"From what I've tasted of desire, I side with those who favor fire."
If she were honest with herself, Riza Hawkeye could pinpoint the moment she'd decided to follow Roy Mustang. But generally, she chose not to. The truth was, she had made the same decision several times, but for different reasons.
When her father had first told her he was taking on an apprentice to pay for her schooling, she'd been skeptical. She knew what alchemy research looked like, and she wanted nothing to do with it. She made up her mind to keep a wide berth before the boy even arrived, and consoled herself that schooling would allow her to escape not only her house but her hometown someday. Then she'd met him.
He was nothing like what she'd expected. Serious and studious, yes, but without that scary obsession her father fell into. He enjoyed alchemy, and when he was finished with it, he put it away and rejoined life and the world. He was older and clever and handsome and always considerate and polite to her (apart from the occasional teasing through a straight face). He remembered their conversations and would ask the right questions. She had been thirteen. Of course she developed a crush on him, and would flee upstairs when he came down the hall. But she always looked forward to his return after he left.
She did not count that as choosing him, because it had been an impulse, a reaction she had no control over. Just a silly young girl crush, which would mean nothing when she was older. But she never got the chance to laugh about it. When he did come back, her father had died. And even though she and her father were not close, she had been devastated. He…he was all the family she had. She was alone in the world.
Her world narrowed down to one person and one dream in the weeks that followed. Her father had been a recluse, but his research was meant to be wielded to serve the people. She had entrusted it to Roy Mustang, and watched as he struggled to break the code, burned himself and everything in the back yard, made quite a few shaky starts that utterly lacked control…and then finally, reached the point where he could create flames with confidence, on demand. When she saw the look on his face as he worked, she knew that she was watching the salvation of the world. She just…did not admit what that meant to her, precisely. When he left, he promised to keep in touch, to make sure she was alright. He did even write a couple of letters, which she replied to as perfunctorily as possible.
In the time after he left, she felt adrift, alone and useless. She had latched onto a source of hope for the future as a lifeline. She knew when she decided to join the military that she was really following him. But at the time, she told herself that she admired his goal, and merely wanted to bring it about in a small way herself. Besides, she had just discovered that there was a family tradition apart from alchemy, and she was much more eager to embrace this one. At the Academy, the shy orphan kept to herself, spending her spare time in the shooting ranges where hunting skills were refined from recreation into a precise art. Despite being surrounded by young men, few worked up the courage to approach her. She did not look at any of them.
Then she went to the front. War was not something she had been prepared for, but then – is anyone ever prepared for that? She was no longer tracking startled birds or impersonal targets through her sights, but the movements of desperate people. Enemy combatants to be neutralized…but she saw their faces, sometimes. Each day, her hopes and dreams died a little more, until she finally understood the despair that had driven her father to seek solace in the world of alchemy, where problems were never more complicated than an inability to understand. No decisions had to be made, you just had to learn….
And it was there that Roy Mustang found her. To be precise, she found him, through the sight of her gun. But he came to her, sought her out (not with cat-calls like the other soldiers), and so she poured her troubles at his feet. She did not give him the cold glare and narrowed eyes she had perfected since her arrival in Ishbal. He was the savior; he was supposed to know what to do… But the same questions were in his eyes, the same doubts. The same haunted look. He was no longer the man who had helped bury her father. When the war ended, hope did not return. She would continue to live, and move, and breathe…but her dreams were ashes buried with a small child in the deserts of the East, and alchemy was no longer perfect circles made of clean-cut lines, but an unwieldy power that left scars across the landscape.
When she was invited to his office, she came not knowing what to expect. She learned that day that he was not a person to accept defeat. They both knew the war had been wrong, but he was going to do something about it. It wasn't too much to ask his followers to chase an impossible dream. When he said it, it sounded possible. And so, she agreed. Their pact was of mutual protection. He would protect her dream for the country, and all the subordinates he could. She would protect him, saving him from enemies and from himself. Now, she knew him. He was not the handsome boy to shy away from, or the friend who helped her when she needed someone – he was a comrade-in-arms, and she'd seen him at his worst. Her eyes were as open as they were going to be, and she made her pledge with full knowledge.
That was the day she decided to follow him willingly – but really, she'd been doing that ever since she met him. She took one more look in the mirror, and a deep breath. She knew she didn't deserve this, that soldiers like her weren't supposed to get a happily-ever-after, not when she'd robbed so many others of theirs. But she would go through with it. There was no turning back now. What was one more decision, after all? Smoothing her dress, she allowed a smile to settle on her face and stepped out of the small room, not intending to look back any more.
Author's Note: I was misremembering the poem, but here it is in full.
Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
some say ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
-- Robert Frost
Even though it's about the end of the world, that line just makes me think of Riza. I'm sure there are plenty of Royai stories that could be written from it. The ending caught me off guard - hope you enjoyed!