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Infernia

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He smiles at her the first time she meets him. He has nice teeth, a neat row of white, and she doesn’t smile back. She doesn’t know him, and he doesn’t know her. Not yet. His grip is strong and firm as she takes it.

Riza meets his eyes as they shake hands, taking in the color. It’s a brown deep enough to pass for black, framed by dark lashes, and Riza almost feels charmed. Almost.

“I guess we’ll be together for a while, so why don’t we be friends, Miss Riza.” His accent is different, something from far away, and there's an elegant slant to his eyes. He's pretty, with a beautiful face and the look of a refined city boy. She wonders if he knows that; if that's the reason he stands so confidently. 

She lets go of his hand and tucks hers behind her back. “Call me Hawkeye, please.”

He smiles at her again, sincerely. “Can do, Hawkeye.”



Her father drills him hard in everything from physics to the sciences, and Riza takes notes when she sits in on their lessons. He takes the room down the hall, exactly six paces from her own. The expensive apartment feels different with him in it.

Over a cup of hot chocolate, he tells her that he wants to be a person that can change things. Riza believes him. There's a look in his eyes that tells her he has every intention to change things. 

He tags along on all the grocery trips. D.C is too big of a city to wander alone, he says, and Riza ignores the excuse. She’s wary of him, and when he edges too closely on the subway, she waits for a hand to land on her waist. It never does.

He always backs away again when the car clears, and by the fifth trip, it starts to feel normal.

She never has to remind him that it’s time to go out again. She begins to wonder if he looks forward to it. 

Roy meets Maes on a Tuesday. They’re both seventeen and bright-eyed, promising boys in an industry of change. Maes has big dreams of protecting the country, an All-American man of progressive values, and that summer the two of them hoist a pacifist flag in front of the White House.

When they get arrested for disturbance of the peace during a protest, Riza bails them out with money she finds in his desk. (It had been signed with a ‘spend it wisely, boy child- Madam and Riza feels regret as she hands it over the counter to the warden.)

That night she ruins her scarf, and Roy earns himself a crook in his broken nose. She orders him to sit still while she wipes the blood from his face. By the end the cashmere is stained with crimson, and Roy’s grin is almost blood-free. His nose heals, and Riza buys a new scarf.

When she tells him about the bail money, he laughs. “Don’t worry about it, Hawkeye,” he says, and she doesn't.

She’s just turned 19 when Trespasser rips the Golden Gate Bridge in half.

The vivid blues sear the screen of the television, and they imprint themselves over her eyelids like a glance at the sun. Roy is frozen still beside her, and they stand in silence as the newscaster’s voice fills the room. The words are suffocating.

He takes her hand. They stand in the glow of the television for another fifteen minutes, watching the headline roll.

The Jaeger Academy summons sits on the kitchen table for a week.

Riza is too afraid to touch it, but he leaves it for her anyways. They don’t need to talk about it.

He leaves with Maes, and the wave he gives her at the airport gate is too final. Riza doesn’t cry.

She cuts her hair off before she leaves. Her hairdresser refuses to do it. "Your hair is so beautiful, little lady," he says, and crops it close to her throat in a neat, feminine bob.

Riza hacks the rest off with scissors when she gets home. She asks her grandfather for her own invitation to the Jaeger Academy, and he obliges her hesitantly. The Marshal sends it with another letter addressed to her father.

All that’s written inside is 'I’m sorry for taking them away from you like this.’

She doesn’t comment when her father lights the letter on fire. She watches the flames from the candle rise to nip at the corner of the page, hungry and writhing and orange, and the inky 'sorry’  glows and blackens.

“Don’t do this, Riza,” he says, and she shakes her head.

They don’t talk about it again.

She spots Roy’s name on the Dean’s list from a year past. Maes is right below it, and she watches they power through the trials and make headlines. She wears in their footprints with her own, and knowing they won’t look back, she follows in silence.

Their Jaeger is hulking, and Riza watches them accept the honors on live television.

Maes grabs Roy’s arm and hoists it high above his head, and the crowd cheers. Riza remembers the pacifist flag from years before, and the irony is tinny in her mouth. This is a different kind of war, but it’s still war, and war never changes.

They name the Jaeger the 'Brigadier General’ and their first confirmed kill earns them glory across the world. The footage is a shaky aerial view from a helicopter, and she watches as the General locks its arms around the Kaiju’s neck and twists.

She doesn’t need audio to hear the vicious 'crack’ as the Kaiju goes limp.

Her father falls ill two years into her Academy career. When she spots Roy in the hospital room, she lingers by the glass panel, feeling like an outsider. He’s a celebrity now, a national hero, but in the hospital room he looks worn and tired, like every other person on the floor. He looks older, sharper, the smooth line of his throat draped in dogtags.

She reminds herself what those were for, and her stomach bottoms out. It was easier to identify remains when they had identification.

Her father’s hand is clasped between both of his, an aged, wrinkled contrast to Roy’s large, calloused palms. The older Hawkeye is saying something, his mouth moving in strained shapes, and she sees Roy’s hand tighten. She can’t hear them. She wonders if she even wants to.

The heart monitor by the window spikes, the mountains and valleys of her father’s lifeline jumping, and Roy looks up to call for someone. His eyes lock with hers through the glass, and he says her name. She doesn’t need to hear it to know.

Riza.

She lunges for the door, and the monitor flatlines.

They stay the night at the old apartment, surrounded by the ghosts of her father’s failed research. Riza doesn’t cry. She makes dinner instead, rummaging through her father’s barren kitchen until she finds a bag of aged pasta. It’s unopened, and she seasons it with butter and pepper. They eat in silence, and by the time the dishes are done, the tremble in her fingers has grown to a shake.

Riza tries to keep herself moving -– it’s easier to forget when she’s moving -– but Roy stops her, hand settling over hers. She stares at their joined hands for a long time, feeling the warm weight of his fingers, and the sob breaks from her throat before she can stop it.

He leans to hold her, and for once, she lets him.

His shirt is wet by the time the tears subside, and she lingers in the circle of his arms for a little while longer. “It’ll be alright,” Roy mumbles into her hair before letting her go, and Riza believes him.

The news blares on her television, loud and ugly, and the headline loops in her head for the thousandth time that day.

Brigadier General Falls to Category Three.

Riza doesn’t cry.

They meet again in the shadow of a Jaeger.

His gaze is like broken glass, cutting her to ribbons, but she refuses to look away. His mouth wraps around the 'R’ of her name before he thinks better of it, and the silence stretches between them.

“I was told to meet my new partner here,” he says hoarsely, finally, and Riza nods once, a quick bob of her head. Roy’s throat works against his collar, and he swallows hard. The unnamed Jaeger behind them is a looming monolith, a reminder of what mattered and what didn’t, and Roy closes the distance between them in two strides.

The embrace is warm -- he smells like aftershave and laundry detergent -- and she numbly wraps her arms around his shoulders. He holds her there before pulling away, murmuring something under his breath.

'"I'm glad it’s you."

Their first Drift is wordless. They had always said the Drift was impossible to describe, and Riza accepted that. She and Roy spoke in code, rarely saying what they meant but understanding each other anyway. She doubts the Drift can be any more complicated than anything else they’ve said.

She’s right.

The Drift snaps taut, thrumming like a guitar string. Memories flood over her like a tidal wave, and the weightlessness is so heavy it feels like she’s drowning.

Roy’s memories are smooth as glass on the surface, but the jagged edges rip into her and leave splinters behind. She'll never be able to forget these memories, even though they weren't hers. 

The smoke from the end of a woman’s cigar, the perfume of an old blanket, the giggles of older sisters.

They all slither past her like eels, intermingled with the slippery tendrils of her own memories, and one scene stretches beyond the horizon, painted with frothy whites and blackened blues. The haze clears, and everything is suddenly too sharp and too clear.

Wind whips past her face, and she realizes the visor of her helmet is broken. Her tongue is laden with seawater and blood, and the taste reminds her of wet pennies. The back of her neck is burning, an acid heat that’s spreading from the nape of her neck all the way down her spine.

This isn’t supposed to be happening.

Her eyes drift to the empty pilot station besides her, and the Jaeger pitches forward, metal groaning and shrieking under the weight of its broken parts. A wave crashes up the side, sending water up through the broken shield of the Jaeger’s face, and she feels a panic that isn’t hers.

Maes. Maes, Maes, Maes.

She’s ripped out of the memory as the Drift breaks, and she comes out of it with a gasp. The fear is still there, a stone in the center of her chest, and she whips around to look at Roy. His hands are clenched tight, his back dangerously straight, and Riza slams the button on the intercom.

“Release the lock!” she shouts into the intercom. “Shut it down, now!

There’s shouting over the intercom in response, and the General’s voice rises up over the rest. “Pull the plug, Fuery!”

The cockpit goes dark as the power shuts down, and the emergency lights light up in a collection of reds and oranges. Roy falls limply from the hold as the locks are released, and Riza throws herself underneath him, catching his head before it can hit the ground.

He’s seizing, his jaw locked and eyes closed, and Riza rips off her helmet before pulling his from his suit. He shakes against her, drawing a strained breath through his clenched teeth, and Riza holds his face until the tremors stop.

He makes a weak grab for her as he comes to, and his hand lands unevenly on top of her suit and the skin of her throat. “Riza -–” he starts, voice unsteady, and Riza shakes her head.

“Don’t. We don’t need to talk about it now.”

His hand falls limply from her throat to find her hand, and he squeezes her fingers. Within the next second, the medics storm the cockpit, and Riza doesn’t miss the hesitance as he lets go.

They hold him in the medical wing for three days. His blood tests come back free of anomalies, his CAT scan is normal, and Riza sits as the doctors relay good news to him over the tops of clipboards.

They say the seizure was the violent result of trauma and the Kaiju Blue poisoning in his nervous system.

Roy doesn’t look anyone in the eyes.

She doesn’t leave his side for those three days, and she wakes up each morning with a crick in her neck. He tries to convince her to go to her own dorm, but she refuses every time. The memory is still a fresh wound on her conscience, and the image of Roy’s white knuckles and clenched teeth nips at her every time she leaves the room.

They talk about it the second night. She’s reading a book, and Roy doesn’t wait for her to look up before he starts talking. 

“He drowned,” Roy says lifelessly. As he turns his face away, she spots the smattering of blue stains -- scars -- along the nape of his neck. They disappear below the neckline of the hospital gown, and her gaze lingers there until he speaks again.

“The braces keeping him in the Jaeger were smashed when it broke into the cockpit.” Roy’s hands fist in the sheets. “There was nothing I could do.”

She knows this. She knows this well; the news broadcast was recorded on her DVR for months after the Brigadier General fell, and she fell asleep with the words 'not his fault’ on her tongue every night. She knows this.

“There was nothing I could do,” he repeats, voice breaking, and she drops the book. It lands face down with a flat smack, and Riza forgets about it the moment she moves to join him.

“I know," she tells him, and he repeats the phrase like a mantra as he sets his head onto her shoulder.

Riza holds him until he stops shaking.  

The Marked Inferno is famous by June. Its arms are lined with gasoline tanks and guarded by the heaviest plates on the entire Jaeger, and it’s a marvel of design, just like every other machine in the Shatterdome. Kaiju appear like clockwork, and they take them down at the same speed. Breaking records, killing Kaiju, accepting awards; it all feels the same once the day is over. 

It never gets easy, but it gets easier. 

They land with a cloud of steam. Humidity billows up around them, and the news helicopters zip and hover as they try to find visible angles. The Kaiju is a Category 4, a hulking mass of lean muscle and teeth, and Fuery nicknames it 'Rasuto’ over the intercom. 

It lunges through the water at them, back legs kicking up a wave taller than any skyscraper Riza has ever seen in her life, and Inferno bursts out of the steam to meet it midway. “Now!” Roy shouts over the buzz of the machinery, and they raise both arms to grapple with it.

Inferno leaves treadmarks in the ocean floor as they’re slammed back, and with a shove, they throw the Kaiju away from them. It lands heavily, smacking against the water as it tumbles and rolls away, and the Inferno bounds forward to follow.

They catch it on the uprise, and it claws at Inferno’s chest as they plant a knee in the center of its belly. Hot plating hisses against hide as Riza slams a forearm against the Kaiju’s throat. It gives a keening roar, thrashing its head to one side, and Roy jams the other arm into its mouth and hits release.

The vocal chords are the first to go, and the flame is a vivid purple as the Kaiju Blue burns away. Riza doesn’t want to think about the smell. The throat blackens and the thick skin singes, curling in on itself, and the Kaiju eventually stops twitching.

The Marked Inferno rises up, and Riza slams a button on the control board.

“Empty the clip?” she asks, and she barely has to wait for an answer.

“Empty the clip.”

Olivier breaks the news to them over a meeting. They’ve all heard the harsh facts before -– the Jaeger program was being shut down, the wall has been broken, the nuke dropped into the Mariana failed. The only option they have is a bitter pill to swallow, and Olivier folds her hands over the table.

“We have enough for one last push,” she says, blue eyes sharpening. “You probably won’t come back alive.”

The room goes silent. The Elric brothers are the first to opt in, and Ed knocks a fist against the wood of the conference table. “We’re in. Let’s hope this isn’t in vain.”

Riza watches as the Yao twins steal looks at the fierce-faced girl across from them, and she nods. The Emperor pilots are in. Olivier’s gaze bounces to them. Roy’s hand squeezes hers under the table, and they don’t hesitate.

They revise their wills side by side that night in the mess hall. They don’t have much to give, and no-one to give it to. They know better than to leave anything to each other; Jaeger pilots never come back alone from missions like this. 

“Will you follow me?” he asks. 

“Even into hell,” she answers. 

The plan fails.

Olivier and Buccaneer are the first to go down, Ice Queen falling underneath a Kaiju dubbed 'Rāsu.’ The General shouts her last words over the shared intercom, her accent heavy with the weight of her orders. Within the next minute, Ice Queen and Rāsu are gone in an explosion of blue blood and machinery.

Finish the job.

Everything melts away from there. They pave the way for the Fullmetal Sentinel, and as the Elrics knock 'Allfather’ into the breach, all hell breaks loose. The remaining Kaiju is trapped underneath Inferno’s knee, and with a surge of momentum, they drive down, crushing its skull. It makes a desperate slash for Inferno’s head in the same moment and lands, whipping the Jaeger’s head to the side.

It scores a crack in the visor, pelting the surface of the glass with blue blood, and Roy barely has a moment to slam the emergency deploy before the pressure caves the glass in. Pain flares along her throat as they’re bathed in seawater, and heat drips and seeps below her Drift suit to burn her skin.

Riza wakes up somewhere in the South China sea, neck sticky with blood. She clambers out to scan the horizon, and when his escape pod surfaces, she forgets the pain in her throat and rips off her helmet, throwing it sideways to leap into the water.

The seawater running down her arms is tinted a sickly pink with the blood from her neck, and she scrambles for purchase as she searches the pod for the release. Blood smears an ugly, faded streak against the glass covering the front.

Shock is making her movements shaky -– she's wounded, she needs to finish this quickly -– and she yanks the lever home. The glass plating pops free with a hiss, and Riza reaches first and thinks later. There’s blue across his eyes, acid, neon blue, and the tears run hot down her face. She doesn’t notice them.

She’s repeating his name like a prayer, she realizes. His heartbeat thrums weakly under her wrist as she pulls off his Drift helmet, and her heart lurches in leaps and bounds.  

Riza grabs him to sit him up and he coughs, spitting up seawater over the side of the raft. Roy wheezes through the salt burning his mouth. "Riza.” He manages, and his fingers tremble against her back. “I can’t -–”

He stops short, but they both know the word that hangs between them.

“I know,” she says, “I know.”

Roy pulls her closer, hand spanning wide over her shoulderblades, and the fighter jets drone above them. They’ll worry about the sacrifices later.

The Kaiju Blue deals him a bitter trade.

The agent in the blood dyes his brow a sickeningly sweet blue, and he trades his vision for the vivid burn over his eyes.  

He tells her that their lives were worth every sight he could miss, but Riza still wishes things were different. There is no amount of corrective surgery that can fix a K-B burn, as much as she wished there was.

The dark color of his irises is seared away and replaced with a haunting grey. People stare, and when Riza stares back in his place, they turn their faces away in shame.

Recovery is slow, and for the first week he wakes up to the realization that he is blind over and over again. He tells her it’s stopped being such a shock, but the shallow panic in his breathing every morning tells her differently.

She becomes his eyes, and by the end of the third week, he’s stopped apologizing for tripping her. He’s released from the hospital within the month, and within the next, their shared apartment is lined with medals and certificates. She guides him into the stage to receive his Badge of Honor, and hers is pinned to her lapel in the same breath.

Riza wears turtlenecks for the first six months. She teaches the Huo girl chess, and Lan Fan shows her how to fight hand-to-hand in return. They form a friendship; both of their men are wounded. Ling Yao is blessed with Rockbell artistry over his left half, where his shoulder was blown ragged.  

Winry and Ed get married a few springs later, and Riza wears a strapless dress. The scar earns solemn stares, but Winry beams at her and tells her the dress is perfect before ushering her into the reception.

Riza and Roy don’t have a wedding. They sign the paperwork together, passing the pen between them, and walk out of the city hall as a joined couple. It doesn’t feel much different. Not much changes.

They both have bad nights. For the first year, they both take prescriptions to avoid night terrors. The dreams inevitably seep through, and one of them jerks awake bathed in sweat at least twice a week. They both learn to sleep lightly, just in case the other wakes in the dark.

His guilt is tangible, sometimes. He traces the harsh line of the scar along her throat with his hands, his fingers, his lips, and Riza pushes him back against the headboard. “We’re alive,” she reminds him, “We’re alive because of each other.”

He breathes an apology against her mouth anyway.

One year, a special edition superhero is released by some comic industry. He’s got pitch black hair and a neon blue blindfold, and Roy laughs aloud when she tells him. He buys the issue and keeps it on the coffee table. When she’s asked about a superhero sharing her qualities in an interview, Riza jokes that the names 'Hawkeye’ and 'Hawkwoman’ were already taken.

A matching superheroine by the name of 'Infernia’ is released that summer, her brown-eyed visage framed with windswept blonde hair, and Riza places that issue alongside the other in their living room. Neither of them end up reading the comics.

They’ve already got a story.