And now to burst any bubble of happiness, I give you the past!
When Riza came home from school that afternoon, she had no idea that her world was about to be shaken again, though the signs were all there.
Roy had become a little more withdrawn lately, but she’d assumed it was because of his studies, which sometimes took nearly all of his attention and concentration. He would pop in and apologize for being distant, for maybe acting like her father too much, but she always waved away his concerns. Her father seemed more irritable than before, but then even he couldn’t ignore the news of the war spreading in Ishval. Tension had hung in the Hawkeye Estate, but then it usually did whenever her father was close to a discovery in his research or Roy was having a particular time with his studies.
Things were…happy. They were good. Riza almost smiled at the thought of going home. Sure, things would never be perfect and they’d never be a happy, picturesque family, but she was content with the way her life was turning out. Things were comfortable. And that was a lot more than she could’ve said years ago when it was just her and her father.
Riza should’ve known that life wouldn’t (couldn’t) stay like that. It wasn’t in her nature to be hopeful or whimsical about such things, but somehow or another, Roy’s idealistic personality had wormed its way into her mind without her even realizing it. She would only feel foolish and bitter in the end for being so frivolous.
The first sign that this day would signal the end of this illusion of comfort came later on in the day. Riza walked out of school, swinging her backpack over her shoulder, only to find that Roy wasn’t waiting for her like he normally was. He almost always took his break to walk into town to greet her when she got out of class, so that she wouldn’t have to walk back home alone, even though she’d done it before he’d arrived on their doorstep and even a year after that. She thought it strange, but then figured his studies got the better of him. No matter. His studies were important.
Besides, the walk home was pleasant. It was a rather beautiful day with the sun shining brightly and specks of fluffy clouds in the sky, nothing to hint of a storm coming her way. A few shop people waved at her and she waved back. A quite young girl shyly asked where Mister Mustang was and ran off blushing before Riza could stop grinning and answer. Once she left town, the walk home was a lot quieter, but still pleasant. Her thoughts flittered between upcoming tests, what she should cook for dinner, and if she would have time to spend outside. Vague thoughts drifted towards her father’s research, but only for a moment. She was always hesitant to touch those; out of lack of knowledge or fear, she wasn’t sure.
The house looked normal on the outside. A little run down, but better after all the work she and Roy had been putting into it over the past year. His alchemy had improved to the point where he could use it to fix up some of the things under the guise of practice.
She was about to open the front door when a loud crash from inside caused her to jump. Her heart leaped into her throat. Had her father fallen down the stairs again? She ripped the door open, ready to leap inside, when a loud roar took her breath away. “GET OUT! GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE!”
Riza blinked in shock, her hand shaking on the handle. That had been her father’s voice. She’d never heard him yell like that before ever. A vision of soldiers trying to convince the older man to join the State Alchemist program flashed in her mind. They’d come before and her father had reacted furiously, but never like this. Maybe he’d finally lost his last nerve.
She stormed inside, ready to protect her father and make the men harassing him leave by any means, but what she instead found was her father, red-faced to the point of looking sick with his face twisted in an expression of utter disgust and hatred, pointing an accusing finger at Roy. All Riza could do was gape. Roy himself looked parts mixture of ashamed and desperate, something she couldn’t understand. They’d never fought like this before. Sure, they got into arguments all the time – such was the nature of their cantankerous student-teacher relationship – but nothing on this level.
Roy took a shaky step forward, eyes locked on her father in such a pleading manner that looked like he was close to getting on his knees. He didn’t beg this much when he tried convincing the older man to teach him a bit of flame alchemy. “Master–”
“You are no student of mine!” Her father’s voice was a cold whip, causing both Roy and Riza to physically flinch. Neither one of them had even noticed her yet, but she could barely breathe, much less announce her arrival. What if her father turned his anger on her? She nearly shivered at the thought. “Leave!”
Every inch of Roy seemed to tremble. Was it anger? Fear? Desperation? Riza couldn’t tell and maybe he couldn’t either. His face was picture of emotional pain and his hands shook at his sides. He looked torn between wanting to argue and wanting to obey. Roy could be a difficult student at times, but he listened carefully and was diligent if nothing else.
Taking a deep breath and straightening himself much like a soldier, Roy turned on his heels and froze on the spot when he locked eyes with Riza. His mouth parted slightly and his face paled. This time he didn’t move a muscle as he stared wide-eyed at her. She could see him wondering how long she had been standing there and what she’d heard. He clamped his mouth shut and forcibly tore his eyes from her, walking past her and outside the house without saying a word.
For her part, Riza jerked her head to the closing door and back at her father, but neither one were going to answer her questions. When she looked at her father, he merely waved a hand and walked into the dark hallway back to his office, muttering angrily under his breath. She would get no answers from him. And so she steeled herself in the same way Roy had done moments before and followed him out the door. She found him quickly, sitting on the tree swing that they’d rigged two summers ago, and carefully made her way over to him.
His head was hung low so that his bangs were hiding his eyes. “How much did you hear?” he asked without looking up at her or making a move. His grip on the ropes was limp, like there was nothing holding him up and he might collapse at any second.
Riza hesitated, chewing on her bottom lip. Now that she was here, she was…afraid of what she might learn. No, that was silly. She could never be afraid of Roy. “Not much,” she admitted. “What…? Why was my father so angry with you?”
“I told him that I’m planning to join the military.”
All the blood seemed to drain from Riza’s face and she took an involuntary step away from Roy. Just minutes ago, she’d thought that military officials had been in the house trying to coerce her father or his apprentice into joining their ranks. This felt too ironic. A man that hated the military had an apprentice that wanted to join it.
“Why?” She couldn’t get much of anything else out of her mouth, not when her mind was rattling like there was a firecracker going off inside it.
“It feels like the right thing to do,” Roy told her in a mild tone, like he was telling her that the sky was blue or that fish couldn’t breathe above water. She felt like that fish now, gaping at him in growing horror. When he looked up at her, there was a determined expression on his face, but that desperate light was in his eyes again. “I want to do what I can to help; I want to go where I can do some good, where I’m needed.”
Riza felt as if she’d been slapped in the face and she nearly slapped him in return. You’re going to go somewhere where you’ll die! she wanted to scream, but the words wouldn’t form on her tongue. Tears should’ve sprung into her eyes, but she was so shocked that they didn’t come.
“Please, Riza, you have to understand.” There was a neediness to his voice that she couldn’t comprehend. She had to understand? Why couldn’t he understand that what he was doing was terrible? “I need you to understand, even if your father won’t. It’s my duty. I can’t just sit back while people are dying. I have to do something. I have to protect the people I care about.”
When he went to grab her hands, she jerked them away from his reach. A wounded expression flashed across this face, but this time he didn’t force it away and left it there in the open for her to see. She hated it. She wanted to make it go away. A part of her felt like groaning and collapsing to her knees. He was begging her to understand him, to give him her blessing for his decision, but she wanted to beg him to change his mind, to see reason, to understand why joining the military was akin to betrayal.
Riza took in a sharp intake of breath. That was what this felt like – his pleading eyes, looking like an animal shot and left to bleed out, the pain in her chest like a knife digging in deep – it felt like he was betraying her. How could she have been so foolish?
Roy never looked away from her eyes. “Riza, please…”
Slowly, as if pulling the knife out of her chest herself, Riza closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
News of the Ishval War got worse every day to the point where they couldn’t ignore it. How much longer would it be before it spread here? Roy had always been a hopeful boy, so frantic to do good and prove himself. He talked about his dreams of the future at night whenever they snuck out to look at the stars. A casual comment thrown in here and there about what their life would be once he was done here. Their life. He was not one to stand idle while others were in danger, always so ready to throw himself into a fight to help someone. He was so terribly reckless at times. The thought of him in a military uniform made her want to laugh and cry all at once.
“I may not completely condone your decision, Roy,” Riza finally said, opening her eyes, “but I understand.”
The relief on his face was palpable, to the point where she could feel it in the air, and when he reached out to grab her hands, she let him take them this time. Her skin felt like it was on fire. Every inch of her was screaming to shove him away, to smack him, to cry and beg with him to stay. He would leave her and maybe he would even die. She couldn’t tell the difference between him leaving her now and dying then.
But she trusted him. However awful this felt, however much it stung of grief and betrayal, she trusted him, no matter how much she hurt.