Roy walks Riza up to her apartment—not because she needs it, or wants it, or because he thinks there’s even a remote possibility that he’d be able to offer her some kind of protection that she couldn’t offer herself; but because he likes to. Times like this, when they’re both exhausted and worn a bit thin, they’re even more honest than usual, and it feels… safe. Comfortable. Familiar. Like the old days, when they could talk about anything without having to wonder who might listen if they did it in the wrong place.
Besides, he hates goodbyes called out the car window, striving to be heard without shouting loud enough to irk the neighbors. Those always feel cheap, and Riza Hawkeye is one of the most valuable human beings that he’s ever met.
“Do you want a cup of tea?” she asks when they’re halfway up the walk, and everything that needs to be vented about Hakuro and his cronies has been aired.
“That’s all right,” he says.
She looks at the door to the complex as they approach it, and by the shift of her features, he knows there’s something that she wants to say.
“Out with it,” he says. “I’ll brace myself.”
Sometimes it’s nothing. Sometimes it’s a dose of good-natured ribbing to keep him as grounded as any mortal could hope to do. Sometimes it’s an observation that his hair is especially untameable today.
Sometimes she tears his life apart.
He loves her for all of them, rather a bit in spite of himself.
“If you insist,” she says, which is very convenient, since it skips the part where he has to. “It’s—well—you were a bit embarrassing tonight.”
That stings a bit, but there aren’t any visible shreds of his soul and existence floating around like tectonic plates, so he’ll recover soon enough.
“Was I?” he says. “I’m… sorry?”
His impulse, with her, is always to accept fault first—speaking of tectonics—and examine the facts second. These ones don’t add up: he wasn’t drinking; he kept his clothes on; he didn’t go on any particularly lengthy rants about work. He didn’t eat more than his share of the pie—even though he wanted to, of course, because it was Gracia’s, and anyone with functioning tastebuds daydreams of eating more than their share at the next opportunity—and he didn’t spill anything on anyone. He doesn’t even recall saying anything particularly histrionic, although admittedly his standards are somewhat more lenient than Riza’s.
She must be reading—and probably enjoying—the play of the confusion across his face, because she takes pity on him:
“Edward,” she says.
Roy pauses. This path is fraught with perils, and he is far too young and beautiful to die. “What about him?”
“You were undressing him with your eyes the entire night,” Riza says.
“I was not,” Roy says, which is ridiculous, because it would be impossible to lie to her even if she didn’t know him so damn well. She actually stops walking to maximize the effect of the eyebrow she’s giving him, so he folds his arms and tries another tack. “Well—hell. Have you seen his ass?”
“Occasionally,” Riza says. “I’m afraid I don’t have its contours memorized and mathematically catalogued like you do.”
“I was a scientist before I was a soldier,” Roy says.
“And you were a lech from the very beginning?” Riza asks.
Roy grimaces. “Was it… obvious? Or was it only obvious to you because you know the signs?”
“I think the only person in that house tonight who didn’t know you wanted to lick Ed’s clavicles,” Riza says, “was Ed himself.”
“Shit,” Roy says. “Gracia’s going to kill me.”
“It’s not Gracia you have to worry about,” Riza says. She gives him a moment to begin to sweat. “It’s Alphonse.”
The sweating continues in earnest. “Oh, God. You’re right.”
She pats him on the shoulder—she is, categorically and well-deservedly, enjoying this—and starts up along the path again. “You had a good run.”
“Remember me as I was,” he says. “Tall, dark, handsome, and humble.”
“I’ll have to ask Alphonse to leave a portion of your corpse unmangled for me to desecrate,” Riza says.
“It’s not my fault!” Roy says, which is also ridiculous, but required. “He—I turned my back for five minutes, and he wound up gorgeous. I shouldn’t be blamed and murdered and burned in effigy just for noticing.”
“You noticed for some extremely extended stretches,” Riza says. “I couldn’t believe there wasn’t any visible drool.”
Roy claps a hand over his heart and attempts to look as mortally wounded as humanly possible.
“You poor thing,” Riza says. She puts her key into the lock. “How will you ever survive?”
“I don’t know,” Roy says. She puts her key in the lock, and the other words hover on his lips, and then the instant he reaches for them, they make a dive for freedom, and— “Really, though. What am I supposed to do now?”
“Ask him out,” Riza says, turning to him. “Nicely.”
Roy blinks at her. “You—but you—”
“I know what I said,” Riza says. “But if you can keep your tongue in your mouth, I think it might just be good for both of you.”
Roy holds a hand to his head. “I…”
“Besides,” Riza says. “You have to.”
He blinks again.
“Because if you don’t,” she says, “I’ll do it for you.”
Roy holds both hands to his head this time, but that doesn’t help much either. He hears himself utter one more completely ludicrous sentence to top off the night: “That’s not fair.”
“Suck it up, sir,” Riza says.
If only it was the first time he’s hearing that. “Is this revenge for that time when we were fifteen that I tried to set you up with Leopold McCarthy?”
“I can’t believe you even remember that,” she says.
“That wasn’t a ‘no’,” he says.
“Interesting,” she says, but the tiniest hint of a sly smile betrays her. “Well, in any case—believe me. It’s for your own good.”
Roy eyes her. “Precisely how is an automail knee in the gonads going to be ‘for my own good’?”
“If I thought that was how it was going to end,” Riza says, “I wouldn’t be sending you to it.”
Roy eyes her harder.
She smiles at him, innocence incarnate. “…unless you’d really done something to deserve it that week.”
“Have I?” he asks.
“The only thing you’ve done this week that’s particularly objectionable is ogle Edward for three hours,” she says. “Which this strategy is designed to prevent. So if you think about it—it’s for all of our own good.”
“Forgive me for not realizing how magnanimous blackmailing me was meant to be,” Roy says. “What makes you think I’m going to ogle him less if I have permission to?”
“Two words,” Riza says, holding up her fingers in a V. She tips one down. “Alphonse—” And the second. “—Elric.”
“Ah,” Roy says.
“Ah indeed,” Riza says.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to be Führer?” Roy asks.
“Very funny, sir,” Riza says.
“I try,” Roy says.
“You may want to brush up on your banter before you go out with Ed,” Riza says.
“All I have to do is get him to the restaurant,” Roy says. “If the food’s good enough, it won’t matter what I say.”
“Hmm,” Riza says. “I can’t commit to assisting you with any kidnapping required to transport him there. My schedule’s pretty tight.”
“First blackmail, now kidnapping,” Roy says. “And yet you continue to insist that this is a good idea for reasons that are entirely beyond me.”
She smiles, but the softness and the sincerity of it kill the next sardonic comment percolating in his throat.
“You’re lonely, Roy,” she says. “You’ve been lonely for a long time. And he’s lost. You could do a lot for each other without even trying. As far as I can tell, that’s the whole point.”
Roy looks at her for a few long moments. He doesn’t even realize until he feels his fingers curling into fists that his hands are in his pockets.
“All of this,” he says, “is predicated on the premise that he’s interested in the first place. That he’s even capable of being interested.” Not everyone is, obviously, and that’s fine, of course. It’s fine and perfectly reasonable and nothing Roy isn’t so used to that he can walk that road in the imprints of his own footsteps without ever touching unmarked ground.
“Roy,” she says. “He had a hero-worship crush on you when he was twelve, followed by a frustrated-adolescent crush on you when he was fifteen, followed by a hard-won-respect crush at sixteen, followed by spending at least fifteen uninterrupted seconds tonight watching you serve yourself punch and licking his lips at the end.”
Roy reorients his brain and rehashes some recent memories so that he can watch them through the lens of that new intelligence.
Then he concludes, characteristically eloquently, “Oh, shit.”
“Quite,” Riza says. She shrugs, opens the door, and leans on the doorframe, looking him up and down. “Well, you’d better go home, get some sleep, and think about it. You have a week before I step in.”
“What?” Roy says.
“You heard me,” she says.
“What?” he says, louder, which doesn’t help at all.
She smiles, waves, and shuts the door in his face.