Genre : Fluff? Drama? Random prose attempting to be pretty? Paragraphs masquerading as story? I don't know myself.
Pairing : Roy/Riza
Summary : It's Thursday, and on Thursdays, there are rituals to observe.
Disclaimer : I don’t own Fullmetal Alchemist. And I don’t want to own. Arakawa-sensei and Bones are doing a wonderful, wonderful job. Unless they kill Roy, that is.
This is written due to the fault of temps_mort having ‘Background story’ and ‘A Subtle Love’ as themes for one single week. Which also happens to contain the 12th of August in it.
Three lines and two circles, Roy recalled as he started to trace pen on paper. Three lines, two circles and another rectangle, changing the state of matter from ashes-carbon to organic carbon, hydrogen, oxygen. Another triangle, separating and nullifying impurities. The equations and the lines had to be precise, lest he mess up somewhere and turn the point moot. Impurities in sulfur and nitrogen compounds, large molecules of distorted structure. One triangle to separate them, another to facilitate their removal into the atmosphere. He jotted down the numbers, working out the likeliest case scenario for the optimum yield. Two lines off to the side connecting the reactions, making sure that the result of the transmutation would include no explosive or poisonous gases. Then, another rectangle to conform the structure of the carbon compound.
Another line, a scribbled symbol to the side. That was to make sure the molecules connected and stayed that way, turning their hexagonal and pentagonal shapes into chains and into macromolecules. Then it was another little circle in the middle of the first triangle, stabilizing the bonds into crystal-shaped matrixes. Crystals were not really his specialty. Roy worked with combustion and the degradation of molecules, or on his off days the reactions of fuel and atmosphere. On his really off days, he dabbled in biological alchemy every now and then, more as a pastime than any serious professional research. As any scientist worth his salt knew, though, sometimes hobbies became a little too fun to chase, and thus the Flame Alchemist ended up knowing more about the subject than he rightfully should. Not as much as say, Edward would know, probably. But most people would expect a fire specialist to know only about burning.
Finally, a hexagon, for fixing the matrix into a condensed shape, now an object rather than simply a macromolecule. His previous equations had only counted for one string of the compound, whereas in order to make anything with it, he needed more copies connecting with each other than that. So the hexagon had been for multiplication, and each side had to be precise if the bonds between each macromolecule were supposed to work out right. Roy could test his calculations with another array superimposed upon it, one checking for the possibility of assimilation by hydrogen bonds, but that was more trouble than it was worth. He trusted his own equations. It would work out right. It had to work out right.
Brushing the calculation paper out of the way, he reached for another blank one, to be used for the array. The Colonel supposed Warrant Officer Farman wouldn’t be too happy at the wanton use of office blank documents, but it was for good reason. Really.
Pen to paper, and Roy started working on the diagram. It was more complex than the one he used for his gloves---designed for fine guidance and control and little changes here and there---turning one object into another was a vastly different fish altogether. There was a straightforwardness to it that lacked in the clean elegance that the Flame Alchemist usually instilled with care in his works, but life was a sheer complex made out of contradictory straightforwardnesses. One and one added up to two, but in the end, one and one and another one of electrochemical signals turned out to add up to thinking minds, pain, and compassion. That was another kind of elegance altogether, a maze of uncertainties and unguessables woven out of absolute facts. Sometimes it was too true in people, as well.
And then the array was done.
Satisfied, Roy Mustang scooped up the bit of ashes he’d prepared beforehand with his trademark gloves, and sprinkled it in the middle of the array’s main triangle. The amount had to be just right. It was two spoons, if he recalled correctly. It was always two spoons.
The Colonel connected his palm to the inked lines, and the top of his desk lit up with familiar blue light.
On Thursdays, Riza Hawkeye usually skipped the morning work and go to the office at noon.
She knew better than to trust the rest of the staff to convince the Colonel to finish his work. But there were other things to do on Thursdays, and there were always afternoons and overtimes to terrorize the Flame Alchemist with---in the words of Second Lieutenant Breda, who never said it to her face but apparently had no idea how news traveled within female circles of the military.
At eight o’ clock, the First Lieutenant stepped out of her apartment, hair neatly bound with a clip but still not in her uniform. Black Hayate was close on her heels, and she could tell he was excited about the prospects of another day spent in the big building with a lot of spots to play in. That usually didn’t do so well for his training and behavior, but she didn’t have the heartlessness to say ‘stop’ when he was obviously having fun traumatizing her colleagues. Or chasing butterflies. As long as the puppy didn’t make a mess, the unspoken agreement between everyone stood that he could stay there and play as long as he liked. Sergeant-Major Fury absolutely adored Black Hayate and despite his culinary commentaries, she could tell that Havoc enjoyed having him around. Warrant Officer Farman was usually entertained by the puppy’s antics as a whole, and it seemed that the only staff member who wished he was elsewhere was Second Lieutenant Breda. And he endured, anyway.
On other days, Riza took the left turn from her apartment, which led to the bus stop. But since it was Thursday, she took the right turn, which led into the little street with glass stores. From there, it was around half an hour’s walk to base, but she was in no great hurry to get back to work.
The street itself was nothing remarkable, a simple shopping district for knickknacks and trinkets with few passerbies. It offered the most in the way of privacy and leisurely strolling and little else, and she secretly enjoyed that. The sun was bright in the height of East City’s summer, and while it was hot---there were times when the office staff would throw away their sense of propriety and chucked off their uniforms like they were plague-ridden---the colors and vibrancy of a town heaving breath was more than enough to pay for the discomfort. Healthy gusts of wind blew through the streets anyway, and things weren’t so bad that she would forget the way leaves sparkled against the sun or the way the mirrors of the shop would reflect one another like a huge hallway made of glass.
A few happy whimpers, and Riza looked down. And smiled. Black Hayate was really happy with this particular portion of their routine, as always. He was running all the way around the sidewalk, sniffing everything and occasionally jumping in circles around a new discovery. And for Thursdays, Riza never uttered the usual ‘stop’. Thursday was the one day she saved for the dogs of the military, a little rest in a little time, when they could do whatever they wanted without the threat (nobody said it, but it was one of those unspoken agreements) of discipline coming round the corner. And thus, Thursdays was also the day she could relax and be herself. People sometimes noticed a young First Lieutenant walking with a pet, nobody noticed Riza Hawkeye walking with her dog.
Right around the second intersection, she whistled for Black Hayate to follow, and he ran to her with all the enthusiasm only a puppy could have. They took the left turn, leading into yet another street, this one bustling with people.
The glass stores ended there, replaced by stands and vendors and open air restaurants. As Riza walked by, she could see couples sitting together in coffee shops, young university students arguing various forms of idealism and theories with each other under the spell of caffeine, and children hanging around their parents’ leg as they shared a meal. Turning to another side, there were used bookstores and antique shops, selling everything from brass Ishvar medals belonging to dead soldiers to worn out violins. Making sure Black Hayate was still closely following behind---it was easy to get lost in Seventh Street during Thursdays---Riza stopped in front of one, looking through the murky window at the trinkets on display. The shop seemed to specialize in old coins. There was one especially-minted copper piece made in the 1400’s, in celebration for an event lost to memory. The face of the old noble embedded on metal was chipped and worn, his remembrance forgotten even as its price rose in age. There was another one made in Creta in 1644, the one that marked one of their great triumphs against Amestris. She could imagine what would happen if the military police happened to see it, being proudly displayed in the shop window like it was a prize. It was a prize. But Riza doubted they would see it that way. There was even a coin from ancient Xerxes, not really metal but solid rock, carved into a symbol or maybe two. That was all it meant after all, like a sign telling customers the worth of a bottle of wine compared to papers in their pockets.
She thought back to the Elric brothers, to alchemy and how easy would it have been for them to see past the glitter and into the composition of each coin. Nothing more than metal forced into a shape, a shape that happened to resemble faces and symbols of countries both alive and long dead. Like a watch, metal forced into an engraving of a lion bound within a cage he constructed out of an alchemist’s array.
The great clock in the plaza two streets down struck ten, and Riza reminded herself that she still had things to do. So she parted from the window of the antique shop and continued walking in the same direction, occasionally looking back to make sure Black Hayate was still following. They crossed again into another street alongside a little canal, this one also filled with all sorts of people going about their businesses. It was cooler there, with fresh breaths of wind over water, and there were cascades of light and shadows blurring in brilliance and blurred hues as the waves lapped the concrete sidewalk. Old, old willow trees grew beside the canal, draping their branches into the water like veils brides sometimes wore in white. There were more students walking around, carrying books and chewing bread and adjusting neckties, all of them caring less about the world and the surroundings than their next class and the discussion topic at hand. Some were deep in argument with their friends as they made their way through the throng of people, some navigated the busy street with eyes focused on a book held only centimeters away from their noses. It was a familiar sight to Riza Hawkeye, familiar and yet not familiar at all.
The crowd thinned down considerably near the curve at the end of the fourth block, where an old flower vendor stood selling her wares. The woman’s hair had long since turned from ashes grey to ashes white, and her skin was so wrinkled that it was hard to imagine what she must have looked like when she was young.
Riza made her way to her flower stand, stopping in front of it and glanced around the left table. Roses, lilacs and---
---like always, she picked the violet flowers, silently pressing forty cenz into the vendor’s hands when the actual cost was twenty. The vendor never said a word, and neither did she. It was an old ritual, before there were salutes and drills in training grounds filled with lingering dust, before there were guns and stars on her shoulders, there was the old vendor and the forty cenz for twenty.
She heard the clock strike eleven. From this street, it was forty minutes to base. So Riza motioned Black Hayate to follow and turned another corner.
Because it was Thursday, that was how it always went.
The array was perfect, and Roy couldn’t imagine better results than what he had on his desk when everything was said and done. The Colonel gave himself a wry grin, sure that no one else would be there to see, as he recalled the first time he did the transmutation. Everyone was watching in expectant awe and serious hope...and the then-Major Mustang messed everything up and almost destroyed half the camp with the resulting rebound. He’d always had the tendencies to substitute energy for energy, and that could be rather hazardous for those in the vicinity should he miscalculate for one single reaction. Not as safe as traditional matter-for-matter transmutations, but he preferred energy-energy-matter for its sheer graceful simplicity and ease of Trade. That was the day he learnt some things had to be done the conventional way. The fact that the young State Alchemist nearly killed several people from rebound caused by sugar transmutation wasn’t something any of them cared to report to the Lt. Colonel in charge. That one Thursday was also the day he started his hobby of biological alchemy.
It seemed necessary at the time. Their supplies were running at an all-time low, and nothing worked as good as sugar when there were people needing a quick source of energy. The most bang for the cenz. Just like rum on seafaring ships he’d read about as a child. The company aide-de-camp who coincidentally also functioned as the sniper for their Main Fire Trench shifts had advised against it, but he was the commanding officer. And so he made a decision. His aide came up with a working story to tell the brigade commander what exactly happened later on.
The Colonel stirred the contents of the cup absently, glancing at the clock. It was almost noon, and his aide should be coming around at any moment. If it was any other day, he would’ve been scrambling like a soldier in a camp raid to finish off his remaining documents. But because it was Thursday, he simply sat there watching steam disappeared into air as it cooled down from the cup. Usually, twenty minutes of cooling was required for the optimum temperature. It should be ready anytime now.
Knocks sounded from his door, and because she was always too punctual by half, he already knew. “Come in, First Lieutenant.”
Hawkeye stepped inside, saluting briefly before closing the door behind her. For one moment, Roy wondered where her puppy had gone to for the day, but pushed the thought out of his mind. Black Hayate was given nearly free reign of the compound on his own authority abuse, provided his staff take care of any trouble that may arise, and there was no cause for worry. Not today, at any rate.
The First Lieutenant was silent as she walked to his desk, stopping exactly three feet and a half in front of it, their unspoken agreement on where the boundary was drawn. Wordlessly she began to shuffle through the documents of the day, not sparing a glance at the yet-to-be-done work on his desk. Wordlessly he handed her the steaming cup, and wordless she accepted it.
Roy took the offered paperwork. First Lieutenant Hawkeye took a sip.
And because it was Thursday, she lowered the cup and smiled.
“Thank you, sir,” in appreciation for the effort she knew he put into it.
“Sorry it’s a little hot, the morning work took a bit of time to finish,” he apologized, looking through the first of the papers to be authorize. The morning work wasn’t finished yet, of course, and he knew that he wasn’t fooling her a bit. He also knew that she didn’t pay it any mind.
The next few moments were quiet, save for the sound of Roy flipping through the clipboard and the clock ticking by. Eventually First Lieutenant Hawkeye finished her noon tea, and headed over to the cupboard on the left. She started to search for something among the contents of her bag, soon producing a bouquet of violet flowers.
And every Thursday in every week through all the years, Roy smiled. Not that she could see it, but that was the entire point. It would be gone before she finished replacing the dry batch from last week with the fresh one, and all she would see when she turn back to retrieve her teacup was the Colonel intent at his work. Or as intent as he could be when she was in the room on Thursdays, which honestly wasn’t quite as much as usual. The Colonel liked to spend the time watching his aide as she went around their routine, movements the same but not quite the same. There was a stance in the way she reached for the vase on the top of the shelf that reminded him of Second Lieutenant Hawkeye reaching for the a slip of metal, the handle of his own pistol, even as the command tent reverberated with the sound of gunfire. That always coaxed another smile out of Roy Mustang, but that one was more easily washed away in the course of observation. There was a certain tilt in the way she slowly put the old flowers inside a little notebook she always carried that felt like summertime, like the scent of sunlight glinting off glass stores and streaming emerald down through the leaves. And there was something about the way she turned back, noticing her supposedly hard at work commanding officer staring between her and the records, and the way she smiled then.
It hadn’t changed, not since the one Thursday when young innocent naïve stupid Major Mustang was introduced to the Company he was given to command, but he didn’t notice it then. The Second Lieutenant was like dusty battlegrounds, and he didn’t notice she also looked like the sun reflecting in brilliance through the crested waves on the canal near the university he used to attend. And so later on, he’d taken her by that route, forty minutes away from base. Once. A long time ago, on another Thursday when the war was just over and everything looked fresher than it should be. His old haunts, the used bookstores and the antique shops. The violet flowers he bought for her, paying forty instead of twenty because he remembered old Granny’s son dying not so far away from where his battalion was fighting for its own life.
They smiled a lot that day.
As if understanding what Roy was thinking about, First Lieutenant Hawkeye flashed him a knowing look, then retrieved her teacup, saluted.
“You’ve gotten better at sugar, sir. It’s almost perfect.”
And because it was a ritual, the Flame Alchemist grinned back.
“Thank you, First Lieutenant.”
The door closed ever so quietly behind her, and he went back to inspecting the documents.
When work was over, Hawkeye took the bus along with Black Hayate. Colonel Mustang spent an hour and a half walking through his old routes, stopping at antique shops, glass stores and open air restaurants. He never bought the violet flowers, though, and headed home just before the first stars shivered into existence.
Notes : Too subtle? Maybe. Probably. My standard of romance is rather warped compared to most. *laughs* Even though, to me, this story is just about all-gushed romantic as it gets, I don’t think I showed the “Roy loves Riza and vice versa”-ness very well, but that’s what you get when you drop a primarily drama/humor/angst/war/fantasy writer into a theme as indefinable as “Love”. My writing style for FMA is also rather...matter-of-factly (I can be prose-mangling in other fandoms, honest), and thus not very emotive. Bwar. Well, I guess that’s what you get when you drop a scientist wanting to write a scientist into a series with scientists as heroes...
Ironically, this story is written and posted on Thursday. Which is the same day as when Chapter 38, manga, by the ever-oh-so-cruel Arakawa-sensei, was first given teaser scans.
And yes, I have a lot of Thursdays in there because I like things being miraculously coincidental. Or you could think Roy was actually attempting to be symbolic when he did all the things that happened in the story. Your call, dear readers.
I shall now resume my studies.
Crossposted to my journal, fm_alchemist and fma_het.