Hang Fire

Aug. 16th, 2011 10:30 pm
juxtaposie: (fma - follow you)
[personal profile] juxtaposie
Title: Hang Fire
Author: [livejournal.com profile] juxtaposie
Recipient: [livejournal.com profile] likeadeuce
Fandom: Fullmetal Alchemist
Pairing: Riza Hawkeye/Rebecca Catalina
Rating: (gentle) R
Word count: 3,047
Disclaimer: I don’t own FMA, but y’all probably already knew that…
Warnings: None
Summary: Hang Fire – n. A dangerous situation resulting occasionally from the use of outdated old ammunition where the primer does not fire upon being struck by the firing pin. The cartridge may fire in a virtual instant or some seconds later. In the event that a cartridge fails to fire immediately upon the pull of the trigger, always count out ten seconds before opening the breech. Or, five times Riza and Rebecca sought comfort from each other, and one time Rebecca wouldn’t be comforted.
Notes: for this year's challenge over at [livejournal.com profile] femslash11. this wouldn't have gotten done without [livejournal.com profile] artemisrae to coax me through. she's awesome, y'all.



They have a 20-minute window to shower. There are only five stalls, so the bathroom is always full, and once you’re done with the water the other girls start clamoring for you to vacate so everyone has a chance to wash their hair. This forces you to towel off and redress in a tiny room crammed full with people who are still essentially strangers – something Riza isn’t too keen on, even almost three weeks into Basic.

No one talks to her about how she always waits to be last, insisting even when the other girls start offering to let her go before them. Most don’t offer more than once, and even the girls who do keep offering as the days wear on only do so out of politeness. They’ve got too much on their own minds to worry about why a fellow cadet doesn’t want to be undressed in front of them.

“You’re not shy,” Rebecca says to her one evening as they stand together, their backs against the tile wall, waiting for shower stalls to free up. She says it as a statement of fact, but there’s a question clearly implied by the tilt of her head. Her dark, curly hair is sticking to her forehead, plastered there by the dried sweat from the afternoon’s exercises.
Riza just shrugs, because that’s been her answer to every question so far, and Rebecca blinks, but doesn’t say anything else about it.

When Riza is done with her shower Rebecca is waiting outside, towel and bath kit still in hand, clearly intending them to walk back to their shared barracks together. She thinks Rebecca might take up her last inquiry again, but instead Rebecca launches into a story about the last letter her mother sent her, and the conversation devolves from there – though calling it a conversation doesn’t feel quite right, as it is particularly one-sided. Rebecca – Becky, she tells Riza to call her – talks an awful lot. It seems an impolite thing to think, but then Becky doesn’t seem too embarrassed. Riza can’t help smiling when Rebecca makes a small joke over their simple dinner, and she is surprised to find that her initial apathy with the other girl has both waned and disappeared. She knows the impression she gives is one of quiet solitude, and the longer she and Rebecca sit together the more Riza realizes that Rebecca either hasn’t noticed or (more likely) doesn’t care. Riza likes this.

She likes it enough that she doesn’t mind when it happens again the next day, when Rebecca is waiting for her in the hall outside the bathroom. Becky smiles, and Riza smiles back, thinking, perhaps, that she has found a friend.

***


Ishbal is a study in contrasts. It is without a doubt the most harsh, barren, pitiless place Riza could ever have imagined, and yet life still flourishes for those who have the eyes to look for it. Dry, thorny things that carry poison in their spines and hide from the sun come alive every night, when the bone-searing heat abates and the cold creeps in. It’s strange, to be sweating during the day and shivering in your cot at night. There’s a sort of brutal beauty to it all, a simplicity and uniqueness in the miles of sand and open sky. The sun is brighter here, and merciless, but the stars are just as dim, obscured not by the electric lights of a modern city, but by the smoke and fire of burning buildings.

There are larger animals, too. Mountain lions and wild dogs often prowl the outskirts of their camp, foraging for food amidst the fires and tents. At night it’s hard to tell the difference between soldiers’ boots and padded paws. The sand muffles everything.

Becky still manages to make herself heard. She pauses long enough to tap lightly on the pole before pushing the tent flap aside.

“Are you awake?” she asks, voice clear but subdued.

Riza is, so she rolls over on her cot and sits up, doing her best to keep the blankets around her. She’s fully dressed except for her boots, which wait at the foot of the bed. Becky’s uniform is sweat-stained and covered in brown dust. She’s missing her jacket, but she’s thrown an old overcoat on against the cold.

“Close the flap,” Riza says in reply, as if the tent and her own meager body heat were some barrier against the night’s chill.

Becky lets the canvas drop, and comes to sit beside Riza in the half-darkness of the tent. She’s jiggling both legs, almost vibrating with a sort of nervous energy, and she’s up again a few seconds after sitting down. Riza doesn’t ask her what’s wrong, knowing the words will come tumbling out of Becky sooner rather than later.

“I couldn’t sleep,” Becky says. Riza is already nodding. The entire unit seems to be having this issue pretty regularly, of late. “I just can’t get my damn heart to stop racing. I keep thinking about – about everything!”

“Becky,” Riza soothes, because Rebecca’s voice is already starting to rise.

“What are we even doing out here?” Becky asks plaintively. Then,sitting down again,“How can you be so calm all time?”

Riza starts to tell her differently – she’s not calm, she’s just as scared as Becky is – but then she pauses, because she’s not scared at all – not for herself, anyways. And she’s not calm either. She isn’t anything, really. She wraps an arm around Becky to steel herself against the sadness that suddenly wells up in her, and doesn’t say anything.

Rebecca turns to her, putting an arm around her waist and hugging her close. “We should sleep double,” she says, half joking and half not. “I think I’m actually getting warm. “

Riza surprises them both by saying, “All right.”

Before Becky can protest Riza is unwinding the blankets and scooting back on the cot, pulling Becky down with her until the two are laying spooned together, Becky’s back to Riza’s chest, the blankest piled clumsily on top. Riza hopes Becky feels a little better.

“Thanks,” Becky says, and then they fall asleep. It’s cramped on the cot, and the sleep is fitful, but at least they aren’t cold anymore.

***


It’s still early when she calls Rebecca, barely past seven, and the light outside is dull and diffused by the winter weather. Riza’s apartment is cold, but the warmth in her chest is enough to ward off the chill, and she only puts on one sweater when she dresses for the day. She’s been up almost an hour, woken just before dawn by the Colonel calling to tell her that Maes and Gracia have had their baby – a girl. They’re calling her Elysia.

Becky picks up the phone with a bleary, “Hello?” and Riza begins to think that maybe she should have left the call for later.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “You were sleeping.”

Becky snorts into the receiver. “Yeah, people do tend to do that in the early morning. Everything okay?”

“Mrs. Hughes had her baby,” Riza says, “early this morning. I couldn’t go back to sleep after Colonel Mustang called.”

“That’s great!” Becky sounds genuinely enthused, if still a little asleep. “Which one was Hughes? The good-looking guy with the glasses? Wouldn’t shut up about his wife?”

Riza can’t help smiling. “Yes. The Colonel’s best friend.”

There’s a pause on the other end of the line, and then a rustling, before Becky says, “Hey, you wanna come over? I’ll make us breakfast before work.”

“I don’t want to bother you,” Riza begins.

“Bother schmother,” Becky cuts her off. “You’re probably all dressed and ready to go and the office isn’t even open for another two hours. Get over here.”

The phone clicks and then goes silent as Becky hangs up. Riza stares at it for a moment, then gathers her things and slings on her heavy overcoat. The weather isn’t as bad as the weak sunlight makes it seem from indoors, and it takes her less time than usual to walk the twelve blocks to Becky’s apartment.

“It’s open!” Becky calls when she knocks. Riza hangs her coat over Becky’s on the single peg by the door, drops her army-issued messenger bag next to the identical bag already lying on the floor, and goes to help with breakfast.

The small apartment is warm when they finish. They sit down with eggs and bacon, toast and coffee, and for the first time in their friendship, Riza does most of the talking. She talks about meeting Hughes for the first time, and of how the man would speak of nothing else during his wife’s pregnancy. She’s laughing when she tells Rebecca about how Colonel Mustang would get so fed up with Maes’ calls that he would push the phone at anyone within earshot and order the person closest to take it, knowing Maes wouldn’t care who he was talking to just as long as he could talk about Gracia and their baby. That makes Becky laugh so hard she has to put her coffee down.

A comfortable silence follows the outburst, and then Becky leans across the tiny table and kisses Riza on the mouth. All the breath leaves her body, and her heart skips in her chest, but the thought of pulling away never once crosses her mind.

“Sorry,” Becky says when she sits back, though from the tone of her voice (and the smile on her face) Riza doesn’t think she’s very sorry at all. “You just looked so happy. I’ve never seen you smile that big.” Becky’s voice softens a little when she says, “I hope that’s okay.”

“It is,” Riza says, smiling as she takes a bite of her toast.

***


It’s a very long time before Riza finds herself on Becky’s doorstep again, and the circumstances are much different. It’s late, much too late for polite people to be making house calls, and the heat of the day still lingers in the concrete and steel of East City.

Riza knocks twice, loudly, and is about to knock again when the door opens. Becky stands there in her nightshirt and sweats, her angry expression softening as she takes in the woman before her. Then she moves aside to allow Riza to pass into the apartment.

“I didn’t think you’d be back so soon,” she says carefully, trying to alleviate the tension that’s sprung up in the room with Riza’s entrance.

Riza makes a noncommittal noise in response, moving to peer out the window as she undoes the buttons on her uniform jacket.

Becky tries again, this time choosing a question she knows Riza will answer. “How’s Colonel Mustang?”

“Not good,” Riza says, “but keeping it together. He’s at home now, in any case.”

“How are you?” Becky asks, voicing her real concern.

Riza shakes her head, still gazing out the window. “I don’t know,” she says, voice bland and toneless. “I don’t know, Becky. It just seems so unfair.”

“He was a good man,” Becky says.

“One of the best,” Riza replies, and then she puts and hand over her eyes and starts to cry.

Becky goes to her, pulling her away from the window and wrapping her in a tight hug. Riza clutches at her, hands fisted tight in the fabric of Becky’s nightshirt, face buried against her neck. “I’m sorry,” she sobs. “I couldn’t – not in front of him. I didn’t know where else to go.”

Becky just hushes her and guides her to the couch, holds her close and rubs her back until her tears have stopped falling and her breath comes easy. It doesn’t take long.

“I’m sorry,” Riza says again, pulling away. “You must think I’m so selfish. “

Rebecca starts to tell her differently, but then there are hands in her dark hair, and Riza’s mouth is over hers, kissing her desperately, and with enough force to bruise. The momentum almost topples Becky over, but she already knows that’s not what she wants to happen. Breaking the kiss, Becky rises up on her knees and plants both hands on Riza’s shoulders, pushing hard until the other woman falls back against the couch cushions. Riza is already reaching for her, and she pulls Becky down so that their legs tangle uncomfortably, but then she kisses Becky again and they both forget about their cramping legs, and the tiny couch, and the loss that brought Riza to Becky’s that night.

***


They lay together for a long time afterwards, silent but awake. Riza’s apartment is quiet and dark around them, subtly menacing in a way that is only half imagined. When a car goes by outside, the headlights splashing across the wall, Riza’s shoulder tenses underneath Becky’s cheek. Black Hayate whines plaintively from his spot beside the bed, and Riza relaxes at the sound.

“You should go,” she says. Her voice is barely above a whisper, but it sounds much too loud in the stillness of the room.

“I don’t like leaving you here,” Becky says, tightening an arm around Riza’s waist.

Riza loops an answering arm around Becky’s shoulders. “It’s not safe.”

“Was that supposed to convince me?” Becky asks with a derisive, little laugh.

“Please, Becky,” Riza says, rolling onto her side, forcing Becky to look her in the eye. “There’s already too much at risk without you putting yourself in unnecessary danger. You’re the only person left in the city I can trust, aside from the Colonel, and he can’t reach me. If anything happens to you…”

Something in Becky’s face hardens when she says, “So I’m just supposed to sit back and let you and Mustang and everyone else take all the big risks?”

“Becky, it’s not like-” Riza begins.

“I know what it’s like,” Becky interjects softly, reaching out to push Riza’s bangs back off her forehead. “And if things are really as bad as General Grumman thinks, then I’m right where I need to be. Right where I want to be.” The silence is heavy when Becky pauses before continuing, “And anyways, if the Fuhrer is really watching you so closely, then I should just stick around until you’ve left for work, and sneak out then.”

Riza sighs resignedly, and Becky can just make out her soft smile in the darkness of the room. Rising up on one elbow, Riza leans over Becky to kiss her, pushing the sheet down off both their bodies. The room is still warm, but Becky shivers when Riza drags her fingernails down Becky’s side and back up again. Becky shifts to throw a leg over Riza’s hip, and wrap an arm around her shoulders, fighting the natural urge to run her hands over Riza’s back – there are scars there, scars she still hasn’t seen, despite the handful of times they’ve been together like this. They’re from Ishbal, Becky knows, but that’s all Riza will say, and Becky won’t push.

“Thank you,” Riza says, her body laying warm over Rebecca’s. Her hand trails up and down the length of Becky’s thigh before slipping between them, and all thoughts of scars and Ishbal and the Fuhrer fly from Becky’s mind when Riza touches her. For a little while it’s easier to pretend that things are all right.

***


It doesn’t take Becky very long to find some time away from the immediate clean-up effort. When they break for dinner, she takes her sandwich and treks to the hospital, hoping she’ll find Riza there. The whole place is in chaos, but Becky’s an officer, and she’s able to get a room number out of a frazzled nurse with only a little cajoling. The door in question is open a hand’s breadth when she approaches, and the low murmur of voices – two voices: one deep and masculine, the other Riza’s – stops her in her tracks. She tries to listen for a moment, but then feels guilty. Riza is her best friend. Colonel Mustang is a national hero (if the stories flying through the streets are true). Whatever she and Riza have, it doesn’t merit eavesdropping.

Taking a deep breath, she takes the final steps toward the door, and knocks loudly before pushing it open.

Riza and the Colonel are both seated on the bed, she at the head, leaning back against the pillows – though she’s not in a hospital gown, nor is she under the blankets – and he at the foot, a polite but friendly distance away. Still, Becky feels as if she’s intruded.

She lets the feelings go when Riza smiles at her and says, “You’re all right.”

“Of course I am,” Becky replies, ignoring military decorum and rushing forward to wrap Riza in a hug. “I wasn’t at ground zero. I was so worried about you.”

Riza hugs her back. “We managed.”

“Somehow,” Roy adds.

“Excuse me, Colonel,” Becky says, pulling back from Riza. “I hope I’m not interrupting any-“

Roy waves her comment away, rising from the bed. “I was just on my way out. Rest,” he says to Riza, voice serious. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”

Riza looks back at him for a few silent moments before nodding, and in that moment Becky knows she can no longer ignore the truth.

Roy shakes Becky’s hand before he leaves the room, thanks her for all her help and efforts. The door closes behind him with a click, and she sits down on Riza’s bed. Riza looks at Becky impassively for a few moments, and something in her face says she already knows what Becky is thinking.

“I’m so glad you’re alive,” Becky says finally, because she can’t think of anything else. She’s not sad, not exactly, and she’s not disappointed, but it still feels like there’s a stone in her stomach, cold and heavy. It’s for the best, she tells herself. And really, it is. Whatever they have, it’s too tenuous and delicate and too nearly perfect to last for long. They’re still best friends, and Becky would kill herself before losing that.

Riza reaches out suddenly and takes one of Becky’s hands in hers. “I’m sorry,” she says.

“Don’t be,” Becky counters, smiling sadly. “I’m not.”

Riza nods, leaning in to brush a kiss against the corner of Becky’s mouth, squeezing her hand once, hard, before letting go.
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