A.N. From the author formerly known as AutumnOwl. I promise I won't change my name again! As a peace offering, I present you with an odd cocktail of Royai, partial nudity, humor and angst. Enjoy!
Well. This was certainly...awkward.
Ed blinked. Then again. Just to be sure his eyes were actually working. Everything in the colonel's office remained in perfect, sharp focus, so this wasn't a biological malfunction. Unless of course he was simply imagining this whole thing, which could be attributed to a breakdown of the mind rather than the body. And while that prospect was certainly alarming and had the potential to cause him some inconvenience, insanity was a lot more believable than the scenario playing out in front of his eyes.
Because in what kind of messed up alternate dimension would Lieutenant Hawkeye—whom he had always referred to as respectfully as Teacher for fear of a bullet to the head—stand in the middle of the East City Command Center without a shirt on? Or a bra, for that matter? And was that really Colonel Bastard himself standing behind the half naked lieutenant with his arm twined around her bare waist, holding her, touching her? Strangest of all, Hawkeye seemed totally fine with it, eyes shut in something like contentment as Mustang skimmed his palm up and down her back, tipping his head to press his lips to the nape of her neck...
That was as far as he got. The strangled noise broke the tranquil environment like a twig snapping or a pebble in a pond. The line of Mustang's shoulders grew tense and he moved at once to shield Hawkeye's body with his own, snatching up his jacket from the back of the couch and draping it around her shoulders. Only when she was covered did he turn to face Ed, his expression at once protective and outraged, though some of the ferocity faded when he realized just who had barged in on them.
But only some.
"Uh," Ed faltered, wide-eyed, clutching his report to his chest like some kind of flimsy shield. His eyes darted to Hawkeye once again, but Mustang's scorching glare did not encourage gawking. "I, uh..."
A quick apology and a hasty retreat would be the wisest course of action. Especially since Mustang didn't seem to have his gloves on, which would at least give him a head start before the colonel decided to serve up fried shrimp for lunch. Hawkeye peered around Mustang's shoulder and surveyed him with an uncertain look, holding the lapels of the jacket closed with both hands. "Edward..."
"I was just leaving!" Ed stammered once he found his tongue again, backing up a pace. "I-I didn't mean to barge in on...on...I mean, if I'd known you were, then I wouldn't have—wait, that came out wrong! Okay, I'll just...because I've got, you know, alchemy and stuff..."
He backed up one step too many and bumped into the door, forcing it closed. Ed turned his back on the two soldiers and fumbled with the handle, throwing all his weight against the door before he remembered that he had to pull the damn thing if he wanted to open it. Really, running for his life would have been so much easier if this door was just gone. The colonel could make do without one or with just a curtain or something, and then he and the lieutenant wouldn't be tempted to do stuff like that in such a public place...
"No, I'd really rather not!" Ed said firmly. He yanked the door open, but right away the colonel pushed it shut again. Mustang took his arm in an unforgiving grip and marched him back to the center of the office like a parent with a naughty child. Which was almost exactly what he was, but it wasn't like Ed walked in and saw them on purpose! It was their fault, he was just an innocent, albeit traumatized, victim!
They stopped directly before Hawkeye. Her expression was completely unreadable, but Ed fidgeted anyway as he waited for a lecture or a slap. Granted, he hadn't seen very much. Mustang's arm had been blocking his line of sight, but what Ed had seen was enough to make heat flood his face, and it took a great deal of effort to keep his eyes off the narrow strip of skin still visible at the base of Hawkeye's throat. He glanced up nervously when Mustang circled behind him, both hands planted on his shoulders.
"Lieutenant, show him."
Ed blanched at the request. For request it was, not an order. "Show me what?" he yelped in apprehension. "W-What're you...?"
He met Hawkeye's gaze for the first time. She looked a bit contemplative for a moment, but some kind of look passed between her and the colonel, and without a word she turned her back to them. Ed nearly passed out when she opened the jacket and allowed it to slide down her shoulders. It was instinct to shut his eyes tight, too aware of the colonel's menacing presence at his back to even think about the topless woman right in front of him. Then again those flames of vengeance were probably going to come down on him any second and wipe his existence from the face of the earth, so maybe Mustang was just letting him enjoy the view in its entirety before he died?
"That's very noble, Edward," Mustang said, sounding amused. "But you can look. It's fine."
Ed opened one eye cautiously. Then the other. And once again he wondered if his eyes were working right. Hawkeye had only allowed the jacket to slide down to her elbows, exposing her back to him. And there, inked into the pale skin, was a tattoo. And not just any tattoo. Modern alchemists coded their alchemy into cookbooks, but years ago it had been common practice to condense a lifetime of research into a single transmutation circle from which all lesser arrays were modeled on.
That was what this was, what he was looking at. Sweeping red lines covered Lieutenant Hawkeye's back from neck to hip, creating one of the most intricate transmutation circles he had ever seen. The base array was all straight lines and pyramids interposed atop one another in a way that spoke of pure power, energy given form. Ed's eyes were drawn to the thick, serpentine bands curving above and below the original design, cradling hundreds of tiny sigils within their boundaries. The entire motif was genius, utterly beautiful and so, so familiar.
But it wasn't complete. Ed's lips parted in shock when he noticed the burn scars plastered over the upper left portion, calloused skin made shiny by the bright fluorescent lights. That must have hurt like hell to leave such a blemish. Worse, the wounds distorted at least a third of those little sigils that were essential to understanding the finer points of the alchemy. He couldn't even begin to make sense of the rest of the array without them.
Without thinking Ed made touch the array, but Mustang caught his wrist, eyes flashing dangerously. "Never touch a woman's body without her permission," he rumbled.
Oh, right. Ed had been so taken up with the array that he had completely forgotten he was looking at Hawkeye's naked back. Awkward. He chanced a look at the side of her face, still so impassive that she may as well have been a statue. Ed gulped. How the hell did he frame a question like that without sounding perverted?
"It's alright, Edward," Hawkeye told him. "You may touch the array."
And nothing else. That was what her tone implied. Mustang released him, but kept a warning hand clamped on his shoulder as Ed traced the outer lines gingerly. As he'd thought, the tattoo was permanent. He avoided the scars, knowing full well how even old wounds could still be sensitive, and instead focused on the central device. That was the portion that was creating a nagging feeling in the back of his mind, like an itch he couldn't reach. He had seen this before, but where...?
Ed's fingertips paused on the salamander near the bottom of the array. It was a purely symbolic device, one of many used to guide an alchemist's intent to control or harbor a specific element. And in ancient alchemy, salamanders were always associated with fire.
"This is flame alchemy!" Ed gasped, looking to the older man for confirmation. Mustang nodded, but he didn't look at all smug about it. In fact, he looked like he would rather be anywhere but here. And Ed felt an odd kind of kinship with the colonel when he recognized that shadowed look, the one that picked out every line of stress in his face and darkened his eyes with guilt. How many times had Ed woken up in the morning and looked in the mirror to see eyes just like that looking back at him?
"Lieutenant Hawkeye's father was the original Flame Alchemist," Mustang said quietly, eyes drifting over the tattoo. "I became his apprentice when I was around your age, his only apprentice. But after I joined the military, he refused to teach me any further than the basics or to show me his research. Everything you see here...it's all his creation."
There was too much information in that sentence to react to it at once. First off, Ed couldn't imagine Mustang as anyone's apprentice. He always made his alchemy look easy, like he had been born to be its master. The mental image of a teenage Mustang struggling to light a match while an Izumi-shaped shadow loomed over him would have been funny if Ed were in any mood to laugh.
And then there was that bit on Hawkeye's father actually being the one to research and perfect flame alchemy. Her father. Ed had wondered, in a vague sort of way, about Hawkeye's family, but he had never asked and she had never shared. It was just one of those things that had faded to the back of his mind.
"So...so your father did this?" Ed said to Hawkeye, stunned. "But didn't it hurt? There must have been an easier way for him to hide his research rather than putting you through this!"
"There are many people in this world that would use flame alchemy for their own gain," Hawkeye murmured. "To murder or worse. I agreed to this, Edward, because I wanted to help my father. He...he gave his life for this alchemy, wasted away to nothing trying to perfect it. It's everything that he was and ever will be, and I wanted to protect that."
"Fullmetal," Mustang said harshly, and Ed jumped a little. "You understand that this must remain a secret, even from your brother. It may be incomplete, but this knowledge is still incredibly dangerous. The lieutenant and I would only be the first in a long line of people who could be harmed if someone tried to get their hands on it."
"I won't tell anyone," Ed agreed. When Mustang eyed him doubtfully, he held up both hands quickly. "Really, I promise! I get it. I wouldn't...wouldn't want to do anything to put either of you in danger."
Mustang stepped forward and helped Hawkeye pull the jacket back over her shoulders, once again hiding the array from sight. Ed watched another look pass between them as Mustang stroked her back right where the burn scars were.
"You can set your report on my desk," Mustang said absently, not even looking up. "I'll look over it later today."
Report? Ed glanced at the papers in his hand in bewilderment. Right, that was the reason he had come here. Recent events had blown the report and his complaints about his latest mission right out of his head. He edged around the two soldiers and tossed it on the desk. One of the papers went fluttering to the carpet, but Ed was already scurrying back to the door to make his escape. He pulled it open and paused in the doorway when something else occurred to him.
After I joined the military, he refused to teach me any further than the basics or to show me his research...
It's everything that he was and ever will be, and I wanted to protect that...
Lieutenant Hawkeye's father hadn't allowed Mustang to see the culmination of his research. But the colonel must have seen the tattoo sometime before he went to Ishval. Just knowing the basics wouldn't have gotten him through something like that.
So the lieutenant must have been the one to pass on that knowledge to Mustang. She had trusted him with something so important to her, and Hawkeye wasn't the type to take a leap like that on just anyone. Ed knew they had gone through Ishval together, but the truth was that they had known each other long before that, before the military, even before alchemy. There was something...more there. Something akin to Ed and Al's friendship with Winry. It was a bond that no one else could possibly understand if they weren't a part of it.
"Was there something else, Fullmetal?"
"N-No," Ed yelped when two pairs of eyes bore into him. "It's just..."
The door of the outer office opened behind him and the rest of Mustang's command piled in, returning from lunch. One by one, they all paused and fell silent when they saw Mustang and Hawkeye standing so close to each other, eyes going wide and mouths falling open when they realized Hawkeye was wearing only a jacket. Mustang's jacket.
"...just lock the damn door next time!" Ed roared in fury that was not entirely feigned, drawing all eyes to him. "For God's sake, there's a hotel two streets over, beds and everything! Thanks a lot, Colonel Bastard, now I'm scarred for life because of you!"
The effect was exactly what he wanted. The reactions of the others varied between surprise and confusion on Fuery's part to a certain unholy glee from Havoc, but that was much better than them learning Hawkeye's secret. Mustang could handle the crowd control, though judging from the livid look he was giving Ed, he wasn't planning on letting him escape from this entirely unscathed.
Hawkeye straightened beneath the stares and cleared her throat professionally, managing to stay completely calm and poised despite the situation. "Men, I assure you this is not what it looks like..."
Ed didn't bother to wait around and see how they would attempt to handle this. He crossed the outer office and sprinted through the door and down the hall, his mind still filled with that monstrous array standing out starkly against delicate flesh.
He shuddered, reminding himself that his and Hawkeye's situations were completely different. His own father had been an alchemist as well, but to Ed, he was simply the man who walked out on his family. His loyalty to the bastard was basically nonexistent. If Hohenheim ever once came up to him and tried to carve that into his back...
He rammed his shoulder against the door of the command center and jogged down the steps into the sunlight. He slowed to a walk as he crossed the courtyard, brow furrowed in thought as he shoved his hands into his pockets. Hawkeye must have loved her father a great deal to go through that for him. And, truthfully, Ed thought he could almost understand where she was coming from. He knew full well how addictive alchemy could be, especially something like flame alchemy, which required a precision akin to human transmutation. Research had the potential to eat up all an alchemist's time and concentration. Nothing mattered except perfection.
And when you dealt with science on a daily basis, people became something lesser by comparison, an unbalanced equation, a broken circle. There just wasn't time to deal with anything that couldn't be charted on paper or contained within an array. As a result, people like Ed and Hawkeye were lost or abandoned in the haze of study, the drunken high of power.
If Hohenheim had asked it of him, if he had honestly needed his son's help to protect something he had neglected his family to pursue...would Ed have really had the strength to say no?
Don't kid yourself, you would have done it, Ed thought crossly. Back when his father spent all his time in the study with his books and never with them, Ed would have accepted the burden without a second thought, pathetically hoping that doing so would make him more important in the eyes of his father. He would have done it for the affection and love that probably hadn't ever been there in the first place.
And Hohenheim still would have left him and Al and their mother. It would have been for nothing.
Ed looked over his shoulder at the command center, easily finding Mustang's window by the flashes of orange light. The curtains had caught fire from whatever the hell he was doing to intimidate the rest of his subordinates. At least those two had had the sense to block the window before they started doing...whatever they had been doing.
Come to think of it, what had they been doing? Why now, why here? Mustang was already a master of flame alchemy. He had presumably already seen the tattoo years ago, possibly more than once. And that awful scar on Hawkeye's back blotted out a good half of the research anyway. What could he possibly need to see it again for? Ed shifted from foot to foot uneasily as he thought back to that moment when he saw them together, remembering the gentle, almost worshipful way the colonel had touched her back.
Had he been worshiping the alchemy...or the one who carried it?
Ed scoffed and ran a hand through his hair irritably. "Still could have locked the damn door..."
A scorching wind rushed into being behind him, and Ed yelped when a fireball set the tail of his coat on fire. He wrestled the coat off and let it burn on the ground, wincing when he discovered his charred braid was now several inches shorter than when he first arrived. "Bastard!" he bellowed up at the window while the soldiers in the courtyard stared in astonishment. "What was THAT for?"
"FOR SEEING MY LIEUTENANT NAKED!"
Later on, Ed would vehemently deny to everyone who asked that he ran screaming from the Flame Alchemist's wrath. And he would go on to deny having ever done anything to deserve such brutal treatment by his superior.
But when those same awed soldiers asked in hushed whispers if it was true that he had actually seen Lieutenant Hawkeye naked...all he could manage was a flustered mumble and a blush.