XD i was inspired to write this fic a few days ago, and i'm amazed i made it by new years... i suck at making deadlines. first roiai, so be gentle... i hope you enjoy it!
Auld Lang Syne
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot, hmm hmmmm hm hm hm hmmmmmm… Hmm hmmmm hm hm hm hmmmmm hm hm, hmm hmmmm hm auld lang syne…”
Colonel Roy Mustang shoved his hands into the pockets of his uniform trousers and continued humming to himself as he ambled casually down the long, empty hallways of Central HQ. His footsteps echoed off the walls of the corridor, the rich baritone of his voice reverberating softly back at him as he carried on his wordless singing.
Had he known the words to the traditional old song, he surely would have sung them…but did anybody really know the words to Auld Lang Syne? And what the heck did it mean, anyway? That wasn’t even English…
It had never really made much sense to him, but being that it was New Years Eve, he supposed that--logical or not--it was only appropriate to have a go at it anyway. After all, he did so enjoy singing, even if nobody was listening. Even his subordinates knew that.
Sometimes, he figured it was even more enjoyable when nobody was listening…
“Sin’ auld lang syne, my dear, sin’ auld lang…”
As he walked past the open door to his office, something caught his eye, and he paused.
Ah, there it was. He knew he had forgotten something...
He backpedaled a few paces until he stood directly in front of the door. His black eyes narrowed a little, and he lifted his chin as he removed his hands from his pockets to fold his arms over his chest.
Hm…he hadn’t expected to find it here…
Knitting his brow, the colonel stepped into the darkened room.
First Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye stood behind Colonel Mustang’s desk in his unlit office, her silhouette illuminated by the streetlamps from outside the window she had paused in front of. She hadn’t bothered turning on the lights…nobody was in the building anymore… The light from outside had been enough to guide her to the window, and so before it she stood, stoic and distracted, her palm on the glass but her thoughts a hundred miles away.
Her uniform jacket had been shed and placed neatly atop the colonel’s desk, her athletic physique accented by the form-fitting burgundy turtleneck she always wore beneath it. Her toned arms were folded pensively over her chest, her shoulders slightly hunched as her eyes gazed broodingly out into the indigo winter eve. She seemed to be staring at the horizon…as if looking for the line where the lightless evening landscape met the purple velvet of the night sky.
She gave a soft sigh and shifted her weight on her feet, then tensed a little, sensing a presence in the room.
Hearing footsteps behind her, Riza whirled around and thrust her arm out to soundly sock the intruder in the jaw for encroaching upon the office of her commanding officer.
Roy brought his hand up in a sharp movement and easily blocked Riza’s attack. He chuckled aloud at the gasp of surprise he got in response, and rotated his wrist to take her hand and lower her arm.
“You know you can be court-martialed for striking a superior officer, Chuui,” he chided good-naturedly, and felt her relax at the sound of his voice.
Blinking rapidly as the shadow of the intruder stepped into the lamplight from the window, Riza’s eyes suddenly filled with apprehensive apology as she confirmed the voice matched the face.
“Ta-Taisa!” she cried, yanking her hand from his grasp to snap it up to her face in a salute. Her eyes flicked uncomfortably between the colonel’s face and her own feet. “I-I’m sorry! I didn’t expect you would still be here this late. I feared someone had broken into your office.”
Roy lifted an eyebrow and bade her lower the salute.
“Well…you did leave the door open, Lt.,” he told her, and she couldn’t tell if he was scolding her or simply stating a fact. “So, technically, no break-in would have been necessary.”
“Even so,” she replied, “I thought there was someone behind me…”
Roy couldn’t help himself.
“Lt…I am behind you.”
“Actually, Sir, now you’re in front of me.”
Roy’s mouth opened as he took a breath to counter, and then closed again as he realized he had none.
Damn, she got him.
“So I am…” he admitted rather sheepishly, and regarded her a moment with questioning eyes.
She had let her hair down, he noted to himself. She usually kept it pinned up in a sort of bun at the back of her head, but he had always preferred it long. Of course, that wouldn’t have been a very professional choice of hairstyle…but hey, a guy could dream, right?
She was actually quite striking in her appearance…and Roy would never cease to be momentarily taken aback at just how attractive she was, even in a uniform (though he wished that amendment to the dress code allowing female officers to wear miniskirts would be approved already)… And, while their on-duty relationship was the epitome of a platonic and professional commander-subordinate camaraderie…to Roy, his First Lieutenant was so much more than a subsidiary officer. She was a faithful ally, a trusted companion, and a dear friend to him.
He might have even said he loved her…if the words didn’t always get stuck in the back of his throat like peanut butter… To even think those words left his mind reeling a little bit. As much as he did enjoy her company, he had far too much respect for her to attempt to woo her…
Surely a woman of Riza’s great persona would have been offended by such animalistic advances.
What was he looking at? Riza found herself wondering. It had been happening more often lately that she caught the colonel…looking at her. Just looking… There was no particular expression on his face as he did so; it was much like how she supposed one would look at a flower or a bird: just an air of approbation from afar.
…But…what was he looking at?
For a moment, Riza just stared back.
The light from the streetlamps illuminated his sharp, angled facial features. His onyx eyes, his distinguished nose…his broad chin and slightly disheveled ebony hair… There had always been a sort of regal atmosphere to Colonel Mustang--a rather illustrious aura about his person that left people stunned in his wake as he walked past.
But to Riza there was something else apparent in his face that left her wondering what more was hidden beneath his mysterious sable eyes and cynical smile. There were dark secrets behind his eyes that left her wondering what was so troubling to him that he could not even tell her? There were times he looked more like an overgrown schoolboy than a high-ranking military officer…and now was one of those times.
Something was not right with him tonight, and she hated it when he wasn’t right. Though she had a feeling that his troubled eyes were her fault tonight...
She had always said she would protect him no matter what. She had dedicated all of her being to helping Roy attain his goals, and there was solidarity between the two of them that was unspoken and somewhat inconceivable in its depth. She would have done anything for him without so much as a second’s hesitation…but to her, Roy Mustang was an untouchable creature. Her feelings for him were so that even she was frightened by them at times…but she knew that the only thing that mattered to him right now was becoming the Fuhrer, and so she had set aside her affections and focused all of her energy on helping him
There would be time for devotion of a more romantic type after he had done what he set out to do…
…or so she kept telling herself.
She loved him, she knew she did. But she didn’t dare make common knowledge of her emotions.
Surely a man of Mustang’s stature and status couldn’t be bothered by such trivialities right now.
But yes, something surely seemed off right now. She squinted briefly, and frowned at the misgivings that swam in his gaze.
His eyes were haunted tonight, and it was making her uneasy.
Damn... She never seemed able to pull the proverbial wool over those black eyes of his...
There was a moment of palpable awkwardness between them, and then the eye contact was broken when they both looked away with an uneasy clearing of their throats.
Riza absently scratched the back of her hand.
“Sir…if I may…” she began hesitantly, and looked up at him, “what are you still doing here? I thought the others were having a New Years party at Officer Farman’s…?” She furrowed her brow, seeming mildly disconcerted by the Colonel’s lingering. “Why aren’t you there?”
“One could ask you the same thing, Chuui,” he pointed out, lifting his index finger and feeling quite clever. He rubbed his chin with one hand and took a seat in his swivel chair behind the desk.
Riza raised her eyebrows.
“Not if one was asked first,” she contradicted, and Roy’s shoulders sagged. His hand dropped away from his face and he sunk a little deeper into the chair.
Dammit…she got him again…
He smiled a little and raised his hands with his palms toward her, gesturing that he surrendered, and sighed.
“Very well, then,” he yielded. “I was actually on my way there…”
Riza wasn’t satisfied with the answer.
“So why haven’t you gone yet?”
He squinted at her.
“Are you trying to get rid of me?”
“Just trying to get the facts straight, Sir.”
“I left something behind…”
Riza’s head tilted a smidge to the left.
“And you, Lt,” he went on, “what’s you’re excuse?” He grinned rakishly. “Surely you weren’t afraid of all the testosterone and alcohol…?”
Riza lifted one eyebrow.
“Sir, believe me when I say that there is nothing you and the guys can do--with or without the influence of alcohol--that would frighten me…”
Ya~~ she was in a mood tonight…
She turned quickly back to the window, her eyes on that elusive horizon again, and sighed softly.
“I’m just…not too find of parties, Taisa,” she said after a moment, and Roy snorted. She spun. “Is…something about that amusing to you?”
“Lt, of all the many, many things you are good at,” the colonel guffawed, “lying is surely not one of them.”
Riza’s eyebrows crashed down in an expression of frustration.
“I beg your pardon?” she said, indignant, and Roy pushed his foot against the desk to roll his chair closer to her and the window.
He leaned his arm on the armrest and put his chin on his fist.
“Lt, you’re just a lousy liar,” he said gently, and smiled. “You always have been.” He leaned back and clasped his fingers over his abdomen, slouched in the chair. “All the years you have been in my service, Lt, you have never once successfully told me a lie I couldn’t see right through.”
Riza’s face crumpled a little, like that of a child being scolded, and she turned with a huff back to the window.
She hated it when he did this… He had this terribly irksome way of tearing her defenses down--sometimes without her even realizing it--and getting her so flustered that she wound up spilling more than she wanted to. She scrunched her shoulders a little. Well, he wasn’t getting away with it this time…
“I just don’t much care for New Years parties, Sir,” she admitted. “It’s been a long time since I have participated in one.”
“And why is that?” he wanted to know, leaning his head back against the chair and closing his eyes for a moment.
“That, Sir, with all due respect,” she said coolly, “is none of your business.”
Roy opened one eye.
Ooh…that one hit a nerve. He was on to something.
He sat up, but said nothing, and simply regarded her a moment. She met his unblinking gaze briefly, then turned away and went back to staring outside.
A sly, wide smile split Roy’s face.
He had her now.
He cleared his throat quietly and rose out of the chair, shoving his hands back into his pockets.
“Well, then, Lt,” he said, using his foot to push the chair back under the desk, “I guess I’ll be going then.”
She sounded small.
He glanced at her over his shoulder as he headed for the door.
“You don’t have to go to the party…but if you don’t need me here,” he offered, “I’ll head on over to Farman’s…”
Riza blinked as he headed for the door, and moved to lift one hand to stop him, then dropped it back to her side.
Roy slowed his pace just a bit.
Riza opened her mouth, then closed it with a sigh.
Roy arched his back a little.
Riza chewed on the tip of her tongue.
He grinned and stopped, but didn’t turn.
“Ikanaide,” she implored. “Don’t…Don’t go just yet…”
He stole a look at her, then spun on his heel and leaned against the doorjamb, arms folded over his chest. He really wanted to make some snide comment, but something about the look of distress across her usually calm features silenced him.
It seemed something was troubling her rather deeply tonight, and that left him feeling a little squirmy somehow. He knit his brow and narrowed his gaze slightly, the corners of his mouth falling into a frown as he watched the Lieutenant fidget.
She flapped her arms at her sides--a movement of sheer exasperation--and then nervously fingered her coat where it sat on the desk, her eyes trained on the floor.
Roy licked his lips and tried to think of something to say, but he was rather at a loss. He hadn’t seen her this distraught in a long time…
“Taisa…could…we go for a short walk?” she suddenly wanted to know, and Roy nearly choked.
“A walk??” he gasped. “Lt. Hawkeye, you do realize it’s only about 3 degrees outside?”
She nodded rapidly.
“I know,” she said, “but…I need some air…” She lifted her head and he forbade himself to reel at the look in her eyes. “I…”--she shook her head--“I need to walk…and I don’t want to walk alone…”
The colonel’s brow scrunched in a mixture of sympathy and confusion, and he held out one arm, his palm lifted in invitation.
“Of course, then,” he said quietly, his formerly devious and clever plans for making her spill the beans now set aside as he realized there was much more going on here than a simple secret wedged between them.
Whatever the lieutenant was keeping from him was much more than juicy gossip or an unsettling rumor… Whatever this was, it was big, it was deep, and it was apparently quite painful, and Roy didn’t like the way it was shaping up at all. It took a lot to shake the lieutenant so, Roy knew she wasn’t as fragile as she might have appeared…so what could have happened to make her so vulnerable all of a sudden?
She snatched her uniform jacket from the desk, threw it onto her shoulders, and hurried toward the doorway. She took a deep breath as she approached the colonel, then impulsively took his outstretched hand and squeezed her fingers tightly around it.
Roy jumped. He hadn’t expected her to actually take his hand. Usually she was above such visual displays of affection… She rarely made physical contact. In fact, he couldn’t recall the last time she had so much as tugged his sleeve to get his attention…or touched his elbow as she walked past him in the hallway.
He squeezed her hand back for a split second. Then he relaxed his grasp and slipped his hand from hers to put it in the middle of her back, guiding her out the door and grabbing his long black trench coat before closing the office behind him.
As they moved silently down the hall, he watched her out of the corner of his eye, his hand still at the small of her back, and the uneasy frown on his face deepened. She hadn’t said a word, and she hadn’t asked him to remove his hand. Normally, he would have taken this opportunity to test out just where she might allow him to put that hand…but something told him that, the mood she was in, it might get him killed tonight.
So he resigned to simply walking alongside her, as she had requested, and he pushed open the front doors to the building, sending a blast of cold air into the front lobby.
The building was completely empty now, save for the two of them standing there in the doorway, and Roy paused a moment in the ingress, fishing his keys out of his coat pocket.
“Gotta lock up,” he said simply, quietly, and nudged her gently forward as he pulled the door shut.
Riza gasped softly at how cold it was outside the shelter of the building, but kept walking, and Roy paused a moment behind her to kneel to secure the bolt at the bottom of the doorway. He glanced at her as she kept walking without so much as a word, her arms folded tightly over her chest, and he quickly tugged on the doors to make sure they were locked before jogging after her.
All right, this needed to be fixed… He needed to know what was bothering her enough to cause her to act this way, and he needed to know now… His face tightened in determination, and he shoved his keys back into his pocket as he hurried to catch up with her. For a moment, a fire stronger than that he could create with his hands had been ignited in his heart, and he had to take action. The flame stung a little, and he had a sudden urge to run up beside her and pull her close to him and shield her from whatever had been bothering her all night…hoping that simple action might quell the searing he felt in his chest all of a sudden… But he decided he might get punched if he tried, so he settled on first figuring out what it was that had her so distressed…
Riza was his favorite subordinate and his most trusted friend…his dearest comrade and closest ally… He surely wasn’t going to let any injustice done to her go unpunished.
He was going to get to the bottom of this…even if it took till…well…next year!
* * *
Riza drew her hands up close to her face and breathed into her palms. The night was colder than she had figured, and she was starting to wish she hadn’t left her long coat at her apartment. She folded her arms over her chest and slowed her pace a little, waiting for Roy to catch up with her.
Roy trotted up behind her, his hands deep in his coat pockets, and matched her pace a few steps behind her.
“Lieutenant,” he said suddenly, offhandedly, and she paused.
Oh, crap…now what was he supposed to say? He hadn't thought that far ahead...
Riza glanced at him, and frowned a little.
Roy’s face was almost comically serious as he straightened his shoulders and peered down at his junior. He cleared his throat and started walking again, moving lightly past her, and she blinked, trifle confused by his actions.
The colonel could have kicked himself in the ass for that one.
What the hell was he going to say to her? ‘I order you to tell me what’s bothering you!’? He scowled at the cold ground beneath his feet. Right, that would go over real well… She’d probably beat him senseless with the butt of her pistol.
Riza cocked an eyebrow and quickened her paces to walk beside the colonel.
“Taisa,” she said abruptly, and he looked down at her without breaking stride. She gave him an earnest look. “Sir, don’t trouble yourself with me,” she told him, and he was startled. She averted her eyes. “I’m…a bit not myself tonight…so please think nothing of it. It will pass.”
Roy stopped mid-step, and his foot hovered above the ground for a moment before he put it down forcefully.
“You know we’re not on duty right now…” he said, and Riza couldn’t determine whether that was a question or a statement of mere fact.
“Sir…?” she said, and he shook his head.
“Liuete--Riza,” he corrected himself quickly, and she jumped at the familiarity of being called by her first name. It had been a long time since he had called her Riza. “Look, when we’re not on duty…you don’t have to call me ‘Colonel’,” he said, his voice deep and calculated. He swung his arm back to gesture at HQ. “When we walk out of those doors at the end of the day…I am no longer your commander, nor you my subsidiary.” He hesitantly started walking again, thrusting his gloved hands back into his pockets. He stopped again after taking five or six steps, and looked back at her.
She hadn’t moved.
“You haven’t called me Roy in a long time, Riza,” he said, and she wasn’t sure if that was injury in his voice or not.
Her face was stern.
“Sir, you will always be my commander, even if a day comes I outrank you,” she told him very seriously. Where was he going with this? What was he getting at?
His jaw clenched.
“You’re not hearing me,” he said softly. “Riza, stop putting our ranks between us. Stop wedging my authority in military standing between our friendship.”
She made a face.
She gasped and took a step back when he whirled and took her hastily by the shoulders.
“Riza, stop it!” he hissed, his intense voice laced with urgency. “It’s like you’re afraid to address me by my name anymore!”
She pulled away quickly.
“That’s nonsense,” she insisted, rubbing her forearms. “That’s…not it at all.”
“Then why won’t you talk to me anymore? How long has it been since you and I actually sat down and talked about anything?”
She looked at him, his black eyes burning vividly with confusion and hurt that Riza couldn’t fathom. She looked at her hands.
“I have nothing if not respect and admiration for you,” she said quietly. “I have dedicated my life to helping you achieve that which you have set out to achieve… You mean more to me than my own life, Sir, and in that, I cannot address you so casually.” Her expression crumpled a little. “How dare you presume I address you as I do out of fear?”
Roy’s eyes narrowed.
“Lt, you’ve been out of sorts for the past three days,” he told her, and he was pleased to see she seemed surprised he had noticed. Ah-hah, Roy Mustang was far more observant of his loved ones than people gave him credit. He removed one hand from his pocket to clench it in frustration. “Don’t you think it’s obvious to someone who has known you as long as I have?”
She avoided his eyes and said nothing.
Roy’s shoulders tensed and he swung his arm out, turning away from her in anger and exasperation.
“Riza, how can you claim to have respect and admiration for someone you can’t trust with something that hurts you?”
She made a bit of a choking sound, and he turned to look at her over his shoulder.
She was surprised to see how wounded he sounded as he continued, “How can you say that I’m important to you if you do not even have the faith in me to express vulnerability?”
She looked away.
“Is it so obvious?” she asked. “Obvious that I’m troubled?”
His face softened.
“To me alone, Miss Hawkeye,” he assured her, and she took a step toward him. He shook his head with a soft chuckle. “I’m sure it’s only me who has noticed…”
She fidgeted, and brushed noiselessly past him, gently nudging his side with her arm and stopping just as she moved beyond him so that their shoulders were nearly touching. They stood there a moment, nearly back to back, silence surrounding them as their breath floated up above them on misty clouds of silver condensation in the cold air. Riza closed her eyes and sighed silently, then ran a hand through her hair.
She had failed. She had tried so hard not to let it show this year…she had tried so hard… Every year, she tried, and every year she had managed to hide it… From him, from all of them…but this time, it hadn’t been enough. She hadn’t preoccupied herself enough…she hadn’t kept enough on her mind… She hadn’t been able to keep the pain off her face or the faraway look out of her eyes this year…
Roy remained motionless for a minute, trying to think of what to say.
Now that he had gotten her to admit that something was, indeed, troubling her…well…what was he supposed to do now? He gnawed on the side of his lip and knit up his forehead.
He heard Riza sigh, and turned.
Riza jumped when something was suddenly draped over her shoulders, and turned quickly, nearly spinning her face directly into Roy’s chest. She inhaled sharply--noting absently that he smelled a little like a faraway fire burning on a bitter winter night…a comforting scent--and took a stumbling step back. There was a throaty chortle from him and he put his arms up placatingly.
“It’s just my coat,” he laughed, “it’s relatively harmless…”
“Sir, I can’t accept this,” she insisted, trying to take it off.
He clapped his hands down on her shoulders to hold the coat in place.
“Riza, keep it,” he said, releasing her shoulders and impulsively put an arm around her to turn her back to walking down the road. “It’s damn cold out here, and it seems only one of us thought to bring a heavy coat.”
“Sir, if you get sick out here I won’t forgive myself,” she threatened darkly, and he laughed at how serious she sounded.
She scoffed lightly and suddenly realized he hadn’t moved his arm from where it was draped over her shoulders. Not that she minded, to be honest… As much as she was loathe to take his coat from him, she had been quite unpleasantly cold in just her uniform jacket, and remained so yet…though she had a feeling there was more to the chill beneath her skin than the weather. They walked in silence a few moments longer, and then Roy made a sort of gasping sound and stopped in his tracks.
He held up the hand that wasn’t arranged across her shoulders and grinned down at her.
“It’s snowing,” he said, and Riza’s eyes moved skyward.
“S…Sou...” she breathed. “So it is…”
A hundred thousand tiny points of silver light were floating gracefully down from above…like a rain of stars. They fell all around them, swirling and dancing in a wind they could not feel, to a song they could not hear, and Riza felt something poke at the lump that was forming in the back of her throat.
She shivered a little. It had snowed that night, too.
As the snow began to fall harder, dusting the earth with white like powdered sugar, Riza cast her eyes back up at Roy, wondering what he was thinking. At the same time, she couldn't help but think he was wondering the same thing.
They walked in amicable silence a few minutes, and she noted that they were approaching the dorms where Fuery and Farman lived; where Farman was holding the New Years party... …Hey, waitasecond!! She started to protest to Roy's bringing her here so sneakily when a sudden chill raced up her spine, and she felt her knees weaken a little.
She clenched her fists. Please, not here...not with him walking beside her...
The chill prancing up and down her backbone suddenly spread its skeletal fingers out to every blood vessel in her body, gripping her entire person with such a sudden, intense feeling of cold that she began to shake. To shake so badly she was suddenly having trouble finding her footing on the road.
She tensed all the muscles in her body trying to stop the shivering, but she couldn't. Frightened now, she swallowed hard and sucked in a sharp breath, beginning to hyperventilate. Her insides heaving, her heart roiling, Riza was suddenly stricken with an overwhelming sensation of dizziness, and her body reeled.
Oh, God...why did this have to...?
Roy felt her waver beneath his arm, and quickly snapped his head to the side as she stumbled where she walked. His arm slid instantaneously from her shoulders to beneath her arm to catch her, and a stab of fear lanced through his blood as he realized she was shaking uncontrollably.
He took to a knee as her legs crumpled beneath her, and gripped both her forearms with his strong hands. Her eyes were wild and dilated...looking through him much more than at him, and for a second, there was a look of such terror in her features that he wanted to shake her; to wake her up from this nightmare that had suddenly struck her wide-awake…
"Riza, look at me!" he cried, and she met his gaze briefly, her eyes focusing on his for just a second before looking away, embarrassed. Roy squeezed her arms gently to get her attention. "What the hell is wrong with you? Are you sick? Riza--!"
"Roy..." she said softly, and sucked in another breath, calming down a little, but not enough to stop the shaking.
His head swam suddenly at the sound of his name falling from her lips, but he shook his head quickly to clear his thoughts. He didn’t have the luxury of faltering right now…something was clearly much more out of sorts with her than she had let on… Even more so than he had suspected…if it could drive her to this…
“Riza, what happened?” he gasped, alarmed and a little scared by the frail and frightened young woman cradled against his body. He had never seen her shake so badly. What in the world was wrong with her? “If you’re ill, why didn’t you--? ”
“I’m not sick,” she said, her breathing slowed almost back to normal, though she was still shaking badly. “It’s not…”--she took another deep breath--“it’s not that I’m unwell, Sir…”
He frowned. He wished she would call him ‘Roy’ again… But he supposed that what was bothering him more than her impeccable and incorrigible adherence to her professional code of behavior was the fact that she still hadn’t attempted to get up. Had she been right, she would have immediately brushed off his help (even if she was in need of it) and insisted on doing things on her own. That was just the way she was…
So the fact that she had remained motionless, save for the trembling that still racked her frame, in the colonel’s arms left him perplexed and extremely worried…
…which was a shame…because he was certain she was never going to allow something like this to happen again… He wished he could have just let himself enjoy holding her for a few minutes…
He took a breath, held it a moment, then released it in a silver puff of condensation that rose amongst the falling stars of snow, then met Hawkeye’s mahogany gaze with a stern, almost disappointed stare.
“If you’re not sick,” he ventured, “then why can’t you stand?”
She had a sudden urge to slap him for being so presumptuous as to think there was anything wrong with her mobility functions…but the truth of the matter was, she wasn’t sure she could stand…and slapping him for being right would have been against protocol. So she resigned herself to merely gripping the sleeve of his uniform jacket and trying three times to say something before succeeding.
“Roy, dammit,” he snapped, “my name is Roy…”
She would have liked to have laughed at his irritation, but thought better of it, and sighed.
“May I ask you something?” she queried, and he lifted one thin eyebrow.
“Shoot,” he offered.
“Why do you suppose…some are chosen to pass, and others are left behind?”
The other eyebrow shot up alongside the first.
She shifted and tucked her knees beneath her where she sat on the cold ground, still not confident enough of her own legs to risk standing yet. She looked back at Roy and frowned.
“I mean, Sir,” she continued, and he bit his tongue to keep from correcting her again, “why are some people taken from this earth so soon…and others left to mourn in their absence…?”
“Who makes the choice…?” she added. “How can one person be left behind…?”
Her face contorted in anger and resentment.
“Who decided that I should be left behind??”
Roy’s mouth fell ajar, and he opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out but a sort of flabbergasted squeak.
She lowered her eyes, and her voice fell to a whisper.
“Why…wasn’t it me instead of them…?”
The colonel’s face shifted from shock to sadness to disbelief and then back to shock, and then he shook his head to try and clear it so he could process that.
“I…Lieutenant, what are you talking about…?”
Well, now that he thought about it, as well as he knew Lieutenant Hawkeye…as much as he knew about her personality; her likes, her dislikes, her favorite foods, and the things that were important to her…he really didn’t know much of anything about her personal family life. She never spoke of her parents or of having any siblings…he had never seen photographs of her loved ones. She had never mentioned anything about her home life…much less any deaths in the family. Who was she talking about?
Riza suddenly pushed away from Roy--gently, but with obvious distress at having been put in such a compromising situation--and moved to rise. He waited until she seemed stable on her feet before standing to join her, and decided against extending a hand to offer support.
It seemed she was humiliated enough as it was…
She clutched at the coat Roy had draped over her shoulders, as if something about it could have saved her from the words she knew she no longer had a choice but to speak. Her fingers closed tightly around the fabric, and she ducked her neck down into her shoulders like a turtle trying to recoil into its shell.
Roy’s face was stern.
“Chuui,” he said softly, “I cannot make you speak… I cannot force you to tell me what has left you so broken this last night of the year…” He lowered his head and moved a step away from her, as one would bow out of a spotlight to retreat into the shadows of the wings of a stage. His face softened a little. “But I can offer you the ear of someone who would listen, should you choose to do so.” He looked at his feet and placed the tips of his fingers together, watching snow gather on the toes of his shoes.
A time of silence passed: silence so thick it was as if a tangible wall had crashed down between the two of them.
Roy didn’t move. He knew better.
They were both adults, this should not have been such a difficult subject to resolve, but whereas they may have both been mature, responsible, and grown human beings on a professional level…perhaps things weren’t so easily spoken for below the surface. There were dark secrets that hung behind the shoulders of their impeccable military careers; clinging to their backs like shadows and nipping at their heels. Roy found it painfully ironic how people could go through something like the war in Ishbal and move on to live normal lives…but yet the deeds done in the past--things that may well have been done and gone for decades--could scar so deeply as to reduce someone of Hawkeye’s caliber to this…?
Funny how the things you couldn’t see or touch anymore could often have a much more painful effect than things that physically wounded…
A nearby streetlight flickered and died, casting the two of them into shadow as the falling snow hissed softly all around them where it fell. Roy squinted in the sudden darkness, willing himself to see through the shadows now obscuring the Lieutenant’s face.
“It was years ago,” she said, and he saw her silhouette move toward the broken streetlamp. “I was just sixteen when it happened…but every year when New Years comes along, it’s like it’s happening all over again…” She gave a bitter chuckle. “You would think that, by now, I would have recovered… I should have…but it just won’t let me… I can’t let it go, for some reason…”
She leaned on the streetlamp, and Roy took a hesitant step toward her.
“That was the last year I ever went to a New Years party,” she went on, and he could feel her eyes on him though he couldn’t see them in the new darkness. “Even back then, all my friends thought I needed to loosen up. I was always in the designated driver position, you know?” Another bitter chuckle. “Funny how ironic the whole situation turned out to be… There were four of us…we had known each other since junior high. We were nearabout inseparable, too.” She allowed herself a small smile and extended one hand toward the colonel, gesturing that it was acceptable for him to approach. “Taisa, there’s something you should know about girls…”
He halted in his tracks and refused to take another step.
She chuckled aloud.
“In any group of four girls, a similar pattern emerges,” she explained. Deciding that was a safe topic, Roy then continued forward and took a seat on the metal bench (damn that metal was cold!!) next to the streetlamp, his chin in his hands as he listened to Riza’s soft voice speak from a darkness he couldn’t quite see through. “There is one who is sweet, one who is smart, one who is risqué, and one who is responsible.” She turned her body toward him and folded her arms over her chest. “You can guess which one I was…”
His eyebrows shot up provocatively.
“Oh, please tell me you were the risqué one, Hawkeye…”
He was so relieved when she laughed instead of beating him up… He saw her tighten her arms around her torso, and cleared his throat gently, patting the bench beside him. She hesitated, then moved to sit beside him, feeling helpless and self-conscious… But she was glad that, of all the people she worked with that Roy was the only one to see her this way. Somehow, if it was Roy, it was okay.
She folded her hands in her lap and paused for a moment, as if gathering back the threads of her unraveled thoughts, and then opened her mouth to speak again.
"It was a great party," she told him, a small smile forming on her lips. "There were so many people there... All the food, the music, the dancing... We had such a good time..." She got that far-off look in her eyes again. "But then when midnight came--when the bells rang and the fireworks were shot off...after the noisemakers and the laughing that rang in the new year--everything just sort of quieted down after that. People started to leave..." She shook her head. "So we left, too..."
The wind blew gently past them, swirling the snow around their faces, and Riza scrunched up her shoulders and ducked her head. She just couldn't seem to get warm... Even with the colonel's heavy coat over her, the chill beneath her blood was more than the warmth of the coat could compensate for.
Roy saw her cringe, and hesitantly slid an inch closer to her on the bench.
"So we started home," she went on, seeming not to notice that Roy had inched closer. "I drove, being the 'rsponsible one' and all...and actually none of us had been drinking... We were all still underage, anyway..."
"Always played by the rules, huh?" he asked lightly. "Even when you were a kid..."
She smiled in spite of herself.
"I guess cheetahs can't change their spots..."
Roy put a hand on her shoulder.
"They shouldn't have to," he offered, and she looked at her hands.
"The roads were pretty empty...and it had started snowing," she said. "It was like a tradition in my town...it almost always snowed on New Years... Rarely did we ever wake up New Years Day without at least a dusting of snow on the ground. It was like...a new beginning for the new year...like the snow would wash away all the sins of the past year and give you a new slate on which to write your resolutions..."
She gave another sour chuckle.
"Ironic how my resolutions came about..."
Roy inched a little closer.
"We were driving down the empty streets," she continued. "The music was going, the girls and I were all singing... We didn't have a care in the world...until one of them pointed up and out the windshield with a loud sort of gasp. When I realized that she was pointing at two bright points of light heading straight for us, it didn't quite register what was happening... I hadn't been driving very long...none of us had... So a car in the wrong lane driving into oncoming traffic was something I had never experienced before. By the time I realized what it was and tried to get out of the way, it was too late. The roads were slick, and my driving skills weren't what they are now..."
She lowered her head.
"It's ironic," she added, and Roy scooted again, his thigh now against hers. She looked at it briefly, then looked up at him. "It's...ironic," she said again, "that I lived... When I swerved to try and get out of the way of the oncoming vehicle, the car spun on the slick, snowy road, and we wound up getting broadsided. I remember...a...loud crunching sort of noise...and then a snap...and the next thing I knew I was...soaring through the air."
"You were thrown from the car?"
"When I came to shortly thereafter, I was on the side of the road, not far from the site of the accident," she told him, shaking her head. "My...car had a faulty door lock... I knew about that, but at that time I didn't have the money to get it fixed, so I let it go, thinking it wasn't that important... But what I hadn't known was that my driver's seatbelt was also broken. The clasp didn't hold." The lieutenant blinked up at Roy. "Ironic that the only thing that saved my life was a malfunction of a device that was supposed to save lives, huh?"
Roy made no reply.
"I sat there on the side of the road, willing myself to see my friends alongside me..." she said, her voice cracking. "I kept waiting for them to step out of that tangled mess of metal that had once been my car...but they never did. I started to shake...and I couldn’t stop... I couldn't breathe...I couldn't think..." She buried her face in her hands. "And then I just started screaming... And even now…the mere thought back to the even makes me relive it all over again…”
She shook her head.
"After that...everything was kind of gray," she admitted. "I remember going to the hospital... I remember lots of shocked, sad faces..."
She lowered her eyes.
"I was the only one," she whispered, "who left that hospital..."
Even though Roy had somehow expected those words would eventually come out of her mouth, actually hearing them still made him jump, and he impulsively put an arm around her shoulders again. Much to his surprise, she turned into his half-embrace and buried her face in his shoulder.
"They all died, Taisa," she croaked. "All of them...even the other driver... He was drunk, he wasn't in his senses...but he died!" She clutched at Roy's jacket. "He didn't deserve that... And my friends didn't do anything wrong... Why were they taken away?"
He put his other arm around her and tentatively rested his chin on top of her head.
"Stop, Lt," he said, "you don’t have to say anymore..."
She pulled away from him quickly, her eyes suddenly angry and cold.
"Why?" she cried. "Why was I the only one who lived? Why wasn't I taken with them?" She looked away and then rose to her feet, pacing in grief-stricken guilt. "I was driving...if anyone was at fault it was me..." She looked back at the colonel. "So why...was I the only one permitted to live?"
"Hawkeye, listen to me," Roy said, rising and extending his hand out to her. "I understand what you're going through, but--"
Her eyes were suddenly fiery.
"Don't." Her voice was acid. "Don't say that. Don't try and relate because you feel sorry for me."
Roy grabbed her arm roughly.
"And don't you be so presumptuous as to believe you're the only one who doesn't feel guilt for someone else's death!"
Riza felt her breath stolen away.
Oh, God, what had she done...?
Roy's black eyes gleamed brightly in the darkness, like onyx, and he loosened his tight grasp on her arm.
"Do you honestly think a day goes by that I don't wonder if there wasn't something I could have done to save Maes?"
Riza deflated. She would have fallen to her knees again had Roy not had her arm in his grip.
"Get a hold of yourself, Riza," he scolded, feeling a spark of anger in his blood. "this isn't like you at all. Get a grip... You can't let things that happened years ago linger on your shoulders like this. They'll crush you."
She shook her head.
"How am I supposed to let it go, Taisa?" she breathed, and he pulled her toward him.
She leaned heavy against his body and felt him put his arm over her shoulders again. There was a safety by his side that she had always felt, but never spoken. A safety she would not let be taken away. She would never allow Roy's life to be extinguished the way her friends' had... Not before her own.
She rested her head on his chest.
"I used to have these dreams," she told him, "after the accident... For months, I would have these horrible nightmares that my friends would come into my bedroom at night and pull me out of my bed to drag me off to death with them... I would wake up sobbing, drenched in sweat... The guilt on my back was so heavy that it wouldn't even let me sleep..." She shook her head. "Why...do they still haunt me so...?"
"Because you fear their anger, right?"
She looked up at him, his face unusually wise.
"Think about it, Riza...think about those friends of yours..." he said. "If you had died, and they had lived...would you haunt them?"
"Would your soul go after them in the night to drag them off to be in death alongside you?" he asked. "Would Hughes come after you and I for living when he had been taken off to the next world?"
She shook her head.
"No, Sir, I don't think I would..." she told him. "And Maes wouldn't either..."
"And yet you think your friends would do that to you?"
She hung her head.
Roy squeezed her shoulders.
"The dead don't wish for the suffering of the loved ones they leave behind," he said gently. "They don't want us to forget them...but they certainly don't want us to be haunted by guilt that is misplaced." He smiled at her. "I'm sure your friends never wanted you to spend every New Years alone and afraid... They never wanted you to mourn them this way... I'm sure of that."
"I promised myself after they died that I would never again let those close to me be taken away," Riza said. "That was when I vowed to protect the people I love--"
She halted, realizing what she had said, and then quickly picked up where she left off, hoping Roy hadn't noticed her slip.
"I vowed to protect the people dear to me...at any cost."
"And are you so sure that's what they want?"
She met his eyes, and was startled to see sadness in them.
"Riza...don't you get it...?" he asked. "Death is part of life... Giving your life for someone else's won't change anything, it only relocates the blame to the shoulders of someone else." He looked up at the clouds above them, snow falling cold and light upon his face. "Maes died trying to help me...don't you think I feel horrible about that? I never asked him to put himself in that situation...I never ordered him to find out the things he searched for..." He looked back down at her. "But we wouldn't know what we know now if he hadn't. 'Touka koukan', deshou? We lost people we loved, but we must gain from that...right?"
"But what did I gain, Taisa...?" she asked miserably.
He put his hands on her shoulders, standing her in front of him and leaning down to look into her deep brown eyes.
"You gained the strength to become one of the best damn Lieutenants I know," he said. "You gained the power to defend yourself and your comrades...the intelligence to fight an enemy we don't understand... And...even though you lost people you loved a long time ago...you have us now, right? Armstrong, Brada, Fuery, Farman, Havoc..."--he hesitated--"...and...me, Lt. You know we’ve got your back no matter what. Surely that has to count for something."
She smiled a little.
"Sir, if your friendship doesn't count, then there really is no hope for the world..."
He lowered his head, then stood up straight and looked at his watch.
"Come on now, Riza," he said, giving her a sidelong glance. "It's New Years Eve...it's snowing... It's that clean slate you spoke of... Do you really want to disappoint your friends again by spending another New Years all alone...?"
He upturned one palm to the falling snow, then smiled at her.
"Make a new resolution this year, Lt..." he said, and blew the snow off his gloves. "A resolution to put the past behind you and follow your path into the future." He shoved his hands in his pockets and grinned rakishly at her. "You’ve got to know that Hughes is up there to keep your friends company now... So why not give them the peace they deserve instead of blaming yourself for something that you had no fault in?"
Riza smiled a little.
How did he always manage to say exactly what needed to be said...? No matter the situation, no matter who was involved, the steady hand of Roy Mustang always knew where to go to guide those close to him who were lost. Even the Elrics had seen that...
Riza glanced down at her wristwatch.
"Oh! Sir, I made you miss the party!" she gasped, holding up her wrist. "It's nearly midnight!"
"You don't have to be at a party to celebrate, do you?" he asked, and held out his hand.
She took it, and he pulled her back down onto the bench. As the snow fell around them, they softly counted down the last few seconds of the year.
Roy squeezed her hand.
She met his eyes and took a slow breath.
He leaned down and turned his head a little.
She tilted her head and leaned into him...
She gasped sharply and pulled away when there was a loud cracking noise from above, and Roy made a disappointed face when the light of the fireworks scattered shadows across the snowy ground beneath them.
Dammit, he had been so close!!!
He sighed inaudibly.
Oh well, he thought, bringing one hand to his face to arbitrarily rub the side of his lower lip. There was always Valentine's Day...
Riza got to her feet and beckoned Roy to come with her as she stood beneath the charcoal sky and watched the flowers of light and fire dance across the clouds above them.
"No big deal," he said offhandedly, and positioned his hand to snap his fingers. "You should see the ones I can make..."
She put her palm over his poised hand as one would put a cap on a candle to snuff it, then looked up at him with a small smile.
"Do you suppose it's too late to change my mind about Officer Farman's party?"
He laughed out loud and put his hands back in his pockets.
"For you, Dear Lady, I'm sure the party would go on all night..."
And without saying anything more, he turned and offered her his arm. She took it and they walked down the snow lined street together, their footsteps leaving a trail in the powder behind them, and the fireworks weaving a starlight tapestry above them.
“And just so you know, Lt,” Roy said after a moment, and she looked up at him. “You never walk alone…”
“And just so you know, Sir…” she replied, “you had the words to Auld Lang Syne all wrong…”
He guffawed and hugged her arm tightly to his side.
“Well then I’ll just have to have you teach it to me sometime, won’t I?”
“No time like the present, Sir…”
She smiled to herself. Perhaps it was time she made a new resolution… She supposed that alongside Roy and the others…maybe it wasn’t going to be such a bad New Years after all…
And so they made their way to Farman’s dorm, baritone and alto voices barely audible over the roar of the fireworks above them.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?
And days of auld lang syne, my dear,
And days of auld lang syne.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?
And ther's a hand, my trusty friend,
And gie's a hand o' thine;
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne...
Roy chuckled. It was an appropriate song, indeed…
Riza paused a moment as they reached the door of Farman's dorm, and she looked at Roy.
He looked at her.
"Sir, you didn't bring anything with you..."
He lifted an eyebrow.
"Did someone put me down for a bundt cake?"
She shook her head.
"No, no," she chuckled. "You said you had gone back to HQ because you left something behind..." She tilted her head. "But you never got it... You brought nothing with you..."
Roy smiled and slung his arm around her shoulders.
"Of course I did," he said, ringing Farman's doorbell. He squeezed her shoulders gently. "I brought the only thing this party was missing..."
Author’s Notes: I usually put a lot of Japanese in my fics because I think it adds to authenticity and helps preserve the character traits that don’t always come across well in dubs…but I knew that writing out all the dialogue in Japanese would be a bad idea…so just to clear up what I had in mind with one thing that you’ve probably been wondering about, I figured I’d have to do a little explanation… So here is a little Japanese lesson for everyone.
I’m sure some of you have been wanting to go off on me for making Roy refer to Riza as ‘it’ at the beginning of the story…allow me to explain: in Japanese, the subject of a sentence is often left to inference… (xrninja, these are for you! XD)
“Mika-chan wa dare desu ka?”
“Sotchi [no hito].”
“Who is Mika?”
“[that person] over there.”
“Mika no neko wa dochira desu ka?”
“Asoko [no neko].”
“Which is Mika’s cat?”
“[that cat] over there…”
The words in [brackets] are not necessary for the sentence to make sense…as is apparent even in the translations…but in English it would be rude to refer to a person as in the first example, right? Not so in Japanese, providing you’re among friends. You probably wouldn’t want to refer to, say, your boss that way…but you get the idea. So when Roy makes the explanation that he ‘left something behind’, he was referring to Riza…but saying that he forgot someone would have sounded stupid in English…so since the original language of HagaRen is Japanese, I took a few linguistic liberties. Even though in English it sounds kind of cold or detached that Roy would consider Riza a ‘thing’ or an ‘it’…in Japanese it would be perfectly normal to leave out the specific noun.
Ah, there it was. He knew he had forgotten something…
Aa…soko ni iru. Yappari wasuremono ga mada iru…
“So why haven’t you gone yet?”
“I left something behind…”
“Ja, naze mada ikinakatta no?”
“Owasuremono ga iru dakara…”
Now if any of you speak Japanese, you would have been able to deduce immediately that Roy was probably speaking of Riza because, had I written the dialogue in Japanese, it would have read as above. If Roy had been speaking of an inanimate object, he would have said ‘aru’ not ‘iru’… If any of you speak Japanese, you would have probably said, “is that a typo?”, because a “wasuremono” is something left behind...like those things they remind you not to forget when you get off an airplane or a bus…and is not usually used to refer to people…hence the running gag. The whole thing is kind of a play on words, and to keep you guessing till the end just what Roy was talking about… In English, when you leave the specificity out of a sentence, it makes your subject a ‘thing’, which would be considered rude and cold…but in Japanese, depending on the particle used, it can be a thing or a person. Much of Japanese is left to inference…you have to pay attention to what is being said a lot of times because it isn’t completely spelled out for you the way thing usually are in English, and that’s because the sentence structure is sort of sideways compared to Latin-based languages. But the particle switch is such a subtle change that Riza didn’t pick up on it, so she didn’t immediately catch on that he was referring to her. He wasn’t speaking of her as a thing, per se… It’s just the way things would be said in Japanese, sort of played with when written in English to maintain the mystery. God I love playing with semantics… XD ANd yes, I know i put way too much thought into that... ~___~ It's a curse...
Also…I said Riza lives in an apartment…but I’m not certain of that… ::scratches head:: Anybody know? I thought I remembered her having an apt, and that was why she was able to keep Buraha…
So...thoughts? I'm afraid they might have been a little out of character and I hate that... What did you guys think...?
and Happy New Year! I'm heading off to a friend's place soon, so I wish everyone a safe and happy New Year with no broken seatbelts, door locks, or interrupted kisses with inordinately handsome bishounen. XD Seeya next year!!!