypocrite in this area. How many times did he tell her the same thing when things were so rough and hard in this house? “Your time here was done.”

Roy bites his lip. “But I didn’t want it to be done with you too.”

It hits her hard, but she does her best not to react. She can tell that she doesn’t do a great job, going tense under his hand and glancing away from the intensity of his gaze. “We all make decisions that have ups and downs. You chose to leave and I chose to stay. They both had their consequences in the end.” That was something hard for her to acknowledge. Roy and Shula left, but she stayed. She refused to pass that off and take away her own choice. “Besides, you’re here now, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Roy replies, nodding his head. “We’re here.”

“Good.” Riza smiles at him. “Now no more slacking. We’re not kids anymore.”

Roy chuckles and returns his own weak lop-sided grin, but then does as he was told. Riza turns her head and closes her eyes again, but reaches down to rub Wojciech’s head and scratch him behind the ears. His restlessness is beginning to bleed into her and she needs to sit still if Roy is going to get any work done. He’d never admit it and she would never ask him to, but Riza knows: her daemon is scared too. But they will always have each other.