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(Continued from Chapter 9)

As the glass shattered and the room immediately lit up with a rush of heat, Riza realized just how much she’d been expecting this. A wash of blazing light roared over her, smashing into the wall by her bed, and she rolled reflexively onto the floor even as the blanket on the other side of the bed caught fire. She heard a loud cry, “No!”, and instantly the flames snuffed out, leaving the room in blackness.

“Riza!” Roy cried sharply. “Riza – where are you? Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine,” she gasped, springing into a crouch. “What about you?”

Groping hands found her head and shoulders in the dark, pulling her to her feet and sweeping her briefly into Roy’s arms.

“You’re not burned? Tell me you’re not – “

She could feel his hands trembling as he quickly patted her hair, shoulders, arms, and face. “It didn’t touch me,” she assured him. She pulled back slightly, and gripped his arms. “We’d better get out of here. You know they’re going to try again.”

“Right. But first…”

Roy released her and as he stepped back toward the window, she heard the muffled clap of his gloved hands coming together. She saw his figure briefly framed in the window, stretching his hands to rest on either side of it. And then the whole wall seemed to glow, and the window closed up completely. She heard a snap, and another ball of flame sprang to life, this time a small one hovering in the air, just enough to light the room while they grabbed their packs. Riza could see nothing but a thin layer of brick outlined in the window frame.

“We really should have just gone to the stables and headed out right away,” Roy said. “I hoped we’d appease them if we just left the room, but…” He shrugged.

“They’d have followed us into the wilderness,” Riza reminded him. “That would have been harder for us to deal with in the dark. I thought they probably wouldn’t attack us in the inn, and risk hurting anyone else in the building.”

“I guess their hatred is too strong for clear thinking,” Roy sighed. “So we’re going to end up riding out into the dark anyway.” He flung his pack and other equipment over one shoulder. “Ready?” he asked.

Riza draped her own pack over her shoulder, holding it steady with one hand while holding her gun at the ready in the other. “Ready,” she nodded.

They heard another thud against the outer wall as they carefully opened the door and left the room. Immediately after the thud came an astonished yell. And now there were sounds from inside the inn too, as people began to be disturbed.

“Maybe if we can get to the stables before they realize we’re not in here,” Roy whispered, “we can get a head start.”

That certainly appeared to be the way things were going to go. They found a back stairway, even as they heard a muffled shout of “Fire!” at the other end of the hall. They flung themselves down to the first floor and quickly slipped out through a back exit.

Nobody seemed to have noticed them yet, and even the usual stableman seemed to have rushed into the main inn yard to see what the commotion was all about. There were only a couple of lamps lit along the main walkway behind the individual stalls, but Riza could see well enough to get the horses out and start to get them ready. She worked as quickly as she could, while Roy stood guard. Even just a few minutes after the first fireball, it sounded as busy as if it were mid-day outside, as people began to rush around and call for water.

Riza murmured as she finally led Roy’s horse forward, putting the reins into his hands, “You know who’s going to be blamed for the fire, don’t you?”

Roy nodded. “I know. I should never have come here. I’m a complete idiot. But let’s go, and get away as quickly as we can.”

I think not.

A shadow slipped out from behind Riza’s horse and before she could react, an arm was stretching across her throat and a blow to her hand had knocked the gun free. She felt the hand yanked behind her back and pushed up, as the unscarred man from the tavern bent to pick up her gun.

That meant it was the burned man who was holding her. The one who was so hate-filled he seemed ready to do anything to make the Flame Alchemist pay.

They would have to handle this situation very, very carefully.

It had all happened so quickly that Roy still sat on his horse, gloved hand raised and fingers pressed together. Riza saw the shock burst across his face before his expression hardened. He didn’t lower his hand.

“You have thirty seconds,” he said, very softly, “to release my friend and back away.”

“You’re not the one in charge here, Commander.” The scarred man’s breath was hot against Riza’s ear. She felt him shift, his restraining arm sliding down slightly from her throat. But before she could be relieved at being able to breathe more freely again, she felt another pressure against her throat. The cold blade of a knife. “You’ll do exactly as we say,” the man hissed, “or your ‘friend’ gets her throat cut right in front of you.”

Riza met Roy’s eyes. These men couldn’t know – how could they know? Despite Al’s and Mei’s ministrations, Riza still bore a scar from the last time they had stood like this. But this time, Mei was not here to save her life.

Roy lowered his hand, and managed to say calmly, “Very well. What is it you want?” Light from a nearby lamp lit up one side of his face, casting the other into dark shadow. His one visible eye was fixed intently on the other man, the one who had seemed more reasonable during their first encounter.

But perhaps not. “What do you think?” that man smiled, twirling the gun around. “We want you. Did you really think you could just walk into Ishbal without the military at your back, and escape punishment for the things I’ve done?”

“Actually, I did.” Roy shrugged. “I wasn’t thinking clearly, obviously.”

“Obviously.” The other smiled again. “Get down from your horse. And take those infernal gloves off and throw them to me.”

Roy slid slowly from the horse, keeping his hands in plain sight. Then he carefully peeled his gloves off, pressing them together and tossing them over, high enough so the man could catch them without looking away, but not so high that his vision would be obscured.

Giving every indication of fully cooperating. Riza swallowed, wondering how he planned to get out of this situation. Of course he could just walk away, and even if they shot him or went after him with the knife, he’d simply recover, sooner or later.

But she couldn’t. Which meant he would never just walk away. Again he glanced at her, meeting her eyes for a split second.

“I’ve done what you’ve asked so far,” he said, his voice quiet against the backdrop of the shouting in the main inn yard. “Now what should I do?”

“I don’t trust this guy,” breathed the voice next to Riza’s ear. “Just shoot him and get it over with.”

“Really? You don’t want to see him suffer?” The other man seemed surprised. “I thought that’s what you wanted, after everything he did to your family.”

“I know. I do. But he’s so sly, I don’t want him to escape.”

“He won’t. Not while you have the woman. He’ll do exactly what we tell him to. Won’t you, Flame Alchemist?” said the other man, almost pleasantly.

Roy nodded, watching his face. “Yes,” he said. “I’ll do what you say, as long as you don’t hurt her. Of course,” now it was his turn to smile, very unpleasantly, “if you do hurt her, I’ll fry you so slowly you’ll beg me to kill you, every minute and every hour that I keep you alive. And,” he lowered his voice, his eyes gleaming, “I won’t.”

“Shit,” the scarred man whispered. “Just shoot him! Get it done, and then we can kill the lady and get out of here.”

“So you do plan to kill her, whether I cooperate or not,” Roy nodded. “I thought so. Why should I do anything you say, then? What do either I or Riza have…,” he looked at her, raising an eyebrow, “…left?”

“You idiot!” hissed the man with the gun, his eyes darting for an instant toward his companion.

“Just do it! Now!”

The gun came up and the knife shifted. Roy clapped, said “Now,” and Riza thrust herself to the left. Her motion dragged the other man with her, but it no longer mattered. Roy’s hand thrust forward, and a stream of flame rushed in through the stable door, drawn from the fire blazing against the wall of the inn. It flared in a straight line between the horses, and roared past Roy’s shoulder. He spread his hands and the stream split in two, each new stream striking the weapon hand of one of the two men.

Riza rolled to the right, getting the man under her, and kept on rolling to unfurl the arm he’d had pushed up behind her back. In fact, she rolled just enough to get some traction with her feet as she pushed herself up, and simply hurtled with her existing momentum straight at the knees of the other man, knocking him down.

“Oh, excellent move, Hawkeye,” Roy said with approval. “Now step aside, and I’ll finish these two.”

“Don’t kill them,” she said quickly.

“Of course I won’t,” he frowned in annoyance. “Watch.”

Already both men were struggling to get up, but Roy clapped again and pressed his hands to the stable floor, and immediately two spars of stone burst through the wooden floorboards to their side of each man. The spars curled toward each other and joined so quickly that neither man could avoid being pinned under them. Roy tightened them just enough to be uncomfortable, but not enough to hurt. Much.

Help! We’re being attacked!” hollered the scarred man. But his voice couldn’t be heard over the shouting from outside. And even if it might have been able to, it would have been stopped by the roaring barrier of flame Roy had set into he doorway, to prevent anyone from coming in. They were bound to wonder how a stream of flame could possibly have leaped off the inn wall and streaked into the stable the way it had. He’d obviously need to delay discovery until they could get away.

“Now, this just won’t do,” Roy said. He grabbed some handfuls of straw and clapped them together, creating two bunches of cloth. He tossed one to Riza, and they forced the men’s jaws open, stuffing the cloth into their mouths.

Riza found her gun a few feet away on the floor. It was a bit scorched, but still usable. Roy retrieved his gloves, and grabbed the knife and stuck it into one of his packs after remounting his horse. With Riza also mounted, at last he nodded, and the two of them turned toward the back exit of the stable, leaving their assailants struggling incoherently behind them.

They edged their horses out into the back lane. From the shadows there, they could see flames leaping up the outer wall of the inn while buckets of water arced upward against the building’s exterior as people tried to douse them.

“Hold on a minute,” Roy said. He pulled his gloves on again and clapped his hands, the arrays on the backs of the gloves glowing a deep red. He extended them toward the building, and slowly the flames lapping at the walls began to diminish and go out. “I set the wall so that it would only burn on the outside,” he said. “I thought they’d probably try another fireball.”

“What about the barrier in the stable door?”

“Oh, I’ll leave that to die out on its own. That should give us a good head start.”

And with that, he nodded to Riza, and the two of them spurred their horses forward, rushing down the lane toward the main street leading out of town.

They rode as quickly and as far as they could go, and by the time they stopped, they had left Ishbal and rounded the southern end of the ridge, riding up into the hills that mounded up on its western side. They had no idea if they would even be pursued, but they certainly didn’t plan to trot in a leisurely way and then discover that they should have raced at great speed. Better to assume the worst.

The sun had lightened the sky above them and well into the west, during the last hour or two of their mad dash. By the time they stopped, it still hadn’t crept over the top of the ridge, but it would do so very soon.

Riza spotted a spattering of green between two hills, and waved Roy in that direction, knowing that the vegetation almost certainly indicated another spring or perhaps a little creek. They found the pool without much difficulty, and slid off their horses even as their mounts bent their heads to drink.

Riza moved to detach her canteens from her saddlebags, but Roy strode around to her side of the horse, and then just stood there, looking at her. It was really the first chance they had to relax or to speak about what had happened back in the inn and in the stable..

She searched his face in the growing light. Whatever relaxation or improvement of mood had been achieved earlier in the day yesterday, it had all gone now. She saw the dark circles under his eyes, the ashen color to his face, and worst of all, the deep sadness that underlay everything.

Wordlessly she went to him, pulling him close and encircling him with her arms. He buried his face in her neck, at the spot where the scar still showed. “What an idiot I am,” he breathed, “to take you into a dangerous situation like that without even thinking.”

“Roy, it’s all right. It seemed safe. I didn’t think of it either. And besides,” she added, “it was no worse than things we’ve faced together before. This was a milder situation than most, in fact.”

“That doesn’t change my stupidity. And somehow…” he lifted his head and gazed into her eyes, “somehow this just seemed worse. This seemed…” His voice trailed away.

They stood for a long moment, just looking at each other. Then finally he leaned forward again, touching her lips with his. He kissed her gently, then with more urgency, as though all the pent-up longing of all the years were at last finding their yearned-for outlet. The two of them held each other, kissed each other, for a long time as the light around them grew brighter.

Then Roy lifted his head again, the sadness etched deep into his face. Riza set the palm of one hand against his cheek. “Roy, my love,” she whispered. “You don’t really want to leave me. Do you?”

Immediately he pulled away, hugging his arms across his chest and turning his back on her, hunching into himself. “No,” he answered, the misery clear in his voice. “Of course I don’t want to leave you. But what else can I do?” He turned back toward her, spreading his arms wide, the grief screaming from his eyes. “What else can I do, Riza? I’m going to lose you no matter what I choose. How can I bear this?”

She had been doing a lot of thinking in the last couple of days, since finally learning what had happened to him at the Gate. She went to him and took both of his hands in hers. “I’ll tell you how, my love. I have a proposal for you.”
* * * * * * *

“Fifteen years,” she said. “Give me fifteen years while you learn how to live with being immortal. And then you can go if you must.”

She had sat him down on a low hillock while the horses were drinking and resting for a while. Pulling out a few pieces of fruit they had bought yesterday in the market, she had begun to outline what she’d dreamed up as at least a partial solution to his dilemma.

“I know you can’t stay forever,” she had said matter-of-factly, her face remarkably calm as she discussed the things that had to be such a source of heartbreak to her. “But there’s no reason you absolutely need to leave now. For one thing, I think you need help in learning to deal with the fact that you’re going to live a very long time. Obviously that means learning from Hohenheim. But why go through that without your circle of support, surrounded by the people who love you?”

“I know you’ve all gone through a lot with me, because you believed in me and supported me, and even cared for me in your own ways,” Roy had admitted. “But this is something entirely different.”

“Not as different as you think it is,” Riza shook her head. “And even if it were – so what? Every other adventure we’ve had with you has involved things we had never faced before. Why should we suddenly find this one more difficult, just because it’s different again?”

They had fallen silent as the sun rose higher, finally emerging above the top of the ridge to the east of them. Roy peeled and orange and ate its segments slowly as he thought over her idea. And Riza sat quietly at his side, allowing him to think.

“The problem,” he broke the silence, “is that I would get a lot from this arrangement – but you and the others would give, and give, but get nothing in return.”

“That’s not true,” Riza shook her head. “We’d have you. Do you think it would mean nothing to us, having you still with us? You’re our friend, Roy. People don’t think of their friends in such mercenary ways. And I’d have more than that.” She regarded him with a determined glint in her eyes, the sun casting sparks off her hair. “I expect you to marry me, Roy. And I want your children.”

His breath caught. Instinctively he pulled away, drawing up his knees and wrapping his arms around them. “Dammit, Riza, you know I can’t do that to you. Saddle you with kids and then just, just walk out. It wouldn’t be fair to you.”

“Do you think that Tricia Elric was sorry she had two boys with her when Hohenheim left?”

Roy thought for a moment. “That was different. She thought he was coming back.”

“And you wouldn’t be leaving, until our children were old enough to understand what was happening. And I would insist that you checked back in with us in your wanderings – by letter or phone – so someone would be able to contact you and bring you back if anything happened to one of us. You’d still be a part of their lives, so they wouldn’t grow up the way Ed and Al did, feeling like you had walked out without looking back.”

“Damn. You’ve really got this all worked out, don’t you?”

“You’d be able to help them as they needed it, through their whole lives. And help their children. And their children’s children.”

“And watch them die. And their children die.”

He felt her hand on his arm, and then she was tugging at his own hands, forcing him to loosen his grip on his knees, and to turn to face her as they sat together. “Roy, we’ve both watched friends and loved ones die, for our entire adult lives. You’re going to see that happen no matter where you go, or what you do. You can’t avoid it. So I don’t understand why, in the one case where you’d be able to have a little joy first, you would try to hurry up the process.”

“Maybe…maybe having the joy first would make it even harder to bear. Haven’t you thought of that?” Roy looked out over the hills, toward the distant sheen of light green and beige that covered the most southern regions of Amestris. He should have thought it beautiful. But it all looked completely bleak to him. Everything did.

Riza seemed to have an answer for everything. “Allowing yourself to embrace the joy might also help you become stronger,” she countered his argument. “And you wouldn’t have to spend your life trying to avoid people. You’d always have a family to come back to. And they’d have all your knowledge and experience and wisdom to rely on when they needed it. Who else has a heritage like that?”

“Riza – “

“Just think about it, Roy. We’ve got time. Even I have some time, without being immortal.”

He fell silent again, trying to do as she suggested, and consider her proposal calmly and without automatically reacting against it. Could he actually do this? Would it hurt both of them in the end? Or was this something they could actually live with?

“You have to think about this too, Riza,” he finally said. “Fifteen years isn’t really that long. How do you know you could bear it, at the end, when I finally leave?”

“Well,” she answered thoughtfully, “I think it would be something we’d both have to work out. I’d have to consciously prepare. We’d both be getting ready for it. I know it would be very hard, even then. And yet…the thought of losing you completely, right now, is much worse.”

“But we’d have it hanging over our heads the whole time.” He stroked her cheek and looked deep into her eyes. “How could we be happy at all, even for fifteen years together?”

Riza covered his hand with hers. “Think of those years when we worked against the Fuhrer, in secret. We could have been discovered at any time. We were discovered, in the end. But even before that, we were much more likely to get found out, and shot for treason, than to succeed. And yet…can you tell me you were unhappy, all that time, with such a risk hanging over your head?”

Roy whispered, “In a bizarre way, those were the happiest years of my life.”

“There. You see?” Her smile flashed brilliantly before it vanished again. “But maybe we could compromise. Live for ten years without worrying about it at all. Live as though we’ve got forever. And then spend the last five years getting ourselves ready, getting our kids ready, making all our arrangements.” Now she, too, looked out over the southern fields. “The way I figure it,” she said, again adopting that matter-of-fact tone, “fifteen years is probably the maximum amount of time you could stay, without the difference in my appearance, compared to yours, becoming too noticeable. The fact that I’m blond will help conceal any grey hairs that come in, for a long time.”

Roy wanted to cry. She was so brave, so logical. Acknowledging the facts, knowing what was coming. Doing everything she could to make this bearable for him, while trying to be completely rational about the fact that she would obviously age and he would not.

He loved her so much.

“I wouldn’t let that be a problem,” he said softly. He saw her notice the tears starting into his eyes, and put a finger on her lips to keep her from saying anything. “Al could help me,” he said. “He’ll be able to help me alter my hair and face to look like I’m aging. I’ll never let you be embarrassed, or let people think there’s anything strange going on.”

Riza moved his finger. “Roy,” she breathed. “Are you considering it, then? Will you do this? Will you give me the fifteen years?”

He pulled her close, pressing his lips against her hair. “I’ll give you twenty,” he answered.

(Continue to Chapter 11)

Date: 2011-02-07 04:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ssadropout.livejournal.com
As I neared the end of the chapter, I was afraid that you'd wrap it up and not have another chapter. XD


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