Immolation of Man's Pride
D M Evans
Disclaimer - not mine
Rating Older Teen
Pairing - Roy/Riza
Time Line - Manga verse Pre-Ishbal, based off revelations of ch 58 but mostly written before 59 came out so we can safely say it contains spoilers for 58 and is totally AU after that
Summary -Riza finds herself caught on the horns of her past and the pride of the powerful men in her life with dire consequences
Author's Note #1 - written for the royaifiction fanfiction challenge and I have to say now, this turned into a very long piece.
Author's Note # 2 - thanks to Sj and Mjules for the beta
Author's Note #3 - As mentioned in the time line description, I started writing this after seeing just a smidgen of Riza's life in ch 58 and extrapolating what life in Amestris might be like based on Edwardian life styles for women here on Earth (with allowances for the fact that there are differences in tech levels and that women seem to be much more free in Amestris). Certainly after ch 59 came out before I was done with this, there are things that are very different in canon but I liked this story enough to want to continue it as is so let's just consider it an AU. The lifestyles depicted here came full force with what we learned about the Hawkeyes and the challenge picture "the Color Red"
Author's Note #4 - the challenge prompts used are listed at the end. All the clothing and jewelry pictures embedded came from various Edwardian, Victorian and similar sales catalogs on line
Nervous tickles raced up Roy's spine. When he decided to join the military, so young they would have rejected him if not for his alchemy, he thought he was doing the right thing to protect his country. It would give him a step up when he took his State Alchemy test, if his mentor ever stopped withholding information from him. Roy knew that he could be sent to war, that he would have to kill but the military recruiter made it sound like there wasn't much chance of it. Roy thought within a year he'd be spending his days in a lab working on his alchemy.
Foolish him. He passed his test, thanks to Riza, and he still didn't know what to think of her. She had seemed like such a mousy creature when he was studying in her father's house. He barely knew she was around and, for the most part, she wasn't. The Hawkeyes had money once and were still an important family name in the north. That was enough to get her in as a legacy at the prominent finishing school in Portsmouth so she wasn't in the house often. After his mentor died, he understood why reticent little Riza used that school as a refuge even if she hated it there. It still made his skin crawl when he thought about what Hawkeye had done to his daughter.
Roy shuddered, that thought adding to the nerves he already had. He was back in the north, practically in Hawkeye's wooded back yard at the foot of the Briggs Mountains, looking for Drachmaian insurgents who had been attacking logging communities. That's why he was tramping around in the forest, his fingers twitching in the new gloves specially designed for him. That's what had become of his alchemy - death with a snap of his fingers. No wonder Hawkeye had hidden his research.
Roy was barely seventeen and the whole idea scared him. He didn't want to kill. He hated that Riza followed him into the military where she might have to kill. If Roy believed in god and ghosts, her father's spirit should haunt him for that. Roy wondered what his own mother would think of him now. She had taught him how to fight practically from the time he could walk, all the quick Xingese moves she had brought from her homeland. Her father had been a silk trader and Xi-Feng worked wonders with green alchemy, medicinal alchemy. She died too young, before she could teach her son all the alchemy he hungered for. Roy's dad was a good man, a vintner. His alchemy - well, it really wasn't, not in the traditional sense - was red and white, turning grapes into beautiful wines but Kyle Mustang knew he couldn't give his boy what he needed and willingly sent Roy to one of Xi-Feng's colleagues in the north.
Roy hadn't gotten to know these woods well when he was with the Hawkeyes and now he wished he had. At least Riza was somewhere not far from him and she knew them. The sun, which had dappled the snow, was on the descent. The wind kept up a cold Aeolian song. A glint near the brush line startled Roy. He unslung the rifle from his back and peered through the scoop. The play of light was from Hughes' glasses. Roy stomped hard, trying to convince himself his toes were still there as he made his way to Maes. His friend laughed lowly, covering his mouth as he tried not to give away their position.
"What?" Roy hissed, his good nature iced over hours ago.
"You have such an 'I'm a city boy, please get me out of here' look on your face." Maes snickered, rapping his knuckles on Roy's wind-reddened cheek.
"I do not. I've lived here before, you know," Roy huffed indignantly, waving at the snow-laden pines.
"Maybe, but did you ever leave that alchemist's house? Hell, you probably never left the man's library." Maes' citrine eyes danced behind his lenses. "Did you even know he had a lovely daughter?"
"You're more irritating than frost bite, you know that, right?" Roy grumbled, wondering if he had enough control to give Hughes a hot foot.
"Aww, is the Flame Alchemist cold?" Maes wheedled.
"Not for much longer. The Flame Alchemist is eyeing up a big pile of tinder right now." Roy shot Maes a knowing look then tensed, seeing another glint off a tree trunk. Both men pulled their rifles into shooting position. When they turned, they saw Hawkeye behind them, sunlight flickering off her riflescope.
"If I were a Drachmaian insurgent, you two would be bleeding all over the snow," she admonished, not lowering her gun.
"We're just not as good a soldier as you are." Maes grinned. Roy flinched at his words. Roy's teacher hated the military and he knew Hawkeye Senior would detest that the first thing Roy did after being entrusted with Riza was to help her enroll in the military academy.
"It's time to head home," she said sourly, slinging her rifle over her shoulder.
Roy watched her walk through the forest, content to let her lead. He felt a little lost. Every tree pretty much looked the same to him, which was why Maes' comment had rankled. He wasn't really a city boy. He grew up on the family vineyard but there was a huge difference between tightly controlled vines and the sheer size of the forest. Whoever said the woods were quiet must never have visited them. They were alive with sounds and they all served to feed his nervousness.
Roy thought about his companions as he walked and distractedly scanned the woods for rebels. Maes would get his later for teasing him. As for Riza, he didn't know what to do with her. There wasn't much in the way of feminine lines to be seen in Hawkeye, hidden as she was in the military winter gear. She hid herself in other ways, even back when he was studying with her father; those drab dresses of Rennsalaer Academy for Girls robbed all the girls of their sexuality. Even her honey hair was far too boyish. He had never seen her as a girl, except twice.
The first time, he had been outside the house at night, laying down blankets to harvest the dew as part of his lessons when he caught sight of Riza in her bedroom window. She had been leaning out watching the stars. Her gown, backlit by the old-fashioned gaslights in her room, had become diaphanous, allowing Roy his first glimpses of her body. It was enough to make finishing his task very difficult with the hard-on he had been sporting. The first time he had ever actually seen her partially naked hadn't been what he would have ever imagined. It still disturbed him on a profound level.
X X X
"Are you sure we should be here?" Roy asked nervously, going to Riza's bedroom. The room felt oppressive and not because of the current circumstances. All the furniture dated to a more prosperous time for the Hawkeyes, dark carved walnut adding a gloomy cast to the cold room.
She bobbed her head, her eyes red and swollen. "Who'll care now?" she whispered, sitting on the edge of her bed, her back ramrod straight.
Roy thought the father she had just put in the ground would have something to say about him being in her bedroom. Hawkeye rarely had to discipline Roy but the few occasions he had were somehow linked to Riza. Hawkeye didn't want Roy looking at his daughter. Roy never knew what he'd done to make Hawkeye think Roy wanted her. He didn't. She did nothing for him. He preferred the easygoing townie girls when he could find time to go wooing. Roy didn't have time for any of the prissy little bitches that attended the Rennsalaer Academy.
He had dreaded the times Hawkeye made him attend the school's social functions as a representative of the Hawkeye estate. Those stuck-up girls had looked down their noses at him ever since he made the mistake of pointing out proudly that the wine being served came from his family's winery. They found all sorts of boozy names to call him after that. To her credit, Riza hadn't been like that but she was so mousy around him, avoiding him whenever she could. Still, he couldn't help feel that she watched him constantly whenever she was around. A little flat-chested under her stodgy uniform with hair almost shorter than his own, what did he want with her?
Roy didn't really know what to do now as he turned on the gas lights to drive out the shadows. For once, she was making eye contact with him and he couldn't escape his feelings of guilt at not getting a doctor in time for her father. He knew a little healing alchemy, very little, but he had panicked, not that he thought Hawkeye could have been saved. He put a hand on her arm. "Will you be all right, Riza?"
She looked at him, a steel he hadn't seen before entering her eyes. "I heard my father giving me to you."
Roy blanched. What must she think of him? For once, he wanted to escape her gaze. "I'm sorry about that. It wasn't my idea. I'm sure he just wanted me to look out for you."
"No." She gave her head a sharp shake, balling her hands in the darned, once luxurious blue bedspread. "He meant it like I was property. I'm fifteen so I guess I could do whatever I wanted, if I lie about my age. I don't need a guardian."
"I'd look out for you if you needed me to," he blurted out, his voice soft.
Riza's smile was gentle as summer rain. "You mean that, don't you?"
Roy hesitated for a moment. It was a large undertaking he was considering should she take him up on it. He could get stuck and that was something he hated. Why had he said it? He turned and looked at the mirrored armoire with its woodland carvings and draping ivies that reminded him of headstone carvings. Why did he really want to do this? "I mean it."
"I don't plan on holding you to it. All I want are options to living here with my Uncle Bob." He lip curled as she said his name. Roy shared her distaste. Bob Hawkeye was a degenerate gambler. Roy's teacher barely tolerated his brother the few times he showed up at the decaying Hawkeye estate.
He stretched up and ran a finger over the bird's nest carved into the dark wood of the high head board, trying to appear nonchalant. In reality, his gut quivered. She was looking to him for help just like men would now that he was Cadet Mustang. He was too young for all of this. "What sort of options?"
"A means of staying alive, a job," she replied, sliding her feet out of her high heels. He wished she'd put them back on. There was something about toes in silk stockings and this was not the time for that kind of thought.
"Certainly the Renn...um, Rennleer Academy," he stumbled over the name as per usual. It was oddly a difficult word for him to remember, "can help you better than I, with that."
Riza's laugh was brittle, hollow as it echoed in the room. "That school doesn't prepare you to live, Roy. It's wife school." His eyes popped open as if he'd been slapped. Riza's face flushed, her voice low and furious. "I learned how to help my affluent husband maintain his social standing. I know how to hostess a party and I can set a mean tablescape. I learned how to dress and keep house, to be very organized, and how to talk to important people so I can smooth the way for my man. They topped it off with how to embroider and sew and make lace and a hundred other useless things. I was meant to marry well. If Father had lived another year, that school would have paraded me around at the end of year party like a fine horse, hoping to attract some wealthy son of a business man."
"I'm sorry," Roy whispered, not really sure what he was sorry for. He suddenly realized Riza was profoundly unhappy for reasons that had nothing to do with her father's death. "What about what your father told me about the secrets he told you? He said you know all his research. If you know alchemy, that's something you can do to take care of yourself."
She shook her head. "It was so unfair of Father to dangle those secrets in front of you, like he was so high and mighty and you had to earn the right to know. Teachers are supposed to teach, not withhold things until you jump through all his hoops. He only taught you the basics, and sometimes not even that, even though he kept saying to me you were the best student he ever had." Riza wiped her face, smearing the tear-born runnels of mascara over her cheeks and eyes. "I think he was afraid of you."
Roy's brow knit. "I don't understand."
"Think about it, Roy," she replied, impatiently. "You want to learn to control fire. Father's research...it frightened him. We hid out here even after Uncle Bob and Father went through all the money their father and his father before him earned in logging and mining. Well, mostly it was Uncle Bob but that's not the point. We could have gone elsewhere into the cities. Father could have earned more with his alchemy. There were practical applications for it but he was interested in the research even when it began to scare him. Think of how much of a weapon your prize of flames could be, Roy. He feared you turning yourself into a monster. I heard what Father said to you at the end."
"That he was dead as a human," Roy muttered, not looking at her.
"He meant that, Roy. I've known it for years."
Roy looked at his reflection in her vanity mirror. His face had gone so pale. Behind him in the glass, Riza looked like a revenant with black-smudged eyes. "I don't want to hurt people with my alchemy, Riza. I want to help them. I believe in the dictum, 'Alchemist be thou for the people'."
Her shoulders drooped, her bangs falling like straw over her eyes. "I want to believe that."
"Does that mean you won't tell me the secrets?" Roy's voice shook. This girl was his only chance to achieve his goals. Even though she had been schooled to help her man, he didn't think she would be easy to manipulate into doing so. He wasn't hers, after all.
"I hate that Father put us in this position." She sighed. "I trust you, Roy. He should have done so, too. Maybe it was because you're young. He always said boys are too impetuous. Maybe you're not old enough for this knowledge yet."
"You're younger than me," he pointed out, panicked, feeling his prize sliding away.
"Barely." She smiled thinly. "And while I know all of Father's research, I don't have any desire to use it. And the key for it all...it's hard for me to get at."
"But you do know it. I have part of an array. I can control a spark but I can't make it grow. I can't get the transmutation down right. I have a parlor trick, nothing more," Roy lamented.
"And I'm going to be as unfair to you as Father was," she said.
Roy spun around, trying to hide the fury in his eyes. "So you won't tell me."
"Promise to help me and you can have all the secrets I know," she replied, her jaw set like stone.
Roy's mouth went dry. Her father had played games with him. Would she do the same? "What do you want?"
"Sponsor my entrance into the military academy. I might be too young to get in on my own."
Roy blinked. "That's it?"
She lifted her hands then let them fall. "Yes."
"That's simple, but Teacher wouldn't have liked it. Your father hated the military." Roy wrinkled his nose. "He'll probably haunt me if I help you get into the military."
She laughed. "You don't believe in souls and god. How can you believe in ghosts?"
He smiled. "Fine, but you know what I mean. Riza...you might have to kill if you join in the military." Roy rubbed his chin. "Then again, with your academy skills, you'll probably be put in the secretarial pool or in acquisitions."
"You tell them about those skills of mine and I'll teach you what my cousin Bryn taught me." Riza's voice was hard and yet held a smidgen of humor.
Roy went to the window and looked out at the setting sun. "Bryn? Bob's son?"
"You never met him, did you?"
Roy shook his head.
Riza got up off the bed and closed the curtains on the enormous window. "I love my cousin. He's long gone from here but when we were little, he loved to be in the woods, loved everything about it. He enjoyed the hunt and he taught it to me. I'm good in the woods, Roy. I can track prey. I can shoot. You have no idea how good I can shoot. The military won't be putting me in an office too quickly. I'd be more useful in the field."
Somehow that made him queasy. "I don't like it."
"It's not your decision, Roy, nor is it my father's." She laid a hand on his arm. "It's my life."
"Just tell me why you want to join the military," Roy insisted, unable to believe he was willing to risk his precious secrets to keep this girl safe. Why was that?
She met his gaze dead on. "I have things I want to protect and if I have to risk my life, if I have to take a life to do it, so be it."
"I'll help you any way I can," he said, telling himself he wasn't putting her in danger just so he could get his hands on what he wanted. A little voice in his head laughed at that.
"Sit." Riza pointed to her bed.
Roy gave her a nervous look and her brow knitted. He sat at the edge, scowling at the squirrel robbing a bird's nest crest at the center of the head board. It was creepy. "What?"
"You want to know the secret, don't you?"
"I need paper." He started to get up.
"Sit," she said in a tone that didn't allow for any disobedience.
Roy settled back on the covers, wide-eyed. This strong woman was not the Riza he knew and he realized with a tantalizing frisson of admiration, that he never knew her at all. His eyes got even bigger as she turned her back on him and she started tugging the zipper of her black dress down. What the hell was she doing?
Roy got to his feet, thinking he knew how she planned on thanking him for helping her. "Riza, you don't have to..."
"Roy, that's not sitting." She looked over her shoulder at him, fire in her brown eyes. "And get your mind out of the gutter. This is not about that."
She got the zipper down and Roy couldn't speak. He couldn't even breathe. His future spread across her moonstone skin in brilliant colors. There inside an alembic flask surrounded by the twin serpents of the triple crown magistery, held in the serpent symbol for the Solve et coagula,was the array he'd been searching for. What couldn't he do with that array? He'd become the youngest State Alchemist ever with it, for starters. Then it sank in the enormity of what Hawkeye had done. He had turned his child into a talisman, into a potential weapon. What would happen to her if someone used her to activate the transmutation? She should be safe. State Alchemists often wore their talismans, Roy knew that but to do this to her, to a girl, to his own child, it was cold, unthinkable. Hawkeye was right; he hadn't been human any longer. He'd been insane.
Roy couldn't sit on the bed. He went over to her and cupped her shoulders. Riza flinched under the feel of his calloused hands. "He did this to you? How could he hide his secret like this? What right did he have to make you carry this burden?"
"He was my father. That was the only right he needed." Riza turned her face from him, bunching her bodice more tightly against her breasts. "Why do you care?"
"Because...this, you could be killed for this, do you know that? What if I were...not who I was," he finished lamely, not sure why she didn't share his revulsion at this or maybe she did and there was simply nothing she could do but adapt to it.
"I didn't have a choice...I was too young to know better," she said softly.
"May I examine the array closely?" He tried not to sound overeager.
"I don't see how we can avoid it."
Roy's hands splayed out over her flesh, at first just trying to soak it in, then he started to pick the array apart, mumbling to himself. "The salamander, I knew I had to have that and the little triangle, that was a given." He tapped the smallest triangle, the symbol for fire. "It was these two I couldn't guess at." His fingers traced out the intersecting triangles with the lines through them, air and earth. Air, he should have known but earth came as surprise to him. Oh what he could do now, it was all here under his hands. "I don't think I'll need the hermetic iconography, it's too complex." he scrubbed his hand over the snakes then over her neck, forgetting himself in the fevered rush of discovery. He had it all now, his State Alchemist test in the bag, the ability to provide for his future and to keep his country safe. His father would be so proud. Roy could almost feel the power coursing through him, standing him half erect at the mere thought of that power. "I believe all I'll need is in the alembic."
"You're right," she whispered.
Roy startled, almost forgetting she was in the room with him. How terrible of him. He was pawing all over her, forgetting in his glee that this was a living girl under his hands. Riza trembled ever so slightly. Roy turned her slowly to face him and she clutched her rucked up dress front tighter against her chest. He kissed her cheek, chastely. "I'm sorry. I'm being an ass."
"You're just excited," Riza said, shaking harder.
Roy took a step back just in case she didn't know how true that was. "I have no right to treat you like an object. I apologize. Thank you, Riza. This is what I needed."
They stood staring at each other in silence as if to say, 'what next?' The heavy sounds of foot steps coming up the stairs shocked them apart even before Bob Hawkeye bellowed Riza's name. She flailed around, trying to pull her zipper up. Roy zipped her then snagged his uniform hat off the vanity, settling it on his head.
"You're good at that," she whispered.
He shrugged sheepishly then poured some water from the wash stand pitcher into the basin. This part of the house had no running water. "Sit and clean your face. I'll try to look...nonchalant."
Riza sat at the vanity and put a towel into the bowl. "In my bedroom, Uncle Bob!"
Roy sat on the window seat, after opening the curtain. He made a to-do over looking out at the woods beyond the house. Bob came in, looking like he didn't buy their innocence for a moment.
"You still here, Mustang? That's unusually kind for a military man," Hawkeye said.
"I was his student, sir. Being here for his daughter is the least I could do for my teacher," Roy replied.
Hawkeye snorted. "Riza, when you're done cleaning yourself up there, we have guests downstairs. They need seeing to."
"Of course, Uncle."
If Roy had any qualms about taking her under his wing, they were gone in an instant.
X X X
"Son of a ..." Roy batted at the low hanging tree branch that he was caught in. That would teach him to day dream.
"Did that tree just jump out and grab you, Mustang?" Maes laughed.
"Really, sir, do pay more attention," Hawkeye said.
Roy pulled free of the branches, glaring. Maybe taking her under his wing wasn't his best idea ever. Roy remained in a bad mood all the way back to the base.