As Riza Hawkeye’s father slowly died, so too did the grandeur of the Hawkeye Manor.
Weeks slipped into months, and as the illness tightened its vise-like grip on her father, Riza began to clear the remaining shadows of her father’s manias out of the estate. At eighteen, she had been more than a promising scholar, the top of her private academy class and a copy editing assistant for the ancient history professors of the intellectual nexus, Flamel University. There had been a promising path in store for Riza, had she chosen to follow it, and had her father’s health been different.
But in the almost three full years it had been since Berthold Hawkeye’s apprentice had left, Riza found herself believing her father to be more mad than genius. Over the course of the first year, her father had begun his magnum opus writ across her skin, inked in solid maroon outlines the same color as dried blood. In the second year, he had filled in the texts of the tattoo, spending hours arranging the words and inking the letters into her skin, until finally, it was completed. Riza bore the key to her father’s masterpiece; in some small sense, his lucidity still led her father to trust her, even if everyone else was subject to paranoid delusion.
For the third year, Riza sold the excess furniture in order to pay off their debts. Her mother’s private study was stripped bare of its effects, and Riza sold her desk, salvaging the late Theresa Hawkeye’s writing desk for herself. One by one, she had lessened the hours of the servants, before finally dismissing the remaining maid and butler. Riza had not seen her old Governess in years, and the maid had never been particularly at ease around her father and the looming secrets of the household - the man who locked himself away for days, and the silent daughter who came and left for school with aches on her shoulders, and bandages under her collars.
It had put Riza more at ease to fire the woman than to try and continue to stretch her budget running a household that functioned as her father’s coffin. The house withered as the seasons changed, and weeds overtook the gardens, splitting the cobbled stone paths and gnarling up the sides of the house. In the thick of summer, the house had been warm, but hazy, as if drugged into a stumbling sleep. But as fall had crept up on its heels, Riza was reminded that the Manor was drafty, the woods of the staircases creaked, and the house was just as much a shell as her father was.
She was the only living thing left in the Estate, more out of place than the weeds that grew there - Riza Hawkeye was too stubborn, too hardy, and too alive to fit well with the Hawkeye household.
In the end, it wasn’t a surprise, only a shock. For years, Riza had watched her father’s health slip, his mind fading to places that were darker, and more devouring than had ever existed before. The damp grew in his lungs, and consumption overtook him, leaving him coughing long and hard for hours, seizing in his bed. The slow and agonizing death of Berthold Hawkeye had brought about the fast fade of Riza’s life in the neighboring city of Flamel. With little else to do, Riza had seen her roommate Yvette off when she decided to withdraw from Flamel Academy after her fiance’s death two years prior, and then had graduated with little fanfare, skipping the ceremony altogether, instead opting to have her diploma sent in the post. Her friends’ letters arrived in advance of her degree, and Riza had wrote them back with care, enthusing over the mundane stories that they regaled her with. Normal was a slice of peace amidst dreariness.
The day her father died was the day her diploma arrived, bestowing upon her her first degree.
The day her father died, Roy Mustang had also arrived, searching for his last chance to take flame alchemy from her father’s teachings.
It wasn’t only surprise when she found Roy shouting and clutching her father’s corpse, it was also numbness.
For over two years, Riza had forgotten what Roy Mustang felt like standing next to her, what his presence by a graveside meant to her. The world around her had collapsed, and the dirt beneath her shoes was freshly disturbed, as if to confirm this observation. If Riza was sad, she couldn’t feel the weight of it under the weight of her shoulders, her back heavy with Roy’s words. Closing her eyes, she tried to forget what Roy had come for, what he had really wanted - because she was so sure it was not her. She had, after all, told him to stay away, to not write her anymore.
And now, given the choice, she couldn’t help her desire to make him stay. He understood, intrinsically, why her father had been wrong in turning him away. Maybe even how foolish her father had been in believing she would follow in his footsteps perfectly. Beyond anything else, Roy knew why Riza felt a funny, churning desire to change something, any little thing she could, for the people she cared about, for the good of the country. He understood. What else, exactly, did she have to lose now? She could no longer lose her father, or her home, and Roy had been gone long enough that Riza suspected she could not lose him either, not quite the same way as before.
‘What will you do from now on?’
‘I’ll think about it.’
Dying on the side of the road like trash, like Roy suggested - it didn’t have to be meaningless. If she could prevent just one other person from dying that way, the way Yvette’s fiancé had died, then perhaps it was worth it. The crisp cream military card Roy had given her slipped easily into her black jacket’s pocket, and she fingered the edge of the card through the fabric. She had thought about the army ever since Roy had left for the Academy. The military could give her something no one else had; she could have joined her cause. That was another option, an alternative to waiting at home to hear about the front lines of a battle far away. She could save people, she could protect them.
It was worth thinking about. It was certainly worth the sudden, urgent desires as her father had spit up blood, or driven ink into her skin; the niggling notion that perhaps some day, she would be doing, instead of waiting. Or pretending not to wait. Her scholarly studies had begun to matter less and less when her research hit a bump in the road and she had begun selling things to pay off debts. Perhaps that roadblock had been for the better.
It had all been just a dream of course, a wild, fanciful dream, but - “I think it’s a wonderful dream.” Riza had said aloud, smiling to herself in agreement. Roy’s eyes fell over her, and she bowed her head, hiding the quiet tremble of her lips before she said the words she had been waiting for. Roy Mustang would stay, if she told him. Not just for her, but -
“Is it alright to believe in a future where everyone can live in happiness?”
— If he stayed for that alone, then it didn’t matter.
When they left her father’s graveside, Riza led Roy back to the manor quietly, bringing him back through the dim halls. The inside of the sitting room had once been privy to their heated, wandering hands, and now, Riza mused, it was once again the setting for a scene where her shirt would fall to the ground and Roy would watch.
This time, it was another intimacy altogether.
She trusted her back to him.
Riza no longer heard his breath catch in his throat when the last button slipped from her blouse, and the collar slipped past her shoulders. Two years ago, he would have kissed the nape of her neck, and tentatively brought a hand to cup her breasts. Today, Riza breathed in slowly as she straightened, the lines of her serpents moving on her back as she inhaled and exhaled. The picture was almost the same, but the frame was different now.
There was no way for her to know how quickly Roy’s face had fallen, although she did hear a soft hitch in his breathing as he spoke.
“Your father—“ he began, anger tinging his words.
“—I agreed to it.” Riza said definitively. “I needed to be able to control what happened to his work.” She shifted, a passing draft in the room causing her to shiver, goosebumps raising over her bared flesh. She had told him not to write her. Not to contact her. And in those two years, she had only felt the strangeness of his absence from her goings-on.
When you were accustomed to someone’s presence, it was hard to excise it from yourself, to know, without a doubt, that the passing face on the street wasn’t really him at all. There had been some nights where she had dreamed of what the code on her back could do, what sort of brilliance it would create, what Roy would do with it when she released it from herself. Other nights, she had just dreamed of him.
“I know what it looks like. Given the circumstances, I’m not sure I could have said no. But now I have my father’s most precious thing, and I can control it. That’s where you come in.”
In her defense, Riza didn’t know very many other alchemists she could have turned to. And now she needed him to decode what was there. It wasn’t fair, but, “I didn’t think there would be anyone else to turn to with this. I haven’t…”
“I’m sorry.” Roy said, his voice recovering as he tried to smooth over the shock in his voice.
Riza crossed her arms across her chest, and turned to look over her shoulder, eying him carefully.
“Can you do it?”
It was then that he did something unexpected, a small movement that caused something unnaturally warm to shift within Riza for a moment. Heaving a sigh, he raked his eyes over her, her shoulders, her neck, the curve of her jaw, before he glanced at her eyes uncertainly for the first time since he’d first arrived to her home. He looked strangely saddened.
“Yes, I - that’s what I came for, I suppose. I don’t know how long it’ll take.”
Relief flooded her chest. “I’m glad, Mister Mustang.”
Something caught in his throat that unsettled her as he asked, “When should I start?”
“You already have.” Seemed like the best answer to give. Riza leaned forwards to pick up her shirt to hold over her chest. She turned around to face him again.
He was taller still, maybe two whole inches above her, and if she wanted to kiss him now, she might have had to tilt her chin upwards, might have to rock forwards against his chest. The fact that the idea raced through her mind at all was unsettling, and Riza bit her lip in thought, as if doing so would refrain her from doing anything stupid. She hadn’t really forgotten, after all, but maybe he had moved on. She wouldn’t have known. She would have been happy for him. If anything she was offering the last thing he’d been missing before him - Flame Alchemy was in his reach.
Perhaps she also factored in to that equation, and perhaps she didn’t.
“We should go to my room.” Riza said, and she knew what it sounded like, but she couldn’t think of going into his old room, which was now empty. The bed and books were sold, and all that was left were the frames of things that wouldn’t be filled again.
Her own room, on the other hand, was still occupied. Comfortable, and warmer than the rest of the house, and best of all, unmarred by the broken gloom of the rest of the manor.
“I’ll lie down, and then you can examine what’s there, on a preliminary sort of basis, take any notes you need from me, and then you can use my father’s study and library to work on the codes…” she continued, ostensibly unwilling to allude to anything she had just considered. It wasn’t the right moment. Or it shouldn’t have been, Riza was not sure which.
He followed her up the stairs they once once hid beneath, his gaze watching her as she opened the door to her room, baring the remnants of the past, with light floral blanket thrown over purple sheets on her bed. They were Roy’s favorite color, and she didn't know why she remembered this.
Roy’s eyes were blacker than she remembered, still bright, but slightly sharper. The humor might still have been there, but he was in shock. Maybe they both were.
Roy swallowed, then looked away. “—Riza,”
It only took the way her name sounded in the timbre of his voice for her to feel truly exposed.
“-I don’t think I can do this right now. Right this second. It’s,” pushing his hand through his thick black hair, he searched for the right word. “This is all a lot for me to process. For you to process, maybe. Your father just died, and I watched him…I need time, maybe. We both do.”
Then more quietly, Roy added, “I missed you. I suppose you don’t want to know that.”
It was in that moment that Riza realized she could speak, and tell him dozens of things she hadn’t been able to tell him in so long, but that she couldn’t. Brandy eyes softened apologetically, and her shoulders slumped a fraction, but what else was there to say, really? She had missed him too. Against her better judgement, she had wondered how long it would be before Roy came back.
It only took that small confession.
The intention had been to lay on her bed while he examined her back like a the pages of one of her father’s alchemy books, but somehow Riza’s hands released her shirt and found the collar of Roy’s dress uniform, and she clung onto the flap of it tightly. Her fists wound into the wool, and he stumbled back into her bed gracelessly, and then with self-awareness as she nudged him further onto the mattress. Regret was a sour taste to leave in one’s mouth for too long, and Roy’s hands went to her waist without a second thought.
In the interim since their last meeting, her body had changed. She knew it, sensed that her hips were wider and legs more shapely than before - stronger since she started running regularly. But she was also sure her chest was fuller, and it gave her what Yvette would have called a very pronounced hour glass figure. In an odd fashion, she realized how she had felt adult before this moment didn't quite compare to how she felt now.
Roy Mustang was a man, a man she still wanted, and he wanted her too. He was broader and heavier, and more sure when he met her mouth for her crushing kiss.
His hands slid across her back and she knew he felt her and not the tattoo. It was reassuring to think of when Roy fell against her pillow, black hair spreading out over the cotton, and when she straddled his waist and began to remove his jacket. There was no way he objected to her chest being bared for him again, and it lit a triumphant flare in her cheeks when he stared, fascinated, enthralled, even, but still dazed, still shocked.
It was a lot for him to process, but Riza had processed for years that her father was just a corpse.
There was a moment where she had him so surprised, so honed in on his fantasy about this very situation, that he reacted without thought. It was long enough that Riza hummed against his lips, coaxed his tongue against hers, and had exposed his bare chest, now so cut and defined that she could break a statue more easily than she could him. The muscle felt strong under her hands; thick, firm, and his skin was warmer than remembered, but then the moment was over, and Roy knew what she was doing.
It wasn’t the right moment, but it felt like a needed one. Water to flames. Thirst to fever.
“Riza,” he said gently, before she broke away and collapsed quietly against his chest, saying nothing.
“Riza, I’m so sorry.” His hands tightened around her, and he held her as she shook dryly against him. “I didn’t know, if I’d known--”
“Don’t, please. I’m sorry.” There was a small amount of truth in her apology. “My father just died, and I just - I don’t know what I was trying to do, you don’t owe me anything, you took care of the burial and the debts, and I just—“
“It’s okay. Look, don’t worry about it, I wanted to be here, I need to know if you’re going to be okay, if you need anything…” Roy smiled, brushing her hair away from her eyes in a quiet gesture. “I’m here again. You can kick me out later.”
“There’s no where else for you to go. I sold the guest beds, and my father’s room...”
“All the more reason for me to stay here with you.”
“You’re ridiculous,” she defended, relaxing under his hands.
There had been a time when Roy didn’t sound hurt when she said such things, but now, his sigh spoke depths that she couldn’t probe. It saddened her that she had lost that ability, if only a little, and his voice sounded wary, tired in a way she didn’t expect. “I know.”
In the smallest of ways, they were no longer the same to each other, and Riza felt the nakedness of her skin, the dry air over her tattoo which had always been covered. Roy must have known her discomfort, must have felt it too, or seen it in the lines of her shoulders curving, because he pulled her blanket over her back, wrapping them both in it.
“How long can you stay?” seemed to mitigate some of the heaviness in his eyes, and for a moment, she thought Roy could smile at her. Instead, he quietly stroked her cheek with calloused fingers. His scholar’s hands were now undeniably the hands of a soldier.
“I have some leave time before my final year starts and I get stationed in Central. Maybe a month, a month and a half, if I leave for the State exams.”
A shudder ripped through her throat, and she leaned in, resting against his collar as Roy pulled her closer, stroking her hair.
He was calm, and patient, and when the words finally came, they were not the ones that asked him to stay. There was Roy Mustang, and there wasn’t. But now, there were more pressing things at stake, and Riza simply closed her eyes against the tears that threatened to fall after months of holding them in.
“I should have hated him for this. I should hate him for dying.” She didn't - or couldn't - hate her father for what he did.
Or maybe she was simply too tired to do so at the moment, too stunned, too worn out. Without her father to rationalize his methods, she could't find them rational at all, could not imagine why she let him mark her back, or what sort of emotion he had even felt towards her.
It had been hard to tell, after all, how much he cared when he wasn’t lucid. Most of all, she did not have the energy to resent the emptiness she was left with yet; the loneliness of the world without a direction.
There was simply nothing but Roy and her.
So she took what he offered.
On that first night, all Roy did was hold her and resent her father on her behalf.