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No Other Sadness In the World Would Do

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Sometimes she can’t be around him. 

It’s not that he’s arrogant and pompous, because she knows those sides of him are mostly for show. She’s known him long enough to know what’s inflated and what’s true. 

It’s not that he’s a slacker, because he does work hard when he puts his mind to it, and for all his slither-outer tendencies he more than makes up for it in other ways that the unit isn’t privy to. He stands up for them, fights for them. It’s admirable and makes Riza warm with affection when she thinks of the kind of man he is. 

It’s not even his dates. His frequent, dwelled-on dates with all sorts of beautiful women. Because as Riza knows, these dates aren’t romantic but rather informative. In fact, she has found herself getting excited for his dates in the past, because the evening dinners and nights at the theater and weekend brunches spent gleaning intel from his sisters equate to even more time spent with Riza over the phone, or in person, deciphering the stories. 

It made her feel special, before. She couldn’t truly appreciate those nights until they waned and disappeared altogether.

These days, she can't be around him. Because recently, he went on a date and then didn't call her afterward to discuss it. Because when she questioned him later…

“That wasn’t my normal outing,” he said with a bashful smile. “It was...a real date.”

With someone he liked, whispered a particularly unhelpful thought. 

“Oh,” Riza said blankly. She’s had considerable practice schooling her expressions. But she can’t reign in that sick, punch-gut feeling, or the heat tightening across her chest, rising up her throat. “Very good, sir. My apologies for the misunderstanding.”

“Nonsense, Lieutenant. You didn’t know.”

Aptly said. She did not.

Sometimes - most times, these days - she can’t be around him. Because as much as she tries to push down those awful, all-consuming feelings, distract herself with work, it hurts. It hurts to see him going through the motions of a relationship with someone else.

She didn’t expect that.

Without knowing it, many years ago, she’d resigned herself to a life devoted to him. An entire life, every little facet of it. She could date others, take lovers, and had done both for a time to varying degrees of success. But they were hollow, shallow things born of need - a craving for a release - rather than genuine interest.

She didn’t want any of that if it wasn’t with him. Foolishly, she thought he’d shared similar sentiments. Even though bound by law to abstain, they could still...do what, exactly? 

She’s embarrassed, ashamed of herself for entertaining it. What entitlement did she have to him? What would mandate him to stay single for the rest of his days? This pact she’d made with herself didn’t extend to him simply because she felt such a strong kinship with him.

It’ll be over soon, she convinces herself. She’s just as much a dog of the military as he is, and she knows firsthand the challenges their career poses for long-term relationships. It would be difficult for a civilian to stand by a man who worked as much as he did, lived the danger that he lived. Many more would struggle to trust a man who worked so closely with his young, female adjutant, even though they’d never been anything but professional.

But a week passes, then a month. Six months. A year. He’s managed to hold onto a relationship for a full year. 

They haven’t met her. Well, Riza hasn’t, anyway. She doesn’t particularly want to put a face to the woman who receives his time away from the office, scarce as it may be. She knows it’s petty and obvious, but she can’t count on herself to be on her best behavior. His girlfriend might not see anything amiss, but he will. 

She doesn’t even want to know her name. She doesn’t want to think of them together, a normal couple, doing ordinary things. 

(Ordinary is an insult, she sniffs to herself when she’s feeling particularly sour.)

(Except being ordinary is everything she craves. Being ordinary with him.)

Weekends away. Day trips and coffee dates. Shopping together, cooking together, relaxing together. Sweet surprises of flowers and love notes, just because. 

This woman doesn’t know the gift she has to be able to know his mind, body, and soul. To be able to share her skin with him, surely pristine and unblemished, no scars or burns marks to taunt him. 

The very thought of them - together - makes Riza’s stomach flip, coaxes the sting of bile to crawl up her throat. This is pathetic. Though, nothing makes her feel smaller than to see the tiny smiles, the dreamy faraway looks that pass over his face when he doesn’t realize it. He’s always had his head in the clouds during work hours, but now he’s gone straight into the stratosphere and into the high heavens for how distracted he is. To his credit, however, he doesn’t talk about her much. 

In fact, Riza notices that he makes a point not to talk about his relationship in her presence. And that is the most crushing defeat of all. It indicates that he knows a deep, angry seed of jealousy is rooted in her.

Just because they can’t have each other doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to be happy apart.

Even though she’s still the one he seeks first after he makes a stupid joke, always aiming to impress her most. Even though she’s the approval he craves above all others, the opinion he trusts implicitly. Even though he still refers to her as the most loyal and steadfast person in his life.

Sometimes she can’t be around him. 

Some days she can’t even look at him without aching. 

It’s fitting then, as she makes a point to distance herself without affecting their work, that General Grumman pinpoints impeccable timing to send them away on an assignment.

 

--

 

Roy picks her up that morning in front of a cafe where she’s procured takeaway breakfasts and coffee for the two of them. The car is a rental, sleek and ink black. It smells new. When he climbs out of the car to help her with the suitcases that sit at her feet, he looks sallow and gaunt. Dark circles hug his eyes.

“You’re late,” she says as he places her bags into the trunk. 

“Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t sleep well.”

No doubt he’d been turning over their assignment in his head all night long like he always did before missions. He’d overthink himself into a spiral and end up arriving late on little sleep.

(“That’s what your lady’s for,” Havoc crowed saucily when he’d stayed up fretting over a meeting. Their company shared a groan.)

When he reaches to open the passenger door for her, she pushes the cardboard carrier holding their paper-wrapped breakfast sandwiches and hot coffees into his arms. 

“I’ll drive,” she says.

“Thank you,” he says wearily. 

She maneuvers them out of the city as they eat and sip and discuss. The overnighter is simple on the surface. They are on their way to the town of Strauss, five hours north of Central command. General Grumman has a contact who will be at the Hotel St. Lawrence for dinner that evening. The two of them will join him, and they will trade information; the contact to share stories, and Riza to pass on a book containing coded messages. It was all very much up General Grumman’s alley. 

“We’re playing a couple,” Roy says. “I hope that’s alright.”

“Fine,” she says, glancing at him out of her periphery. “Are you alright with it?”

“Fine.”

They’re silent for a few tense moments before Roy speaks up. 

“It makes sense to do it this way. The town is small, tight-knit. Blending in is key. And couples blend in; they’re inherently non-threatening.” He’s rambling, which is an instant indicator that he’s nervous. But it seems rehearsed, like he’d needed to convince himself he didn’t mind. “It reminds me of Heidel. You know how much gossip any newcomer would stir up.”

“Yes,” she asserts sharply, though her chest grows tight at the mention of her hometown. “I’m not questioning the plan, sir.”

“I know,” he replies. “I’m just saying.”

She fills the dead space with a sip of coffee. As long as she’s drinking it she can’t participate. 

“Ingrid and I fought last night,” he mutters. He rubs his tired eyes. “And most nights, for a while. It’s exhausting.”

“Sorry to hear it, sir,” she replies flatly.

“I don’t blame her for being frustrated with...everything.” He gestures around him and takes a half-hearted sip of his coffee, a grimace wrinkling his jowls. It’s cooled to lukewarm, which he hates. “It doesn’t make our conversations any easier.” He sighs. “It’s hard to be with me. I know that.”

“That’s not true.” 

The words are out of Riza’s mouth before she can stop them. Her heart thumps so hard she has to bite back a gasp.

“What I mean,” she hastens. “Is that the right person...”

She is heading down a slippery train of thought. She’s not thinking, just speaking - and that’s the problem. It’s impossible to trust that her brain will stop her heart from shining through, so she snaps her jaw shut. 

“You’ll work through this, sir,” she continues as emotionlessly as she can muster.

He nods mutely and takes a gulp.

 

--

 

When they check-in at Hotel St. Lawrence early that afternoon, Riza’s not at all surprised to find that their reservation is listed under a fake married name and they have one suite to share. And because there might as well be just one bed, she’s even less surprised that there's a crisply made king-sized bed in the center of the room.

The sofa on the other side looks nice and cozy. She commandeers the sitting area with her bags while Roy begins unpacking and critically considering his clothing options for that evening. She can tell this is going to take a while, so she slips into the bathroom to have a shower.

It feels good to let her hair down from her snug updo. She massages the spot where the clip had been pulling on her hair, sighing as the hot water drips down her body. She is overly thorough as she cleans herself, determined to stretch out this rarity of time alone. 

The bathroom is quiet without the hum of running water while she dresses. Through the door, she can hear the low, soothing timbre of Roy’s voice. Her hearing adjusts as she stills, and she realizes he’s on the phone. 

“Tomorrow, like I said,” she hears him say. The voice on the other end is indistinguishable, but she realizes with a start that he couldn’t be talking to anyone but Ingrid. She freezes, feeling suddenly cold.

“Sorry,” he mutters, and there’s a bit more disjointed chatter before he begins to say goodbye. There’s a stutter, and a hasty “I love you, too,” thrown in, and he hangs up the receiver with a heavy ping. 

Riza turns the sink water on at full blast and brushes her teeth.

 

--

 

They have several hours to kill before dinner, so they spend that time working through their cover story and catching up on lost sleep. As she reads through her briefing packet again, Roy produces a small velvet pouch that must have gotten lost in between his pages. She doesn’t blink as he shakes a pair of silver wedding bands and a modest engagement ring into the palm of his hand.

“Damn. We should have been wearing these when we checked in.”

She blinks away a sudden blurriness. “I’m sure no one noticed.”

He shoots her a small smile, suddenly shy. “May I?”

She robotically sticks out her left hand and looks away, mortified by the way she’s shaking. Roy’s fingers are cool and gentle as he slips the wedding band onto her heartline, followed by the engagement ring. Even though knows it isn’t real, she holds her hand out at an angle to observe its sparkle. 

Roy wordlessly hands her the other wedding band. She unceremoniously stuffs it onto his finger before instantly launching into a pop quiz on their objectives. 

Their contact, Mr. Weatherly, has vital information to pass on about a local crime family that is beginning to expand to Central. Word is that the family has eyes everywhere, so discretion is key - thus the need to speak in code. In exchange for the information, General Grumman has promised protection for Mr. Weatherly and his family and is passing information on to him in the form of an annotated copy of a book, which Riza will hold onto. Roy and Riza, posing as Thomas and Ella Moore, will have a nice evening catching up with an old family friend and in the morning they’ll continue their travels north for their honeymoon. 

Honeymoon. Unbelievable. Riza rolls her eyes while she dresses for dinner, hoping to get her bad mood out of her system in time to take on her new persona. Ella Moore, the sweet, doe-eyed librarian enamored with her new husband and pleased as punch to be on vacation. 

Why couldn’t they have been assigned to play a couple with a decade of marriage under their belts, who wouldn’t be all over each other in public? If they were aiming for authenticity, that was a role Riza could play in her sleep. If she wasn’t such a stickler she’d have suggested changing their story.

Riza reaches over her shoulders to zip up her dress with practiced ease. It’s a pretty navy blue number with a high halter neck that emphasizes her elegant posture. The fabric is sturdy and structured without irritating her scars. The knee-length skirt is form-fitting, but the modest slit and flare accommodate her gun and holster beautifully. 

She’s already slipped on a pair of nude heels and has a matching crossbody clutch set to the side containing her new persona’s ID and Mr. Weatherly’s coded book. Her hair is fashioned into an elegant, low bun with a loose curl ironed into her bangs. Leaning toward the mirror, she applies a thick layer of mascara to her lashes, which makes her wide russet eyes pop. She pats a petal-pink rouge onto her lips and cheeks, then studies herself critically in the floor-length mirror before allowing herself a satisfied nod. 

Behind her on the coffee table, her gun and holster sit ready and polished for battle. She rests her foot upon the table’s surface, slides her skirt up to her hip bone, and begins working the holster up her thigh. The lock to the bathroom door snaps and Roy emerges from his preening. Riza makes the mistake of looking up. 

He cuts a handsome figure in what she knows has to be his most casual and least expensive suit, though he’ll no doubt look more dashing than anyone in the room. She can’t help but stare as he adjusts his cuffs, and her tense expression tightens even more as she admires the bulge of his biceps straining through his tailored shirt. At that moment, she wants little more than to drag her fingers through the blessedly minimal gel in his hair and muss it beyond recognition. She wants to run her hands up his chest and down his back, press her nose into his neck to breathe in his cologne. 

Roy’s eyes snap up to her and immediately lock onto her bare leg, where she’s still mid-motion in tightening her holster. He clears his throat and looks pointedly away, while Riza hides her reddened cheeks behind her bangs. She fastens the holster roughly and straps her gun into place. Meanwhile, Roy is adjusting his shoulder holster.

While he finishes securing his guns into place, Riza comes up behind him and wordlessly helps him into his suit jacket. She brushes a stray hair from the shoulder (“Not his,” her mind supplies unhelpfully) and tells him he looks nice. 

“So do you, Lieutenant,” he says, then corrects himself. “Ella, I mean.”

“Thank you, Thomas,” she replies and slings the straps of her clutch over her shoulder. “Shall we?”

He takes a deep breath while he pockets his wallet and their room keys. “Let’s do this.”

When the door snaps shut behind them, Thomas and Ella emerge. Arm-in-arm, they stride down the hall and wait for the elevator alongside another young couple, who clearly are actual newlyweds. Riza surreptitiously studies the partners’ body language and presses herself tighter against Roy in a mirror image of their pose, which prompts him to drop his arm so he can rest his palm securely on her hip. They make idle chit-chat with the other couple as their booth glides to the ground floor. They politely excuse themselves and make their way to the Hotel St. Lawrence’s upscale restaurant where Mr. Weatherly should be waiting for them. 

They've approached the hostess stand when Roy leans down, his lips grazing her ear. 

“Don’t be nervous,” he whispers. 

“I’m not,” she hisses back and looks up at him with a shy smile that doesn’t match her tone. Roy’s brow furrows. 

“You’re shaking,” he points out, and to her horror, Riza realizes that he’s absolutely right. Her hand on his arm is trembling, and each breath is a little more ragged than the last. It seems that Ella hasn’t fully taken over, and Riza is feeling their closeness poignantly. 

“Are you feeling ill?”

She shakes her head shortly. "I'm fine.” She forces an adoring smile and lets Ella press a kiss to her husband’s cheek.

 

--

 

Mr. Weatherly’s company is friendly and light. He’s an excellent conversationalist and gifted in code-speak, so deft that Riza finds herself relaxing under the familiar umbrella of detective work. Her hands had stopped trembling as soon as Roy’s warmth had separated from her so that he could pull her chair from the table for her. With Mr. Weatherly’s intel as her main goal, her mind is razor-sharp and singularly focused. She nearly jumps, then, when Roy’s hand breaches the space between them to land heavily upon her crossed knee.

His palm is hot; she can feel it through the thick fabric of her dress. And she’s begun to tremble just so as Roy’s thumb rubs small, soothing circles upon the point of her knee. What is supposed to be a calming gesture only keys her up more, so she sets her hand over his and mentally begs him to take the hint by disguising a sharp, reprimanding gleam in her eye as a longing look. 

Thankfully, he does, but not before he brings her hand to his lips and drops a soft kiss to her knuckles. She hopes her smile doesn’t look as pinched as it feels.

The evening has yielded fruit, and they’re getting good information. Names of the crime family’s top runners, targeted locations, long-term plans. And Mr. Weatherly has even more to share and is eager to talk. They’ve long since finished their meals and have shared two bottles of rich, red wine between them. The Moores split a moist slice of tiramisu, while Mr. Weatherly savors an affogato al caffe. The heady scent of caffeine is heavenly. 

The hours tick by like minutes, and Riza has just gifted Mr. Weatherly with Grumman’s book when the restaurant host stops by to invite them into the cocktail lounge, as the restaurant has begun to close for the evening. Mr. Weatherly enthusiastically agrees, so their little party makes their way into the adjacent lounge where a jazz band croons a sultry ballad from the raised stage. They cram into a small booth at the back of the lounge and Roy orders whiskey for the table. 

With a mix of red wine and a finger and half of whiskey sitting heavy in her belly, Riza is more relaxed than she has been in weeks. Mr. Weatherly leans in close to chat with them over the music, though Riza can barely hear him. Roy answers on her behalf after she shoots him a quizzical look, and she finds herself sinking into his side, savoring the rumble of his low, honeyed voice. He’s warm and sturdy, and the press of the gun hidden under his jacket is a comfort. As she crosses her legs, his hand curls onto her knee again. Yet instead of being averse to the motion, she enjoys the rhythm of his thumb’s slow circles. It’s solid and tangible, a thing to hold onto as she soaks in the drink and the atmosphere and the sweet pressure of his hand catching up with her.

She realizes belatedly that Mr. Weatherly is asking about their honeymoon and how they’re enjoying it so far. Roy responds with an eager smile that they’ve had a beautiful time and can’t wait to make it to their mountain cottage tomorrow. A quiet week, just the two of them.

Riza can see it in her mind’s eye as he talks. She pictures a tiny, primitive stone structure out in the wilderness, or along the water. There’s the two of them, spending a lazy morning in bed, trading kisses while the cool spring breeze rolls in through the window. She imagines his hands tracing her curves as their kisses turn heated. She thinks of their silver wedding bands and wonders what it would be like to wear them not as Thomas and Ella, but as Roy and Riza.

“I’ll never forget the first time I saw her,” he muses, shooting her a coy smirk. “I returned an overdue book to the library and she chastised me so badly for keeping it as long as I did. She said she’d never had to charge someone one hundred cenz in fines before. But she was so passionate and earnest that I couldn’t stop thinking about her.”

“Ah, well someone has to keep you in line!” exclaims Mr. Weatherly. “And you’ve been going strong ever since, eh?”

“Just about,” Roy jests, and laces their fingers together, regarding her with an affectionate smile. “Loving her is just about the easiest thing I’ve ever done.”

Riza can’t tell if the singing she’s hearing is the jazz singer’s lovely vibrato or a chorus of angels. She stares back at him, stunned. It's the most natural thing in the world to forget herself, and Ella is nowhere to be seen when she whispers, “I love you.”

Oh, fuck. Riza nearly seizes when she realizes he has gone rigid and her heart drops straight into her stomach. Feeling wordlessly admonished and foolish, she begins to pull away but Roy’s grip stays her. Mr. Weatherly has also stiffened but continues to casually sip his whiskey and bob his head along to the band. Roy leans down to nudge her temple with his nose. 

“What’s wrong?” she whispers, tipping her head up so that they can lock eyes. His are shining with a warning, and they flit back and forth beyond her line of sight. 

“Mr. Weatherly saw a relative across the bar,” he says, and she understands instantly. “That’s all.” 

So even in Strauss, the crime family is everywhere. Riza straightens, her wits and discretion returning like she’s been doused with freezing water. 

Roy throws a wad of bills onto the table as they decide to call it a night, ambling casually through the lounge until they reach the vestibule between the exit and the hotel. 

“I’ve so enjoyed catching up with old friends,” says Mr. Weatherly. “I know you’ve got to be going, but is there any chance you’ll stay late enough to meet for lunch in the park tomorrow?

They can hardly disagree, and settle on a meeting time. They shake hands and Mr. Weatherly departs with his bowler hat plunked tightly onto his head, keeping his face down as he hastens to his car. Roy snatches her hand as they retreat to their room, squeezing tightly until they’re safely through the door and Riza has done her customary sweep. When she meets him at the door again, he is beaming.

“Let’s get to work.”

And suddenly, it’s like there was never a distance between them. It’s reminiscent of those long evenings working over the phone before Ingrid was in the picture and they’d spend hours decoding Roy’s dates. The thrill is indescribable, and Riza is in such a good mood that she doesn’t turn away the tiny bottles of rum he pulls from the minibar. They sip as they work. The night races on, and at the end of it their hands are cramped and they can barely keep their eyes open, but it’s worth it.

They don’t address her confession from the lounge. She’d said it so softly that over the wail of the music that it was possible he hadn’t heard her. But there was no way he’d misread her lips, or could have missed the truth in her eyes. Still, he offers her kindness in the form of obliviousness, and never brings it up once.

They fall asleep on top of the covers on the king-sized bed with their notes littering the chasm between them. When Riza wakes the next morning, their faces are inches apart, his breath long and deep. She smiles and counts his eyelashes to pass the time. 

 

--

 

Roy sleeps in while Riza calls the front desk to order breakfast and extend their stay by an additional night. She calls General Grumman and informs him of their progress, and of their additional meet-up that afternoon requiring an extra day. She also phones Fuery and asks him to keep Black Hayate for a little while longer.

She and Roy sit cross-legged across from each other on the bed while they pick at their breakfasts, the awkwardness dissipated. The day will be hot, so afterward they dress in breezy linens that feel light and carefree on their skin. Roy teases her over nothing in particular and she jabs back in that easy, simple way she’s come to associate with loving him.

When they leave the hotel, she presses herself to his side and takes his arm with such ease that they must have been doing this in another life for years. She wonders when she stopped pretending. She wonders if she ever was. 

 

--

 

Mr. Weatherly meets them in the park hidden behind a newspaper. They take in a stroll through the grounds, stop for bubble tea at a squat little food truck, and skip stones on the lakeshore. He explains the presence of the family at the lounge and assures them that it was purely coincidental. 

“If they knew anything of what we talked about,” he says quietly. “We’d be dead already. They’re ruthless, and they don’t waste time.”

So they talk in code a little longer and Mr. Weatherly explains more of the family’s inner workings. Why they’re so widespread, and how they end up in little towns like Strauss while gunning for bigger fish like Central City. 

“They take over small towns first,” Roy realizes in a hushed whisper. “Gain their trust through public works, funding businesses. To take them down in the city would be to wipe out a small town’s best resources.”

It’s an enlightening afternoon made even more pleasant by the company. Riza’s mind is brimming with thought and she’s anxious to get back to the hotel room and deconstruct the transcript she’s long since memorized through Falman’s code-keeping techniques. She’ll have to bring him a souvenir as a thank you.

But Roy refuses to let her waste such a beautiful day shuttered away. Though she knows it isn't protocol to work in public, she lets him drag her into a brightly lit cafe near Strauss’ community college for glasses of iced tea, turkey sandwiches, and sweet potato fries. They take over a tucked-away booth that is so discreet that their server occasionally forgets about them. It’s just as well; they work quickly and quietly, picking at their food in the interim. 

Roy assures her that they look like a pair of grad students working on their studies, and she has to admit, he's right. The cafe is filled with college-age young people - groups of friends, couples, solitary students - taking a break from their studies or taking their studies with them in the same style. She’s reassured by Roy’s pleased smile, and a happy feeling bubbles up in her chest as they bend their heads down to work. She likes how seamlessly they blend in with normal people.

The sun is beginning to set when Riza pulls her arms over her head to stretch out her back. Their table had long been cleared but for a pot of coffee split between them, with Roy’s side of the table littered with empty sugar packets. Riza folds her legs underneath herself and stares out the window, casually observing life outside the cafe windows. 

She is loath to admit that there were times she would see a couple holding hands in Central and feel a fierce pang of envy. It took a long time to stop feeling sorry for herself, to resign her life to a higher calling in protecting Roy and his dream. A dream that she had come to share, and would kill any chance of being a normal anything, let alone the far-fetched notion of coupledom.

It felt good to spend the last day with him, though. She’d been worried she wouldn't have the stones to do it without breaking, snapping at him to leave her alone. But dinner and drinks the previous evening, then their working session last night, and the events today, leave her feeling full to bursting. She pictures the way Roy looked at her in the jazz club the night before, his dark eyes saturated in adoration, and knows she’ll never forget it. It’s already one of her favorite memories of him. 

Roy clears his throat pointedly. Riza starts when she realizes that at some point her staring out the window had turned into staring at him. 

“Something interest you?” he asks with a knowing smirk. 

“No,” she says with a coy smile. “Just wondering when you’ll be finished.”

He blinks. “You can’t be finished already.”

“I am,” she says and spreads her notes out across the table. “Maybe you should pay a bit more attention to your assignments and less to your fries.” As if on cue, her stomach lets out a particularly fierce growl. 

“Ah,” says Roy. “I see how you finished before me. And I suppose I’ll have to treat you to dinner after this too, eh?”

“I suppose,” she says. “If you’re feeling generous.”

“I’m nothing but generous when it comes to you, Ella dear,” he says, “Why don’t you pick the restaurant, and I’ll pick your dress?”

He waggles his eyebrows at her, which makes her laugh aloud in a rare departure from character. But this Ella’s most natural reaction, which means it’s alright.

“I only have one clean dress to wear tonight,” she informs him. “Black silk, so we’d better find a place that’s fitting.”

“The one you wore to that party a few years ago,” he recalls. “I remember it. You’re right, we’ll have to select somewhere that will suit how pretty you’ll look. We can’t waste that.”

A bright red flush takes over Riza’s cheeks before she can stop it. She can’t believe he remembered that dress; she can’t believe that she had actually packed it. Kismet, perhaps.

Her stomach growls again, which makes her flush even more; she hides her face in her hands. Roy laughs at her.

“I’ll finish in 15 minutes,” he promises and begins to scribble in earnest.

 

--

 

The room is cool and clean when they unlock the door. Riza does a sweep of the suite. Finding nothing of note, she nods for him to come in and makes her way to her suitcase. She produces the silk as he approaches her from behind. It falls over her arm in wavy rivulets, looking perfectly enticing and elegant all at once.

“Is it what you remember?” she asks, holding it by the straps against the length of her body.

“Better,” he says, stepping closer to pinch its texture between his fingers. 

“I’ll go get ready,” she replies, taking a step to brush past him. Before she can, however, he reaches out and grasps her forearm, and turns her back to face him. He takes a shaky step, and she can see how his eyes have darkened, his lids lowering. He stares at her parted lips, and as she moves in closer, like she’s a moth drawn in by his light, he begins to lower his head to hers. 

Their lips are centimeters away when the phone rings. 

It’s shrill and piercing, and they jump away from one another on instinct, Riza’s free hand flying to her hip where her gun is hidden. They stare at each other in dismay. Roy is the one to cease its shrieking, striding over in a few great steps. 

“Hello,” he answers flatly, impatiently. The voice on the other end roars to life, and Roy’s eyes widen instantly and he flushes a troubling puce. He turns away from her, pinching his brow. “Ingrid. Hi.”

Ah, yes. The other shoe. How deafening is its fall.

Riza feels like she’s been slapped in the face, and her good sense returns to her with a furious vengeance. She stares down at the silk dress and knows her palms have begun to sweat under it. There’s a nauseous, panicked sensation bubbling up in her throat while Roy speaks to his girlfriend over the phone in low tones, pointedly facing away from her as he does. 

He might as well be speaking another language for all she can understand. All she knows is that she is mortified and it’s like her hands are covered in filth. So she drops the dress on the floor in an inky puddle and follows the instinct in her gut that encourages her to flee. She slings her purse over her shoulder and snags the spare room keys. Without looking back, she bolts.

 

--

 

Her feet take her back to the park where they’d spend a beautiful afternoon in a completely different headspace. She paces along the lake, wraps her arms around herself as the night begins to cool, and begs herself to calm down. But as it stands, she’s completely and totally infuriated with herself. 

She is such a fool. 

She replays their mission from beginning to end, wishing so hard she hadn’t let her guard down last night to buy into the pretty words he was saying. They were on assignment. He had a girlfriend. She was his adjutant. She replays these facts over and over again. 

Idiot, she chastises. She’d let herself get in too deep, let herself believe that they could have something together. As if real things weren’t at stake here. Their careers. Their freedom. 

Roy’s relationship. A real connection with a real person, which Riza had conveniently written off in with the excuse that they had to be believable as a married couple. And Roy had let himself indulge too, and now look where they were.

She buys a frozen lemonade from the food truck they’d patronized earlier and sits on a bench by the lake. A line of honking geese putters ahead of her, disinterested. She sips at her drink, hoping to relish the tang, but she finds it bland and flavorless. With a jolt, she realizes she's still wearing her fake rings. The sight of the baubles catching the waning daylight makes her feel sick all over, so she pulls them off and stuffs them in her bag. She resists the urge to throw them into the lake.

She must sit there for hours, or at least long enough to watch the sunset. She’d have preferred to sit there all night and turn over those self-deprecating thoughts if the groundskeeper hadn’t come around to encourage her to head home before it got too late. So Riza reluctantly staggers to her feet and takes the long way back to Hotel St. Lawrence. Her feet are sore when she steps into the lobby, and she offers a kind nod to the woman at the front desk as she sluggishly makes her way to their room. 

It’s empty when she gets back, no sign of Roy except an imprint where he’d been sitting on the bedcovers, and panic explodes inside of her. 

In her need to get away from him, she’d gotten away from him. She’d allowed him to leave himself vulnerable and unprotected. She was supposed to be protecting him, and she’d just abandoned him! 

The guilt is overwhelming, and she fights with herself to go out and look for him or to wait for him to come back when the decision is made for her with the pop of the door’s lock. She waits with bated breath, only letting it out when he enters, looking stricken but otherwise unharmed. 

“I went looking for you,” he says. “Where were you?”

“I’m sorry,” she forces out, her voice hoarse with regret. “I needed some air.”

He runs a hand through his hair. She can tell he’s been doing it over and over again based on how his locks stick where he’s touched them. 

She spots her fallen dress and fetches it from the ground, smoothing the pads of her fingers over the light silk. Still queasy, she’s not in the mood to share a meal with him any longer. Even sharing their space feels strained. She realizes with a start that she’s longing for her empty apartment and its quiet, judgeless solitude.

Like a fly moving through syrup, she folds the dress and packs it away in her bag, followed by the rest of her things. She smooths out the wrinkles in her skirt and takes a shallow breath. 

“So the assignment is as good as over,” she says in a hollow voice. “We might as well make the drive back to Central tonight, don’t you think?”

Roy’s been pacing, but he stops abruptly to consider her words.

“It’s after eight,” Roy points out. “We wouldn’t get in until one in the morning.”

“If it’s all the same to you,” she presses. “I’d like to go home, sir.”

Without another word of discussion, she breezes past him to collect her toiletries from the bathroom. When she returns, he’s snapping the buckles of his suitcases open to begin packing.

“You’re right,” he says as she stores her things away. “There’s no sense in lingering.”

“I’m glad you agree,” she says flatly and grips her suitcase handles. “I’ll check us out and pull the car around. I’ll see you in the lobby.

“Lieutenant,” Roy murmurs helplessly as she goes.

She ignores him and the door shuts behind her.

 

--

 

They arrive in Central at quarter past one in the morning after a long, melancholic car ride. Roy pulls up to the curb in front of her Riza’s apartment, having switched to the driver’s seat halfway through so she could close her eyes and rest. She didn’t sleep a wink but lay there with her head back and eyes shut, wishing she was home. 

She unlatches her seatbelt as Roy puts the car into park, and they exit the vehicle at the same time to open the trunk. 

“Let me help,” he insists, but she shakes her head, refusing to look at him. 

“I’ve got it.” She reaches for the trunk door with her left hand. Belatedly, she notices that he's made the same move, but has come up short. His hand hangs lamely in the air, and he's staring at her bare ring finger. She doesn't want to look and see if he's still wearing his.

He wouldn't be, if he knew what was good for him. It wouldn't help, anyway.

He takes a resigned step back, and she pulls her suitcases from the backseat. 

“Do you need me to get your door?” he asks, and she shakes her head, turning away from him. 

“Lieutenant Hawkeye,” he calls out softly. “I’m sorry.”

Riza swallows and angles around to face him just so.

“You didn’t...,” she trails off quietly. “I’m not angry with you.”

I’m angry with myself, is what she wants to say.

Roy’s expression looks unconvinced. “Then why does it feel like I’m losing you?”

“Colonel,” Riza admonishes, turning around fully to face him. “You could never--”

She snaps her mouth shut and straightens, worried about what her heart might convince her mouth to say. 

“It’s late,” she says instead. “I’ll see you Monday.”

Roy closes his eyes and doesn’t respond. She takes his silence as answer enough and leaves him there on the sidewalk. 

 

--

 

Riza’s night is not restful. She tosses and turns for hours, too perturbed by the thunderstorm cycling endlessly through her head and the too-quiet apartment. She misses Black Hayate and his perceptive little head-tilts and the weight of him snuggled up to her chest when her thoughts became too invasive.

She’s sure she just crawled under the covers when the sun makes its introduction for the day. Lying in bed, no particular side is any more comfortable than the other, and with a huff, she rises for the day and dresses for a run. She puts herself through a grueling five miles and makes a pit stop at the barracks to collect Black Hayate, and then takes him on a slower, more leisurely jog home through their park route. 

As much as Hayate likes Fuery, Riza can tell her little friend was on edge while she was away and is luxuriating in being home, in his bed. Or rather, her bed. When she enters her room after her shower, she cracks a smile at the sight of him, passed out and snoring on top of her covers.

She snuggles in next to him and tries for a nap. She’s even more exhausted after her workout but only manages 30 minutes before she’s wide awake and overthinking again. 

Onto the next thing. She starts on a few chores, which are over far too quickly. She gets her things around for tomorrow, pressing her uniform, shining her shoes, cleaning her gun. She makes her lunches for the week. When she lets herself flop onto the couch, it’s only one in the afternoon. 

This is ridiculous. She stares at the ceiling, irritated. It isn’t realistic to fill her day with work to distract from her problems - though she can damn well try - but she can’t spend her hours turning over the same things over and over and expect to come back to work refreshed either. 

It gives her an idea, and she knows she’ll fixate on it if she doesn’t act. She peeks into her room and sees Black Hayate still fast asleep, so she dresses in comfortable clothes and fetches her notes from the coded conversations with Mr. Weatherly. She slips them into her bag and begins the trek to Central command. 

 

--

 

This was a good idea. 

The afternoon sun warms her back through the windows. It’s blessedly quiet and smells like home, with its worn-in chairs and stacks of paper and the scent of gun oil clinging to every spare crevice. Riza loses herself in her work, organizing her notes into a cohesive report. She finishes some lingering paperwork and begins their expense report, which will also need the Colonel’s expenses and sign-offs before she can take it up to General Grumman’s office.

Riza forces herself to take a break; she sits up straight in her chair and rolls her shoulders until they pop. She collects a stack of newly completed work and drops it in a neat pile on the Colonel’s desk along with his schedule for the week and a list of urgent action items he will need to complete before Monday’s conclusion. Knowing him, he’ll distract himself and their unit throughout the first half of the day with stories, and by the time he actually gets to his tasks, he’ll be ready for an afternoon nap. 

She likes the monotony of certain tasks coupled with the critical thinking of others. It’s a tough exercise for her brain that she enjoys, and she likes that it keeps her sharp. The only downside is that she often becomes so immersed in her work that she’s prone to exist in her own little world. Today is no different, and because of this, she doesn’t notice Colonel Mustang enter the office until he’s loudly shut the door behind him. 

“Lieutenant,” he greets. “Hello.”

She flinches at the sound of his voice and turns around to face him, surprised. He rarely comes to the office on weekends. 

“Oh, h-hello,” she says.

She turns to go back to her work, but she’s distracted now with him around, and it kills any chance of sinking back into her productive mindscape. She can hear him crossing the office to sit at his large executive-style desk and begin to rustle through some papers. She glances at him out of the corner of her eye to see that he’s also dressed in civilian clothing and is pulling stacks of crumpled notes from his messenger bag. Of course, she thinks. This assignment is all General Grumman has been thinking about for the past few weeks. He’ll want everything they have from Mr. Weatherly first thing Monday morning. 

Roy’s working style is more structured and process-driven than he lets on. He begins organizing and collating his notes while referencing her copies on his desk. He makes lots of notations and scribbles. All the while, they do not speak to one another. Riza’s desk in their unit’s clump places her with her back to her superior officer, a stark contrast to how she protects him outside of the office. Before, the continuity error bothered her. Now, she’s thankful that when she looks up from her tasks, she’s staring at an empty beige wall.

“Did you sleep well last night, Lieutenant?” he asks, his voice loud in the silent room. 

She pauses, her pen stilling over her work. “No,” she replies honestly. “And you?”

She can picture his lips turning up slightly in a wan smile. “No,” he agrees. “I did not.”

The room falls silent again save for the scratching of their scrawls. The sun begins to crawl toward the horizon, and before Riza knows it, it's well past six and her stomach is beginning to rumble at her. She’s glad she came in today; her progress was much needed for the busy week ahead. And she has to admit, seeing the Colonel so unexpectedly after their roller coaster of a weekend had sent her into a mild panic, and she’d been deeply concerned that it was going to affect their ability to work together. It’s clear now that they can coexist in the same space, and for that, she is grateful, because it means it’s something they can work to fix, over time. 

It’s something she can discipline herself out of if she tries hard enough. Loving him, that is.

Wordlessly, she organizes her desk, setting her things out just so. The Colonel must notice because she can feel his eyes resting on the back of her neck as she starts rifling through her bag. 

“Heading out for the night?” he asks, his voice purposely cheerful and even. 

“Yes,” she replies in a matched tone. “I’m quite tired from our trip. I think I’m going to go home and relax for the rest of the night.”

“You should,” he replies. “You deserve it.”

She shoulders her bag and inclines her head to him politely.

“Good night, Colonel,” she says as she turns to him. “I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning.”

He nods. “Yes. Very good.”

“And, I hope your evening is very productive.” 

“Yes. Yes.”

She makes her way toward the door to her office. Her hand barely grazes the doorknob before his soft voice calls out to her. 

“Lieutenant.” 

It’s never sounded so sad coming from his lips. 

She turns warily back to find him standing, resting his hands on his desk. 

“Sir?” she asks. 

He stares at his desktop, idly fiddling with something small and shiny, obscured from her full view. “I did something today,” he confesses quietly.

Riza eyes him warily as he runs a hand over his face. 

“I went to the woman with whom I’ve spent more than a year and told her I don’t see a future with her,” he admits. She realizes then that whatever he's fiddling with has got to be his wedding band from their assignment. Riza freezes, the blood draining from her cheeks.

“A year,” he continues, and he picks up the offending piece of cheap jewelry, holds it to the light, and sets it down again, considering. “To think of it, it seems...unfathomable. That I would let someone into my life for that long, and end it. And to have that be my choice.” He idly taps his desktop with his finger. “And the thing is, as much as it hurt, it also felt like the right thing to do. I wasn’t satisfied. I was...fine, but I wasn’t happy. Not like I am when…”

He tips his head up and straightens his posture, tall and assured. Riza wants to sink into the floor, to run away. He can't be doing this right now. There's no way he's doing this, now. 

“Lieutenant,” he says hoarsely, and Riza’s shaking all over. 

“Sir,” she warns. “Please don’t.”

“I have to,” he argues. “I want to.”

“But you don’t need to say it,” she says, becoming frantic. “I know. I understand.”

“It’s not enough that you understand. I want you to hear it from me, you deserve that--”

“I don’t want to hear this,” Riza interrupts, her eyes wide. “Please don’t do this. I can’t--I can’t--”

“You love me,” Roy asserts, and there is a wildfire burning in his eyes. “And I--” A weak smile crosses his face, and Riza’s never been more conflicted between running into his arms and running away. “Riza, I love you. More and more every day.”

It breaks her heart to push back, but it’s the only way to keep the both of them safe. 

“Sir, this cannot happen. We have a burden to bear,” she insists, but it just encourages him more. He’s prepared for this.

“A burden we can shoulder together,” he agrees. “I’ve had enough of lying to myself about what I want.”

“You don’t want me,” she insists. “You just like the feeling of chasing something you can't have.”

“That’s not true. I’ve wanted you since before there was a law telling me I couldn’t.” 

He’s been approaching slowly, step by step, how one approaches a wounded animal. There’s a defensive reaction bubbling up in her.

“Don’t you understand?” she pleads. “How do you expect to make amends for the things we’ve done if we’re court-martialed and discharged? Who would elect a Fuhrer with a record?” 

She’s so frustrated she could pull her hair out. 

“Whatever you feel for me is secondary, sir. Your goals take precedence and always will. And I won’t allow myself -- I won’t get swept up -- we’ve made enough mistakes without--” 

She presses the heels of her hands into her eyes, breathing deeply. When she looks up, the world is blurry.

“Mistakes,” he murmurs. “People make mistakes every day and allow themselves happiness.”

“Not like our mistakes,” she says, shaking her head. “Not like us.”

“What about Hughes, then?” Roy asks sharply. “He’s tormented with the same demons. Would you look him in the eye and tell him that doesn’t deserve Gracia and Elicia?”

“No!” Riza cries at once. “No, of course not.”

“Then how are we any different?”

“Because--because--” Riza flounders, and she goes silent. Unable to stare his earnestness in the eye any longer, she turns away from him, facing the wall while she massages her temples.

He’s retreated to his desk and sluggishly pulls on his coat. Spent, she breathes deeply and begs her stuttering heart to calm. She counts his footsteps as he approaches again. 

“I had to tell you, just once,” he says quietly.

His hand rests on the doorknob when he clears his throat. 

“I would never push you into anything you weren’t comfortable with, and I can see this is bringing you distress. For that, I am sorry,” he says. “But now you know, and I’ll never regret telling you.”

She can’t look at him. She knows her silence is hurting him, but she’s in pain, too. If she opens her mouth she’s sure she won't be able to do anything but cry. Even now, the tears are welling in her eyes and she pushes them away with the heel of her hand. 

“Good night, Lieutenant.”

She nods. It’s all she can muster through her shaky breathing, hand pressed to her chest. He sends her one last glance and slips out the door. 

The door snaps shut behind him and it sends her emotional dam crumbling. She rests her forehead against the wall and breathes deeply. Once, twice, three times. Once, twice, three times. The tears wobbling under her control trickle down her cheeks.

In her most private moments, she’d dreamed of this kind of reciprocation. She’d battled for years to control those dreams and tether them to reality. Now, amid his earnestness, she fights the urge to chase after him, knowing that they’d never be able to go back. 

She can’t do this. She can’t entertain the beauty of a future with him. 

So why is she?

She is powerless to her imagination and the way it's dreaming up the most shameless things. Waking up to his sleepy smile every morning. Sharing their goals, their home, their bed. Running her fingers through his hair, feeling his strong arms wrap around her. Feeling so overcome with love for him that she is able - no, entitled - to seize his face in her hands and kiss him as much as she wants, whenever she wants. To love him unconditionally, without restraint. 

She’s not frightened any longer by the domesticity she creates in her mind’s eye. She’s known for a long time that she’s never wanted to know anyone else so intimately. She remembers how repressed and controlled she’s had to be around him, and of how they’ll have to play this game for the rest of her lives. Close, too close. But never close enough.

They’d always be too close.

And suddenly, it’s too much. 

Seizing her nerve, she pulls herself together and forces her feet to move. Throwing the door open, she storms into the corridor and pushes herself into a sprint. She follows his path into the stairwell, down flights of stairs, into the emptied first floor of Central command. Her heart stutters as she takes in the deserted floor; there is no sign of him. No slam of a door, no shadow. She makes her way toward the main doors, sure he’s well on his way to the parking lot by now, when she hears hollow footsteps behind her. 

She knows it’s him before she turns around. And he’s staring at her.

“Colonel,” she whispers.

“Lieutenant,” he says, and she can’t stop herself anymore. 

“Lieutenant,” he says again, and she’s stalking toward him in quick, assured strides.

“Lieutenant,” he says for the third time, and he doesn’t get a fourth. 

He moves for her at the same moment she reaches out to grip the lapels of his jacket, and she crashes into him. Their lips meet in the hungriest, most searing kiss of her life. He’s trembling and pliable against her, hands sliding into her hair as she presses herself flush against him, pushing herself onto the tips of her toes to deepen their embrace. She doesn’t realize they’ve begun to move until the cold slap of the tile wall hits her back, and she releases his jacket to wind her arms around his neck. One of his hands drops down to her waist, the other slapping loudly against the wall. He’s pressed so tightly against her she’s sure she’ll melt into the wall any minute.

The pressure of his tongue running across the seam of her lips is delightful. She’s hot all over, and his ministrations coax a low moan from her throat that only makes him kiss her harder. She’s sure she’s a mess, panting and red-faced and tears still pricking at her lashes when he pulls back with a reluctant groan and rests his forehead against hers. They spend several long, languid moments catching their breaths and catching up to one another.

They share a satisfied, relieved look between them as they lean in again, but a jarring sound in the distance makes them jump. Eyes wide, Roy frantically searches the hall for an unlocked door. The noises get louder and closer, and dread sets in when Roy tugs her into the stairwell and pulls her flush against him. 

They are pressed so closely together that she can feel his heart pounding a breakneck rhythm against her cheek. He holds her with an arm hooked around her waist, and his hand splays over her back so that she can feel the heat from each and every finger; his other arm rests against the metal door. They listen in complete silence for the movement to approach and pray that whoever is out there didn’t hear the heavy open-shut of the stairwell doors. 

Soon enough, two pairs of footsteps shuffle past the door in quick succession; Riza can make out the vague features of the backs of two heads, probably officers who report to one of Roy’s fellow Colonels, though she can’t pinpoint who. They must have dropped by to finish some work on a Sunday afternoon like they’d done - tried to do. 

Roy’s breath is warm upon the crown of her head, and the pressure of his lips follows. He slowly spills kiss after kiss upon every bit of her face he can reach. She indulges herself, sliding her palms up his muscled chest until she can grip his shoulders. They come together again in a soft, open-mouth kiss, and the taste of him is so achingly perfect. 

She can’t reasonably guess how long they spend exploring each other in that stairwell. He had tried to guide her up the two flights of stairs to their office but their interludes on each landing intensify too quickly to make progress. He’s managed to maneuver them with her back into a corner; her leg is hiked up around his hip and his thigh rests squarely at the apex of hers. That incremental adjustment has her panting against him, those beautiful ministrations of his fingers and lips setting every inch of her aflame. She’s thankful for the darkening evening when he drops his mouth to her neck, the lick of his tongue across her sensitive skin forcing her jaw to drop. 

He’s so impossibly, sinfully, indecently good at this. One particularly heady kiss makes her whimper aloud and it echoes up the stairwell. She drags her nails down his back as his fingers stroke up her thighs, her sides, her hips, the outlines of her breasts. She’s ready to come undone from this contact alone; the implied promise of more to come makes her head spin. 

Swollen-lipped and bleary-eyed, she places a hand on his chest and they linger for a few moments longer, their heavy breathing punctuating their tryst. The night spills dim and blue through the stairwell windows, dowsing their world in darkness. Roy pulls away so that they can straighten their clothes.

“I’ve waited forever to do that,” he admits, swiping a hand through his mussed hair.

“So have I,” she says, her voice just verging on breathless. She swallows thickly. “I…”

He watches her patiently with an encouraging smile. But even after being so close, knowing how he loves her, it’s still difficult to get the words out. It’s hard to separate the rigidity of their careers - within its walls, no less - with this new devil-may-care sureness.

Because a military Lieutenant she may be, but she is sure. She wants him, her brash and tender Colonel, and all the facets that come with him. 

She squeezes her eyes shut. “I...I left my things in the office.” 

He nods at once and entwines their fingers. 

“Alright,” he says. “Let’s go, then. And I’ll drive you home.”

He has enough foresight to stand sentry outside the office rather than join her. 

“If I go in there, we might as well plan to stay the night,” he quips and then blushes so hard she can almost feel the heat radiating off his cheeks. But she burns just as red and looks away, knowing he’s most certainly right. 

So she makes haste of collecting her things, fallen and scattered in the aftermath of her decision to run after him. With a hand on the doorknob, she looks back at the dark and empty office, a fondness washing over her for this little room and its beige walls and desk clumps and stacks of paper. It looks almost cheerful in this new light. 

She emerges from the office and Roy begins to offer his hand but retracts it at the sight of Riza’s shifting eyes, back on guard against any surprise guests. They retrace their earlier path, descending the stairs and the length of the hall to the main doors without stopping, though Roy’s hand bumps against hers often.

This time, Central command is well and truly deserted, and it's punctuated by the presence of Roy’s car, the solitary one in the parking lot. They climb in and Roy guides the car onto the road, making the familiar trek back to Riza’s apartment building. 

She allows herself to hold his hand on the way back. That, at least, is safe enough to do. 

But as he pulls up to the curb on her vacant street, she feels her heart pounding harder and louder than it had been when they’d been consumed and wrapped in each other’s arms. She doesn’t register that he’s said her name aloud - not her rank - as she presses her hand to her chest. It’s tight, and as he’s reaching over to put on a hand on her shoulder, she whirls to face him.

“I love you,” she says sharply. He freezes, mid-reach. She decompresses in a great whoosh of air and tries again, this time soft and genuine. “Sorry. It's just that you deserve to hear it too. And I do.” He deserves to hear it for real, not in the context of an undercover persona. She takes his hand and looks him in the eye. She's infatuated by him, nervous in his presence. "I-I love you."

“I love you, too,” he says and drags his knuckle down her jaw. The way he's acting is almost reverent, like she's the holiest, most precious thing.

His hand unfurls into a palm at her cheek, and she sinks into it, places her hand over it. He leans in and presses a soft kiss to her lips. When he pulls back, she follows him, folding her palm around the back of his neck to draw him back in. He pulls her tightly against him as they kiss languidly, slowly, savoring one another. 

She’s beginning to see how easy it could be to get lost in him. 

But they can’t kiss in his car all night, so she allows one last press of their lips before she pulls back.

“Good night, Colonel,” she murmurs and begins to slip out of the car.

“Wait, Lieutenant,” Roy calls as she is halfway out. With one foot on the ground, she turns to look at him as an errant breeze tousles her hair in the lamplight.

“You’re beautiful,” he says sincerely. 

Riza’s lips part at his sweet words and she smiles at him warmly. "Good night."

 

--

 

Sometimes she can’t be around him. 

It isn’t that he’s more interested in telling stories than working, or that he’s gotten coffee rings on her notes. It isn’t that he’s asked her three times that morning alone to take yet another stack of paperwork to the Fuhrer’s office. It isn’t even that his voice has that inane, punchy quality to it that has no place being present on a Monday of all days. 

No, it’s none of that at all. 

It’s the way he meets her eye with a knowing twinkle or makes a point to lean over her desk so close that she can smell the delectable oakiness of his aftershave. It’s the distracting way he talks with his hands, those sinewy, deft hands of his that can do such beautiful things. It’s how he catches her staring at him and smirks. It’s the way he accompanies her to the Fuhrer’s office, walking just close enough for her to touch. 

It’s the way he makes her feel alive, wanted, beloved. 

It’s the way she doesn’t feel guilty at all.

Sometimes she can’t be around him. 

Sometimes it's just too hard to stay away.