A/N: I own nothing. Special thanks to sunshineowl for the amazing and speedy beta. This is the first installment of a multichapter Royai fic that I will update as quickly as I can. I would love and appreciate reviews if you are so inclined!
Chapter 1: Mutilation
mutilation (n): imperfection brought about by irreparably damaging parts of a whole.
He couldn't see, but there were many things he knew. Roy knew that his lieutenant lay in the hospital bed next to him, barely alive with fluids making their lethargic way into her veins – he knew that needles punctured her ivory skin, marring her flesh with evidence of his failure to protect her. The first time her flesh was marred, it was by her father, with needles (again) and ink, splashing his deadly precious research across her back.
After the funeral, Riza and Roy returned to the deserted house, decrepit as it always was. He'd come to see her father, and he'd died, spewing phlegm and blood across the floor with his dying breath. Riza was only quiet as she cleaned it up. She shed no tears over his death, and Roy knew because he studied her. Like a book, like a story written on pages of fire. Her eyes were never red, the sound of muffled sobs never crept between the cracks of her walls. Roy knew because he listened, too. The remaining cash Riza discovered in the top drawer of his dresser and what little money Roy had brought with him barely covered the cost of a funeral, but if they forwent flowers it was enough. Just the two of them, standing at the grave. It had always been just the two of them. Roy knew it.
He'd arrived at the Hawkeye household aged fifteen, desperately begged to be taken on as apprentice, and voraciously devoured every alchemy book in sight. He looked with fear and affection at the young girl whose father was a madman. He never pitied her. She was stronger than he was, passionate and brave, stoic and sweet. Perhaps the result of a father who didn't know how to love, a mother buried deep under the grass, and childhood spent in near solitude. Roy knew, when he looked at her, that this was true. One day, as he helped her carry groceries home from the market, she told him all this. He was content just to listen to her voice because it was liquid gold.
The first thing he'd noticed about her was her earrings, tiny silver studs that rested there like an indomitable part of her. She told him about those, too, on the way home from the market. They were her mother's. Her mother was a lovely woman. It was sad when she had died. And that was all.
She'd only talked to him like this on three occasions. This was the first.
The second was when she'd asked him, "Can I trust you?" and he'd said yes. Just the two of them, standing at the grave. Never shed a tear. But "Can I trust you? Can I trust you with my father's research?". Roy knew that she forsaw the answer. She asked as a formality, perhaps, a nod to her father who would soon be decaying under the surface of this grey day. And he, of course, promised her she could. He would promise her anything he could give, he would promise her the world, though she'd never accept a proposal so vast. Because he'd known, it was always just the two of them, and it always would be. Because he might be in love with her. Slowly slowly sinking between his ribs was that because, that might. It had happened softly. At twelve she was a scrawny girl, but by fourteen she was a glowing remnant of her mother, like that picture on the mantelpiece. Real, tangible, a comfort and a force to fear: she was always kind, but Roy caught flashes in her deep brown eyes of ferocious power that he hoped would never turn on him. He knew, though not when or how or why, that they would.
When he told her that she could trust him, they walked back to the decrepit house, and she turned away from him, unbuttoning her blouse and letting it fall to the floor. After a moment of confusion, he realised that her back was disfigured by an alchemic array, tattooed forever into her skin.
"My god, Riza, what is that?"
"It's my father's research." She had her arms crossed protectively over her chest, preserving what dignity she supposed she had left. But Roy didn't believe that this made her any less than who she was before. She'd agreed to bear her father's dangerous research on her own body. That was brave. That was heartbreaking. She'd loved him, Roy knew, even if her father never could manage to bring himself to tell her that he loved her in return. That was not equivalent exchange. He doubted Riza cared. "I'm…I'm sorry, Riza."
"Don't be, Roy. I agreed to this, a long time ago. I didn't really know what it meant, but I agreed, and that's my burden now."
"Don't you have enough burdens?" he murmured, saddened by her resolve but also in admiration of it.
Later, with a notebook and pen in hand, he drew the array on paper, promising to destroy it as soon as he learned it by heart. With one hand, he traced the lines of the tattoo, and with the other, jotted them down. He noticed how she shivered when his hand brushed her skin. He didn't think about what that might mean. He couldn't afford to do that, now, as much as he yearned to. He was training to be a state alchemist now, about to take the test required to earn his rank as a dog of the military. It was the only way to return Amestris to the way it should be, he told Riza while he worked.
She was the only one who knew of his plans to become Fuhrer and fix this mockery of a nation. He'd spoken of it when they were younger, teenagers occupying a house that might as well be empty. He plastered the bare walls with his ambitions.
He was nearly twenty, now, and with this new knowledge of flame alchemy would pass the test and be sent to the front lines in Ishval. That, he didn't tell her. Maybe, he thought, she already knew.
The second time her skin was marred, it was directly, unavoidably, completely his fault.
"Please, burn this off. Deface my back."
"How could I ever do such a thing!"
And as she explained, he clenched his fists to steady his wrenching heart.
"I want you to set me free from my father's burden."
That was what he had hoped to hear for so long, but never really comprehended how it would be done. Was this the only way? Roy knew that it was. And so he agreed.
He'd struggled to protect her from pain as a young girl, he'd shielded her from her father's drunken blows and vile words. But that day she arrived in Ishval, eyes burning as she pulled down her hood to greet him, he knew his struggle was lost; it nearly broke him. She was all he had, really. In his mind, she was his anchor to truth, and to calm, and to steady reality. But that day she arrived in Ishval, a prodigy sniper with the eyes of a hawk, she joined him in the flames.
Now it was her job to protect him. She watched and listened like an animal would, aimed without fear. All the while, he knew that tattoo was weighing her down, leaden on her back the secrets of true destruction. And when she asked him to hurt her, in order to save her, how could he refuse? How could he possibly refuse anything to Riza? Or Private Hawkeye, as it were.
That night, the sky was more peaceful than his soul would ever be again. He turned, and Riza (as she always would be in his mind) had her back to him, bare and ruined. In the barracks of Southern Command, he'd locked the door and closed the blinds. Seeing blasts of flame would do no one any good.
"Are you ready?"
Hesitation. Then, "Yes."
His hands were shaking. She was too precious to burn.
But he promised. He'd already broken one promise to her, to use her father's research well. He'd helped destroy an entire race, and she'd trusted him! He was disgusted with himself. But no, every promise from this day forward would go unbroken. Even if it mean hurting the girl, no, woman, he thought he might love.
His hand were shaking. He would burn her.
Then came the blast, a mighty roar of flame that targeted the worst of the secrets scattered on her skin. He could see her through the heat, clenching her teeth and finally releasing the screams she held in. Agony was the only word Roy could imagine to describe this moment. Agony until it was finished, and her raw skin was bubbled and singed. She held her shirt against her chest, unable to put it back on. Roy paced slowly towards, guilt and concern marking his brow.
"Are you okay"
"Yes. Thank you…just, thank you."
"I'm so sorry."
"You need to see a doctor."
"I do not!" she said indignantly, but he protested.
"I have just given you third degree burns all over your back. You really don't think you need a doctor?"
"No. Definitely not. It would lead to questions that I am not prepared to answer."
"Fine. At least let me put some antiseptic and bandages on it. Please?"
He hoped, when he said please, she didn't recognise all the agony in the plaintive request. He wanted to fix her as best as he could, after destroying her body and corrupting her soul.
She told him that she joined the military to help him, as best as she could, to reach his goals of becoming Fuhrer. It was the worst news he'd ever received. He didn't want this. He knew, though, that it was always just the two of them. It always would be.
The third time Riza's skin was broken was by that awful puppet of the gold-toothed doctor. The third time was when Roy couldn't take it anymore. No one should hurt his lieutenant like that. He would never let it happen again. And now, she was nearly dead in the bed next to him, and he couldn't even see her face.
When she was held down, he panicked. But when the sword cut through the skin of her throat and severed the veins that held up her life on tender fingers, that's when he lost control. All he could do was yell her name and utter a silent prayer to a god he didn't believe in, a prayer to save her like he couldn't. He didn't know, this time. He didn't know anything except that might he'd kept secret for half his life had become a certainty. And now he was watching the woman he loved bleed rivers and oceans, soaking alchemic arrays with her blood, soaking the stone with her ebbing life. Seeing her broken and weak was the worst of it, his lieutenant, his Riza who was the strongest of them all.
But if he did the unthinkable, would she really be alright?
Today was the day that the fire in her eyes turned on him. Their secret language of glares and shaken heads spoke of the wrongness of this deed, and it was decided. He would not perform human transmutation. Because her eyes, burning into him, said no. Begged no. And he would give her anything.
He would not let her die. That was the promise that he made, with those glares, those shaken heads. And he would never break a promise to her again.
So when the chimeras attacked and he escaped the grip of the armed slaves, he ran full tilt to her side and collected her in his arms, obliterating anyone in his way.
"Lieutenant! Lieutenant!" he screamed, hoping for her eyes to open, for her to wake up. Because there was no world without her. It was the two of them. Without her he wasn't…he wasn't Roy Mustang.
That had been the worst moment of his life, with his arms around her and her eyes closed so gracefully.
"Don't you dare die! Stay with me, Lieutenant!"
He really thought she would, and never was anything, in his entire life, more awful than this. Until –
"She comes first!" and that little girl drawing an alkahestric circle in Riza's own blood, sealing the wound, bringing her back from the brink.
And then his lieutenant opened her eyes, and Roy held her closer than he ever had before. Overwhelmed. Overjoyed. Very, very worried about getting her to a hospital with Central in a mess like this.
Now they were safe. Now they were beyond the Promised Day. Now, he regretted asking her to fight, because it took a toll on her that he hadn't forseen, and her life was on the line.
He was nothing but a blind idiot. Perhaps that was why he needed her, the girl, the light, who could see when he was in all but darkness.