Series Title: Games without Frontiers
Series Rating: PG - NC-17
Main Characters: Roy Mustang, Riza Hawkeye
Other Characters: Various other members of the Peanut Gallery called Fullmetal Alchemist
Word Count: 2,867
Warning: Some adult themes; potential overdosing of crrrrack.
Synopsis: From her lofty height of thirteen going on fourteen, there was no way this little bean could be only one year younger.
Author's Notes: AU because I play with the timeline and it’s full of all kinds of headcanons. My own little private timeline; my own private little world. Some OOC, because yeah, circumstances. Just to add, my own little crackpot theories and plots. Some events in some episodes will be used out of context as artistic license. I try not to make the events I use too spoilerish, but if I can’t help it, you’ll get a warning. Based roughly on both the ’03 and FMA:B. Commentary is certainly welcome and tends to make me go “you like me! you really like me!”
Each chapter is titled after a lyric in a song that was part of the soundtrack I have for this tale. Check the current music for the song.
(1897 – the Hawkeye Estate)
Riza peeked around the door of the kitchen and down the long, poorly-lit hallway to see if her father was going to emerge from his cave at the end to at least help her greet the guests currently ringing the doorbell. The sound of the chime echoed around and through the unused rooms in the family estate and made her back teeth vibrate. He would have had to be deaf not to hear it.
Darkness and silence were her answer and she sighed, Katherine, who was pulling a tray of mini-tarts out of the oven.
“You want me to get that, honey?” the older girl asked, putting her hands behind her to remove her cooking apron. For all the time they spent talking and acting more like sisters, Riza sometimes forgot that she was actually a housemaid.
Riza gave her a quick smile. “Please? I think this is the one Father is supposed to be taking to apprentice.”
“Boy or girl?”
Riza rolled her eyes. “Father wouldn’t be bothered with a mere female for an apprentice.”
“Poor lad. What’d he do to deserve that honor?”
Riza chuckled. “He actually asked for it. I’ll let Father know they’re here.”
“Good luck with that.”
Riza snorted as she moved down the hall, reaching up to turn on more sconces to brighten the place up. Just because the ledger books said there were more debits than credits didn’t mean they couldn’t at least be civilized when welcoming company. No, they were no longer the height of society, but she’d be damned if she let anyone think that they were living in a cave on the side of mountain with goats and sheep. As she closed in on the door to her father study the question highest in her mind was whether her father would peel her ears back for interrupting him from his great work.
She took a quick peek behind her to see if she could catch a glimpse of the arrivals, and got a general impression of a deep red dress and a small, dark shadow. Red? Well, that certainly wasn’t any kind of lady-like color to be wearing. Interesting.
Riza shook herself and finished her journey to the cavern of doom that was more commonly called her father’s study. Steeling herself, she raised a hand and gave a perfunctory knock before opening the door. “Father--,”
“Are they here?” her father grated out as she stepped through the door and shut it behind her. As usual, she had to practically squint to see his shadowy form, perched like a dark bird in a dismal aviary in his wing-back chair in front of the large picture window. He gave her a cursory glance with his sharp, dark eyes and went back to his book. Riza eyed the room to make sure it wasn’t the usual disaster area she had come to know and hate. She would hate to step on any of his precious notes and have to hear about it for the rest of her life.
In the middle of the floor was a large cleared space with an array drawing in the middle. A lamp sat beside it, as if her father had sat on the floor to scrawl it out. Within the circle she saw two triangles, one inverted and overlapping the other. Air and Earth, she thought, remembering the little her father had tossed her in the way of alchemical knowledge. In the middle of the diamond created by the overlap she saw a smaller triangle. She furrowed her brow, trying to remember… oh, yes, it was fire. Knowing her father ways, she could see this array was incomplete; she saw where he’d scrubbed out portions at the top and where he’d started to draw something on the outside of the framing circle.
“Well?” her father asked again, slicing through her observation like a knife through butter.
She raised her eyes to her father. One blink, a passive expression and, “Yes, your new apprentice is here with his guardian.” Riza said simply and waited. Words between them were handled like a precious commodity, something they had very little of and very little time to nurture.
“Fine. I’ll be out in a few moments.” Berthold placed a finger on a spot in his book and reached for the bookmark on the arm of the chair. “I hope this lad is worth my time. Don’t have time to molly-coddle another man’s child.”
Riza turned to leave.
“I expect you back in the sitting room in fifteen minutes with something to serve them. That should be long enough for them to sit there and be sure that they want to continue on this path of insanity. I’m sure you had that idiot Katherine let them in. Send her slovenly ass back to the damned kitchen.” His eyes raked her up and down, taking in the simple dress, apron and slightly unkempt ponytail. “And go put on some respectable clothes. You want people to think you’re some stupid fishwife?”
Riza flinched and shut the door on the rest of his muttering. She looked back down the hallway just in time to see Katherine moving toward the kitchen. Fishwife, indeed. Like he looked like anything less than grim Death waiting to snatch up poor souls to meet his quota. She gave herself a little shake (patience and respect, Riza) and gave a small whistle, and waited until Katherine met her at the bottom of the stairway.
“I have to serve them,” Riza whispered. “Father wants you ‘back in the damned kitchen’.”
Katherine rolled her eyes. “He’s a real piece of work.” she shook her head.
“I know.” Riza headed toward the stairway. “What do they look like?” she asked as Katherine climbed the stairs with her.
“Well, they are certainly interesting,” Kate said. “The woman – the guardian you told me about? I’ve never seen a redder shade of lipstick in my life! And she smells like fancy perfume and pipe tobacco. They’re definitely city folk.”
“And Father’s student?”
Katherine smirked, the gesture making her freckles dance across her nose. “All knees and elbows and pretty manners,” she answered. “The shine on his shoes will blind you. Don’t think either of them have spent a day in the country in their whole lives. You’ll have fun dealing with that one.” She sat on the bed and watched while Riza whipped her second best dress out of the closet. “From the cut of her dress though, I shudder to think where they’ve been spending their days.”
Riza shimmied out of her clothes and threw the dress over her head. “What do you mean?” she asked when she could speak clearly.
“There’s just something… scandalous about her. I mean… she has silk stockings with seams up the back!”
Riza froze in the process of brushing out her hair. “Seams? You mean like…”
“Those ladies you read about in those novels of yours. The ones that always steal the heroine’s true love away.”
Riza’s jaw took a decidedly un-ladylike trip towards the floor for a moment, before she pulled herself together and remember she was on a time-clock. “Dear god. Help me with these buttons. I’ve got only ten minutes to get to the sitting room with a tray. Really? Seams?”
“And she crosses her leg at the knees.”
She arranged the heirloom four teacups on the tray next to the small tarts she’d pulled out of the oven. Before she left the kitchen she caught a glance out of the window. The bright, midday sunshine bounced off the glass and cast happy shadows throughout the kitchen. Though the air was relatively cool in the house, she was sure that it was still and less than comfortable outside, especially for city folk who had no idea how to dress for summer in the countryside.
She halted, looking at the tray speculatively. A little smirk crossed her lips and she got rid of three of the teacups and reached up into the cabinet for glass tumblers instead. Into the icebox and out with a pitcher of what she liked to call the elixir of the countryside. She filled the glasses with the ice cold lemonade and placed a napkin beneath each glass. Let her father complain, but she was taught to make sure guests were comfortable before their coming doom.
Of course her father noticed, but he said nothing as she allowed him to take his teacup from the tray. Moving with all of the grace she’d been taught in Miss Bismarck’s Girls School – the school that put more debits than credits in the household ledger – she offered the glasses, first to Miss… she scrabbled to remember the name from the letters… Mustang, then to the boy seated beside her.
And waited for her father to begin his interrogation while she placed the tray on the table between them.
As she sat on the small chair next to her father she watched as the Mustangs took a sip. Of course the first to react was the woman, who gave a broad smile and a wink to Riza. Riza instantly liked her, despite the scandalous stockings and the unbelievable lipstick.
“I haven’t tasted lemonade like this since I was a little girl!” she said. “And it is the perfect thing for a hot summer day like this.”
Riza smiled and looked at her lap, “I’m glad you like it,” she said softly, using all of her will not to give her father a sideways glance. She glanced up to get her first look at the boy who would be her father’s first (and only, if Berthold had anything to say about it) alchemy student.
Katherine had been right; the shine on the boy’s shoes would have powered the entire house for a month. Though he actually wore long pants, she couldn’t believe he was more than ten or eleven years old. Did alchemy students really start so young? Inky black hair, combed and perfectly in place. That would go the way of all things citified after a week here. Pale skin and supposedly serious dark eyes, that didn’t look quite Amestrian. The skin would probably burn and peel and the eyes… well, she would puzzle that out later.
Her father actually barked the question that was on the tip of her tongue. “How old are you, boy? I don’t have time to be a nursemaid to infants around here.”
The boy flinched slightly, but then settled himself, almost like a startled little black bird. “I’m twelve, sir. Almost thirteen. Sir.”
Riza blinked. If he was twelve then she was the Fuhrer’s little sister. In the back of her mind where she kept her dirty words she said, my ass you’re twelve. From her lofty height of thirteen going on fourteen, there was no way she could believe that this little... bean could be only one year younger.
Berthold gave a quick croak of a laugh. “Twelve you say? Twelve? Good god, boy, you don’t look a minute over ten. Don’t they feed you imps out there in the city?”
Riza could see the boys lips press together tightly, his eyes narrow, and his face become as red as a fireplace poker in use. Away went the tiny blackbird; now he looked like an angry little tea-kettle ready to explode. Inside her head she did a little dance. She was sure to be entertained for a good while if her father took this one in.
The woman put a light hand on the boy’s knee and smiled at Riza’s father. “He is definitely twelve,” she said. “The Mustangs aren’t known to be a family of giants,” she said good-naturedly, far more gracious than the boy looked like he wanted to be. His eyeballs looked like they were ready to boil out of the sockets and if she didn’t know better, she would have sworn she’d seen steam escape from his ears.
Berthold waved a hand. “If you say so.” He tried to stare the boy down, and to the boy’s credit, he held his shaky ground. Riza’s father gave a little laugh and nodded. “You’ll do, for now. I’ll take him on.” He stood, smoothed down his jacket and offered his hand to the lady. “I’m going to let my daughter take care of the details and get the boy settled. If you’ll excuse me, I have some important research to finish.” He threw a look at his daughter, promising something dire if she didn’t comport herself properly.
As if she were raised in a barn. Riza ignored the look and instead watched the boy take a sip of his lemonade. She waited, wondering if he had even tasted real, hand-made lemonade in his life.
Of course he’d seen lemonade before, but the kind he’d seen didn’t look like this, with slices of real lemons floating in it, with lemon pulp and so cold the glass was dripping with condensation.
He looked across at the other young person in the room. She hadn’t acknowledge him beyond giving him the glass of icy liquid that shone like the sunshine. She was wearing tiny little blue slippers, a fancy dress that was a couple shades darker than her bright, shiny hair, and her eyes were big and brown. He guessed she was pretty enough, though the freckles would have been troublesome in his Aunt’s house. She half-reminded him of the girls that turned up their lip at him when they were allowed to come to The Grumman Academy for Boys for their quarterly mixers. Those bubble-headed girls didn’t know he could dance circles around the other goofs in his glass, could read the poetry out of the latest dime novels that would make them weep, and had even kissed a girl – once behind the player piano when Aunt Chris wasn’t looking.
Oh, yes, the girl. He waited for the expected reaction from her and was surprised when she simply looked at him curiously, taking in every part of him as if he were some kind of puzzle she needed to put together.
Aunt Chris would have said that the girl had more between her ears than hot air and chocolate bon-bons. He was relieved. Dealing with a bubble head was not his ideal way to spend his apprenticeship.
Mr. Hawkeye’s voice startled him when he asked how old Roy was, because he hadn’t been listening to the adults talking about him. He politely answered that he was twelve, because of course he was twelve, anyone could see he was twelve and why did people keep asking him this dumb question?
The girl blinked and tightened her lips. She had that look he knew so well that said my ass you’re twelve. The disbelieving spark in her eyes started to heat up something in the back of his brain. Always. Always people gave him the greasy side-eye when he told them his age. What was so hard about believing that he was past short pants and ready to take his place in the world as an almost-man? He was here, wasn’t he, ready to become a true alchemist in his own right. No little kids he knew could do that.
“Twelve?” Mr. Hawkeye practically shouted. “Boy, you don’t look a minute over ten. Don’t they feed you out there in the city?”
And then there was a tiny little flame there, creeping from the back of his brain and beginning to burn out all of the good manners and common sense he’d been taught by his Aunt. Who was he calling so short that he had to stand on a crate to see his shadow?
Aunt Chris saved him from blowing his top in the nick of time. If she hadn’t put her hand on his knee when she did, he would have shown the old man who was so miniscule he could dodge between raindrops.
Then, out of the corner of his eye he saw it. He almost thought he’d been fooled by a trick of light but he turned his head slightly and confirmed his suspicions.
She smiled. Granted, it was only a slight upturn of the corner of her mouth, but it was there, the girl smiled, and it flew all the way up her face into her eyes. It wasn’t a laughter smile, though, it was something else he couldn’t put his finger on. To cover his surprise, he tipped up his glass and took a sip.
It was like drinking liquid gold. It reminded him of a day long before, when he was barely young enough to remember much beside the shape of the kneecaps of people around him. He’d been standing on a train platform, feeling a little confused and lost, and the special lady that had been sitting beside him with the bright lipstick and the cigarette handed him a little cup of something she said would ‘chase those clouds away’.
It took a lot for him not to take a second taste and gulping the whole glass in one swallow. But he had no wish to make his Aunt Chris look like a bad raiser of children, so he clutched the glass and waited to be spoken to like he’d been taught.
And wondered what the girl’s voice sounded like.