A.N. I've read a few stories about Roy burning the tattoo from Riza's back, but for some reason none of them really struck home with me. So I decided to write my own about how I think it went down. I'm not really sure how I feel about this. Part of me thinks I'm shortchanging Hawkeye, but in my mind this is pretty much the lowest point in her life so she wouldn't be herself anyway.
The warnings should be fairly obvious. Angst, nudity and general gruesomeness. There is also mention of suicide, which I normally don't write, but for some reason this story went in that direction.
A Vow Once Given
They didn't speak to each other again after he gave his word. Other duties kept them busy. There were the last of the Ishvalans to flush out of hiding, the clean-up and the slow trudge back to Central to receive their honors and see their loved ones and finally just rest. He caught a glimpse of her every now and then when these events came to pass, and her tortured gaze seared into him each time. When, when, when? He would duck his head, turn away. Not yet, not yet, not yet. He was not ready. She was not ready. She thought she was, but she had only watched the battlefield from afar and never seen up close exactly what happened to those unlucky enough to become his victims.
Is that another soldier's grave?
No, it's an Ishvalan child. One who was left by the wayside.
But then a time came when his reasons for delaying ran out. It happened one evening when he returned to his dorm after another day of ceremonies and slumped into a chair, toying with his new medals and pondering the future awaiting him in East City. He had gone straight from the military academy to the battlefield. The war was all he knew, and Roy couldn't imagine what life would be like sitting behind a desk. What did a soldier do when there was nothing to fight for? How could he settle into office life when he was trained for nothing but combat?
It's time to go back. The war is over.
The war is not over within me. It never will be for as long as I live.
Her voice came back to him as his thoughts roamed, and it hit him all of a sudden that he had no clue where she was going after this, now that she was discharged from her duties. For all he knew, she would hand in her guns and return to live in her childhood home, a civilian.
If he was going to keep his promise to her...then it had to be now.
Roy immediately felt sick at the thought. He paced endlessly around his sparse room, tried to sleep, tried to shower, anything to distract himself so he could honestly say that he simply forgot. Surely she couldn't blame him...but in the end he made himself pick up his gloves and leave his dorm, making a side trip to the mess where he asked around for her. The men and women he spoke with pointed him in the right direction with boisterous teasing and sly looks. No doubt they had come to their own conclusions of what exactly he wanted her for. Roy very nearly divulged his real reason to them out of some half-formed notion that maybe they could stop him.
But the words were held back as he forsook the bright, lively mess for dark corridors. Once he found the right door, Roy hesitated for a different reason as he tried to work out whether to don his gloves or stuff them in his pocket—whether to hide his intentions or leave them in the open. Either way, he couldn't stop envisioning the naked fear that would overtake her once she realized why he had come. And his soul was engulfed by despair because no matter how terrified she was, no matter if she cried or begged him not to do it, Roy realized that he would not stop. He couldn't because he had given his word, chosen this path, and he was not about to start this journey by balking at the first step. To deny it would mean he was a man not fit to lead this country.
He honestly couldn't decide who would make a worse leader. A monster or a coward.
The door opened without him having knocked, and she stood before him. The grime had been washed from her hair and skin, but she looked no better for it with her civilian clothes hanging loose on her body. She had lost so much weight, more than was healthy, and from the way she clung to the door she hadn't truly slept or eaten a decent meal since returning from the battlefield. Her mouth opened to ask him why he was here. Then her eyes settled on the gloves held loosely in his fingers and nothing needed to be said.
"Come in," Riza said and stepped away from the door. Roy crossed the threshold into a room identical to his own with only slight differences. A lack of a silver watch on the nightstand, a bed that was made up instead of messy, only one medal tossed carelessly on the table. She crossed the room to close the curtains, shutting out the light from the streetlamps and casting everything in gloom. Roy shut the door behind him. A moment later he locked it as well and hoped pathetically that she hadn't heard the click.
Riza sighed heavily. "This really isn't the best place for this. Since the walls are so thin and someone might smell the smoke..."
Or they'll hear you screaming, Roy thought morosely. Please, please don't make me do this to you...
"...but we'll just have to make do. And no matter what, you cannot take me to a hospital. Nor a doctor. I won't allow anyone to see my father's research."
Roy licked dry lips. "If you're sure, but I'm not much of a medic. You'll probably scar..."
Her sharp glare silenced him. Of course. That was the whole point. Riza went to her suitcase and unearthed a jar of what looked like burn ointment. He wondered just how long she had been hanging on to that. She set that on the nightstand and pulled out some spare clothes, methodically tearing them into strips to be used as bandages. "When you're finished just...just deal with me as best you can," she murmured. "And then you can go if you want. I'll take care of myself. I'll be alright..."
"How can you even say that?" Roy snapped, and she jerked her head up. He took a deep, shuddering breath, wishing he could strike some sense into her. "Don't you get what's going to happen here? I'm going to burn you! Deface you! It's going to hurt more than anything you've ever felt and—and I don't even know what I'm doing! I've never burned anyone without killing them! Even if I get it right, you'll still be days or weeks in recovering. You'll be dehydrated and feverish and in danger of infection, or you could go into shock right after it happens and...and you could..."
He couldn't speak anymore. In his mind, he saw her pale skin and saffron hair replacing the broken, bloodied bodies strewn across his memory. The only way Roy had kept his sanity in that hell was by telling himself over and over that they were not his parents, his children, his lovers. Those people were nothing to him. They were nobody, even if they had once been somebody to someone else. It was the only thing that enabled him to look in their eyes and feel no pity as he snapped his fingers.
And now it was the ultimate punishment that one of the few people he would have died for was about to become one of his victims. This was his penalty, the toll he must pay to atone for what he'd done. He may as well just slip on his gloves and burn her completely to ashes because that was what killers like him deserved...
Hands gripping his arms lured him from his thoughts, skin on skin. "I-I'm so sorry," she said. "When I asked you, I didn't realize...I'm sorry."
Roy shook his head. "No, don't apologize. You have every right to ask this of me."
Riza met his eyes for the first time, and instead of the fear he expected she just looked incredibly sad. She bowed her head and began to unbutton her shirt. "Let's get this over with then."
"Over here," Roy said, tugging her arm. She looked at him without comprehension when he took the bandages and ointment in one hand and lead her to the bathroom. "You'll need cool water first thing. Might as well be in a place where you don't have to go far for it."
She entered before him and allowed her shirt to slide off her shoulders without even a trace of the virginal shyness she had displayed the first time. As if there was nothing Roy could possibly do to her that would hurt more than what she had been through. At first glance, it seemed true. Once vivid bruises had faded to grisly greens and yellows and various wounds—too many to take in at once—were in the process of becoming scars. The tattoo looked the same as always, bold lines standing out starkly against skin that never saw the sun, and it inspired the same feelings of wonder and trepidation as before.
I believed in you and entrusted my father's research to you. I am the one who entered the military academy in the hopes that I could bring happiness to the people. And even if this was not the future I intended, I cannot escape the truth. I can never take back what I've done.
"Ah...your pants," Roy said awkwardly, fingertips tracing the hem of her slacks. "I told you, I don't have much control. I might set them on fire by accident."
For the first time her expression clouded with faint suspicion. Roy kept his eyes averted as much as possible as she deftly undid her belt, keeping her back to him. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you're trying to get me in bed," she remarked.
"Sounds like a good idea to me," Roy joked feebly. The belt buckle slapped the linoleum loudly, a harsh sound. She nudged her clothes aside with her foot and stepped into the bathtub, slowly placing her palms on the tiled wall. The position made her look terrifyingly vulnerable, and he was struck by the strangest urge to take off his own shirt and cover her up. Instead he tugged on one of his gloves, putting the other away. Riza didn't look back or ask what was taking so long, but he could see her growing dread in the way her body quivered with every noise he made behind her.
Roy acted quickly and picked up one of the cloth strips she had made. "I'm sorry," he breathed and stuffed the gag in her mouth, binding it behind her head. Riza shut her eyes tight, a soft gasp lost in the folds of the cloth. She was starting to realize just what she had gotten herself into. Her breathing picked up, and this close he could see the fast trip of her pulse in the hollow of her throat. Her nails dug into the grout between the tiles as he stepped back and took a moment to think this over. If he immersed himself in the technicalities of the thing, it was easier to push the horror and revulsion back.
It wasn't as easy as she made it sound. Tattoos were made to last. If he only burned the skin's surface, it would eventually heal and the array with it. It would take a very, very deep burn to do the job, but if he did that to her entire back then it really would kill her. He would have to settle for only eradicating a small portion of the array.
He breathed in, slowly and deeply, and raised his hand. "Don't move," he commanded.
A terse nod was all he got. Roy gritted his teeth and shut his eyes, remembering the resolve her words had carried all those weeks ago and seeking strength from the memory.
At least this way, there can never be another Flame Alchemist after you. Please release me from this curse that my father has placed on me with his alchemy...
I don't want to do this, Roy thought in blinding panic. His hand shook and he forced it still as sweat broke out across his forehead and trickled into his eyes. At least that was what he told himself as he blinked the moisture away.
...I'm begging you.
Ignition cloth rasped together, the array sparking. At once the fire roared into being, a screaming, monstrous thing that made the tiles glow a ghastly crimson and welts rise on his cheeks. It shot straight and true as an arrow and struck her left shoulder blade. Roy retched at the fetid stench of cooked meat, and through the flames he saw Riza throw her head back with her eyes impossibly wide, flattened against the wall by the force.
And in an instant he realized that flimsy gag was not going to cut it.
He dashed forward and clamped his hand over her mouth just as a shriek tore from her throat. She gripped his wrist with both hands and sagged in his arms, her muffled screams becoming hysterical sobs. Roy caught a single glimpse of her back and cursed. Too much, it had been too much!
"Damn it!" Roy hissed. With no other option he got both feet in the tub so he more easily could lower her to her knees. He reached around her and twisted the knobs, and Riza cried out again when cold water drenched her blistered back. She writhed in his grip, trying to pull away from the water, from him, from the sheer agony she was in.
But Roy clamped his arm around her waist and refused to let go, hardly noticing when his clothes became soaked. He was too focused on the suffering woman huddled against his chest. Her breathing had been reduced to laborious panting, and Riza pressed her face further into his chest, eyes flicking back and forth beneath their lids. He carefully took his hand away from her mouth and wove his fingers through her drenched hair.
She was still crying.
Roy closed his eyes and leaned back against the tub, tipping his head up so he wouldn't have to look at her pain-wracked expression. Now he truly was a monster. Master Hawkeye had been right about him the whole time. He had known his only apprentice would end up misusing his research out of ignorance and a stupid sense of justice. He had let down his master, let down his country and his closest friends.
Look after my daughter.
...now he had even failed to honor his master's last dying wish.
"Don't die!" Roy whispered fiercely. He pulled her closer, putting his lips right by her ear. "Don't die, don't you dare die! You stay with me! I'm not going to sit here and watch you die like your father!"
It was impossible to tell if she'd heard him. She was completely limp in his arms and could have already been dead if not for the fact that he could still feel her heart thudding frantically against his ribs. The warmth was slowly leeching from her body the longer they stayed under the spray, save for her back which radiated scorching heat. Roy shut off the valves, watching the last of the water drain sluggishly. He adjusted her in his arms and got to his feet without any effort at all. She weighed almost nothing in his arms. Riza didn't even twitch a finger when he carried her out of the bathroom, and he kicked back the bedcovers and laid her out on her stomach, pulling one blanket up to cover her lower body.
Only then did he allow himself to take in the damage. Nearly half her back was disfigured and oozing clear fluid and a portion of the array near her left shoulder was blotted out completely. A quick inspection was enough to assure him that the skin would never fully heal. No alchemist could decipher the array with so many crucial details lacking. Roy tried to muster up some sense of victory, or at least satisfaction, but nothing was forthcoming.
It hadn't been worth it. It just hadn't.
Numbly, he went to retrieve the ointment and bandages from the bathroom, avoiding looking anywhere near the scorch marks on the wall. While there he shucked his wet clothes and hung them up to dry. There was a plain bathrobe hanging on a hook on the back of the door, and he donned it before going back out.
She was awake. Roy hurried over, lowering himself to the edge of the bed and hovering over her. "Riza..."
A sob was muffled in the pillow. "H-Hurts. It hurts."
Roy pretended not to notice the tears beading at the corners of her eyes as he twisted the cap off the ointment and spread it over the less serious burns with tentative, circular motions. Even this light touch must have hurt horribly, but she bore it with only a small shudder. The burn on her shoulder, he left completely alone. That area was more likely to become infected if he touched it, and he cursed himself furiously for not thinking to bring sterile bandages as he urged her upright and wrapped the strips of cloth around her torso.
Suddenly, she gasped. "You didn't burn the whole tattoo!"
"Of course I didn't."
"I said I wanted it gone! Why didn't you...how could you...?"
"You would never have survived something like that!" Roy snapped. "I wasn't about to put your life in that kind of danger."
It hit him all at once then. He could tell from the way she hung her head, hid her eyes. Roy seized her by the shoulders and spun her around to face him. "You wanted me to kill you?"
Riza flinched. "I..."
"Why? Tell me why!"
"...why was I the one to make it back alive?" Riza asked wretchedly. "Why me? Why, when I'm the one who deserves it the least?"
She shook her head, swallowing, her breaths heaving so much that she seemed on the verge of throwing up. "Do you have any idea how it makes me feel whenever someone comes up to me and thanks me for saving their life? Or when my superiors hand me a medal and tell me I did our country proud? I can't stand it! I don't deserve gratitude, and I don't deserve to live happily. After all this, all the things I've done...I don't deserve to live at all! The only place left for me is Hell!"
Rage spiked within him, and Roy shook her angrily. "So you would make me shoulder your burdens for you? You would do that to me? You would cast all your pain on me and force me to see your face when I shut my eyes at night? I never knew you could be that cruel. Damn it, you're not the only one who is suffering!"
She didn't answer. Abruptly, Roy released her and stood. "I can't look at you right now."
He turned away, intending to leave at first, but it wasn't like he could waltz through headquarters in nothing but a bathrobe. Instead Roy went into the bathroom and kicked the door nearly shut. He slumped against the wall, sinking to the floor with his knees drawn up. He had been so sure that she was one of the strong ones. Or stronger than him at least. Roy had thought that, like so many others, she would pick herself up and find some other purpose to follow. That was the kind of person she had always been.
But then...who was he to judge her? Roy knew exactly where she was at right now, knew it with an intimacy that scared the hell out of him. Her words were an exact reflection of the tormented thoughts that had circled endlessly in his own mind just a few weeks ago. On the very night when everyone was to pack up and leave the battlefield for good...he had made a decision of his own. He could still recall with perfect clarity the blanket of absolute calm that had overtaken him in that moment, the way all the guilt seemed to...disappear.
It was the right thing to do, he had told himself. It was no less than he deserved. He had found himself counting down the seconds until his pain would end, expecting it, wanting it. But when the moment actually came...God, he remembered being in that tent, holding that gun, and being terrified of what he was about to do. He had finally understood what Hughes meant when he said he fought because he didn't want to die. He was only human. No matter how much he deserved death, he wanted to live.
And then Hughes had come in...
Roy jerked his head up. What would have happened if Hughes had left him like that? Exactly the way he left Riza just now? His heart thumped painfully at the imagined sight of his best friend turning his back and sweeping out of the tent instead of inching toward him with his hands held out in entreaty, fear flooding his eyes as he tried to bridge the vast gap between them.
Just listen to me, Roy. You don't deserve this.
You're a good liar, Hughes. Saying that even when you've seen for yourself the things I've done.
Roy, give me the gun. Please!
Don't come any closer! Please...please don't try to stop me...
If you truly didn't want to be stopped, you would have done this in a place where I couldn't find you!
Roy made himself get back up, and he nudged the door aside. Riza was facing the wall now, curled into such a tight ball that the cloth strips were stretched painfully tight over the burns. He braced his hands on the frame, staring at her hollowly. "Did you really want to die that badly?"
A tiny sob wracked her body. Her fingernails were digging into her upper arm so hard that they drew blood. "Even if you were the one wielding the alchemy, it was still my father's research that killed all those people. It's my fault for giving you a weapon like that. I was resolved to go through with this and...and die the same way they did. But...but when you came and...w-when you were about to..."
"You wanted me to stop," Roy breathed in horror. "Then why did you let me do it? Why didn't you say something?"
"Would it have made a difference?"
No, it wouldn't have. But Roy kept those words to himself as he crossed the room, gently prying her hand away. Then he lifted the blankets and lay down beside her. She stiffened when his arms encircled her, mindful of the burns. "W-What are you doing?"
"Staying with you. Until you get past this."
Riza laughed with a tinge of hysteria. "What makes you think I can?"
"I'm not talking about the war," Roy said, squeezing her. "I'm talking about this. We...we did some horrible things out there, but ending your life now won't erase it. There's nothing you can do to take it back. All we can do now is work toward a better future. One that we don't have to be ashamed of."
She stirred, and at first he thought she would pull away from him and demand that he leave. But she turned to face him slowly and returned his embrace, head tucked under his chin. "Do you really see a future for people like us?"
"Not for us. It's a future that we can build for our comrades and their families. For everyone else in this country who has never seen a battlefield and never will."
She looked up at him, some of the darkness leaving her eyes. "How?"
And so he told her. Of his plans, of his promise to Hughes, everything. Riza didn't take her eyes off him the entire time he spoke, and when he fell silent she lay her head back down again and didn't say a word. Her eyelashes fluttered against his skin whenever she blinked so he knew she wasn't asleep. Roy was the first to shut his eyes, letting his thoughts spin off into oblivion as exhaustion covered him like a blanket. The nightmares came and went, as he'd expected, but each time they began to spiral out of control he would feel her hands on him, stroking up and down his arms and brushing away the tears before they could fall. And his hands would seek out her cropped hair and the bandages on her back, and he would know he was still alive. They both were, and somehow that was important.
He had to stay with her for those first few days. Riza couldn't reach the burns to treat them so Roy did that for her, changing bandages and rubbing in ointment and watching for infection. As if hoping his care would make up for hurting her. They both endured the jabs and questions when he spent the nights in her dorm. The rumors running rampant were preferable to the truth. It wasn't long before the skin was healed enough to take care of itself, which was good in a way. He could only take so much time before he had to report to East City.
It wasn't until he was on the train and watching the smoky haze above Central fade into the distance that he realized he still hadn't asked her the question plaguing him. All that time together, all those moments, and it never once occurred to him. Roy sighed and leaned his head back, allowing the cool wind to tousle his hair and telling himself it didn't matter. He would find out someday, what kind of life she had chosen for herself. He looked away from the dark road at his back and turned his eyes and his mind to the future that awaited him.
Unaware that she was only two seats behind him.