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Riza is a dutiful daughter.

She is mature and responsible from an early age. Her mother dies when she is eight and the Hawkeyes cannot afford luxuries like nannies or maids. There is a neighborhood girl named Gretchen who sat with Riza three days a week, back when her mother was alive. Gretchen had a sweet tooth and helped Riza with her math assignments while Riza's mother taught night classes at Central City University.

For the first month after Riza's mother dies, Gretchen keeps the schedule. Riza's father does not ask her to stop—he leaves his study even more rarely than before—and so they carry on through the motions for want of something better.

Gretchen does stop when it occurs to her to wonder what Riza does on the other four days. That or she simply tires of not being paid. Neighborly charity can only carry so far and the logical course is clear. Gretchen will either give up on this responsibility, an understanding with a dead woman, or redouble it and spend every night of her life for the forseeable future braiding Riza's pigtails and attempting amiable chatter with a little girl who has become too solemn for her age. Gretchen is sixteen and very kind, but has no interest in raising anyone's children.

Riza raises herself.

There is a stipend, an inheritance really, that supplemented their income prior to her mother's passing. Her father stopped teaching classes a long time ago, so it becomes their only income. It will last them years if they live modestly. He asks her for the mail and about how she did in school that day and tells her to go to bed on time. Riza brings him the bills and they get paid eventually. She learns how to shop for groceries and order food. She cleans the spaces that they use. Their home was always old and creaky, but layers of dust settle in and cover the majority of rooms on all three floors. The Hawkeyes were wealthy once, and perhaps they still are somewhere in some corner of Amestris that Riza has never seen. Her father has not spoken to anyone in his family in the breadth of Riza's entire lifetime.

On the third floor, in a room half covered in gray sheets, there are portraits and photos of stern-faced men and women with hair the color of wheat and implacable amber eyes. Riza does not see herself in them, regardless of the resemblance, and feels no connection. After she gives up on tending the entire house, she never revisits those memories, long-faded before she was born.

In the beginning, it's simple.

To Riza, there is just her and her father.

To her father, there is mostly just his work.

The door of his study looms large—larger than anything else in Riza's life. She always knocks and rarely enters.

 

*

 

Riza is ten when her father tries to teach her alchemy.

She is a clever child, quick-witted and perceptive, but she has no talent for it. Her father is unrelenting though and Riza tries for him. It is not what she imagined spending evenings with him in his study would be like, but she tries.

"Alchemy will be my legacy—our legacy," he tells her. As though saying it ardently enough will make her understand better and faster, will cause the currents of power to become more apparent to her. She draws her circles with a shaking hand, her fingers play along the edges and nothing happens.

"Concentrate, Riza," her father says and she can feel the burning intensity of his stare with infinitely more clarity than she can the interplay of matter and energy. "You're not concentrating!"

The truth is: she's terrified.

She doesn't realize that it wasn't alchemy she was afraid of until years later.

The smallest spark of energy crackles around the edges of the circle and it feels like her father hasn't blinked. She doesn't know what to do. His instructions and the endless equations and chemical compositions swirl incomprehensibly in her head and she pulls back, frantic. The spark turns into light and it feels for a moment like the atmosphere is being ripped away. Then the paper tears itself to shreds and so does a chunk of the wooden table beneath it. Riza knocks her chair over and falls to the floor.

There are cuts on her hands where the splintering wood caught her. One tiny sliver is wedged in her right index finger. A drop of blood wells up at the same time as the tears in her eyes. Riza sniffs them back, then puts the finger in her mouth and clenches the splinter between her teeth, pulls it out.

Her father kneels on the floor beside her and passes her a handkerchief, faded from use. She spits wood and the coppery tang of her own blood into it.

His hand is heavy, awkward, on her tiny shoulder.

"We'll try again when you're older," he says with a wan smile, utterly defeated.

Two weeks later, he begins interviewing apprentices.

 

*

 

Her father did great works once, in that nebulous and unknowable time before she was born. Before he disappeared into his research and his skin paled and his cheeks hollowed. He served the people, as an alchemist should. Riza believes him, but she can't actually imagine him as anything but the withering man she has known her entire life.

Others remember his name, however.

He runs through half a dozen apprentices in eighteen months. The youngest is Riza's age and the oldest twice that. They spend most of their time in her father's study with him, long afternoons and often into the night. At least until he ejects them one after another, sometimes with shouting and sometimes with silence preceding their stomping through the house and never returning.

Most, she figures out, lack aptitude in the same way that she did. The two eldest, though, become frustrated with the progression of their instruction and make demands that her father refuses to meet.

Riza has little reason to pay them any mind outside of whether she's getting dinner for two or three. She is a somber little girl, quiet and stern—that's what everyone says—so they extend her the same apathetic courtesy.

Riza makes bets with herself about how long each will last. She always wins.

Two full months after the dismissal of the sixth apprentice, Riza comes home from school and hears the faint sound of voices carrying through the house. She sits down in the living room to do her homework and when the time comes, orders dinner for three.

The sun has barely set when the study door opens, then closes. Riza counts the footsteps as they approach. Fewer than she'd take, more than her father would. A teenaged boy enters the room, running a hand through his dark hair to keep it out of his equally dark eyes. It falls right back into its previous place when he looks down at her. He smiles and puts his hands at his waist. His shoulders seem too broad for his body, like the rest of him—lean and overlong—hasn't had a chance to catch up just yet.

Riza's twelfth birthday is six months past. He can't be more than a few years her senior, but as he regards her she suddenly feels both far older and far younger than she is.

"You must be Master Hawkeye's daughter," he says. "I'm Roy Mustang."

Riza wipes her palms on her skirt before she stands.

"Hello," she replies.

There is a knock at the front door.

"Are you expecting someone?" he asks. He's still smiling and she doesn't know why. She feels flush. She wants him to stop—she wants him never to stop.

"It's dinner," she explains and she notices that he already has his coat on.

"I ordered for three," she adds. It's true but she had no intention of saying so.

The deliveryman knocks again and Riza mumbles 'excuse me' and goes to the door. When she turns around, bags in hand, Roy tries to take them from her. She stubbornly holds onto one, irritated for no reason. She sees his coat thrown across an armchair when they pass back through the living room to get to the kitchen. He leans against the counter as she prepares her father's tray.

She doesn't ask him to, but Roy stays.

 

*

 

Their home has been empty for a long time. It makes no sense that one more person should seem to fill it. Or maybe Roy Mustang's presence is just bigger than he is.

Still, the years that Roy studies under her father are not so different from all the years before. Riza goes to school, comes home, and does her work. She takes care of her father in all the ways that he refuses to take care of himself. If anything, her father sinks even further into his research. He works through meals and without sleep. His questions to her, his speaking to her at all, become ever more sporadic. He barely looks at her when she has reason to come into the study and when he does his gaze is distant and pre-occupied. She's not certain who or what is looking at her from the other side of it.

But Roy stays. He emerges from the study evening after evening—tired or triumphant, but always determined—and Riza doesn't have to eat alone.

A lot of the time, they eat in silence. Other times he talks, amicable and easy. He's boastful, charming in spite of himself, and enjoys sounding as though he's the most exciting man in the world—as though he's a man at all. Riza responds with pointed skepticism that he largely takes in stride. He tries and fails to get her to put off her school assignments and they never talk about alchemy.

Riza knows that he believes in her father and in the tenants that he teaches. Be thou for the people. She can see it in his eyes and his bearing and the way he speaks. He wants to be the kind of man her father once was. Riza still believes too despite her own deficiencies with alchemy. She's always needed to because then her father is the way he is for a reason.

It occurs to her that she should resent Roy for being able to do what she cannot—being who she could not—but she just wants to find her own way to help. Hating him for something that neither of them can control just seems silly. (Hating him at all seems impossible.)

 

*

 

Riza finishes school at the top of her class and opts out of the commencement ceremony. At fourteen, she feels strange enough in her skin already without being paraded across a stage to no benefit; there would be no one in the audience to watch her. So, she steps out onto the street after her last day of classes with her final marks folded neatly and tucked into her backpack, her certificate pressed between two books.

There is a small group of girls from her class clustered a few meters away from the gate and when Riza walks past them they are whispering. She realizes why once she follows their line of sight.

Roy is standing at the curb with his bicycle—which he's been claiming he will replace with a car very soon for the last six months. He leans over the handlebars, chin on his forearms, and a lit cigarette hangs out of the corner of his mouth. He blows a very deliberate smoke ring and winks in the direction of the girls as Riza approaches. A cacophony of giggles rises and falls.

"Riza," Roy says at the same time that Riza asks, "What are you doing here?"

He looks mildly affronted.

"I was in the neighborhood. You're going home, aren't you?"

Riza can feel the other girls' eyes boring into her back. She's always been quiet. She keeps to herself and gives people very little reason to talk to or about her. It just seems easier that way. Easier than being the sad, little girl with the dead mother and eccentric recluse father like she is in her neighborhood. At school, they've heard rumors but she's just not interesting enough to maintain their attention.

Roy is not inconspicuous. Girls look at him the way Riza looked at him before she knew him. He gives them reason to talk about her; who's dating whom is always something they find worth discussing.

Of course, Riza isn't dating anyone. But given that it's her last day there's not much chance she'll ever be able to clarify. She shouldn't care, but she does.

She wonders at his highly ironic timing.

"Of course I'm going home," she says brusquely, face coloring.

Roy takes a drag from his cigarette and flicks ashes off of the end as he holds it between two fingers. She knows exactly when he started and how often he does it. She can track the smell of tobacco on his clothes and in his hair.

"Want a ride?" he asks.

Riza doesn't think that she pulls a particularly noticeable face, but Roy sighs in an exaggerated fashion, tosses his cigarette to the ground and stubs it out with his toe. Then, he looks at her expectantly. Riza tugs her skirt straight, then climbs onto the bicycle seat and holds on tight.

She looks down at her feet hanging above the ground as it speeds by and not up at the boy standing on the pedals in front of her, pumping legs that seem to get longer every time she sees him.

"So, last day," he says suddenly when they stop at an intersection. Riza remembers that state schools all use the same schedules—that they would have years ago as well.

Roy doesn't live anywhere near her school.

"What are you going to do now?" he asks.

"Something useful, I hope," she replies.

 

*

 

Her father insists that she attend secondary school. She hasn't considered it; they don't have the money. But it's been so long since her father asked anything of her she can't find the voice to protest.

It turns out that he's set aside money from his instructor's fee. Not just from Roy, but all the others before him—brief as they were.

Riza has to wear a uniform and the curriculum is very intensive. Before her first day, she cuts her hair. It's more bothersome than anything else. So she chops the ponytail off at the root—a weight gone from the nape of her neck—and trims from there. Short hair makes her look older, anyway, or maybe she just wishes it did. People still treat her like a child, but she'd forgotten what being a child felt like before her age hit double digits.

More work should mean less socialization, but Riza finds that she gets along well with her new schoolmates. They're older, more mature. And even if they don't quite have it yet, they want direction and purpose. She has things to do after school some days, places to which she is invited, people who want her around. Roy jokes, in passing, that she's going to abandon him for more interesting company and he affects hurt feelings. If they have dinner any less than they did before, it's not just her schedule. It's him as well, either leaving early or staying so late that Riza's already gone up to her room by the time he emerges. Riza would just assume that Roy's training is reaching the next plateau, but she can tell that he has something else entirely on his mind.

She's right.

Riza doesn't find out exactly what was said. She doesn't know if it was shouted, communicated in heated whispers or perfectly even tones. But she's on her way into the house and he is on his way out with a stomp and scowl that is all too familiar even after all this time.

Riza never bet against Roy Mustang.

He stops when he sees her and his hands, clenched into fists at his sides, unfurl. His eyes are still angry, dark and gleaming in the fading light.

Riza doesn't ask what happened. She already knows.

"I have to do something," he declares, maybe to her and maybe to himself. "He doesn't understand that. And I do not understand him."

His frustration, mixed with pure befuddlement, is childlike when it shows on his face. It's jarring because it's been three years and the idea of him being a man as opposed to a boy stopped being laughable some time ago.

She wants to say that she doesn't understand her father either and never has. She wants to tell him that he is certainly closer than she is. She wants to remind him that he should continue to try since he's already outlasted everyone else. She wants him to stop and turn around.

She wants-

But Roy leaves.

 

*

 

Things get worse, but only at the borders. At every edge of Amestris enemies close in and unrest blooms. But that doesn't matter in Central. It doesn't matter in Riza's house. Her father mumbles about the military, but they both understand that it's about Roy. The principle itself, he gnawed that bone of contention down to a nub years before. It is only with Roy's absence that it becomes something he feels the need to talk about again, at least to Riza.

Riza doesn't really want to think about it at all. Though she wonders at his rationale for criticizing the soldiers protecting Amestris while all the power he has sits dormant in his study. What good improving upon what he's not even making use of in the first place? But she wonders that privately, and for a few months she talks to her father more than she has in years. She finds out more about his work than she's ever known, as well. He doesn't try to teach her again, which is what she fears at first. She knows he hasn't given up on his legacy. She hears hope in his voice as time passes.

Before it's always been passion, resolve, obsession, but not this fragile hint of expectation. Like a last deep breath before he reaches the end. Riza never thought there was an end for him, not while his heart was still beating. She knows that he is creating a new kind of alchemy, techniques no one's ever seen before. But she just cannot imagine him stopping there. She can't imagine him stopping, ever. Her entire life, he's never stopped.

Then, one day, he finishes. Riza finds out exactly what that end looks like.

Riza could not carry her father's legacy in the way that he wished, so he carves his life's work into her skin. She flinches under a stranger's hand and against the bite of the needles—prick and stab after prick and stab over an entire week. Her father's comforting words seem empty. He is entrusting her, he swears, with something so precious that he cannot leave it to memory or written record. Only to her and her alone, to his trust in her loyalty and her judgment.

Riza just feels like a convenient hiding place—another creation of his, finally put to use.

 

*

 

Riza never really looks at her own tattoo.

Nothing more than the odd glance as she passes the mirror in the bathroom after a shower.

It's on her back to ensure that she will not show it to anyone she doesn't trust absolutely. But it's also on her back because it doesn't matter whether she can see it herself.

 

*

 

During Riza's final year of school a boy named Liam Marco falls in love with her. She dates him—seriously—and never once mentions him to her father. When he whispers to her about running away to some other city or even country, sometimes she actually considers it. Only briefly, but she considers it. Her father would disapprove of the entire affair. He might even be furious. Riza still doesn't think of it as rebellion. After all, Liam wouldn't know a transmutation circle from a checkerboard, but she still makes him turn off the lights.

He really does leave Central after they finish school, but doesn't ask her along. By that time Liam is long since aware that Riza would never go. Her father is ill, all those years of wasting away while he researched finally catching up to him. He doesn't have anyone else. Beyond that, though Riza never says as much, Liam picks up on the fact that while she's not sure what she wants to do, she is sure that she doesn't want to live her life with him.

Eight weeks later, Roy comes back.

He doesn't call ahead; or, at least, he doesn't call her. Maybe her father knows. But to Riza he just shows up at the door in his blue military uniform. His mouth falls open as his gaze sweeps over her and she stares right back at him. When Roy left, Riza thought of him as as an adult, fully grown and ready to make his own way in the world. She envied it. She sees that she was wrong.

He still had jagged edges back then—an outline with bits missing, unfinished. It's only noticeable to her in comparison because now he's all filled in: taller, thicker, solid, with purpose in his eyes.

"Hello, Mr. Mustang," she says, because that's how far away from him she feels.

"Riza-" he begins.

"I assume you're here to see my father." Her fingers flex against the door where she holds it open. "He should be in bed, which means he's probably in his study."

She steps to the side, out of his way. He hesitates, long enough that she thinks he might not come in at all. Then he walks past her and into the house, his booted footsteps heavy across the floor. He stops at the edge of the foyer.

"I'd like to talk. After," he says without turning around. Riza doesn't respond, just closes and locks the front the door. Roy disappears towards her father's study.

Riza paces, through the living room into the hall and back. She stares at the study door, as implacable and impenetrable as it ever was. Just when she's just decided to leave it be, to make coffee and wait for him, she hears yelling. Her very first thought is that she cannot let Roy go stomping out again.

She knocks and opens the study door simultaneously. Her fist still hovers near the wood when Roy screams her name.

 

*

 

Roy makes all the arrangements.

It's technically for her father, but it feels like the first time in a decade that someone has taken care of her. While Roy sees to the details of her father's death, Riza packs up what remains of her life. She takes her things from the house she's lived in since she was born and stuffs them all into a tiny apartment. They fit better than they should. Later, she'll have to sort through everything else and decide if there's anything she wants to keep. She doesn't anticipate much.

Riza doesn't for a second consider not selling the house. She can't imagine a single thing about it she'd want to remember. She's carried her mother inside her for years. Her father weighs heavy on her back. There's no chance of forgetting.

She and Roy don't actually talk until after the burial.

It's not what Riza wanted to talk about, but she cannot deny that it's fitting.

When she invites Roy back to her apartment it's because she knows that her father's research was meant for him—knows that he's still someone who would actually do good with it. She also knows she's not yet ready to see him walk away again. Especially if he might never come back.

 

*

 

Riza precedes Roy into the apartment, turns on the overhead light and both lamps on either side of the couch. Brightly lit is practical, and pragmatism is Riza's touchstone. Roy still stands near the door, his coat on, waiting and confused. It feels impossible to explain so Riza doesn't bother. She takes off her blazer and tosses it on the couch. Then, two calm, measured footsteps carry her to stand in front of him, an arm's length away. She puts her back to him and pulls her blouse over her head.

Behind her, Roy lets out a breath he was holding, but is otherwise silent. Her blouse dangles from her hand and she lets it fall, whisper-soft, to the floor. Roy shifts on his feet. He moves closer. Riza tries not to tense as she anticipates his touch. And she shouldn't. She shouldn't anticipate his touch because he only needs to see it, to read it. She can feel his breath between her shoulder blades. He's leaning forward for a closer look.

"This is- You're-," Roy tries.

"His life's work," Riza replies.

"You should lie down," he suggests suddenly. She can feel every word he says, warm against her skin. Gooseflesh is rising all over her body.

She turns her head and brings her arms up to cover her chest.

"It's complex and coded," he explains. "I'll need to study it. Unless you feel like standing the entire time."

It makes sense so she does it, but she finally flushes when she moves and he follows, too close behind as she goes to kneel, then lie prone on the couch. He takes off his coat and perches on the edge of the couch, leaning over her. He braces a hand on one side of her shoulder and her muscles tighten. She goes rigid before she can stop herself. He notices because he sits up again.

"This is embarrassing," he says. He huffs it out with exasperation, like he used to when they were children.

"It's tolerable," Riza says. Then adds: "But less so the longer you take."

"I meant for me." She can hear the smirk in his voice. She still knows what it sounds like.

"Not exactly fair is it?" He means more than her state of undress and knows that she understands that.

"No, it's not," Riza agrees.

There's more shuffling and Riza half sits up as his blue uniform jacket and crisp white shirt float past her line of sight on the way to the floor.

"What are you doing?" Riza asks, though he's already done it and it's obvious.

"Equivalent exchange. Basic rule of alchemy," he replies smugly.

It's silly and irrational and not actually helpful at all. It's like the bad jokes he used to tell in which the only humor to be found was the fact that Roy insisted they were funny. And that's the whole point: to be familiar—to put her at ease. She lies down again.

Out of the corner of her eye she can see him, shirtless, the broad expanse of bare skin filling her peripheral vision. He leans over her again, this time with one hand to each side of her shoulders. Whenever he inhales, his abs brush against the small of her back.

Riza rests her cheek against one of her hands and closes her eyes.

 

*

 

It doesn't happen the first time.

But it happens.

 

*

 

Days later, he's made a single drawing of one part of the tattoo. It never leaves Riza's apartment. He works on her coffee table and prefers it when she's there in case he needs to check against the original. They don't talk about the old days. They're meeting now on different terms and as different people, but their silences are comfortable all the same.

There is no impetus that Riza can identify. Not really. No reason that hasn't been there for years already. It's simple. The distance between them shrinks until there's none left at all. Until she sits beside him, close enough that her hip presses against his thigh, a shirt loosely clasped to her front. Until he presses knuckles into her spine as he considers alterations to the formulas, traces the shapes in the transmutation circle with his fingertips.

He doesn't smoke anymore, she realizes when they kiss. The taste of his tongue would give him away if he did. She caresses the square plane of his jaw as his mouth works against hers, skillful and sure. She runs the fingers of her other hand through his hair, shorter than when he left, but still perpetually disheveled. Wholly released, the blouse slips away from her and pools in their laps. Roy takes this opportunity to bring his hands up to her breasts, cupping them. Riza gasps and Roy misinterprets it. He immediately drops his hands to his lap. Riza stops kissing him just long enough to wrap her fingers around his wrists and guide his hands back. Her nipples harden immediately under Roy's palms and he doesn't make the mistake of ceasing to touch her again.

Not even when they get up to go to her bedroom. They stumble the short distance to the door, kissing deeply, her arms around his neck and their bare chests pressed together. He's rucked her skirt up almost to her waist and he kneads her bare thighs with a hair more enthusiasm than he's done anything else thus far. Roy backs her towards her bed, which she worries for a moment might not even fit two, and hooks a hand under her knee, then hitches her leg up to his waist. She can feel his arousal, hot and hard against her. When he tips them back into the bed, the way that their bodies press together sends all the breath rushing from her body—he groans into her mouth.

She wonders how long it's been for him. Not since he's done this, but since he's wanted to do it with her. Riza can trace it back for herself, back to the first stirrings of desire, before she even understood what she was feeling. It's always been Roy Mustang. Ever since she was twelve years old.

She lifts her hips as he slides her underwear down her legs. Her skirt is still bunched at her waist and he touches her, testing. She's more than ready and his touch is gentle, too gentle. His eyes widen when Riza lifts her hips again, rocking against his hand. He stares down at her, taking her in, and then he smiles, beatific. Riza doesn't know what to do with herself, seeing that. So it's all she can do to press a hand to his chest—his heart beats furiously under her palm.

"Roy," she breathes. Then she turns her head, her bangs falling over her face, because she just gave herself away. She never calls him that.

He leans closer and presses his forehead to the side of hers. His nose nuzzles at her cheek. He kisses the corner of her mouth.

"Riza," he replies. It comes out slowly, as though he's never said it before—a confession nested between two syllables.

They don't talk much after that.

He whispers into her skin as he kisses her. She carves her own secrets into his back with her nails.

 

*

 

Her bed really isn't big enough for both of them. At least, not when one of them isn't on top of the other. They lie on their sides, her body tucked into the hollow of his. Riza dozes off to his warm breath near her ear, but wakes, not too long after, to his hands tracing along her back.

Riza swallows, digs her fingers into the bedding. She couldn't really expect him to forget about it for long. She never does.

He lingers in one spot—sweeps over it with his thumb again and again—until Riza is forced to speak.

"Did you figure something out?" she asks, voice even.

Roy moves just enough to drop a kiss where his fingers were seconds before.

"Yeah," he says. "You have a mole above your left shoulder blade."

Her heart jumps into her throat, but she ignores it.

"I meant about the alchemy."

He sniffs. She can see his indignant expression in her mind as clearly as if she were looking at him.

"It's not exactly easy to focus on that kind of thing with a beautiful girl in your bed," he says.

"This is my bed," she reminds him. "And you need a better work ethic."

"My work ethic is fine," he protests, lips at the back of her neck now. He slides them slowly over until his tongue darts out just under her ear, right next to where her jaw starts to curve. "I just don't like splitting my concentration."

"Why not?" Riza manages with great effort. Her voice doesn't crack, though she takes a shuddering breath afterwards. She's already playing along, but Roy isn't allowed to be too pleased with himself.

His hand has made it to her leg and he strokes it slowly, dipping towards her inner thigh, but pulling up before he gets where she wants him.

"Because then nothing gets done right," he replies in a husky whisper. It's a few shades too much and Riza grins. She would laugh, but then he suckles at her earlobe, and she gasps instead. He flicks his tongue at it in a deliberate way that he must know she'll remember. It was only hours ago, even if his mouth was fixed quite a bit lower at the time.

Riza wriggles until she's on her back, until Roy has to climb half on top of her not to fall out of the bed, stopping his teasing mouth and hands. She wraps a leg around his waist, and then she grabs his face with both hands and kisses him hard. She kisses the smirk right off of his lips and the smug glint out of his eye. When she pulls away, she stares at him. His breath is coming fast and his eyes are blacker than she's ever seen them, his pupils huge and dilated.

She doesn't say anything, but Roy gets the message.

 

*

 

It takes three weeks total, for Roy to work it out. He drags Riza out to the back street behind her apartment building to show her when he's finally gotten the hang of it. He draws his transmutation circle in the dirt and, with nothing but a lighter, creates a swirling pillar of fire that consumes a large pile of trash waiting for pickup. The light from the fire makes little white dots float before her eyes and after a few moments, they both have to step back from the heat of the conflagration. Smiling, Roy puts it out just as easily as he started it.

It's terrible and magnificent and the knowledge that Roy will definitely be made a state alchemist settles heavy in Riza's chest.

She wants to believe that it will be safer than him being a foot soldier. State alchemists can only be called to fight in times of emergency, but Riza knows well that Amestris has more than enough emergencies to be getting on with. She thinks about it all the time; she has for years.

Roy is delighted, ecstatic. While he doesn't plan for it, he thinks that dying in the service of Amestris—dying protecting the people—is a perfectly acceptable fate.

Better than keeping all of the good you might be able to do trapped inside, where it can't help anyone—not even yourself. Better than a useless desire to help without the power to make it mean something.

It could well be an acceptable fate, Riza thinks. It very probably is.

But it's not one she can accept for him.

 

*

 

After he passes his test, he's transferred to the Eastern Command Center.

It's clear he doesn't know how to tell her, so he just blurts it out when he's halfway in the door.

He looks at her with conflicted eyes, half-waiting for her reaction and half-primed to say something himself. Riza considers what it might be or what he might expect her to say, but she puts it out of her mind. She doesn't want to know. At least not enough. It's not the sort of thing they talked about. They didn't offer any promises—neither of them asked for any.

"You don't have to explain yourself to me, Mr. Mustang," she says.

He opens his mouth then closes it.

"Congratulations," she adds. She doesn't shake his hand.

"Thank you," he replies. And just like that it's done. Riza can't decide if they're different people yet again, or whether they've reverted back to some previous state. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. She's given him what he came for. She wanted to help and now she has in the only way available to her. In the way her father meant for her to. Mission accomplished. Legacy assured.

"I should probably go." His mouth is a tight, straight line.

"I meant what I said before," Riza says, but only once he's spun on his heel, so that he can't see her face. "Please don't get killed."

He turns his head just enough to catch her in his peripheral vision.

"I still can't promise that." But the corner of his mouth curves.

"I'll try," he says before he opens the door. "I meant what I said too. If you ever need anything, you know where to call."

Roy leaves.

Riza doesn't call.

 

*

 

The house sells. A young couple doesn't mind having to fix it up.

They want a big family and they think it's perfect for raising children.

Riza has job interview after job interview, but none of them seem quite right. The one she likes least is at a news radio station. When she's there in the manager's office, she can hear the bustle in the adjacent room as the news comes in from all corners of Amestris and they organize it for reporting. All Riza can think of is how torturous it would be to sit in that noisy room, surrounded by reports of everything that ever goes wrong and not doing a single thing about it.

She excuses herself halfway through the interview, when she hears a snatch of conversation about increased hostilities in the east.

 

*

 

She's never seen a gun up close. She's never even thrown a punch.

But then, she's never had reason to do so.

 

*

 

In the end, it's simple.