Disclaimer: Fff, as if I need to say it? Fullmetal owns me.
I am not dead! Just slow. I'm trying to get back to this because I am still determined to do all 100! It might help it I didn't let things get all out of hand by writing 1500 word chapters . . .
076. Watching over You
She was quiet. She was so quiet, he wanted to be ill in the silence.
She was shaking, he could see that much. He couldn't see her face – which was probably for the best because he was unsure at this moment if he could ever look her in the eyes again, and the look on her face right now would probably haunt him forever – but he could see her white-knuckled hands trembling where they clutched the flimsy standard issue blanket on the cot where she lay. Her marred back – marred by him, marred by her father for him – lay bare, exposed to the cold air of the desert night with angry red marks burned into the pale skin, muddling the black lines delicately, perfectly, cruelly drawn there.
He pulled off his gloves and the urge to vomit abruptly returned to him. He had burned her with his own hands. That solemn, quiet girl who had looked so small, so tired, and still so beautiful even on the day of her father's funeral; the girl who, on that same day, he had sworn to himself to protect, even if he could protect no one else; the girl who had given him her father's knowledge so that he could control fire, he had burned her. It didn't matter if she had asked him to do it. She wouldn't have had to ask if it hadn't been for him. And, even though she had asked him to burn it all away, to purge it from her body, he could only bring himself to burn away the most vital bits of text and a small part of the detailed array. The majority of it still lay sprawled across her pale skin like ink on parchment, undamaged. But, like the coward that he was, he couldn't bring himself to cause any more damage to come to that innocent skin.
He had long ago gone beyond wondering how her father could have done this to her. He could think of no explanation good enough to justify his teacher taking a needle and tattooing his own daughter, this quiet, strong, beautiful, smart, precious girl. He had resigned himself to the fact that he would never understand why Master Hawkeye had felt the need to go so far. But now he looked at his own hands and the angry, painful red marks, the melted flesh on her back that had brought him – and Riza – full circle. Now he had made his own marks on the canvas of her body to erase those his teacher had left for him.
He almost laughed aloud at that, the disgusted sound choking itself voicelessly in his throat. As if Riza was a note stuck to the refrigerator or tacked to a door. As if she was nothing more than paper, journals, research, and not a living, breathing woman struggling to unearth something of herself from the wreckage of the knowledge passed back and forth between her father and Roy.
Thinking of what she must have gone through made him ache. He had seen the way her father had looked at her, had treated her. She might as well have been part of the furniture for all he had cared. And it made him sick with anger to think that the man that he had respected had probably approached his affection-starved daughter and made her feel like she was important to him for the first time in her life to get her to agree to what he did to her. Wondering whether he had been in the house at the time had plagued his mind from the moment she had first shown him the tattoo. Had she been deathly quiet through the pain then, as now? Had he just not heard her as her own father had chipped away at her individuality and humanity with ink and made her into something that could be of use to him? The thought disgusted him almost as much as the deed itself.
She finally moved, drawing her arms in and holding the blanket to her chest as she began to sit up.
"Don't, Riza," he said softly, almost laying a hand on her shoulder and drawing it back at the last second. "Rest. Please just rest."
"I'm fine," she said, her quiet voice strong as ever. Even when it was broken it was strong, like her. She didn't even hiss in pain as she pulled herself to a sitting position, though Roy knew it must have hurt terribly. Her back was still to him. The only sign that she felt any pain was her slightly labored breathing.
"Wait, stay there a minute," he said, and she held still. She didn't glance over her pale shoulder at him as he moved across his tent and tore through his duffle, finally uncovering the small jar he was searching for. He moved back toward her and pulled a camp chair over beside the bed.
"It's ointment for . . . for the burns," he said by way of explanation as he unscrewed the jar's lid. His fingers, bare of the gloves, dipped into it but hesitated inches from her skin. "This should make it feel a little better." He was hoping the statement would apply to the both of them, though he knew he hardly deserved any abatement in suffering. Gently he spread it across the cauterized wound on the top left of the array. She shivered. He couldn't think of anything else in the world that he could do to make this better. He felt responsible for this, for her. If wishing could turn back time he would have made himself fifteen again and grabbed her by her thin little hand and run away from that house with her, alchemy and her father both be damned. Even telling her that he loved her would be a pale offering in the face of everything she was facing – had already faced – with so much strength and determination. What did she need a confession of love from him for? He wouldn't be surprised if she never wanted to see him again.
"Thank you," she said softly as he finished applying the ointment. And he felt he would shatter. How could she thank him after all he had done to her?
"Don't," he said, and began to turn his back on her now, but she turned quicker than he had imagined she could and put her hand over his, stilling him.
"Thank you, Roy," she repeated, and the sound of his name, his first name on her lips gave him shivers he had no right to have. But her eyes, those eyes that no longer belonged to the little girl who had followed him on expeditions into the rambling woods behind the old house to find some root or bark or fungus his teacher had ordered him to locate, no longer the dream-filled eyes of the young woman who glanced down at the ground beside her father's grave so full of hope it made his heart want to burst, met his and the complete, unabashed honesty in them stopped him again. How had she managed to keep such a pure heart in this desert hell with that history drawn in heavy lines across her spine?
She gave a halfhearted smile, though she knew he would see through it. Her face was strained, and she couldn't hide her pain from him as she reached for her shirt and made a move to stand so that she could turn her back to him again and pull it on. This time, he stopped her.
"Riza, sit back down. Sleep here tonight. You can have the cot. It'll be better for your wounds if you don't try to smother them, at least tonight. Sit."
She looked at him, assessing him with those quick brown eyes. "I couldn't."
"Don't give me that," he said, though his scolding tone was soft and good-natured, recalling days long gone when they would sit in the kitchen on hot afternoons and argue about what to have for dinner. "I insist. Lie down."
She hesitated for a moment, met his eyes, and then crawled back onto the cot, her back still exposed. She kicked off her boots and put her cheek down on the flat pillow. He grabbed another blanket and draped it over her, being careful not to touch the rough material to her new wounds.
"I'll treat the burns again in the morning," he said, and sat heavily in the chair beside the bed.
She nodded once and remained quiet. It was only a few minutes before she fell asleep. Roy leaned back in his chair and wondered if the same fate that had granted her the great misfortune of crossing paths with him had been the one to allow him, betraying, abominable creature that he was, this quiet moment of simplistic happiness as he watched over her and, despite everything, she smiled in her sleep.