Disclaimer: The brilliant animated—and mangafied—work that is Hagane No Renkinjutsushi does not belong to me.

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- Knowledge -

I know that look.

His eyes are wide, his face drawn, the skin under either eye is dark and the rest of his face in pale. I know that look; I wore it myself once.

I have to tell him that he's a State Alchemist, that this is only the beginning of the horrible things he is going to see, but even though I can say everything and know that it is all true, it sounds hollow and dead to me. Marcoh told me these things once, that this was my job, that this was the life I had chosen and that the evils I concocted were not, in fact, my fault.

When those doctors, the Rockbells—yes, like the Elric boy's friend back in his hometown, the sign did bear that name—died by my hand I realize now that I didn't understand. When I walked through Ishbal with one hand raised and a flawed Philosopher's stone around my finger I didn't understand. When I snapped my fingers and watched as entire blocks burst into flame I didn't understand.

When I stared down at the place those doctors had lain, holding the same gun in my hand that had killed them, I began to understand.

Now, looking at the scarlet mess on the wall that was once Shou Tucker's daughter, I do understand.

I have always known that State Alchemists are nothing but human artillery, the perfect weapons, kept in reserve and sent out only when the Fuhrer needs to remind the world why he is king. I have also always known that the title so many give us, 'dogs of the military' is one of the most apt descriptions ever spoken. I know that we are killing machines, that in spite of the white gloves we all wear we have all been stained red countless times over. I know that we are almost unstoppable, and that alone is why we are respected. I know that we are determined and hold within us the possibility of becomes something like Gods.

Now, though, I know that we are something else. I know now that Alchemists, whether we like it or not, are not human. We have no emotions, no fear, no lives outside this cycle of construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction. We are our own equivalent exchange—we give our humanity for this power, this talent that some call a gift, some call a curse.

And yet, even with this knowledge, I allow this boy to be a State Alchemist. This child, who already lost so much…I convinced him to give up the little humanity he had left.

He jerks his arm free of my hand and rushes off, his armor-souled brother following swiftly after. I do not watch them go. If I did, then I might have remembered. Remembered what it was like that night, when the remorse over what I had done was so great I held that gun to my own head, fully prepared to pull the trigger.

I don't think I could feel that again and remain who I am. I must be strong, I must be stern, I have worked too many years to become this person to allow myself to return to what I was. I can not let a little boy with a story even darker than my own change me back to what I was.

And yet, somehow, I think he already has.

I look at the bloody smear as Hughes comes up beside me, his officers and mine in tow, and begins talking. I don't hear him, I'm trying to remember something. I've been told over and over, yet at this prime moment the knowledge eludes me.

What was this little girl's name?

Part of me asserts that this isn't her, this is a chimera, but the look in the older Elric's eyes that has been burned into my memory quickly silences that piece of me. This is her, regardless of what was done to her; just as that suit of armor is Alphonse Elric, this mess of blood and bone is…is…

Nina Tucker. That was her name.

This is Nina Tucker. As I realize that, I suddenly understand with perfect clarity what it was that made our youngest Alchemist try again and again to bring her back. I wish I didn't.

I turn away and brush past Havoc and Hughes, get back into my car with Hawkeye and tell the driver to take me away from this place.

Away from Edward Elric, so I don't have to see my own confusion from years ago mirrored in his expression, but more importantly away from Nina Tucker. Away from another life that our power tore apart.

I'm sorry, little girl. We'll try harder next time. We'll be more careful next time.

And trust me, Edward Elric is going to make sure you're avenged.

I wonder if that makes her happy.

That is one thing I'll never know.

- Fin -

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I'm really enjoying these bitter little one-shots, both for HagaRen and for Chrno Crusade. They're all so short and pointless but, somehow, I think they're more in-depth than any of my longer works.