Colonel Mustang returned from lunch with a frown on his face. He did not seem upset, so Lieutenant Hawkeye held her peace. He was thinking about something, and when he was done worrying over it, he'd say something to her…or the frown would clear and she would not learn what was bothering him until next week, if ever. Either way, she knew that patience was the only way to find out what was on his mind. He did not respond to prodding, so she only pressed him when she needed to know.
She glanced at him surreptitiously as he picked up the phone and dialed out. The frown fell away as he switched to his I'm-speaking-to-a-superior voice. His ability to change his voice and mood was subtler than that of his close friend Major Hughes…but he still had quite the array of masks. She'd learned to identify most of them over the years. He was simply getting clearance for something they'd planned last week, so she knew that wasn't what he'd been thinking about. As soon as he hung up the phone, however, the frown was back.
"Lieutenant," he began, tapping a pencil restlessly on his desk. So he had decided to talk to her, it seemed. "Would you protect me from a danger I was unaware of?"
"Yes, sir. But I would not allow you to remain unaware."
"Why not?" he asked, his tone affecting bored curiosity. She was not fooled.
"Because a danger you are unaware of is a danger you cannot guard against," she answered promptly. "It would be reckless to leave you ignorant."
He still frowned. She had hoped that answer would reassure him, but then, she did not know what had prompted this line of questioning. "So you would inform me of any danger?" he continued.
This time she paused, frowning. Did he doubt her, even now? "I do not willingly keep secrets from you, sir." A blanket denial was not safe, when he asked like that.
"But what if you were ordered to, by someone who outranked us both?" he pressed.
"I would obey my orders, sir. But I would not allow your life" – or plans, he heard – "to be jeopardized."
"Fair enough." He nodded, and the frown cleared as he came to a decision. "Lieutenant, I have a task for you. I want you to have a discussion with Alphonse Elric while I speak to his brother this afternoon."
"What sort of discussion?" That was not a tangent she was expecting. She thought back over the conversation they'd just had, trying to find the connection.
The colonel turned away from her, looking out the window. "Have you noticed," he said slowly, "that Edward is a very…distinctive looking person?" When she made no reply, he continued, somewhat reluctantly. "With that golden braid and him being so young and…small… Well, he could pass for a girl. Even a pretty girl."
"Sir?!" she choked out. "What are you saying?" This conversation was getting stranger by the minute, and she still hadn't identified the danger he was referring to earlier. Now, she wasn't sure she wanted to know.
"I am not saying anything, and certainly not that Fullmetal is sexy. By any standards. The boy is fourteen, for the…" He cut himself off. "Regardless, he travels alone. And in military circles." His dark eyes met hers. "Please speak to Alphonse."
"What brought this on, sir?" she asked quietly. She now understood his concern, but what had prompted it? Had something happened? She could not think of any recent stories in the newspaper featuring young victims, but then, he had a close friend in Investigations, so maybe he'd heard something she had not. Those boys were both innocents, but generally the colonel treated them as adults. In some ways, they were. It was only reasonable that, at some point, the Elric brothers would demand to be seen as young men, not boys. But that should be a few years away.
He sighed, having avoided her question in silence long enough. He could unburden himself on few people, and she was one of them. "I overheard a comment at lunch. About Edward. He didn't hear it."
"And you don't want him to hear it," she said.
"I don't think words will hurt, and he'll hear them soon enough. Surely Fullmetal could protect himself, if anyone were to… And no one's going to mess with a kid accompanied by a seven foot suit of armor."
"But they cannot guard themselves against a danger they are unaware of," she finished for him.
"Precisely. And it's better you than Havoc to explain all of this to Al." Actually, he wasn't sure about that, but he wasn't about to have this conversation again. The mere thought of someone wanting to do that to the kid made his skin crawl.
When Edward came to talk to Colonel Mustang about alchemists whose research was not archived with the State, Alphonse waited patiently in the main office. They never ignored him, but he always tried to be as inconspicuous as possible.
"Alphonse?" she asked him, and he looked up expectantly. "Could you help me with an errand?"
"Yes, ma'am, of course!" He seemed eager to do anything rather than just sit around.
She went to a box in the corner and pulled out stack after stack of old files. She deposited half of them in Al's outstretched hands, and took the other half herself. "Follow me," she ordered.
Lieutenant Hawkeye led him down the hall to an unused office. She deposited her load of documents on a table and Al followed suit. "Watch," she said, moving a clunky piece of machinery away from the wall. She fed a few pieces of paper into it and turned a crank. As she turned it, the papers were fed through the drum and came out as thin strips. "Your turn."
Al mimicked her, and soon had a steady flow of paper turning into confetti in the trash can. "Um, Lieutenant, why are we doing this?" he asked timidly.
"These files needed to be destroyed."
"Couldn't the colonel just burn them?"
"Yes, he could, but he hasn't yet and they've been sitting there for some time. And then I would have had no excuse to drag you down here."
Al stopped shredding. "Why…did you do that?"
"I want to talk to you about something, Alphonse. It is about your brother." If she wasn't sure about having his attention before, she knew she had it now. "You and Edward can take care of yourselves. Only a foolish or desperate person would try to mess with two highly-trained alchemists. But-"
"But there are a lot of foolish and ignorant people in the world," Al finished. "They mess with my brother all the time." He was surprised by her frank compliments; whatever he had been expecting, it wasn't that.
She nodded. "And you look out for him, don't you?"
"Of course!" he said enthusiastically. It was hard to remember he was only thirteen sometimes, but his voice sounded so young inside there.
"There are some threats you may not know about. You cannot protect him if you don't know what to look for."
"What sorts of things, Lieutenant Hawkeye?"
The room became deadly silent. Finally, Al's armor squeaked as he shifted his weight from one foot to another. "What about that?" he asked cautiously.
She was relieved she didn't have to explain what that was to him. "You don't have to worry – no one can harm a body that isn't there. But Edward is becoming a young man, and he is bound to attract attention of that sort at some point in the future."
"But…why do I have to protect Brother against…against girls who think he's…cute?" Al would have been blushing if he could.
"You don't. My concern is adult men, not young girls."
Al squeaked. "What? Why would they-?" he couldn't finish that thought.
Hawkeye shrugged. "'Why' is not important. You just need to be aware of the signs – someone staring inordinately, wanting to touch him more than is natural, and attempts to get him alone. Even I have not met a man stupid enough to try something when there is someone as intimidating as you around. Do you understand?"
Al nodded slowly. Again, there was that compliment. No frills, just a statement that he did his self-appointed task of protecting his brother well. He thought it unusual, but then realized that he hadn't had many long conversations with Lieutenant Hawkeye before. "Yes, Lieutenant. Um…thank you. For warning me. I…had never even thought of that before," he admitted.
She nodded. "I thought as much. But since you two travel alone so often, you have to be adults for yourselves. I would not want your ignorance to harm you. You and Edward can protect each other from danger – if you see it coming."
Al nodded again, pensively. "How…how do you know about this, Lieutenant?" he asked worriedly. It was her turn to be surprised. She had not expected young Alphonse to be so perceptive. It was easy to forget how clever he was, since he was usually so polite and kept his thoughts to himself most of the time.
"I joined the military as a young woman, and my first assignment was the front lines of a war. I saw and did a lot of terrible things myself, but I also learned about what sorts of things men could do."
"Did…did anyone hurt you? Is that why…you're warning me?"
"No, Alphonse, nothing like that," she smiled. It was sweet of him to leap to her defense. She let her hand fall to the gun at her hip. "Like you and your brother, I was very strong, and I have always been able to protect myself. And now the colonel and the others look out for me." That didn't mean no one had ever tried, but she wasn't going to discuss that with him now. Foolish and desperate people indeed.
He nodded, pacified. "Okay. Do you really want these papers shredded?"
She nodded. He took out a piece of chalk, and drew an array on the table. The next moment, all the paper was in tatters.
"That worked," she remarked as Al deposited the now-shredded papers in the trash can. They headed back to the office, just in time to see Ed erupt out of Colonel Mustang's office.
"What the hell? Why would you even ask me something like that?" he asked, walking backwards. "If a man even tried to kiss me, I'd shove my automail blade down his throat! So don't get any ideas!" He spun around and saw Al, then stormed out, his brother hurrying to follow.
Hawkeye turned to Mustang and raised an eyebrow.
"What?" he asked. "It was time he knew."
"So you propositioned him?"
He glared at her. "No! I merely asked him what he would do in that situation." He deflated a bit. "Why do I feel like I'm ruining what innocence they have left, though?"
"This is just another way of protecting them, sir," she reassured him. "Though my conversation with Alphonse was less…colorful."
She walked back to her desk, then turned to face him. "And sir? I would not speak to Edward without Alphonse present from now on."
He understood the implication, but just looked out the window. "I think they've both figured out I'm interested in women, Lieutenant."
"I did say I would warn you about any dangers, Colonel," she responded quietly, and he smiled.
Author's Note: In a way, this is manga-based. Because in the anime (and fanfics), Ed often reports to Mustang alone. But in the manga, Ed and Al are both in his office together when he tells them about Tucker. Regardless, it's a scene from the 'missing years' before the brothers turn up in Liore. I have no idea what year Hughes would have been promoted from Major to Lieutenant Colonel in the manga, but it happens after this point in the anime.
This story was written on April 20th, on the bus back from the pope's mass at Yankee Stadium. I don't recall him mentioning sex abuse in his homily that day, but he'd said something about it in DC. The overall message of his trip has been hope, and so that was what I tried to put into this story. I had been thinking about the issue of child abuse after reading ZaKai's heartbreaking story "The Sound of Silence." If you have not read it, the link to it on can be found in ZaKai's profile. Heed the warnings; it is an extremely well done look at an abusive relationship, in which everyone is very human...but that does not make it an easy read. I needed something happy and fluffy afterwards, namely brownies. But I didn't want to just put it out of mind with fluff, so I ended up writing my own story in which the adults were a bit more responsible and everyone had a happy ending - a note of hope, aimed at prevention, not cleaning up the broken lives afterwards.
Thanks to ZaKai for the beta, and the original inspiration. And letting me know that April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.