04. intimacy

During certain afternoons when the paperwork has just come back claiming that various military branches are merrily stabbing others, Liza goes to the women's bathroom and turns on one of the sinks. She yanks up the metal rod that depresses the stopper, plugging the drain, and wraps her slender fingers around the neck of the faucet while she waits for the basin to fill. It's an act not unlike strangulation; Liza had ten different angles to study during basic training, and this could resemble 3-C. She discarded that manual with disdain when she'd graduated into marksmanship classes, and has never regretted it once.

No. This foreplay with the sink is merely routine, and Liza's advanced training has taught her to love procedures, immerse herself in them like a favored sexual partner. Routine helps to keep a sniper calm on the battlefield, because the steadiness of their hands is what will turn a battle, along with the duration of their breath. Inhale. Aim steady. Shoot.

Liza likes standards. She enjoys stability, even while recognizing that permanency is only an illusion. During the times when the military has settled down, Liza likes to pretend that every day is forever, but munition crates never lasted past 3 am in Ishbal and neither did peace.

After discovering that someone kept the window open overnight in what was primarily a potential security breach, and secondly, left the office cold, Liza yanks the prop away and slides the window closed. Even in late autumn, soldiers continue to leave all the doors wide, keeping their faces turned towards those avenues of potential escape. They focus on the breeze instead of the paperwork. Messy.

She does not have the patience for this. A spoon is the offending object this time; it had been a book prior to that, someone's roundabout commentary of the usefulness of hardcover tutelage. She does not have the patience. Communications is warring with Local Artillery -- and winning in a glorious bout of semantics -- and it's up to Liza to keep the damage under control.

Both hands on the side of the sink now. Liza watches the water gutter out of the spigot, bloating one drop into twenty until eventually her face rises out of the soap-stained porcelain depths to greet her.

On the shelf next to the hand-soap, the spoon broods contentedly underneath the sickly fluorescent lights.

Liza knows about reflections. She's lived by them as a marksman, following a code that betrays any who do not rely on their vision and that of their enemies. Rudimentary scopes which clip onto her rifles are useful for when Liza needs to draw a bead on her targets, but any stray glints of light will betray her position as the sun gleams off that glass eye. Binoculars are the same way. If you can see a person, the rule goes, they can also see you -- so learn to work around straight lines and memorize the curve of metals.

Liza still moves about her daily business with half her attention fixed on any nearby surface. When she eats at the local diners, she watches the wavering figures of the servers as they distort themselves in her plastic apple juice cups. In public bathrooms, Liza never lets herself move near the stalls without glancing at the mirrors first, ignoring the distant predation of her own expression.

She doesn't like many public places. There are too many avenues of vulnerability, too much space outside her peripherals that is filled with potential threat. Assassins. Accidents. Liza remembers that she didn't use to be this tense, but that was a lifetime ago, in a world before Ishbal. Pointless now. The last time she allowed herself to relax her guard, it was at the Officers' Diner, and that had been a disaster. Second Crossing -- that was the technical name, but people liked to joke about the O.D. as a companion to the O.C.. Liza visits the Officer's Club just as frequently as Second Crossing now, which meant she only attends when she can't avoid either.

The spoon she confiscated looks like it could belong there: chipped, pitted visitor to a thousand mouths, like some barracks-boy who'd gone diseased before the war was even halfway over. Second Crossing, to Liza's eyes, is the same thing. Communal.

Not that she's picky. Cafeteria options during Ishbal were limited to tins of cold meat and sauce -- always cold, because no one had any appetite to eat when the sun was baking them stiff and their supply bags with them. Liza can't claim fear of bacterial contagion, or haughtiness. She's too jaded to be squeamish. Ishbal saw to that.

But she's not completely impervious to illness. Liza's immune system has always been on the edge since the war, whittled down to the bone from having to fend off a million unseen virii. It likes to trigger itself when she's been exposed to stomach bugs. Second Crossing was full of them, but mere nausea alone hadn't been the worst part of her experiences there.

It had been the humiliation.

Sloppy of her, really. The fat slice of ham that had gone along with her hash browns must have been cooked improperly; Liza had seen spots halfway through the meal, and had excused herself hastily in fear of dry heaves. She'd pushed her way through the rickety tables and into the first cubbyhole she saw with a woman's mark above it, hoping desperately that the bathroom stalls would all be empty.

It took her several minutes to steady herself, breathing in deep draughts of bleach while she bent over the nearest sink. Her head spun like a cork. At first she didn't know if she'd throw up, if her lower intestines would rebel -- or both at once -- and she resisted the urge to curl up prone upon the cool linoleum tile floor, knees to her chest like a sick child in need of comfort.

When the knock came, she tried to straighten up, staring at her own face in the mirror and hoping that she looked normal enough to claim she'd been rinsing her mouth.

To her horror, it was the voice of Lt. Colonel Mustang that trickled in.

"Lieutenant Hawkeye?" Another rap. "Are you all right in there?"

Her voice sounded very small when she answered.


"Are you sure?" A pause. Liza could clearly imagine the man poised outside the door, knuckles resting gently against the cheap-painted wood, expression quizzical. "Would you like me to send someone in for you?"

Eyes down, fixated on the empty basin while she limed her thoughts with prayers against vomit, Liza gripped the corners of the sink and hoped desperately that the Lt. Colonel would not walk in and discover her moment of weakness. The last thing she needed was to appear vulnerable. She couldn't afford that.


She hasn't been back voluntarily to Second Crossing since.

The sinks in the women's room on the fifth floor can't really compare to Second Crossing's wide-mouthed metal basins, but Liza can make do. Once the water settles, she leans over the sink, watching the surface of the liquid keenly. She gauges it, noting every stray ripple. Close enough that a slight waver on her part would dip her nose into the liquid -- but Liza is perfectly, perfectly still.

Down the hall, someone's door slams; the kinetic impact causes the pool to shiver. Just a little.

This breathing technique was the hardest for her class to master. They were forced to learn it at field camps to teach them the importance of being motionless. More than half the students failed. Liza remembers heads bent over bowls, kneeling in the dirt, hands twisted behind student backs while all the apprentice marksmen stared at the water -- like oracles waiting for their futures to rise out of their own reflections. There, an honorable discharge. There, a gut-wound that would leave the victim squealing for days until they finally bled to death, skin paste-white and drained.

There, the execution of a prisoner-of-war, head down, wrists bound, hearing the click of the gun above you just before it nuzzles against your skull.

Each tiny pant of her breath is absorbed into the liquid. Back in training, they were frog-marched out at dawn, shivering in thin cotton shirts. Here at Central, it's afternoon, but the rooms are as brisk as winter. The office air is still chilled from the open window; it frosts her cheeks as she waits patiently, feeling the mechanics of her body slowing, easing away into nothingness. In the silence -- as Liza's ears adjust automatically by degrees, tuning themselves to higher sensitivities -- small noises boom. Liza listens carefully to them all, muscles locked in a blurred soup of tension, waiting for any visitors to intrude.

By the time the door could finish swinging open, Liza would be daubing her hands in the sink, no sign of her meditations lingering to betray her.

Liza's mother taught her suspicion and precision. How to save receipts for a year past the purchase date, scraps of paper stacked neatly together with their typewriter blue letters, organized by clips. There is love between them, but expectations of achievement as well, and Liza prefers a cool tone to the monthly reports she sends home. Letters detail her state of health and the latest rifle upgrades. Everything is mechanical; the formula is predictable and steady, with nothing of arguments or the soppy quarrels Liza has seen plague other officers who retain contact with their parents.

Everyone is absent when she sticks her head out of the bathroom. They could be at lunch. Fury and Havoc must have already departed; no sign of Hughes, not that there ever is. Other men apply lingering aftershaves to their throats, but Hughes has nothing at all. It makes Liza wonder sometimes, how there's nothing to track his presence when he's gone. Hughes is the only man who can sneak up on her, even when she's on alert, and if she hadn't seen the man's service record, it would make her uneasy. It still does.

The tips of her bangs itch her chin. She rubs her nose. Her fingers smell tangy, metallic from the stolen spoon, and the fragrance causes her to pull the utensil out of her pocket and study it once more. It's chipped, dented on the handle where someone must have bent it back as a joke and not been able to fix it. Liza doesn't know where it belongs, but it could be the cousin of any mass-use utensil, visitor to a thousand anonymous mouths.

Giving a sigh, she crosses the field of empty desks and heads towards the Lt. Colonel's personal office.

Behind the door is Lt. Colonel Mustang. Liza hesitates, wondering if he, too, is absent -- and then there's a rustle of papers, a minute cough of a throat that believes it's all alone, and hence safe to clear itself of congestion.

Liza is an enemy to that privacy. She lingers in the hall, eyes balancing the sheen off a nearby window and the shadows under the doorway equally, gauging the proximity of bodies that she cannot directly see. Finally she raps with brisk efficiency on the door, and marches straight in once the Lt. Colonel calls permission to enter.

Mustang blinks when the spoon hits his desk, right on top of a report of local importation violations. He lifts one supple eyebrow. "What would you like me to do about this, Second Lieutenant?"

"I expect you to instill some discipline, Colonel." Liza watches her commanding officer pick up the spoon in his ungloved fingers, studying it as a geologist might consider the difference between a fossil and petrified horse shit. "All windows are supposed to be shut and locked each evening. Else, we risk a lapse in security to what should be restricted areas. I found this being used to hold open a window when I came in this morning, which means anything could have happened over the night."

Mustang does not seem impressed. "A thief would break in anyway," he shrugs, slouching his chin into one hand. He tilts his cheek into his palm in order to look up at her: a sidelong, muted expression that simmers on the edge of his eyelids.

"It's the principle," Liza retorts tartly, unmoved. Then, "And that's not counting all the insects and other pests that can enter, sir. Please remind the officers that they must follow procedures when packing up for the evening. Amestris still has its enemies."

The warning does not have the desired effect. Mustang continues to turn the spoon over in his hands, fascinated by some quirk in the metal. "I can't believe it's another one of these things," he announces suddenly. "It must be the fifth time this week I've ended up with something from there..."

"It was at the window near Sergeant-Major Fury's and Second Lieutenant Havoc's desks. I would assume it belonged to one of them." Catching Mustang's attention begin to wander away, Liza hisses a stern sigh. "These kinds of lapses cannot be tolerated, Colonel. How would you explain a security violation?"

Heaving an exaggerated sigh, Roy slides open the lowest right drawer of his desk. The contents rattle. He tosses the spoon carelessly inside, where it lands with a disturbingly metallic clatter. To Liza's primed senses, it sounds like an entire kitchen's worth of silverware.

She doesn't know why the Colonel would be saving up such things, harboring trinkets like an army of toy soldiers, but she doesn't get a chance to ask before he shoves the drawer closed.

"Don't worry, Second Lieutenant." The left corner of Mustang's mouth pulls up, but the attempted smile is weak, and dissolves after only a heartbeat. He turns his wrist, sliding thereports away like so much driftwood until they bump against a penholder and his ignition gloves. "I'll do my best to make certain that everything will return safely home in the end."

Hawkeye quirks an eyebrow. "Even dishes, sir?"

"Anything." Flattening his hand over the pale fire-stamped gloves, Mustang gives a slight inclination of his head. "No matter how small."