scimitarsmile

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greywing

Attack, Retreat, Surrender


She has a vague memory of playing chess with her grandfather. She can't remember who brought her to his station for the visit, but it must have been there because she knows the soft light that fell across the board was not the gentle yellow light that filtered through the windows at home. The room, too, was brighter than the cozy living room she had grown up in. The many windows lined up behind her grandfather's smiling form admitted the sunlight, letting it play off the off-white walls that boxed them in so effectively, illuminating the desk, the couches, the small table, the chessboard.

Maybe it was her mother who had brought her to see her grandfather, but that probably wasn't the case. Her mother's long flight from the military began with her marriage to Riza's father. When she had Riza, she tried very hard to guide her daughter along the same path and now, thinking back, Riza can't remember when she began to drift away from her mother—and back to the source that haunted them both.

It might have been her uncle then; maybe he had had business in the East somewhere or maybe he had wanted to indulge her grandfather. She could see how a man like her grandfather would be easy to indulge with his kindly smile and shrinking physique. Even now she couldn't imagine her grandfather on a battlefield; any attempt formed an image of him jovially shouting commands. The incongruity made her shiver. Only years later would Riza begin to comprehend that this phantom figure, her grandfather the commander, might be the root of her mother's hate for all things military, but this only when Riza was an adult herself and caught up in the army's strangling hold. Even then the passion with which her mother clung to distaste would always baffle Riza.

Where her grandfather worked never seemed like a bad place. His office, once his door was shut, was very quiet. She remembers the dreamlike way the pieces seemed to sit on the board—on account of the light, maybe, or perhaps her own faltering memory. She remembers the feel of the pieces better, smooth beneath her small, young hands. Their nooks and crannies left the imprint of their textures on her memory and even now she can almost remember the feel of pinching the rook between her fingers so that the tops of its battlements left little squares in her thumb. She never quite knew where or how the pieces went, but her grandfather watched her with his keen, kindly eyes and directed her in his soft, but certain voice so that the pieces all magically fell into their spots. Knights were too confusing with their jumping L-pattern—not at all simple—and she quickly abandoned them. Bishops were better, traveling in diagonals across the board, sidling up to the rooks that she moved ponderously up and down, side to side. Pawns were not much fun but the queen made up for their boring one-way march. He let her keep the queen, she knows now, although he could have taken the piece in a myriad of ways.

Her grandfather was very kind.

She never won—there wasn't enough time in their visit for that—but Riza is sure he would have let her, even guided her patiently and knowingly to the checkmate that would have thrown her into fits of triumphant giggling. He would have smiled that slow smile that almost reminded her of her mother when she was especially pleased with something her daughter did, an expression that Riza would find herself seeing less and less as she grew older.

She thinks about this chess game as her commander sets up the board between them. It is late—or early, depending whom you ask, including her who might answer one way or the other, depending on her mood—no one is in the office but them, and the work is far from done, but they both need a break. He sweeps the pawns across the board, black and white, her side then his. He lines up rooks, knights, bishops, the queen, the king. She has seen the little figures so many times but suddenly something seems different; she realizes then that if she thinks hard enough, she can almost imagine this is the same chessboard that her grandfather used all those years ago. It drags her back.

Colonel Mustang hesitates after he finishes setting the board and then he looks at her expectantly—she is white. She gazes back at him steadily.

"I don't remember how to play," she confesses.

He doesn't react at first, but then he smiles, a lopsided smirk that conveys somehow both confidence and affectionate amusement. "I'll show you."

As the time passes and he patiently, confidently shows her how the pieces move and instructs her in simple strategies, there is a subtle shift in his smile. It becomes less a smirk and almost something like contentment. Later, when she takes his queen from under his nose, he sits back and beams at her in the satisfied wonder only a teacher could feel and she thinks about her grandfather's and her mother's smiles, approving, loving.

Riza wonders if this is why she has been running from one place to the next—seeking one smile after the other. This one, she thinks, she can stop for. This one, she thinks, she deserves.