From the Ground Up

"This is my legacy," her father tells her. "I'm entrusting it to you."

The first prick of the needle stings more than her skin.

The train car is cold. The window above Riza's seat is cracked open, a small gap that lets too much wind in for its size. She tried to close it earlier, but it wouldn't budge then, so she tugs her coat closer and bears it for now. The ride will be over soon anyway - the world outside the window is changing, shifting from countryside to something busier, more populated.

She frowns with something like trepidation and reaches into her pocket. Riza's fingers close around the small card there, and after a moment's thought, she pulls it out.

The edges had lost their crispness, worn soft by all the times Riza has handled it over the past few months, pondering over the plain black letters and the possibilities they held. The top right corner is bent, dog-eared from one time she'd put it away a little too hastily; in hindsight, she regrets not taking better care of it. That can't be helped now.

She holds the card carefully, studies the name there. It brings her a strange sort of reassurance.

Riza is joining the military. The decision took longer than it should have, for all that it has lingered in her mind since Mr. Mustang left, her secrets with him.

She's heard from him once since that day, a brief, polite letter addressed from Central City. He had taken the State Alchemy Exam and done well; he would be receiving his commission shortly. She wrote back to congratulate him, a short letter that took three hours to compose because she couldn't find the right words, but has received no reply since. Riza isn't really disappointed, at least so long as she doesn't dwell on it.

She thinks about what he left her with instead.

Riza grew up hearing about the many faults of Amestris, the failures of the government and the evils of the military. But Mr. Mustang had turned her father's cynicism on its head, offered something different.

Hope.

She clings to that, the idea that her father's opinions were just the pessimism she'd always suspected it was, and that they can make a difference, build a future that is peaceful and happy and empty of the bloodshed that fills the newspaper columns every week. Riza wants to see it happen with her own eyes, to build it with her own hands. She cannot do that from the town she grew up in, overshadowed by the ghosts of her father's memory. She has no aptitude for alchemy, but there are other ways she can help, she's sure.

And maybe she'll see Mr. Mustang again. (She hopes for that most of all: to help him, not just anyone.)

The train is slowing. Riza glances through the window again, wondering at how different the city is from everything she is accustomed to. Eastern City is not the largest city in Amestris, but it easily dwarfs her hometown. The two are beyond comparison. Uncertainty twists her stomach once more, but she sets it aside as much as she can. This is, after all, what she wants to do.

Riza spares the card in her hand a final glance and gently returns it to her pocket. She breathes out, smooths her skirt, and waits for the train to stop.

She is in her final term at the Eastern Military Academy when she is deployed to Ishbal, to sand and desert and blood and war.

Three weeks later, the State Alchemists arrive.

When Hawkeye hopes now, she hopes that the rumors she hears of a Flame Alchemist are just an awful coincidence.

There is a burden on her back.

It weighs nothing, but it's more than she can bear.

His hands are unexpectedly cool.

She lies on her front, arms tucked close to her sides and bent, her fingers curled beside her chin. In theory, it would be more comfortable if she could bring them up, under her cheek to cushion her head. Sometimes theories have no basis in reality.

"I wish you would let a doctor do this."

Hawkeye clenches her fists and lets out a short hiss as he removes the dressings from the burn blisters on her shoulder. She inhales shakily.

"We've been over this, sir," she reminds him. "There would be too many questions."

Mustang makes a short, noncommittal sound in the back of his throat that she recognizes as discontent. It changes nothing, of course, because she is right and they both know it. Even destroyed, this is still a secret to be kept, because there are things like reputations to consider now, never mind military regulations and semblances of propriety. As it is, Hawkeye has already made her concessions here, to worries like infection and dehydration and hypothermia, which is why they are doing this in an unexceptional civilian hotel three blocks from Eastern City Hospital and not back in the desert where no one would be wiser.

Silence settles between them, uncomfortable and weighty. Hawkeye closes her eyes and bites her lip against the pain that comes with each brush of skin. She tries to ignore it. Mustang works quickly and efficiently over her, only pausing occasionally to reach for new bandages.

She can't help but be hyperaware of his every movement.

"It's done," Mustang says at length, drawing back and starting to gather up the medical supplies. The bed creaks as he rises and goes to return everything to its place. His footsteps are soft against the carpet.

Hawkeye shifts. The tug of muscles sends a flare of pain across her shoulder; she hisses with surprise. The next thing she knows, the major is back by her side.

"Careful," Mustang admonishes, a hand on her arm. Hawkeye presses her lips together in a firm line and nods. When she makes to push herself up and into a seated position, he guides her cautiously. Hawkeye is careful to bring the bedsheets with her as she rises. The walls between them seem so few now, but modesty is a barrier she sets up and clings to. This might be cowardice. She doesn't care.

"I'm fine," she breathes. He looks at her and there is a tightness to his expression that's been there ever since she asked him to do this. Hawkeye looks away. His hand falls from above her elbow and comes to rest on the bed between them. For a moment they sit there, and she thinks that maybe inches are what canyons are made of.

Mustang stands, paces across the room and stops by the window. The light that shines through is dull and paints him sallow - it must be overcast today. He stands in a certain way, shoulders stiff and fists tight, and she can tell he's preparing himself for something.

Hawkeye waits.

"Word has it there are many resigning from the military," he says at last, turning to half-face her. She can see the shadows under his eyes, stark in the dim room.

There are a million different possible meanings behind his words, implications and connotations that twist and spin intentions like spider silk into webs, never one thing but always another these days, but she settles on the most likely.

"Is that what you intend to do next?"

Mustang turns back to the window. "I thought about it. After all that's happened, and what I've become... I want to. But I'm not going to." He clears his throat. "I've decided to become Fuhrer."

Hawkeye inhales sharply. "Major..."

He turns back to her once more, meeting her wide-eyed stared. She searches for the smirk, the half-crooked grin that would always play at one corner of his mouth when he used to tease her over the kitchen table, the telltale sign that he was making mischief again. What she finds instead was something unflinching and raw and determined, something she hasn't seen before.

He means it.

"Back then, I thought it would be enough to be a part of Amestris's foundation, to fortify what has already been built," Mustang continues. "Now I see that I was wrong. Amestris is built on a bedrock of wars and fighting and the blood of innocent people. The military has grown too strong, too autonomous, when it should be held accountable to the will of its people." His voice lowers but loses none of its fervor. "It's not enough to be a part of the military and serve. To protect this country - to truly protect it - it must be rebuilt entirely."

She feels a little lightheaded. She's not sure if it's the pain getting worse or what the major is saying, but she has a good idea.

"Why are you telling me this, sir?" she asks. "What you're saying is treason."

Mustang seems genuinely surprised at the question; his brow furrows. Then, simply: "You deserve to know."

Hawkeye closes her eyes, brings the sheet tighter against her chest. She's not sure how to respond to that. There is too much potency in his words, like a loaded gun fully cocked and ready to fire. She wonders whose hand is on the trigger.

"Before we left Ishbal," Mustang goes on, "they told me I am up for promotion when I return to duty. I'm being transferred to Eastern HQ."

"That's why you were able to stay here, instead of going back to Central."

"Yes." He takes two steps away from the window, then stops. For the first time since he started this conversation, he looks nervous, sounds a little unsure. "I've been thinking about what you said before, and you're right. What I've done, there is no way to atone for it." He lifts his hand, stares down at his palm and frowns. His closes his hand in a fist. "But at the very least, I can try to stop it from happening again. Even if it means being a dog of the military for another twenty, thirty years, if I have a chance to change things..."

"What you're talking about is incredibly dangerous," Hawkeye warns him.

"I can't run away from this."

Her heart gives a little lurch that is equal parts empathy and fear and something undefinable, but Hawkeye meets his gaze squarely. There is a question in his eyes, unmistakable and so loud she can almost hear it.

"If that is your choice, sir."

Returning to the Academy after Ishbal is like putting on clothes that don't quite fit anymore. Hawkeye remembers the routine well enough, but it is awkward, too loose in some places and too tight in others. She is a cadet and a war veteran all at once, and the dichotomy leaves jagged edges where the pieces of her life don't mesh together anymore.

She has too much on her mind. The Hawk's Eye may have left the desert, but it hasn't left her; the world is dry and hazy all the time now. The wounds on her back are healing but itchy, a constant distraction, and she has never slept very well on her stomach anyway. She should be memorizing military tactics, but all she can think about is gunfire and sand. Still, Hawkeye is good at self-discipline, and no one notices her inattention.

With graduation and commissioning forthcoming, she must think about her future as well. There are opportunities to consider and applications to be filled, choices to be made as she sorts through the information detailing each possible department. Hawkeye is not at the top of her class, but is close enough to it. With her already decorated records to be taken into consideration, her superiors keep dropping hints that the preferences she names are likely to be met.

It's silly, Hawkeye thinks, to deliberate so long over a decision she's already made. It is the same decision she made years ago, before buying her ticket and boarding that train, before her fingers found the buttons of her blouse and she shed her shirt and her silence, before - just, before.

This time, at least, is different. She knows the choice is hers, and hers alone.

The sleeves of her coat are starched and stiff, the lines of her shoulders crisp and neat. There is no need, really, for good first impressions, but if she is going to wear this uniform, she will wear it well.

Hawkeye steps through the office door and towards a legacy of her own making.