“Ah, that...that is classified. It’s research.”
Rebecca knew, even then, with or without hindsight, that this moment is defining. As a soldier and for her fate. But as she asks Hughes the right questions for a path so wrong for her and those who love her, she remembers her mother, her forgotten father, her dreams as she offers to do a part she underestimates is so much bigger than what she can fathom.
Despite Hughes’ warnings, that he is banned from the archives for a reason, that she may very well be under the same scrutiny as him, she dismisses every point with a counterpoint of her own. There’s no reason to suspect a visitor from the East, a friend of the first lieutenant and nowhere near related to the Elrics. She can do something more with this job.
“What do you say, Lt. Colonel? Give me something to do?”
For the second time that day, she shakes the Lieutenant Colonel’s hand. While she feels this is monumental out of all the things she’s ever done, feels the thrum of her heart finally aligning with her ambitions to make a viable difference, her brain working in overtime to comprehend her own bravery, these signs of life will come to pass.
As Hughes hands her a contact name for who to look for in the library, Sheska, her whole body buzzes in anticipation. “Just this one thing, okay?”
And that is all that matters.
Riza frowns as her friend quickly scants over the details of doing some ‘important but classified research’ in the archives. Somewhere in between, Falman enters the room, and it serves as an even better excuse for Rebecca to cut her explanation short. But before she can fully argue, Rebecca insists she leaves immediately to start as soon as Havoc and Fuery enter the room.
“Was that Rebecca?” Havoc whirls around to follow the head of dark hair brushing past him and escaping into the hallway.
“Love you, Ri!” Rebecca calls from the doorframe and then ducks back to scurry somewhere else.
“Yes,” Riza says, trying to shake the apprehension from her shoulders. Havoc looks like he’s about to make another weird comment about Rebecca, probably exaggeratingly and inadvertently say something sexist about her looks to cover for something Riza is too tired to bother with, so she taps on the paperwork on her desk. It’s time to finish work. Havoc and Fuery join Falman by their desks, Havoc the slower one to get settled.
Late at night, Riza’s head swims in a thick unease she can’t shake off.
“You shouldn't skip meals,” a voice says from across her, sliding her out of her trance. “It's unlike you. Aren’t you always hounding me about that?”
At long last, Riza peers up from her desk and the room is empty save for Roy in front of her, placing half a sandwich on top of her papers. It’s wrapped in wax paper and she notices it as the usual he orders from the cafe a few blocks away from headquarters, except this one lacks the tomatoes that come with it.
Riza picks it up like she’s weighing its worth. A mischievous upturn of her mouth spreads across her face. “Did you order this without tomatoes for me, or did you pick it off yourself?”
“No thanks needed. Just eat it already. That’s an order,” he puts his hands on his hips to try to at least look assertive. Like he’s hiding his tomato juice fingers because he absolutely will never admit that he remembers she dislikes them since she was young. She sighs and hands him a napkin from her desk, the Colonel accepting it with a sheepish smile.
Sandwich unwrapped, Riza takes a bite, and procures a napkin of her own, wiping the corners of her mouth. “If you’re implying I should eat more because of how I look, then better stop while you’re ahead. You shouldn't make comments on a woman's figure, no matter how roundabout.”
“I'm not a savage,” he lightly chuckles, but the hesitation shows in his hands like there’s something implicitly more he needs to argue. She doesn’t let him, though.
Without so much as a blink, she flips open a manila folder beside her and taps the end of a pen to the bottom of the first document where the printed, straight line flaunts chicken scratch.
“Your handwriting protests.”
Roy laughs again, freely. He doesn’t move and irritatingly enough, Riza doesn’t want him to, in case the easiness between them were to fade. He pulls a chair up to the other side of the desk. He’s brought some of his paperwork from his desk and he quietly reads his fair share when his pen starts following his eyeline on the page. After a moment, a little while after Riza tosses the empty sandwich wrapper into the garbage bin at her feet, Roy presses his pen harder than usual against a dotted signature line.
“I can't recall where the second lieutenant went. But if you want to join her or leave early to give her a call,” he reaches over the desk and gently removes the pen in her grip. Strangely, this touch lingers on her fingers like he’s burned her, but she quickly forces it at the back of her mind as she tunes in to words to match, “I can take it from here.”
She wants to fix him with a determined look of her own, to tell him off. But there’s a glint in his eye that speaks for itself that goes unspoken between them as if the times he’s helped her flash before their eyes in tandem.
“Ah, look at that,” the Colonel lazily waves the yellow folder around like a floppy flag, “some more paperwork on the boys’ and I’s tussle with Scar. Almost certain this is due soon.”
He fixes her with a look laced with his smugness, but she knows the softness in his eyes. “Tell the second lieutenant I said ‘you're welcome’.”
For all the Colonel's gripes about her friend, there's no erasing his concern for his subordinates. Maybe another day when she feels less tense or kind, she would have declined his offer, his little play to get her to do what he's asking of her. But today, she rises from her chair and relishes in that lopsided, triumphing half-moon that shoots up on the corners of his mouth.
“I think I'll call her to see what she's up to then,” she salutes him as he returns it with a lazy one of his own. After she goes through the rundown of her sharp reminders and coercing an indirect promise from him that he will, in fact, get home safely, Riza gives herself a second to let her eyes linger on that relaxed, cocky grin. Just this once, she can privately admit that the look is endearing.
It’s so unbelievably endearing, that she forgets her worries–even forgets to check the library–as she leaves the room and descends the steps of headquarters.
Rebecca stumbles into the phone booth, ignoring the pain that drains her upper body strength as she swings the door open, pouring all of it into lifting the phone and dialing the memorized number. She never imagined death to have a saccharine voice with tits to match. And being Havoc’s type. Good god, he’s really into the crazy type. Rebecca shakes off that thought as the memory of sharp, black claws drive her hands to work faster to dial. Whatever she was...that woman wasn't normal with ordinary intentions. The blood pouring out of her wound and shattered gun lying on the library floor said as much.
Her body shakes uncontrollably as black claws reenter her visual memory– I need to stay calm like Ri does– the hum of the phone ringing for her caller speeding up her heart rate with each passing beat.
Slamming her knuckles against the phone box, Rebecca growls. First, Havoc’s crazy girlfriend rushes her, jams her gun, and stabs her in the shoulder for doing her job. Now, sodden from the downpour and a distinct fear niggling at her back, Rebecca pounds on the box a second time as it keeps ringing. “Oh my frick , Riza, pick up! I swear you're always home!”
“Is that supposed to be an insult?” the line crackles to life and Rebecca could kiss her friend if it were possible.
Riza demands so many things Rebecca do, and none of them involve ‘saving Amestris’. Riza quietly asks where Rebecca is, then orders it. She’s given a vague answer, and Riza demands her friend hide–she hears the adrenaline lacing Rebecca’s anxiety and Riza needs her to act.
But Rebecca just talks. God, she always loves talking. She can’t just have Rebecca talk right now, she needs her safe.
Rebecca stops her with a single demand of her own, “Just listen to me!” Riza silences. “I don’t know what I found out means, but the massacres, Amestrian wars, there’s a reason behind them because–”
Over the line, there’s a creak. And then a bang against the metal and glass of the booth, the clinking audible amidst the downpour.
(The papers she haphazardly stuffed into her pocket and probably what she guesses are some of her receipts from shopping with Riza earlier fall to the ground from the sudden action.)
‘What the hell, this bitch won’t quit… !’
The sound pierces through the phone speaker and pounds against her chest. Riza knows it too well and it rings and rings and echoes in her head. She’s been on the other side too often to recognize it.
Her friend’s voice weakens significantly, sounding far away, muffled by the growing rain outside. 'There’s...no way…'
Her heart seems to stop the same time the line cuts dead. An awful heaviness dazes her. The phone slips from her hand. Black Hayate’s on his feet and pads over to sit next to his owner, a paw nudging her ankle.
“Stay here, Hayate,” she says, the words pushed out of her as her body grows numb. Hayate doesn’t relent his gesture until she nods at him, bends down to pet him behind the ear, and points toward the open doorway.
He shrinks away and saunters to the bedroom, but not without dragging his paws against the hardwood. Ordinarily, she would scold him for it; the hardwood easily scratches with his white trails. But her gaze is fixated on a point in the floor before it swings to look outside the window.
She blinks slowly and once her mind realigns itself, she doesn’t shrug on a coat despite the downpour that’s begun outside her window, rapping against the glass as a painful reminder there is no time to waste.
She rushes against the wet strands of hair that stick to her cheeks and vision, shields her eyes from the slanting rain. The streets crisscross to the location, the one told over the phone in haste, and at long last, Riza sees the lonely streetlight shining above her friend.
“Rebecca,” she says, and when the blood is obvious the closer she gets, her voice grows hoarse yelling the name she’s always used in their friendship. Not as classmates, snipers, or officers. Simple friends. “Becca!”
The rain stretches the scene further than it should, the blood permeating around the booth and her friend’s body a disgustingly humid and sharp smell. There’s no distinguishing the tightness in her chest expanding until it begs to become undone the same time pressure builds behind her eyes as it roams the gun wound, gaping and evil in her friend’s chest.
Briefly, she spots a photograph of them beside her, but she returns to the task at hand, desperately trying for a pulse. But its imagery doesn’t quickly erase itself despite turning away. No, instead, it burns on the back of eyelids and a spotlight might as well be projected onto this horrible mess of a crime scene and possible murder scene and how is finding a pulse this fucking hard? Her fingers search for that bump, parsing her skin for that sign of life, a hope, a way to evaporate the mess around them and start again tomorrow, where Rebecca will be safe in the Eastern headquarters.
Her throat catches as she gazes at her friend’s closed eyes. I should have never let her come here.
Fingers bloodied, Riza withdraws them. The pounding in her ears refuses to leave her which is ironic, namely, because her heart might as well be hollowed out. Her arms fall limp at her sides for a dragging minute. And then she mechanically reaches to take the dangling phone into her own hands and begins to dial.
There was none.
By the time Roy reaches the freshly discovered crime scene, complete in button-down casual wear, Catalina’s body is in the process of being photographed, prodded, and poked. When his phone rang at an ungodly hour, he rolled off of his sofa ready to curse Havoc or Breda out for another inebriated prank call. Instead, Riza’s clipped and tight voice greeted him on the line, the bringer of morbid news without preamble:
“I'm at a crime scene at the park by my apartment. I've informed the officers on duty, Major Armstrong's unit.”
“What?” He rubs his eyelids hard and clears his throat, his authoritative assertiveness returning as his grogginess fades. “What're you doing there? What's happened?”
“Lieutenant Catalina will not be returning East. She...she's dead, sir,” she paused for a long time just as the news registers to both of them. “Please inform my grand--General Grumman for me.”
After a briefing from Major Armstrong, his subordinate beside him interjecting with some details on the gunshot wound and witnesses, the Major finally points to a point behind Roy, a sympathetic grimness rounding out his expression. On a makeshift bench made out of forensic examiner boxes, Riza sits rigidly, doing that habit of hers where she’s clearly reminding herself to breathe. It’s clear from the labored but steady intake of air as it follows the tightness around her knuckles. With the rainfall from earlier over, she’s out-of-place as the only drenched person there, her hair flat and sticking to her neck.
“I told Grumman about an hour ago. How are you, Lieutenant?” he strides over to her. When there’s not even a twitch in his direction, he tries again. “Riza.”
Riza meets his gaze, salutes, and moves over. Roy accepts her invitation and sits beside her. For a while, neither of them say anything. He keeps his hands tucked into his pockets and he leans backward, looking out at the officers hard at work.
Surprisingly, Riza is the first to shift and break the quiet.
“Sir, I think I’m going to come into work late today,” she gestures vaguely to Major Armstrong and Brosh currently inspecting the blood puddle’s radius. Riza pauses before closing her eyes, internally centering herself, no doubt. “They want to ask me some things and help them contact the family.”
“Take all the time you need. I’ll be here.”
Riza swallows before redirecting her attention elsewhere. Her eyes, mind, heart are elsewhere, even. “That won’t be necessary.”
He follows her gaze to the heart of the crime scene as the officers begin to cover Catalina’s body. An officer steps over a white paper that glints and catches his eye; it’s a photograph. The edges mottle in red, but in its center, there’s two alive, grinning women, unmarred by war or the scars of time. They're both beautiful, eyes dark, hair shining, faces bright. Roy can’t go over there pick it up or bear to move closer to inspect it further, but he stares at it for a long time, trying to discern what might be going through Riza’s head the longer she fixates on it. So he tortures himself briefly in an extreme attempt at empathy if the photograph flashed and in its place was an elated Hughes, wife, and daughter. When Roy returns his gaze to Riza and the covered body of Second Lieutenant Catalina, he can’t help but clench his jaw. It isn’t just death clouding over the scene; there’s lifelessness hanging over Riza in a grip far worse than the fabled reaper.
Taking a quick scan of the preoccupied officers beginning to clean up their work, Roy concedes all sense of propriety for her, placing his hand on the rigid one clutching at her soaked pants. She exhales a little. Her palm turns up to welcome his touch otherwise forbidden. What he’d give to bring her back to life.
He holds her hand tighter. “I’ll be here anyway.”