Make a list
of everything that's
on fire –
When you look down
what is there?
- Michael Dickman
Riza is sure she used to be much better than this at keeping her promises. The archive room is dusty and cramped and the lightbulb is on its last legs and she has her back pressed to the cold concrete wall and her hands under Roy Mustang's shirt. He is kissing her with great focus and she can feel his ribcage shuddering around breaths as fast as her own and this really was not supposed to happen again but that's what she tells herself every time.
She can't even entirely remember what they came in there for. It's been quiet in the office all day, late winter snow drifting along the windowsill and Breda slouching down to the mess kitchen in his socks to make endless cups of tea. It's windy outside and the draughts under the doors are as cold as night in the desert.
Roy makes a little noise that she feels rather than hears and slides his hand down to cradle her hip; she hooks one heel around the backs of his calves to draw him in closer. Her pistol is digging into her back and the stiff twill of the uniform feels thicker and heavier than ever and the room is getting smaller and smaller around them. Under her palms his skin is becoming sticky with sweat. When she slips one hand around to run up his chest she feels his stomach muscles twitch.
This is becoming a bad habit. She's never smoked, not even at the front, she doesn't drink that often and she can hardly afford her poky flat let alone any expensive vices, so maybe all she's left with is impulsive assignations with her CO like something out of a sleazy novel. He's nibbling at her bottom lip and she's not sure her knees are entirely solid anymore and no matter how often she calls him 'sir' and counts the stars on his epaulettes she can't seem to be rid of the boy who came into her life like a window being flung open.
He breaks away abruptly, breathing hard and leaning his forehead against the wall.
"The door isn't locked," he says, and she can hear the sharp edge of a smile in his voice. There's a crooked scar across his ribs that's exactly the length of her palm; a stray piece of shrapnel, she remembers, and closes her eyes.
"Maybe we should go back."
"Maybe we should," he echoes, and presses a gentle kiss just below her ear, and it's almost too much, almost as if they were actually lovers. "Or maybe we won't be missed for a few more minutes." He kisses her again a little further down her neck, then a little further still.
She has been telling herself 'no' for years now, maybe for as long as she's known him at all, years living inches away and miles apart and never quite being able to bridge the distance.
"A few more minutes," she says, and pulls his head around to kiss him.
Professionalism and fraternisation aside, he's sure that the worst problem with their situation is that Hawkeye seems to have become even more ridiculously distracting. She is making notes with a scratchy pencil in the margins of whatever it is she's reading and pausing every so often to push her fringe out of her eyes. If he keeps sneaking glances at her too often Havoc or Breda will start to notice and possibly the only person he would like less to catch them out is Hughes. At least his junior lieutenants have yet to spend the best part of an hour on a military line to him extolling the virtues of marriage.
Roy grits his teeth and looks back down at the report in front of him. It's on uniform procurement and is quite impressively dull. Apparently being the youngest member of senior staff earns him the dubious honour of dealing with everything that nobody else can be bothered with- if there's not much else they can do about him being a Lieutenant Colonel at twenty five they can at least try to bore him to death.
His superior officers also rank pretty damn high on the list of people who should not find out about this, but then there's plenty of things about him he'd rather they didn't ever know. He squints and tries to stop the table of figures in front of him from dancing around in such a mocking manner. Breda and Havoc are murmuring to one another, though he can't quite hear about what, and Hawkeye is chewing absent-mindedly on the end of her pencil.
He can't say that it's one thing or another; that he's known her for longer than he's known almost anyone who isn't his family, that she's clever and quick and quietly witty, that the uniform only seems to accentuate how attractive she is, that when he drags himself into the office after a bad night's sleep and Havoc and Breda make cracks about the dangers of female company she'll only meet his eye and there isn't anything he needs to say. It's been two and a half years since he met her again, met this Hawkeye with her broad shoulders and her hard eyes and the same heavy silence inside her still.
It takes him a moment to realise that Havoc has sidled over to his desk. When Roy looks up he straightens his back and salutes sharply. "Permission to take a short break for the purpose of smoking a cigarette, sir!"
"Fine. Permission granted." He takes his watch out of his pocket and flips open the cover. "Longer than three minutes and it's coming out of your lunch."
Havoc looks like he wants to object but the kid's still fresh from the academy and it takes at least a little while for the insolence to settle back in. "Thank you sir!"
Breda gives him an exaggerated thumbs-up as he scoots out of the door and Hawkeye snorts amusedly. Roy steeples his fingers and bends his head over his desk again. If it's boring and tedious this is at least a means to an end. A few feet away the sound of pencil scratching on paper starts up again.
"Well, madam, I will ensure that is taken into consideration."
Riza keeps her eyes moving around the little square. There's a group of men at the café watching them, a woman sat by the fountain who keeps looking and then looking away. Not much cover on the rooftops here. Behind her the Colonel is making nice with an elderly woman who seems to be complaining about the city's stray dog population. Private Beriev is on six, hopefully with her eyes open.
"No, no, I certainly agree."
He insists on doing this every few months, weather permitting; walking around the city talking to the civilians and trying to gauge the public mood. It's seen as good practice but not a lot of senior officers ever actually bother with it.
"I am delighted to have spoken to you, Mrs. Dunn. All the best to your daughter in law." Out of the corner of her eye she sees him duck his head respectfully but just a little too deeply, as if he were about to kiss the woman's hand. Mrs Dunn blushes and smiles as she turns away.
"Back towards the city centre, sir?" Riza breaks her stance to tilt her head around towards him.
"I'd thought about heading down towards Cork Street and coming back around from there."
"Through the Cretan district?"
"The outskirts, yes." He gives her a serious look. "Do you think that could be a problem?"
Riza cocks her head slightly, her eyes still moving, no glints of metal that she hasn't seen already. "I have some qualms about it, sir."
"I'm not without concerns myself." He straightens up his coat, wearing it with the sleeves on today rather than loose around his shoulders like a twelve year old. "But I do think it could be seen as a show of good faith, and I haven't done anything in particular to make them hate me. Yet." He smiles thinly at that and she wishes he wouldn't.
"Beriev!" she calls, jerking her head in the direction Roy has already started in, and the Private nods once and follows. She can't be more than about nineteen but she's a got a good eye and a reasonably level head and this is far too routine to be worth bringing out Havoc or Breda.
It's a nice enough spring afternoon and several cafés and restaurants already have chairs and tables set outside, crowding up the narrower pavements and filling the streets with the sounds and smells of food. It makes it far easier for someone to be nonchalantly waiting for them to pass, but the pedestrians are moving much more slowly too. Roy stops to speak to a man selling sweet boureki from a cart.
"Lieutenant," Beriev hisses under her breath, coming up closer behind Riza. "Two o'clock, woman in the brown coat. She's got something underneath it, sir."
"Good catch, Private." The woman isn't looking at them but something twitches inside her coat, neither of her hands visible from the voluminous sleeves. Riza closes the gap between herself and the Colonel and lowers her voice to the right tone. "Sir."
"…But I shouldn't keep you from your business. Good afternoon." Roy nods rather less flirtatiously to the pastry vendor and they walk smoothly on. "What is it?" he asks under his breath.
"Brown coat, three o'clock."
He doesn't turn his head. "Are we being followed?"
"I'm not sure yet."
They turn a corner onto Cork Street itself, the road much wider and busier here. The woman in the brown coat doesn't emerge after them right away but that doesn't mean very much. Roy is still smiling and nodding like a professional. He's good at this; good at making people like him, good at making them feel heard.
The woman in the brown coat reappears, crossing the street with a slight zig-zag to her walk. If she is hostile she's probably quite aware she's been marked and Riza tries to keep the whole scene in focus, assessing everyone she can see. Three families with children, two women holding hands and laughing, a man in paint-stained overalls trying to manoeuvre with a ladder on his shoulder, another man in a short coat glancing around as he walks towards them, his hands in the deep front pockets…
Everything happens on top of itself. She's barely noticed the outline of the knife under the fabric when the man lunges, steel flashing though the air, and there's not even time to draw her pistol before she's hurling herself into the closing space between him and the Colonel. Somewhere very far away Beriev shouts "Drop your weapon!" and Riza feels something snick past her right arm as her foot slips and Roy's hand is fisted in her jacket and they're both falling so, so slowly and the only thing she can seem to think is that if he dies, she is going to kill him.
The noise of the street snaps back in like the hard smack of concrete. She can hear a child's thin, high wail over the hubbub of raised voices. Her hands are planted either side of Roy's head on the pavement and he's staring up at her in shock and a bright line of pain is blossoming a few inches above her wrist. She shakes her head hard to try to dispel the dizziness and sits back onto her heels, still practically in his lap.
Private Beriev is doing her best to calm the crowd, waving her hands and making soothing noises; they've attracted a little circle of onlookers but there's no sign of their assailant. Roy rubs a hand across his face and starts to sit up.
"Are you alright sir?" Riza asks. She can't see any signs of injury but her heart is still hammering in her chest, something twisting sharply when he doesn't say anything at first.
"You're hurt, Lieutenant," he says in a queer voice. She looks down at her arm, the pain suddenly surging. Her jacket sleeve has been sliced clean through and it's already stained a sickly purple, almost black, from the blood welling up from a shallow cut underneath. Roy grabs her hand a little too forcefully to examine the wound.
"It's not that bad," she says hurriedly as Beriev trots up to them.
"He got away, officers, I'm so sorry- oh, Lieutenant!" The girl goes a quite unusual shade of scarlet and she stops short, one hand shaking.
"Not your fault, Private," Roy says, still bent over Riza's arm. "You've done well, thank you." There's a short bugle puff in the distance, the MPs on their way. They can deal with the crowd at least. Roy is gently peeling back the sleeve of her jacket and elevating her arm slightly. Her blood is spotting on the fingertips of his gloves, vividly red against the white fabric. "It's not very deep. Can you reach my handkerchief, Lieutenant?"
She reaches into his trouser pocket with her left hand as he cradles her other arm, his thumb stroking almost imperceptibly back and forth against her skin. Their eyes meet as she passes him the handkerchief and suddenly it's like fire running down her spine, wanting him right there on the grubby pavement with blood all over her arm and a few dozen civilians staring at them. He's binding up the wound carefully but his eyes keep flickering back to her, the worry in his face being rapidly overtaken.
She isn't going to start tearing his clothes off in the street. That would be ridiculous.
"Come on now citizens, move it along, show's over." The MPs descend on the crowd like a busy flock of rooks, chivying and chattering; they're both helped back to their feet and the veil of professionalism descends. Roy gives a far more detailed description of their assailant than Riza thinks she would be capable of and dispatches two men in the direction Beriev indicates. She tucks her arm in awkwardly, the pain rising as the shock begins to wear off.
"We need to get you out of here," Roy says, turning back towards her. He's taken off the bloodied gloves and he brushes the backs of his fingers against her other sleeve almost unconsciously before pulling his hand away.
"We both need to get out of here," she says under her breath. He clears his throat and looks away deliberately, gesturing ahead of them to the waiting car.
They don't really talk about it but she comes home with him that night like it's an agreement, pulls him in for a kiss the moment the door closes like a familiar routine. Neither of them has had anything to eat since lunch time and she sits on his sofa with her arms around her knees watching amusedly while he makes them some cheese on toast.
This could be a routine. He watches her carefully manoeuvring melted cheese into her mouth, the bandage stark and white around her arm, the incongruous, almost unthinkable sight of her leaning back gratefully into his sofa cushions with her boots off and her feet stretched out in front of her. When he leans over to kiss her she slides her hand up his arm possessively and her mouth is firm and sure against his.
It's careful, slow, sweeter than either of them deserves. She twists herself around to sling her legs across his lap and really, he thinks, the whole of Central Command could come bursting through his front door right then and there and he'd struggle to give a damn. He lets his fingers trace along the side of her neck, the short, prickly hair at her nape.
"You saved me," he murmurs into the corner of her mouth; she pushes her right hand into his hair and he turns his head to nudge the edge of the bandage with his nose.
"It had better have been worth it," she replies, but her expression is suddenly serious and her other arm tightens around his back, fear flickering across her face.
He puts on his most awful lothario voice. "I can make sure it's worth it." It works and she laughs and he kisses her laughing mouth to try and catch it there between them, make it stay.
He doesn't know quite what to call her. The last time he called her Riza she was a child and he wasn't much more, Hawkeye is half protocol and half nickname and not at all what he means, and she isn't his Lieutenant when she's untucking his shirt from his trousers and pulling it hurriedly off of him. Her skin is warm under his hands, shaped over hard muscle and sinew, and there are marks and scars older and newer than the ones he left her with like a private cipher. He could spend years learning her and never understand enough.
They stumble into his bed. The lights are on, high and bright, and they've shed the uniforms like disguises, coming slowly out into the open. They both move a little awkwardly, knees bumping and feet tangled in the sheets, his hair caught against the pillow and her elbow in his ribs, their mouths like sounding lines in the midst of it, seeking out the depths. He is not so young now as to still mistake sex for honesty but he can see every shade of colour in her eyes, see the way her throat moves when he touches her and the raw, ferocious desire in her face, and it's more than enough of the truth.
He runs his fingers down between her shoulder blades, the only familiar thing, but there are better things he wants to memorise now. She rolls him onto his back and straddles his hips and he lifts his hands to cup her breasts, her nipples hard against the heat of his palms. She breathes in sharply and her fingertips press hard into his stomach, as if she might leave prints.
They don't say much. He doesn't have the words.
Riza is awake before she knows why, half sat up and scrabbling for a gun that isn't there on a bedside table that isn't there either. She smacks her right arm into something and hisses at the jolt of pain that runs up past her elbow. Reality slowly condenses. This isn't her bed, this isn't her flat, her pistol is goodness knows where and Roy is a few inches away under the covers and swearing under his breath.
"What is it?" she asks, trying to turn around again as naturally as she can.
"Daliha," he answers hoarsely, and for a second she feels a rifle sling across her chest and the bite of the clear sky, the heat of the desert, the heat of a fire pulling all the oxygen from her lungs… and the bed sheets cool against her bare thighs, the room still dark and quiet.
If nothing else, at least neither of them are alone.
She lets herself settle back down and reaches for him, the back of her hand brushing against his elbow. He flinches at her touch but he rolls over too so they're facing each other. There's a sliver of light from somewhere and as her eyes adjust she can make out more and more of his face, the shadows sharpening and shifting across it like the hands of a clock.
"You too," Roy whispers, and it's not really a question.
Riza listens to his breathing settle and lets her own come back into step with it. There's several inches of mattress between them and she can still feel him shaking.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"No." She feels the bedsheet shift as he clenches his fingers in it. "Sorry, sorry about this-"
He rubs a hand over his eyes as if to scrub away things that aren't there, spectral and nameless, the lingering afterimage of the desert. She watches him quietly in the thin light, breathing in the smell of him on the sheets, the pillow. The absence of her gun is like an itch at the back of her mind.
"I'm glad you're here," he says quietly, and there's something caught in her throat. "Nobody else…"
Of all the thousands of things he could ever say to her. Riza swallows hard and curls her hand in tightly against her chest. "I'm not going anywhere."
For the most part, life is alarmingly stable. He has yet to see a recruitment poster advertising the delights of the officer's life behind a desk, but there's something strangely comforting about it now. He signs orders, schedules training, assigns Havoc a garbled memo about two alchemists transmuting farm buildings in rural nowhere in case it amounts to something. The MPs even caught the man who knifed Hawkeye, which is a refreshing change, though he'd hoped it wouldn't turn out to be yet another angry splinter group. They'll need to start issuing a directory soon.
His assessment is due in late spring, the date marked on his calendar in red. He has a reasonable draft of a paper on electron spin and atomic interaction in oxygen gas, but it's not the sort of thing one can easily turn to the kind of spectacle they're always looking for- the kind of thing that looks instantly like a weapon. He got his license by leaving the demonstration grounds a smoking mess and it seems that everybody listens to war stories, no matter how ridiculous. The Hero of Ishval who can kill hundreds with one hand; a true pillar of the military. The thought of it crawls prickly and cold underneath his skin.
At least it's enough excuse to slack off a little and pile up his desk with books instead. He might not be able to draw the periodic table from memory any more, or get all the quark masses right without looking them up, but alchemy is still a strange kind of comfort: the firm logic of equations and the balance of a well-crafted array. He props up a volume of Percy against his in-tray and flips through his notes, trying to find the various loose ends he's been toying with.
"I hope you will still be keeping on top of your normal workload, Colonel."
Somehow Hawkeye has perfected the art of making a manila folder look ungodly threatening.
"Well I'll do my best," he sighs, reaching out a hand. "Haven't you learned to forge my signature yet?"
Amusement sparks in her eyes as she passes him the folder. "That's only for special circumstances, sir." She leans forward and glances at his notes. "You've mis-spelled 'Marianne'."
"She would be very upset with me."
"You should try to be more considerate." There's a tiny smile tugging at the corners of her mouth and he remembers her hair darkened with sweat two nights ago, the colour of the skin of her inner thighs, her heels pushing at the mattress. She'd seemed to find him considerate enough.
It doesn't happen very often; not enough, he hopes, for anyone to notice. If he still kisses her at work when they're suitably alone at least they make a point never to leave or arrive together and never to touch one another where anyone can see, and there's something about keeping her so private and close that he almost prefers. They are adjusting to one another quietly, tiny little shifts in gravity.
Havoc clears his throat and Hawkeye leans away perhaps a fraction too quickly. Roy flips open the folder and glances quickly across the first page before sliding it around the books into his in-tray. "Then I'll make sure to give close consideration to this, Lieutenant."
She nods and smiles again, ever so slightly, and how ridiculous that it's something like that which makes his breath catch, makes his chest tense up like it's suddenly too heavy to carry. He lets his eyes drop back down to his research notes so that he doesn't stare at her as she walks away, the page dense with ink smudges and a fabric of names, little twinned oxygen molecules doodled innocently in the margins.
She carries him around all day like a secret, a key held under her tongue, unlocking doors she had long since left closed. Six times. She could scratch a tally into the wall. The Colonel has dragged Havoc along with him to the city library, having judged him to be the most capable at carrying books, and she and Breda are alone in the office. Breda is much quieter without Havoc around but it suits her perfectly well, and she's a little startled when after an hour or so of silence he suddenly starts to speak.
Riza looks up. Breda is setting one of the log books back onto Roy's desk and holding a white bakery box in his other hand.
"I picked up a meat pie this morning from this really great bakery near my flat; you're welcome to have some if you don't have other plans for lunch."
"It could hardly be worse than the canteen," she replies drily, and sets down her pen. She's still got the best part of a mug of tea left, even if it is getting cold. Breda opens up the box on his and Havoc's desk and she pulls out the spare chair.
It's strange to think that she hardly knows him, yet she knows more than enough about him. Riza vetted him and Havoc both the way she does anyone who sounds like they could be of interest, names Roy leaves on her desk or people she comes across herself. Heymans Breda, twenty-two years old, born in North City to a lawyer and a radio journalist. Top of his class at the academy and infamous for having once beaten the Commandant herself in a chess match. Fond of his food and reputedly lazy, but she doesn't really believe that. Disciplined only once, in his first year- a sharp contrast to Havoc's record- for keeping a supposedly subversive novel in the barracks. She suspects he just got better at hiding them.
"I never actually thought that joining the military would land me with a job just as boring as my mum's," Breda says conversationally, handing her a cold slice of pie on a paper napkin. "If anyone ever so much as mentions contract law around here I am resigning my commission and joining the circus."
"What would you do?" she asks. "In the circus, I mean."
"Tame lions or something, I don't know. Grow a twirly moustache." He waggles his fingers in front of his face. "If you wanted to come too I bet you could get into some kind of sharpshooting gig."
She smiles around a mouthful of pie. It really is good, the pastry soft and crumbly around the densely-packed vegetables and sausage meat. "I think I'm happy enough for the moment."
"Uh huh." Breda looks like he was about to say something else but thought better of it. He takes another bite of his own slice and after a few moments gestures loosely towards the Colonel's desk. "So how long have you known him?"
Riza catches the usual answer on the tip of her tongue. It's not exactly uncommon knowledge that she and Roy were in the field together, and their matching Ishval Medals do the best part of the lying for her. Meeting in the service is easier to understand, easier to explain, but they picked the man to trust him and she might as well make a start.
"Since we were children. He studied alchemy under my father."
"Really?" She seems to have genuinely caught him by surprise. Perhaps he just wasn't expecting her to be honest. "So is your dad-?"
"He's dead." Her father is one subject she doesn't want to go into any detail on.
"Oh, sorry." Breda goes quiet, looking suddenly awkward and somehow much younger than her. The difference in their ages is barely more than a year, but it was a year that made all the difference to the war.
"It's okay," she says. It isn't, but it's an easier answer. Breda focuses on his slice for want of something else to do and it's a few minutes before he glances at her again.
"I'd thought you met in the war," he says, "and hardly anyone who was in Ishval ever seems to talk about it."
"No," she says, "we don't." There's another too-long silence which she studiously ignores, taking a bite of pie.
"Got your reasons I suppose," Breda says with a shrug, and reaches for his pocket knife to cut another slice.
From HQ the rumble in the distance wasn't that unusual; there are ongoing demolition works in some of the older parts of the city and if it wasn't a clear day Roy might even have taken it for thunder.
"Where is that fucking perimeter?" he yells, trying to stifle his coughing. The air is thick with dust and smoke. The engineering corps are crawling like ants around what remains of the building and someone with their head screwed on has started erecting medical tents but the place is a mess, civilians still milling everywhere with nothing to keep the shocked from the wounded from the just plain mawkish. At least they make the scene feel less awfully familiar.
"On it, sir!" Breda calls from god knows where. Havoc has found himself a little gaggle of enlisted and seems to be doing his best to sort out the people the engineers are hurrying out of the main entrance but it's not really enough. He hasn't seen Hawkeye since they arrived at the scene.
The Eastern Transport Bureau is probably the most harmless arm of the government in the whole damn city; he'd only ever visited once but they seemed to have staffed the whole place with librarians and trainspotters. Probably made it all the easier for someone to sneak in the explosives, but he just can't fathom the purpose of it. He starts back towards what might as well become the command station and sees Captain Austin come trotting up towards him, scrubbing a hand across his face.
"How are you getting on?" Roy asks.
"Could be better sir," Austin replies with a sigh as they fall into step, picking over the ground. The asklepian on his right shoulder is dull with dust. "We're prioritising for treatment but I haven't got the amount of staff I'd like yet and I'm a field specialist; we need to get a lot of these people to a hospital."
Roy makes a face. The main road is cluttered with rubble and the wrecks of two unlucky cars and East is old enough that nobody ever bothered to try and make the street layout make any sense. "This is where I start to wish I'd spent any time on medical alchemy," he mutters, and Austin only looks more worried at that. People don't usually like being reminded that they're talking to a weapon.
"Lieutenant Colonel! Colonel Mustang!" He stops, looking up, and sees that Beriev kid running towards them, skittering awkwardly around clusters of people. She stops just short of crashing into Austin and salutes, breathing hard. "Sir! Lieutenant Hawkeye sent me, sir, there's-"
"Where is she?"
Beriev swallows hard. "With the firefighting team on the south side of the building, sir, it's starting to spread and the school next door…"
"Get Havoc to help you round up any remaining wounded," Roy says to Austin. "Show me, Private."
Once they've cleared what used to be the corner of the building he sees her. Hawkeye has her jacket off, her face bright from exertion; there are two teams on the hosepipes and one ferrying sandbags off the back of a truck and there isn't another officer in sight. There are flames at all the back windows of the building and he realises now where all the smoke was still coming from around the front. When she sees him approaching Hawkeye gives a little tired huff of relief. He waves Beriev off and goes over to the little pile of sandbags she's sat on with a few of the men, where he's greeted with a weary salute.
"We've brought it down a little, sir, but with this wind direction I didn't think it would be enough."
"No," he says, licking his lips and testing the air. "You're right. Is this part of the building completely evacuated?"
"If there's anyone left in there then they're for the coroner to deal with now," she says with a grim expression. "The school should be getting cleared out; I sent Sergeant Morris and a WO called Falman over to make sure everything was in order."
He nods quickly and fights down the urge to touch her; not on the job, not in public. He reaches into his pocket instead. The gloves go on smoothly, transmuted to exactly the right size.
"I need everybody to fall back," he calls, raising his voice as he walks forward through the lines. "Drop everything, back to the sandbags with the Lieutenant." The men start to comply, the words 'Flame Alchemist' muttered back and forth as he passes. It's all too familiar. Roy keeps his eyes focused on the building, the pillar of smoke in the sky, the air around him shuddering with particles like skaters skidding around on ice. There's a reason why gas transmutations backfire far more frequently than solid or liquid.
There's a sudden boom and half of the side of the building comes thundering down, crashing into the high wall next to it and lancing it with fire as the ground shudders underneath them. There's screaming just a little way beyond and he hears Hawkeye bark, "Shit, the school," and the sudden thumping of boots.
Concentrate. Everything is made of something smaller is made of something smaller still. The fire is gorging on oxygen, chewing through the air like it is through wood and brick and stone, and he can feel the hum of latent energy on the backs of both of his hands. He has done this a hundred times, bent the air around him even as it shuddered with screams, and he opens and closes his fists, trying to push the memories away. Try not to get caught up. A weapon is set firmly to its purpose. The transmutation is a rush of power that makes him feel lightheaded and for half a second he almost steps outside of himself, outside of the boundaries of skin and bone, and the fire winks out like a candle flame.
There's a few seconds of silence followed by a swell of shouts and cheers behind him and he closes his eyes, still focusing on the molecules in play. It takes more than a few seconds to suffocate anything. He can still smell smoke everywhere, still feel little bits of rubble under his feet. The ground is far from stable.
The car isn't one she's driven before and Riza lets the clutch bite carefully, the unfamiliar pedals pushing at her feet as she pulls away from the kerb, the whole body of the car rattling on the cobblestones. The last of the sunset is painted in yellows and greys across the western sky and the lamplighters are working their way down the road. On the passenger side Roy is sat with his head slumped against the window, his reflection looking back at him from the glass.
She lets her hands relax slightly on the wheel. There's little other traffic- there rarely is in the old city late in the day- but the pavements are full of pedestrians hurrying home in the fading dusk. The evening papers gleam from street-corner stands, blunt headlines over the first hurriedly-composed stories about the attack.
The tiredness has started to settle on her now, the aches creeping up her arms and the heaviness around her eyes, and she focuses on the road ahead. It's a shorter distance to Roy's flat but if she takes a shortcut around the junction at Victory Avenue it doesn't actually take that much more time to get to hers.
"Where do you want to go?" she asks, glancing up at the rearview mirror. He stirs slightly on his side of the seat.
"Yours is fine," he says, and she sees his reflection in the window close its eyes, shuddering with the motion of the engine. She brakes for the right turn into the Old Optain Road.
She's seen bomb damage before, she's dealt with survivors, she's walked through wreckage far worse than that with the bricks still hot. Something is tensed up in her chest like coiled wire, just below the pain threshold, her mouth dry and her head throbbing. The children all got out fine. It could have been far worse.
She doesn't want to think about girls with knives in their hands and boys throwing grenades and the same screams from every building when the artillery answered. She doesn't want to think about the narrow view through her rifle sight, the soldier's litany tearing through her head i don't want to die i don'twant todie idon'twanttodie, the sand in all her clothes, the taste of fire that never left the back of her throat.
The shops are shuttered up either side of the road, lights on in the flats above instead. A cyclist passes them going in the opposite direction. Roy yawns and rubs his hands together, sitting up slightly and away from the door.
"I really need to get some sleep," he says, and she's not sure if that's supposed to be a statement or an apology.
"You're not the only one," she says, pressing on the accelerator for the upward slope ahead.
"Well after everything today I just wanted to be clear-"
Something breaks and splinters, like wood cracking in the heat. "I'm not fucking you just to make myself feel better," she snaps, "sir." The words are dry and brittle in her mouth.
After a few moments he says quietly, "That's not what I meant."
Riza wants to swear at him again, to ask what he bloody well did mean, but she presses her lips together instead, the engine rumbling up through the wheel beneath her hands. Everything feels like an edge. It's not much further now to her flat, her things, all sat calm and normal where she left them. "I just want to get home," she mutters, and watches the speed gauge rise.
It's dark when he wakes up, the bedroom only lit by dull moonlight filtered through the curtains. For a few moments Roy lies there trying to decide if it was a noise that woke him or just the fact that he's alone in her bed, the sheets almost cold. His pyjama trousers have ridden down his hips and his toes are icy. The pistol on the bedside table is missing too. He rubs his eyes and sits up gradually, sliding his feet out onto the cool floorboards.
In the kitchen Hawkeye is sitting at the table in her nightshirt and a pair of loose trousers, carefully arranging cartridges in one of her ammunition boxes. The pistol is disassembled and careully laid out on a rag to one side, cleaning bottles lined up next to it. She is working diligently, her head bent forward. It would all look perfectly normal if it wasn't the middle of the night.
He approaches her very carefully, trying to make sure his footsteps sound on the floor. At first she doesn't seem to notice him but when he's a few feet away she lifts her head slightly and speaks.
"I forgot to do this earlier," she says flatly, and counts out another five rounds from her palm. Her rifle is propped up against the worktop, the bolt removed and resting on some folded newspaper.
"Okay," he says, and pulls the other chair around to sit next to her. The blue tips of the cartridges point up in orderly rows. They sit in silence for long minutes, the city dark and quiet outside, and he watches her swift hands and the shadows that move across her face.
Eventually she sighs ever so slightly and hunches her shoulders. "It won't ever be over." She evens up a row with the back of her hand and it's more than today she means, more than panicked screams from the rubble and schoolchildren with their uniforms stained with dust and blood.
"No, it won't."
"I thought that since nothing could ever be as bad again…" She turns a single round over between her fingers, the yellow light from overhead glinting on the contoured brass. He can see the tension in her face, the strain of control, something deep and dark and sad moving behind her eyes. "It's not even like this is the first time."
"I know," he says, and rubs a hand across his chin, stubble prickling against his palm. He can still see flickers of images at the corners of his vision, fire and blood and a sky bluer than any you'd see over East City. "This is what we get for surviving." He looks up and sees a tiny moth flapping fruitlessly at the lampshade. "I'm sorry about what I said in the car."
"You weren't entirely wrong." She smiles crookedly without it reaching her eyes and slides the last row into place, flips the lid of the box closed and pushes it away across the table. Before she can reach for the pistol he leans forward to take her hand as gently as he can, running his thumb across the backs of her knuckles. He's fully expecting her to pull away but instead she's quite still, tensing her fingers slightly around his.
"Come back to bed," he says. "I was getting lonely."
"I still have to…" she gestures vaguely at the two guns. He's not really an expert but it doesn't look like there's anything wrong with either of them. He squeezes her fingers.
"You can take an hour in the morning. We should try to avoid arriving together anyway."
She goes quiet again, looking down at their joined hands. He can feel the calluses along the side of her index finger, a tiny scar from a powder burn. He's asked her to kill him with these hands if she has to, and he doesn't doubt that she could do it. There are so many ways to shatter this.
"Alright," she says quietly. They stand up together and he leans over to kiss her forehead, loose strands of her fringe tickling his nose. He can still smell the dust in her hair. Her other hand comes up and grips his bare shoulder and she leans in to him, taking long, slow breaths. There isn't anything honest he can say.
"You must be cold," she mumbles after a little while. His lips are still pressed against her skin.
He closes his eyes, breathes in deeply the dust and smoke and the smell of her underneath it all, still the same as he's always remembered. "Only if you do too."
"Maybe we can work something out."
Even against his closed eyelids the kitchen light is warm and yellow, like the colour of the early sun. He imagines the dawn already pressing at the eastern horizon, days and months and years stretching out ahead and so much still left to do. Roy tugs at her hand and takes a small step back towards the bedroom. "Let's get some rest."