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The Flame Alchemist won the war.

The Flame Alchemist destroyed three cities, four, five, six, all alone.

Even Amestrian soldiers hid when the Flame Alchemist came to the front.

The Flame Alchemist came out of the war with one of the highest body counts (just behind Kimblee, maybe) and snow-white gloves.

The Flame Alchemist turned the desert into a goddamn bonfire, with Ishvalans as the logs.

The Flame Alchemist is not human.

“That’s the Hero of Ishval?” one soldier--recently transferred--to another. “Looks nothing like I imagined.”

“I didn’t believe it either, when I started here,” his friend confides. “You’d never think the Flame Alchemist would look like that.”

Across the dining hall, Roy Mustang sits alone, reading and eating at the same time. Riza Hawkeye approaches a moment later, paperwork in hand, causing Mustang to groan loudly enough to hear across the hall. Hawkeye appears completely undisturbed, offering both the paperwork and the pen to her superior officer. A moment later, however, she’s raised her gaze and is staring unerringly at the two gossiping men.

Both men quickly look away and back to their food.

“Shit,” one hisses, “And that’s the Hawk’s Eye?”

“No shortage of terror out here,” his companion agrees. “There’s something not right about them.”

“You’ve got that right.” The second man risks a glance over. Mustang has abandoned the book and is now signing the paperwork, muttering complaints that he’s too far away to hear. Hawkeye stands a precise half-step away, posture stiff even for the military. She gives him chills, that one--the way she’s never unarmed, the whispers swirling about what she did in Ishval, those red-brown hawk’s eyes--but at least she looks like a soldier.

Roy Mustang laughs loudly, grins easily, and moves with jovial confidence that’s almost like a swagger. Quick to shake hands, quick to joke, quick to disarm others. With black bobbed hair that’s always messily tied half-up and a notebook nearly always in hand, Mustang looks almost human. Not like a human weapon.

With a scoff, the man shakes his head and returns to his food.

“Those two. It’s just wrong. Women shouldn’t have that much blood on their hands.”

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Roy is not her name.

It wasn’t the largest thing she sacrificed to her ambition (her eyes her morality her innocence Riza Riza Riza--) but even after everything, it isn’t the smallest.

It had been the first.

She’d been six years old, her parents three months dead. They’d cut off her braid at the orphanage, because long hair meant more room for lice and more water used to wash, so her ruler-straight hair fell around her chin. They’d taken away what passed for deserts, then dinners as punishment, because she stomped and yelled and bit the other kids when they teased her about her black hair, her small stature, the fact that she was a girl. She doesn’t know if her mother would’ve recognized the skinny, short-haired, angry girl she’d become, but Chris Mustang had somehow seen her brother and his wife in her, recognized her, and taken her home.

She was still looking around with suspicious eyes when Chris Mustang--Madame Christmas to all her customers--knelt down in front of her.

“The orphanage screwed up,” and for a second she thought she doesn’t want me, she’s going to send me back before Chris shook her head. “Not like that, kid, you’re here to stay. But on the paperwork, they wrote Roy as your first name.”

“I told them my real name,” she told Chris, chin jutting up definitely. “I didn’t do it wrong. I told them.”

“I believe you,” Chris had reassured her. “But, listen--your name, it’s a lovely name. But it’s very Xingese. And sometimes, people in Amestris, they don’t like people who are from other countries, and if they think you’re from Xing, it could be harder for you.”

“Dad liked Mom,” she’d objected. “And Dad was from Amestris and Mom was from Xing.”

“Not everyone’s as good as my brother,” Chris replied. “But you’ve got enough of him in you that you don’t really look Xingese, unless you’re looking for it. And if you’ve got a name that sounds Amestrian, not everyone will think you’re half-Xingese. And it’s your choice, kid, it’s your name, but it could make things a lot easier on you if you have a more Amestrian name. What do you think?”

She’d looked up at Chris with big dark eyes and what had she known? She was a kid. An adult was telling her what was good. What the hell had she known?

“Okay,” she said.

“Okay?”

“Yeah,” she said, nodding. “I’ll be Roy. I’ll be Roy Mustang.”

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Berthold Hawkeye is reluctant to take on any apprentice, and a girl even more so--but Roy is stubborn and brilliant, and he can’t ignore her forever.

“At least I know you won’t be sniffing around my daughter,” he says when he finally accepts her as a student. In fact, she doesn’t see the mysterious daughter at all until weeks into her apprenticeship--the only reason she’s sure Miss Hawkeye is real is because the dishes keep getting washed and the pantry stays full. Master Hawkeye can’t even remember Roy exists some days, so it must be someone else tending to the basic needs of the household.

She finally meets the daughter in the middle of the night. She hasn’t noticed how late it’s gotten, honestly, she’s been chasing alchemical theories around in her head for hours but she’s close to a breakthrough, she knows it, she can feel it, taste it--

And there’s a noise from the doorway. A tiny oh, but it manages to break her concentration when hunger and thirst couldn’t, and she looks up.

The figure in the doorway is shorter than Roy, with short-cropped blonde hair and amber eyes. She looks halfway to bolting, eyes wide, and Roy puts down her book, tries to smile. It’s supposed to be reassuring, but she’s pulled half the library down off the shelves around her and her quickly-growing hair is held back with a clip she’d transmuted from a spare pen, so she isn’t sure if it works.

“Are you Master Hawkeye’s daughter?”

The girl nods. “I’m Riza Hawkeye.”

“I’m Roy Mustang. It’s good to finally meet you.” She extricates herself from the books, holding out a hand to shake--and her stomach bellows like a dying whale.

“Er--” She can feel her face going hot, and she abandons the handshake to press a hand to her stomach, like that will stop it from embarrassing her again. “It--I didn’t realize the time--missed dinner, I guess--”

Riza still looks like she’s at least 85% ready to bolt, but she does press a hand to her mouth, something less scared and more soft in her eyes. Amused, or at least the seeds of amusement.

Roy can’t help but think her mortification is worth it, if it can get Riza to relax.

“Would you like me to heat something up for you, Miss Mustang?”

“Just Roy is fine. And please, let me help you in the kitchen.”

Befriending Riza is like coaxing a stray animal out of hiding. They’re not very far apart in age, and spend most of their time in the house together, but Riza has housework and her own studies while Master Hawkeye keeps Roy studying furiously at all hours. Even without those distractions, it would’ve been slow-going. Riza is skittish, quiet, always painfully formal, nearly a ghost in the massive house. Roy isn’t stupid, she can piece together the fact that the Hawkeye household isn’t anywhere near a happy one, but if she tries to interfere she knows Master Hawkeye will have her thrown out in an instant--and as loathe as she is to admit it, she’s just a child still. She’s still too young to really understand, much less protect anyone else.

She makes it her mission to see Riza smile instead.

It’s little things to start--she leaves Riza notes in the library (she slips in to read when everyone else is asleep), tries to get to the dishes before Riza does (she doesn’t succeed, but there are nights when Riza washes and Roy dries), leaves out steaming mugs of tea when the old house is particularly drafty (lemon is Riza’s favorite). The old house gets a little less foreboding, feels a little less hollow every time she coaxes a smirk from Riza, it even feels warm that first time Riza makes a dry, sarcastic comment.
It goes on and on, until they’re sitting in the kitchen on a clear night with a full moon, midnight having come and gone. They’re drinking tea and reading their own books, side-by-side so sometimes their shoulders will brush, and Roy looks up for no reason, and she sees Riza. She sees Riza with the moonlight playing with her short hair, that small crease she gets on her forehead when she’s really concentrating. She sees all of Riza’s brilliance and resilience and the dry wit that’s well-hidden but sharp when it appears, and how goddamn pretty Riza is, and how warm, and how it makes Roy feel warm just to be around her.

Oh, Roy thinks. Oh.

But while she’s been making Riza tea and telling bad jokes, she’s been learning alchemy from Master Hawkeye, devouring every bit of knowledge she can. Master Hawkeye never even smiles, but that didn’t matter, because Roy knows that she’s good. She’s very good. And she can be great.

She knows Madame Christmas can’t afford to support Roy while she tinkers with alchemy for decades, and she’s been living in the Hawkeye manor for long enough to know how little money Master Hawkeye makes, and how quickly that money runs out.

And she knows how much money State Alchemists are paid.

So the next morning, Roy sends in her application to the military academy.

Master Hawkeye doesn’t even look at her when she told him, only throws her out on the spot. He won’t let her take a single step into the house. He won’t let her say goodbye.
Roy doesn’t return for years, not until she has her crisp blue uniform, on the day Master Hawkeye dies in her arms.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

She’ll go by Roy, she won’t tell anyone outright, but if someone asks her if she’s got Xingese blood, she won’t say no--though she wishes she’d made an exception for her academy roommate.

“Hey, Roy,” Sophia says, brushing her hair in the mirror. Roy looks up from her bunk, where she’s been reading a text on medical alchemy. “Some friends and I are going to this new Xingese place--want to come? We might not be able to pronounce any of the foods without you--and we’ll need someone to talk to the waitresses!”

“Um,” Roy says, lowering her book. “I mean, I could come, but I don’t actually speak Xingese.”

Sophia pauses, giving Roy a confused look. “But you’re Xingese.”

“Half,” Roy points out. “And I was born in Amestris, and raised by an Amestrian foster mother, so I never spoke it at home.” Not after my mother died, but Sophia doesn’t need to know that.

“So you’ve never even been to Xing?” When Roy shakes her head, Sophia scoffs and turns back to the mirror. “Figures. You’re not even Xingese.”

“I’m sorry?” Roy asks, not sure what the hot feeling in her gut is. “My mother--”

“Well, yeah, but you’re not.” Sophia waves a hairbrush dismissively in Roy’s direction. “You’re just an Amestrian. I gotta go, I’ll see you later, Roy!”

The room is quiet after Sophia leaves, but Roy can’t go back to her book for a long while.

It’s not like Sophia’s said anything new--Roy’s thought it herself plenty of times, that she’s essentially an Amestrian with a few unusual features. She could argue the point, but she doesn’t think Sophia would listen, or care.

Besides, she doesn’t think there are words to make a full-blooded Amestrian understand. How she’s hated her features for being too Xingese and singling her out, and for being too Amestrian and isolating her from her mother, all at once. How she’s been with groups where one person comments on “squint-eyed shinks” and they expect her to join in on the laughter. How an Academy professor told her Xingese heritage explained why she did so well.

How she wants to know Xingese, wants it as much as she wants anything, and bristles at the idea of attending class at the Academy, sitting among all the pale-skinned Amestrians taking it for fun. How she’d clung to the scraps of information Madame Christmas had about her mother’s life in Xing and gone to the library to pour through books and try to piece together her own ancestry (because Xingese history was an elective, a chapter in the back of the schoolbook). How what she’d pieced together was her grandmother surviving a massacre (an invading country, attacking the city because it was a Xingese city) and her mother growing up after a failed revolution against the Emperor, under an Emperor who punished the whole country for the unsuccessful movement. How she carries all that on her shoulders, even if she can’t speak the language, and how she feels unqualified to claim that history as her own.

She tells the story of Sophie’s invitation to dinner at a party, with no idea how it will be received and just enough alcohol in her to not care.

“Man, your roommate’s an ass,” says a man called Maes, who she’s met for the first time that night.

Roy looks up at him, and grins.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

“In this profession, you never know when you’ll end up dead in a ditch somewhere, like garbage. But if I can help strengthen the foundation of this country and protect its people with my hands...that would make me happy. Sorry, I must be boring you with these naive dreams--”

“Not at all. I think that’s a wonderful dream...Miss Mustang, can I trust you with my back to help make that dream come true? Is it all right for me to believe in a future where everyone can be happy?”

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Roy cuts her hair short in Ishval.

The heat is choking, and there’s not enough water in this desert to waste time on waist-length locks, and the smell of ash and burnt flesh clings to hair like nothing else.

She walks into the desert. She snaps her fingers. The soldiers on her side cower. The Ishvalans die. She does it again, and again, and again. The day ends. She goes back to camp.

She closes her eyes and tries not to dream.

She doesn’t have time to wash her hair in all that.

Riza’s in Ishval and it’s--horrible. She’s grimy with sand and ash like the rest of them. Her hands have calluses from rifles instead of housework. Her eyes are that of a killer’s. Her eyes are just like Roy’s.

Do you remember me? she asks.

I could never forget you, Roy wants to say.

Riza is strong and stubborn, Roy’s known it for as long as she’s known Riza. She’d have to be, to survive growing up under Berthold, to bear his research on her skin. She would never do anything without it being her choice. But this is my fault whispers in Roy’s mind anyway, whenever she sees Riza’s slumped shoulders, her exhausted face, her dull eyes.

Kimblee dissects them all while they’re sitting around at camp, the desert day heat giving way to the night freeze.

“When you drop an enemy,” he says to Riza, and Roy’s hands are twitching for her gloves. “Can you tell me in all honesty that you don’t indulge in a moment of satisfaction and pride for a job well done, Miss Sharpshooter?”

“That’s enough!” Her hands are on Kimblee’s uniform, right by his throat, before Roy realizes she’s stood. Kimblee, for his part, only raises an eyebrow.

“And you, Miss Flame,” Kimblee says, a smooth continuation of his monologue. “This isn’t even your war. Your heritage is written all over your face. Even the Ishvalans are more Amestrian than you--their people have always lived here, while yours belong on the other side of the desert. You could’ve run off to them. You wouldn’t be here if some part of you didn’t want to be.”

“Amestris is my home,” Roy growls. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He doesn’t, he doesn’t know anything--nothing about how Roy took her first breath in this country, and how she knew when she applied to the Academy that they might ask her to take her last breath here too. About how everyone she’s ever held dear--Madame Christmas, the ‘sisters’ that work for Madame, Maes, Riza--how everyone she’s ever even known has their roots in this place. How much pain she’s seen in this country, and how she’s done almost everything in her life to erase that pain. How the only sky she’s ever known is the one over Amestris.

“You all need to learn some perspective,” Kimblee murmurs, calmly detangling himself from Roy’s grip. He keeps talking, of free will and forgiveness, and Roy keeps standing, Riza on one side, Maes on the other.

The bell rings. The soldiers go to their posts.

Roy puts on her gloves.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

“My back...I want you to burn it beyond recognition.”

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Roy is terrified to touch her.

Riza had dropped into sleep a few hours ago, but she isn’t peaceful--she’s sweating, twitching, frowning even as she rests.

It’s no mystery why. They’d stripped the bed of sheets and blankets before they’d begun, and there’s nothing to even touch Riza’s back. It’s a good thing--infection could be devastating, and isn’t a minor risk--but Roy can’t help wishing there was something so she wouldn’t have to look at what she’s done. Leaving them open to air is best, for now, but Roy wants to cover them.

It’s selfish. Roy stares at Riza’s back instead, forcing herself to see the charred skin, the angry blisters surrounding it. To see Riza’s pain, and know she’s caused it.

Riza had wanted the array gone in its entirety, to send her entire back up in flames. Roy had refused.

“I want it destroyed!” Riza shrieks. The motel they’ve rented to avoid suspicion is seedy enough that no one will bat an eye at the shouting, but Roy winces at the volume anyway.

“And I won’t destroy you!” They’ve gotten close to each other in their yelling, but Roy is halfway to taking her gloves and bolting. “It would kill you, and we both know it. You can’t ask me to do that, Riza. You can’t.”

Roy burned away the most vital parts of the array instead, deeply enough that only scar tissue would ever grow there. Riza had bit on a towel to muffle her screams, but Roy had heard them, every one.

And now Roy sits by Riza’s bed (the only bed in the rundown room), holding a glass of water, and waiting for her hands to stop shaking. Hating herself with a viciousness that, even after Ishval, manages to surprise her.

Riza stirs, grimaces in pain, and Roy is there.

“You need to drink,” she whispers, guiding a straw to Riza’s lips. She’d stolen IV fluids from one of the medical tents, but Riza was laying on her stomach in a room that smells like mold and age, and her back was hurting--everything was too close to her childhood, even without the addition of rubbing alcohol and needles. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine,” Riza whispers. It’s hoarse and broken and so clearly a lie. “Did I thank--”

“Don’t,” Roy says. “Please. Don’t thank me for this.”

“Thank you,” Riza says stubbornly. She reaches for Roy’s hand, and before she can think, Roy flinches away. She knows what her hands can do--have done--she watched the fires in Ishval, she watched Riza writhe and scream. These hands hurt, and she doesn’t want to inflict them on Riza, not again.

Riza looks at her, then reaches out again, grabbing Roy’s hand before she can pull it away. She holds Roy’s hand like it’s something beautiful, something precious.

She kisses it like she loves it.

“Riza--” It’s a choked-off noise, and Roy hasn’t cried since she was nine years old and decided to toughen up but her eyes are suddenly wet. “It--you’re hurting, the pain medication can confuse--you’re feverish--”

Riza raises an eloquent eyebrow, and Roy can’t help the half-laugh that jumps out of her. “I’m trying to offer you an escape route.”

“I don’t want it,” Riza says. She hasn’t let go of Roy’s hand. Roy can feel her breath, warm, ghosting over her knuckles. “I want you.”

What? Roy could ask. How? Why? Even after everything? Even after everything, you can say that? Even after everything, can I have this one happiness?

“How long?” she asks instead. “How long have you--?”

“Years,” Riza says, and it’s a full laugh that bursts out of Roy this time, as she covers her face with her free hand.

“Me too,” she admits when she can speak again. “Years. Me too. God--we’ve been idiots, haven’t we?”

“Yes,” Riza says, and they’re both laughing with tears around the rough edges. They’re both hurting, in an awful motel, they’ve got bloody hands and haunted eyes, so much older than they used to be, and they’re laughing.

“Lay with me,” Riza says, her hand still warm around Roy’s. “Even if only for tonight.”

They won’t be doing much--Riza is hurt and exhausted, Roy feels like she hasn’t slept in years--but they will have each other to hold, and isn’t that everything Roy has ever wanted?

Riza asks Roy to come to her, and Roy goes.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

“My name isn’t Roy,” she admits in the night, her face so close to Riza’s that their foreheads are touching. “I mean, it is--on my adoption paperwork, on every piece of paper that matters. But when I was born--I’m probably not even pronouncing it correctly, I haven’t even heard Xingese spoken since I was a little girl. But my mother named me Rong.”

Riza doesn’t hesitate a moment. “That’s a beautiful name. Thank you for telling me.”

I’d tell you everything, I’d give you everything, Roy doesn’t have to say.

Riza knows.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Will you follow me?”

Sometimes Roy thinks Riza knows her better than she knows herself, and so she doesn’t need to say the rest of it out loud. Will you put your life on the line for this dream of mine--of ours? Will you take this burden into your hands--not only to keep my heart beating, but to stop it if it’s necessary? I trust my back to you, as you trusted your back to me--will you guard it?

This thing between us--this strange, beautiful, wondrous thing that’s been there maybe since we’ve both been children, this thing that’s the most precious thing in my world--it can’t ever see the light. It can’t ever be said aloud. If you don’t follow me in this, it could earn us ostracization, scorn, hatred. If you follow me, it could earn us both dishonorable discharge, jail time, the ruin of us and everything we hold dear, including each other.

Are you willing to accept that?

Will you live like that? Will you help me continue to dirty both our hands, for something that might never be realized?

Do you still have faith in me?

Riza never looks away, doesn’t even take a moment to think.

“If it’s your wish, then into Hell.”

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

The military is full of men who want to see her fall, and she can only ride on her reputation as the Hero of Ishval for so long. As a woman, there are a hundred different moves for her to make in every situation, and every one is wrong to at least one person watching. But she builds up a small contingent of men--Havoc, Breda, Fuery, Falman, and Riza at her back. All of them are good at what they do, and loyal. They look at her and see a commanding officer, not a woman.

Dealing with the rest of the world is harder, but she’d grown up in Madame Christmas’ bar, and learned from the very best. She smiles and jokes and flirts only when she has to.

“I’m waiting for the right man,” she tells whoever asks (and so many of them ask). She codes her alchemy notes as beauty regimes, and when undercover work needs to be done she calls ‘Elizabeth’ and they gossip.

She has to be twice as good to be seen as even half as talented, she knows. And she plans on being seen as the most talented of them all.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Elric brothers are too young, too brilliant, too broken. If there were ever children who had seen enough to break a grown man, to destroy their faith in the world and everything they are, it is them.

If there were ever children--if there was ever anyone who Roy trusted to get their bodies back, it is them.

Roy isn’t good with kids. She can’t care for Elicia the way that comes as naturally to Gracia as breathing--she can’t even dote on the girl like Maes does incessantly. She loves the girl, she just--doesn’t know how to show it the same way other women seem to.

Maybe whatever part of herself got mixed up enough to love women got rid of the part of herself that’s supposed to know how to mother too.

The boys aren’t looking for a mother, anyway; they tried replacing her once, and they all know how that turned out. Riza would be better at that, anyway, and in a way already is--she asks after the boys, a softer touch underneath everything, and remembers that they’re children when everyone else forgets.

Roy can’t do that. But she can give Ed a hard time over big things and little things, and get into shouting matches over sloppy paperwork while Al sits in the background, half-amused and half-embarrassed on his brother’s behalf. After that, she can send them on missions in relatively safe parts of the country, telling them to get out of her hair.

And when the boys aren’t around, she can chase up leads on the Philosopher’s stone and medical alchemy, while Riza pretends to not know who she’s doing the research for.

She’s not a mother, and she never plans to be. But in another life, she might not have made a half-bad father.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Maes knows.

Roy doesn’t know how, she never told him, but for all his teasings about how she needs to settle down and move out of her bachelor pad, he only tells her to clean up and get a roommate, never to get married--and when he invites her over for dinner, he tells her to bring Riza along too (Riza doesn’t always accept, but she smiles every time she’s asked).

“You two are good for each other,” Maes tells Roy one night, over whiskey. Gracia is just in the other room, washing up, and Elicia has long since gone to bed. “You and Hawkeye.”

“She’s a good assistant, and a loyal subordinate,” Roy replies. Maes gives her a look, the kind that says nice try, the kind that reminds Roy she’s talking to a brilliant man who thrives on being underestimated.

“Roy. I love you like a sister, you know that, right?”

“Of course, Maes. I love you too.”

“Good. And nothing, nothing, will change that. You got that, Roy?”

“Yeah,” Roy says, around the sudden lump in her throat. “Thanks, Maes.”

“Don’t thank me, just don’t lose her.”

She loses Maes instead. Riza stands next to her at his grave, and it rains.

She tells Ed he retired out to the countryside.

She has no idea how to be whatever those boys need, but she is good at lying.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

In the basement of the Third Laboratory, Roy carves an array into the back of her hand. She sears Havoc’s flesh closed, then her own, and rushes in to save Riza.

Look at us, Lust breathes. Roy stands, her black hair loose, arm and lighter outstretched. Lust kneels, her black hair loose, the Ultimate Spear a hair's breadth away from Roy’s forehead. We could be mirrors, you and I, if not for those eyes. Yes, those eyes, so full of purpose, of flame. I cannot wait, she adds, smiling, as she crumbles into dust. For that day those eyes twist in agony.

In the hospital, she calls Riza an idiot, and Riza doesn’t object.

“You cannot give in to despair,” she says, and even with Havoc in the next bed, Roy can’t help what creeps into her voice. “I need you to be stronger than that! You can’t ever give up your will to live!”

“Yes, sir.”

“I still need you to watch my back.” The words are softer, and Riza looks up.

“Always, sir.”

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Roy fought from the moment she’d graduated from the Academy for respect, for recognition, and for the ability to move forward. She’d found it in her men, the ones loyal to her, the ones who became her family. Breda, Havoc, Fuery, Falman, Riza--they are not just her subordinates. They are her swords and shields, her supporters, her most precious people.

And quickly and easily, Bradley snatches them all away.

“Selim will never be a weakness,” he intones smoothly. “You cannot get to me through him. But you, Colonel--it’s easy enough to get to you through her.”

Roy doesn’t know when she stopped breathing.

“You really are twisted up, aren’t you, Colonel?” Bradley continues, conversational, even as Roy’s hands clench on the armrests, and her heartbeat roars in her ears. “How perverted must you be, to love her the way you do.”

Roy’s nails scrape loudly against the wooden armrests.

“As if your opinion means anything,” she snarls. “As if I’m going to listen to you discuss perversion, and right and wrong.”

“By all means. You don’t need to hear my opinions on your morality, Colonel Mustang. You only need to obey.” Bradley shrugs, the portrait of nonchalance. “And then my new personal assistant will have a long and uneventful tenure under me. You want that for her, don’t you?”

They have her right where they want her.

She won’t--she can’t--risk Riza.

“So glad we had this discussion, Colonel.”

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

In the tunnels beneath Central, Roy nearly loses herself.

Stay back, she tells Riza when she goes after Envy, and Riza doesn’t listen.

Lower your gun, she tells Riza when she’s so close--so close--to killing Envy at last, and it’s only the cold metal of Riza’s gun on the back of her head that’s giving her pause, and Riza doesn’t listen.

Don’t go where I can’t follow, Riza tells her, and Roy listens. After this battle, I will erase my life.

I can’t lose you too, she tells Riza, and I can’t let you consider such a thing, and I’m sorry.

Riza’s legs only give out once Roy is already on the ground, but then they’re facing each other, slumped backs bowing in toward each other, gloves and guns, for just a moment, lowered.

They aren’t touching, they aren’t speaking, but they’ve never needed that to communicate what’s important. All they’ve ever needed is each other, close enough that they can see each other, to see each other breathing, to know the other lives.

“Lieutenant,” Roy says.

“Sir,” Riza replies.

It’s enough.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

“LIEUTENANT!”

There are men holding her back, others in the room, but how can she care? Riza is on the ground, Riza’s throat is cut, Riza is bleeding.

“So the Hero of Ishval is just a woman after all,” the Gold-toothed doctor says to himself, rubbing his chin. “Falling into hysterics so easily.”

“LIEUTENANT, ANSWER ME!” She’s twisting and pulling, but the men holding onto her won’t let go. “LIEUTENANT!”

“Well, Colonel?” the doctor asks. “Why don’t you be a good girl and open the portal for us?”

“Fuck you,” Roy spits. Her shoulder must be close to dislocating from all the struggling to get free. She doesn’t care. “LIEUTENANT!”

“You need to hurry,” the doctor warns, as if he’s speaking to a child. “Do human transmutation, or she’ll bleed out. Or you could wait for her to die and resurrect her, it’s of no consequence.”

“I won’t die,” Riza rasps from the ground, and Roy wants to tell her not to speak, to gather her close, to put the blood pooling around her back into her body. “I’m under orders not to die.”

The doctor is speaking, but Roy isn’t hearing it. She’s watching Riza. Riza with her entire body shuddering with the effort of breathing, blood spreading out underneath her. Riza, her eyes blazing amber, looking directly into Roy’s own.

“Don’t,” Riza says, of all things trying to move, and Roy wants to scream. Roy wants to hold her. “Not the transmutation...Colonel…”

Her eyes flick up, then back to her.

Roy closes her eyes. She’s biting her lip, hard enough that it’s bleeding. She hasn’t cried since she was nine years old and decided to toughen up, but her eyes are so wet.

“I understand, Lieutenant. I won’t perform human transmutation. I promise.”

The room explodes moments later, allies arriving and enemies fighting and Roy runs through it all, to Riza.

She’s cold, she’s sweating, and paper-white. She’s so small in her arms.

Her eyes are closed.

She’s so cold.

“Lieutenant, you have to hold on,” Roy babbles. Riza’s chest is heaving, her pulse is too fast. “Open your eyes. Look at me, Lieutenant. Please--”

“Leave her to me!” The small Xingese girl from before dashes in, writes an array in Riza’s blood. A heart-stopping moment, a flash of light--

And Riza’s face relaxes a fraction, and her eyes open, and Roy can breathe again.

“Thank you,” she gasps to the small Xingese girl. “Thank you--”

“Colonel…” It’s less of a word and more of a breath, but Roy gathers Riza close anyway. She understands what Riza’s trying to say.

“Shh, don’t speak,” Roy murmurs, one hand tangled in Riza’s loose hair, her other arm holding Riza close against her chest. Riza, ever stubborn, doesn’t listen.

“I’m sorry...to have put you in that position--”

“Idiot,” Roy says before Riza can even finish her sentence. “Don’t you dare apologize for that. Don’t apologize for anything. Just rest now.”

Riza is still too pale, too cold, but she looks at Roy, and she smiles.

“Thank you for understanding my signals.”

“I always understand you,” Roy murmurs back. “Always when it matters.”

“And for not performing human transmutation.”

“Well, how could I?” Roy asks, and despite everything, laughter is chasing the ends of her words. “I promised you I wouldn’t. You’d have shot me if I went back on my word.”

Riza smiles, Roy smiles, and it’s alright. For a moment, everything is alright.

Then Bradley and Pride arrive, swords go through Roy’s hands, and Roy, for all her trying, breaks her promise.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Fullmetal? Are you there? Why can’t I see? Why is it so dark? I can’t--I can’t see anything…”

“Have you gone blind, Mustang?”

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

It matters that she’s blind. It matters an incredible amount.

The one with a vision for her country’s future, stripped of the ability to see what comes to pass, Pride called it. Roy thinks it’s just Truth being a cruel bastard, but no one asked her.

She’s useless. Worse than in the rain, worse than ever before, because Amestris is being torn and tearing itself apart, and she has no idea what is happening, doesn’t even know who’s standing next to her much less what the next move to fight Father will be.

And if they live--what waits for her? A medical discharge, a small stipend, and everything she’s worked for gone, all the progress she’s made, meaningless. Herself, meaningless.

“Colonel!” and she knows that voice, at least, knows the feeling of that hand on her shoulder. “Are you injured?”

“They took my eyesight,” and Roy hears Riza’s sharp breath, feels Riza’s hands tighten on her shoulder. In all the chaos, the noise and smoke and impending doom, Roy suddenly remembers lying in a hospital bed, scolding Riza after the fight with Lust.

“You cannot give in to despair. I need you to be stronger than that! You can’t ever give up your will to live!”

“I’m an idiot,” she murmurs, too soft and quick for Riza to hear. “Lieutenant, how are your wounds?”

“Sir, you can’t worry about others right now! You need to tend to yourself--”

“Lieutenant,” Roy says, laying her hand over Riza’s. “Can you still fight?”

That’s all she needs to ask.

Riza understands.

“Yes, sir!”

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

It matters that she’s blind. In this battle, it matters less than she thought it would.

Riza is her eyes. Riza holds her heart.

“Aim five degrees to the right, sir!”

Roy keeps her arm around Riza’s waist, taking Riza’s weight as blood loss pulls on her. Roy doesn’t think she’ll ever let go.

“Incoming frontal attack!”

It’s strange, clapping to transmute, but Roy drops to the ground, Riza at her side, and makes a wall.

“Clear,” Riza says, and the wall crumbles. Roy helps Riza stand, and Riza orients her to renew their assault.

Roy holds Riza. Riza holds her.

And the creature who would be God falls.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

“After all that,” Fuhrer Grumman sighs, sipping his tea. “I still didn’t manage to achieve my biggest dream.”

“Oh?” Roy asks, not looking up from the chessboard. The overthrow of Bradley and the downfall of Father is three months past, Grumman secure in the presidency, and it’s a peaceful Saturday that Grumman interrupted to resume their chess matches. Her hands are still clumsy after Wrath’s attack, but she’s gotten better, and manages to steal Grumman’s bishop. “I would have thought, after becoming Fuhrer, you’d be happy.”

“Becoming Fuhrer was my second biggest dream,” Grumman scolds, moving his King out of the way of Roy’s knight. “My biggest dream is to see my granddaughter married to the one she loves, of course!”

“Ah.” Roy moves her queen. “I think this country’s had enough social and political upheaval for this century, don’t you?”

Grumman huffs into his mustache, and Roy smiles.

“You don’t need to worry about her, in any rate. She’s quite happy with her new roommate, I hear. And the roommate likes her plenty too. And...check.”

“How cruel! Distracting me from the game with gossip about my granddaughter!”

“All’s fair,” Roy says with a laugh, gathering up the pieces while Grumman makes a note in his little book.

“Well, it’s good timing, at any rate. I’ve lunch with the Widower Bradley.” Grumman takes the chessboard from Roy with a grateful nod. “Tell my granddaughter to come to dinner some night, and to bring that roommate of hers along. This presidential mansion’s too big for one old man.”

“Sir,” Roy says with a salute. Grumman just laughs it off.

It’s easy enough to catch a taxi back to her apartment, even at midday on a Saturday. Roy’s already started to unbutton her uniform jacket when she’s unlocking her door.

“I’m back!”

The jacket gets dropped on the nearest armchair, and she unbuttons the top few buttons of her blouse with a grateful sigh.

Black Hayate runs up to her, whining until he gets a pat.

“There is a coat rack right there, you know,” Riza says dryly. She’s standing in the hall, watching Roy and Hayate with a soft smile. She’s barefoot, in a long skirt and a blouse Roy swears is hers, a soft pink sweater draped over her shoulders.

She’s so beautiful.

“But your uniform is there.”

“It can fit two jackets, Roy.” Under Riza’s glare, Roy grabs her jacket and hangs it up properly. “You’ve a letter from Lan Fan, by the way. I’m under strict orders not to show you the copy in Amestrian until you’ve at least made a solid effort with the Xingese.”

“She’s such a cruel teacher,” Roy moans, and Riza just raises an eyebrow, unruffled.

“What did Fuhrer Grumman want?”

“Oh, the usual. We’re both invited to dinner sometime soon.” Roy runs a hand through her hair, letting it fall around her shoulders. It’s gotten longer, while Riza had chosen to cut hers short. Hayate scampers back over to Riza, whimpering until she scoops him up in her arms. “And he seems to be seriously considering rewriting the marriage laws.”

Riza huffs fondly. “As if a bill allowing same-sex marriage will ever get passed.”

“Well, stranger things have happened.” It only takes a few steps to cross the floor and stand before Riza, to place her hands on Riza’s elbows, to look down into Riza’s eyes. To see Riza gazing back, eyes red-gold, clear, and loving. “Case in point, the two of us living together?”

“Well, after all the destruction in the fight with Father, rent was at an all-time high. It would’ve been foolish for me not to get a roommate.”

“Mm,” Roy agrees, taking a half step closer so they’re pressed flush against each other, Hayate between them. The door is locked, the windows closed, the uniforms set aside for now. For this moment, there are no prying eyes, no regulations. In this space, there is only them.

“I’m home.”

“Welcome home,” Riza murmurs, leaning in.