Her back to him, she pulled her shirt over her head. "Okay. Go ahead." Her voice was soft and even. Her tattoos were full exposed. He saw her head tense, as if bracing herself, but he stood speechless behind her. "Why aren't you doing anything?"
"Riza … you can't ask me to do this. I can't ..." His tone was dripping with shame.
She crossed her arms over her chest and turned to him slightly. "Please," she said quietly. "Please do it. Please burn me."
"There's no way I'd ever want to hurt you."
She gave him a small smile. "You would be helping, not hurting."
He hung his head. "I'm sorry. I can't."
"I'm not asking you anymore! I'm telling you!" Roy started at her sudden raise of voice. This was so unlike her. The flame in her eye, the sharpness of her tongue. He could recall only a few instances when she'd become this angry. "This isn't a favor anymore! You have to burn me. You don't have a choice. I'm going to follow you to the top if it kills me. But it's not going to kill you, because I'll take a bullet for you a million times over. So if you're sitting in the king's throne and I'm buried below you, what are you going to do with yourself if you can't do this one thing for me?"
"Don't talk like that! We're going to make it together! I won't hear any different."
"Then burn me, dammit! Burn me right now! I'll have your back as long as my bullets curse this earth. I've got your back and dammit, tonight you're having mine."
Something in her voice made it all final. She turned away from him a second time. Roy cursed her in his head and snapped before he could stop himself. Flames erupted on her back. At first, she emitted an unmuffled scream, but moments later her face relaxed and she titled her head to the sky and thrived in the pain. She was being released.
He could not stand to watch the flames lick her back, spread with grace. It must be killing her, he thought. He snapped again and the flames were gone, leaving behind them a field cursed with bloodshed.
"Again," she said, almost immediately. She loved the feeling of the devil on her, taking these sins as his treasures.
But Roy was not so eager. He didn't want to burn the girl he'd known, the woman she'd become. It was the last thing on earth he wanted to do. No, that wasn't it. The last thing on earth he wanted to do was sit on a throne of her bones, so he snapped again, this time pinpointing a spot on her lower back, letting the flame last long enough to mar her flesh, and then he put it out.
"Roy," she said sternly. "Don't play around. Be a man and do it."
"I'm not playing around." He let off a small series of sparks all around her back and extinguished them as quickly as they'd been ignited. He soon became disgusted. He was making a strategy, a game of sorts, out of this. Like a minefield. At her expense. "That's all I can do," he whispered.
She moved to the mirror to examine his work. The first area he'd burned was torn and red, but the little pockets he'd made were pink and tender. "Thank you," she smiled.
He hung his head once more. "I'm sorry."
"None of that," she said harshly. "You'd better not be sorry, Roy Mustang. I won't let you pity me."
Slowly, his head rose. This was his Riza. "You should go wash it, or put some medicine on it. So it won't become infected."
She reached over her shoulder and gingerly touched a pink spot. She winced as her finger made contact with the weak flesh. Upon retrieving a tube from the bathroom cabinet, she tried and failed to rub it on the burns, smearing the cream over an uninjured section of her back. Roy took the ointment from her and had her sit on the edge of the tub while he kneeled on the floor and applied the medicine. Every touch burned like the devil's tongue. What had gone wrong? When he burned her, she felt so liberated, but now as those same fingers tried to heal her, every stroke of his index and wipe of his thumb shot venom.
When he finished, Roy stood and set the tube beside her on the tub's rim. "I can come back tomorrow and bandage them," he said, his voice aching with anguish. "But now you should just rest." She heard his footsteps carry him to the doorway of the room. He stopped. "Riza?"
He held the top of his nose between his fingers and squeezed his eyes shut. "Don't ever make me do that again."
His voice was firm, but she knew it was not an order. It was philosophy. He was an alchemist, after all. Equal exchange. She'd have his back forever. Now, he'd be on hers forever too.