We'll just start:
Tolven, 26th November 1915
Where they had failed. One name on the cenotaph. A promise to keep.
Sunlight or no, the sixty-five soldiers trapped within the walls of the Sugar Loaf managed to keep track of each torturously passing hour. They marked days on the wall like crazed prisoners from novels, monitoring the passing time by the rising and falling of the cave pools within. Inside the Sugar Loaf, they had first waited, primed and ready, for the return of their commander, but when he didn't come back, the mood splintered into a thousand shards of every possible emotion. Despair, hope, bravery, anger, inspiration- every conceivable feeling stole into the hearts of the entombed troops. Then the explosives failed them and the radio remained broken and silent. A living nightmare.
They first presumed him dead. That was the professional thing to do, and yet-
The conviction that Mustang lived started with Hawkeye. It radiated out from her; an exploding star of faith and resolve. Nobody tried to reason with her (nobody was 'man' enough). Some put it down to the pregnancy and others to the indivisible nature of their relationship. There came a morning though when Havoc, stooped over one of many tasteless ration tins, was struck by a strange sensation. It was the same feeling he got when he left his gas on at home or forgot his car keys. With that quiet epiphany, he suddenly understood it. Somehow, he knew that Mustang had not abandoned them; that he lived. The rest of the team followed soon after and before long, if questioned, over half the troop would have sworn blind that Mustang was alive. They speculated on where he was, whether he had been 'taken' or 'injured'. They even started a sweepstake, laughing though their bodies trembled with the deep fear of being left behind. Once or twice, younger soldiers came to Hawkeye to assure her that he was 'out there somewhere'. Breda joked, of course. "That's what you call a 'cult of personality.'" He'd said, gesturing to himself with a half-eaten pickle. He spoke through chewing. "And you know whose department Mustang's PRis. You can thank me later."
There was the occasional, inevitable fight, but nothing too serious. There were of course moments of true despair: moments when a man's pistol turned mutinous and rose up against its owner. There were more than a few temples or chins blackened with munitions grease. In the end though, reason won out- the only reason they had: that someone was coming for them. Suicide became unthinkable after the first few weeks. To kill oneself was a supreme act of selfishness inside the Sugar Loaf. For one, where would they stash the body? That became the running joke and it honest to God saved men's lives.
The command fell into their roles eventually, but not without some jostling. It was as difficult as it sounds; managing nearly seventy young men in a confined space. Havoc and Breda saw to the smaller things: 'micro-nannying' as the redhead called it. Hawkeye took command as the most senior officer. At first, the men regarded their substitute commander with cool suspicion. It generated a little controversy in their ranks. Was she an officer or a mistress? Were they in love, she and Mustang, or was this some kind of salacious bargain between promotion-hungry officers? Havoc networked using carton after carton of cigarettes as leverage, while Breda was more direct: "Listen to her or I'll kill you. Ha, ha – just kidding. Here, have a smoke." She was a quiet voice in the cave and relied on the occasional signal boost from her team, but she was firm and she was clever. What more could a poor soldier ask for?
Hawkeye was over thirteen weeks pregnant when they went into the cave. Some might justifiably see this as a weakness, as something dangerous even: for what would they do if the time came? But inside that cave of the huddled hopeful, a kind of assumption took place. After weeks of convincing the men, Hawkeye was raised from a common, distant commander to an idol of sorts. What grew in her belly was what grew in each man's heart: a hope, a new life. Out there.
Men who'd never said a kind word in their lives laid down half their rations daily to her, asked her how she felt, gave their jackets up for her comfort. They were transformed. And so it went – for weeks. Just like a training exercise; soldiers surviving from one day to the next.
Then, eight weeks after that awful, impossible day, the black wall cracked and opened like a fruit. In the upside-down V of light stood a silhouette and the men at once cheered, "Mustang!" as they staggered from their makeshift seats. In the next instant though, a breeze pushed a ponytail from hiding and their hopes were dashed. He hadn't come after all, their lost, loved commander.
The men wept as they stumbled forward into the sun. They left rations, coats – guns even! - inside so that the sunlight might spill onto their faces all the sooner. Hawkeye, now twenty-one weeks pregnant and so tired her veins shone bright blue beneath her eyes, marched to where Ed stood, Al and Winry close behind him.
She said, "He's dead," and Ed answered, "No, not dead." Then, just as a fragile hope lighted in her eyes, he added, "Hawkeye, I'm so sorry."
As the men readied their return to civilisation, to fresh food and fresh air, Ed told Hawkeye everything. It was a confession. He included every little evil and betrayal of his own, right to the very last, when he activated the array to save himself from hearing Mustang's growing despair. Behind him, Al and Winry hung their heads.
Ed told them there was nothing to be done, alchemically speaking. When he began, the five faces of Mustang's team were lit with elation: not dead! But it was so much worse, wasn't it? Havoc fingered an empty cigarette packet as he was told, eventually tossing it away. The loss was very sudden, and in their minds, each of the team began packing away their hopes for a new, better nation. It was too early to feel afraid, but they knew it would come soon. Who amongst them would take his place? Who amongst them could? Breda had long been discussed as a fitting deputy, but Breda had trouble with deceit and fakery and all the nasty, shitty stuff Mustang had to do. All the goodness Mustang sacrificed of himself, just for a bearable tomorrow. The procedure Ed talked about, they realised, was a greater cruelty than death could ever be. Mustang without his past, his drive, his faults wasn't Mustang at all. He was just an empty smoke carton.
At the foot of the Sugar Loaf, Lieutenant Hawkeye mourned. It was a quiet affair. She barely made a sound. On her knees, fingers sinking into the yielding earth, she wept silently, her face hidden by the fall of her grease-matted hair. It broke the hearts of the men who had survived weeks of containment, weeks of not knowing if they would live or die. Impossibly, they had made it and he had not. It turned out to be a sacrifice despite what Mustang said. He promised he would come back to them. He promised he would come back to her. Fate had made a liar of him.
Ed, Al and Winry were en route to Xing. Nobody doubted the risk Bormann posed to Ed now. His life and the lives of his loved ones were at stake and leaving the country was the only way ensure their safety. The liberated soldiers were hardly safe themselves. Wasn't it easier now for the regime to underwrite their deaths and make them disappear? They were already dead in the eyes of city hall. Their families had been informed, the Last Post played and the honours given. Why risk a scandal when Bradley could just make the already 'dead' troops disappear? Ed had been a clever boy though, and to dissuade the military from doing what the Aerugonians and the Sugar Loaf had failed to do, he had alerted the press to the story. It was only matter of time before they arrived, documenting that the Tolven command lived and in turn, actually saving their lives – for now.
"You should go," said Hawkeye. The strengthening breeze peeled the damp hair from her cheek. Her matted blonde mane blew behind her, and she looked every inch a ruined Goddess; a lost relic.
"Yes," said Ed. Behind him, Winry sucked in a fortifying breath. All eyes turned to her and she ducked her head behind the high collar of her coat. Ed shivered, eyes locked on her prone form. "It was the right choice, the three of us leaving."
"She should have come," whispered Winry. This time, all eyes drifted from her in embarrassed sentiment.
"Granny Pinako," Ed explained. "She didn't want to come. Kicked us out, eventually." He chuckled weakly.
"Deeper roots," said Hawkeye, and everyone nodded.
It was time to move on; all of them. It was time for Ed, Al and Winry to leave Amestris, perhaps for good. Time for the soldiers to return to their homes, sad yet somehow hopeful despite the Colonel's fate. Maybe because of it; survival can do that to people.
The trio left after many awkward, fraught attempts to say 'good bye'. Hawkeye watched them as they grew smaller and smaller against the darkening Eastern sky. She thought of another trio: herself, Hughes and Mustang, and wished youth success where her generation had failed so terribly.
It was time for Mustang's team to answer the question they never wanted to have to answer: what now? The press were on their way. They would arrive at any moment, and so once again, the men found themselves awaiting their fate at the foot of the Sugar Loaf. While the other men lay around the open field like exhausted greyhounds, Mustang's team peeled away to talk about their new, frightening futures. The situation was as bad as any nightmare. Everyone wanted to wake up; to be back in their cramped, cheerful office. Fuery cried quietly throughout, comforted by a grave-faced Breda. At last, though, it was settled.
They could see the lights of approaching cars in the distance by the time they made their plan. Fuery, Falman and Breda would return with the other men. Havoc would meet the press before deserting. It was a sensible thing for him to go on the run; he had the means and the country-wit the others lacked. Then there was Hawkeye, twenty-one weeks pregnant and missing the Colonel like anybody else might miss their heart or head. It was settled, communicated to the other men who accepted the burden of the lie with the grace and loyalty they had shown when inside the Sugar Loaf. 'Isn't it obvious?' they would tell the press. 'She followed him onto the field. Hers is the one name you can keep on the cenotaph.'
Picking at the wool of his impressive beard, Havoc narrowed his eyes at Hawkeye. "You sure?"
"Cos you're mighty pregnant, Hawkeye. What if something happens?"
She raised her eyebrows at him, looking for the world like Mustang in that moment. He got it: something had already happened.
"I'll wait until the press cars go and take one of our own jeeps North. I should be in Central before long."
Breda coughed, tightening his grip on Fuery's shoulders. "And you're dead set on Central? We could get you something set up out East. Join Ed in Xing even."
She shook her head, fingers straying to her pocket. The stiff air of Autumn, tempered as it was in the South, washed between the five of them and seemed to bring with it a wounding finality. Each of the team shrank inside their uniforms, muscles bunching against the cold. Their future that once burnt arduous and heroic now hung on the wind like the sparks of spent fireworks. Their king had been captured. There was nothing left to do but to lay down the pieces and pack away the chess set. Hawkeye breathed deeply, savouring the sting of fresh air in her lungs. Havoc's blue eyes glinted with near-despair. She squeezed his arm, then his shoulder. "No," she said quietly. "It has to be Central." In her damp pocket, her fingers closed around her own burnt dog tags. A parting gift from Ed. "I have a promise to keep."
25th February 1916, Central City
Undignified. Please, no. A fond, familiar wink.
It was six o'clock and very soon, the sun would set on Central City. The weather was bitingly cold; the Winter reluctant to surrender to the Spring. Each cast-iron railing and lamppost wore ice like lace, and the sky was so blue it was almost blinding. Trolley cars slipped along the Milngavie Line and into the affluent northern city districts. There, Central's elite spilled from each packed car and onto the streets; all dressed in furs and hats, mufflers and thick woollen gloves. They huddled together against the stinging cold and giggled, happy that another day was over. Their high-ceilinged, well lit homes awaited them. They would settle into their broad, fashionable sofas and drink deeply from their glasses of wine or whiskey. A cold day inspired one to be homely, to respect the simple safety of those four immovable walls. If one was inclined to be lazy, there was no guilt on a cold day. The chill invited an evening spent by the fire, cheeks hot and dry, body wrapped in thick blankets.
Watching the happy crowds, Riza Hawkeye sat alone in a plain little cafe. It had no more than five tables and one solitary waitress stood behind the high counter-top, cleaning cutlery and listening to the radio. Hawkeye put a hand to her belly and felt the little one inside shift. It wasn't quite as mobile as it used to be, given its size. She was at thirty-four weeks now; her eighth month. There wasn't much room for the baby, but it continued to make itself known regardless, thumping her when it could manage it. It would be almost fully formed now. All ears and fingers and toes would be accounted for. It looked like him, she knew. She closed her eyes and pulled in a breath full of lavender mist from her tea. Sometimes she saw them together: Mustang, a father, with the infant laid against his shoulder, his back turned to her. Opening her eyes, she pushed the thought far from her mind. She always did at that point in her sad fantasy; just when she thought he might turn around.
She arrived in Central just three weeks before. It was changed beyond believing. The buildings were the same. The street names were the same. The grumpy tram conductors and friendly flower girls were the same. The cafes, theatres and little pubs she had known so well were all the same, but for one: Madame Christmas's. Mustang woke up to a world where he knew no one save the Fuhrer. Hawkeye returned to a world where everyone she knew was gone. Madame Christmas's establishment was a blackened cavity. The wreckage had been looted and not so much as a teaspoon remained. Armstrong had disappeared. Fuery and Falman had been reassigned. Havoc was in hiding. Ed, Al and Winry were in Xing by now, just in time for the Xingese New Year. Breda, after his brief return to the service had disappeared also. It was devastating news until on coming home one day, Hawkeye found a red lantern hung above the door of her cheap hotel room. It was just that colour of red. She knew he was safe. He'd 'got out' - gone after the boys in Xing, she presumed. Maybe he'd come back one day to pick up where Mustang had left off.
Then there was Hughes. Any enquiry she made turned up the same thing: he'd gone to the country to live the family life. Sifting through the rubble of her life she found only two things worth keeping: a judgement and a promise. Uncurling her fingers from the handle of her cup, she opened her left hand. This was her answering hand, the judgement – the echo. This was Bormann's hand, full of hate and blame. It shook now, but it would be steady enough when the time came.
It was here inside this cafe that she waited for Bormann. She waited every evening for twelve evenings, hoping that one day the news on the radio would change. These days, the news was always the same: Aerugo. As soon as Ed told her what had happened to the Colonel, a theory bloomed in her mind; a kaleidoscope of answers, coming one after the other. They wanted him all along. The Colonel wasn't the answer to the Tolven question – he was the answer to the Aerugo question. It was just one week ago that her fears were confirmed. In that little cafe, as the waitress tutted and polished the knives and spoons, the radio confirmed the Hawkeye's fears:
Declaration of War communicated to Aerugonian Parliament. No response forthcoming. In the interest of our nation, our Rightful Fuhrer commands we take action and assert out borders. Flame Alchemist, Colonel Roy Mustang will lead forces March 1st after a generous period of clemency during which Aerugo is advised to respond. Concerns for the Colonel's health were allayed earlier in the month when he satisfied all physical and mental assessments, including the use of automail enhancements.
It was more than a press statement. Since she left Tolven she had retained some hope that she might save him from the evils the State intended for him. The statement on the radio; it was a confirmation of fates. Hawkeye opened her right hand and imagined the promise she made – that promise – resting there like a tiny bird. How easy it would be to let the thing fly away! She could simply let it go; submit it to the myriad disasters that had befallen them since their journey south. But it was impossible. It was her promise to keep and to cherish and only hers. Who else would look after such a thing?
The baby kicked and Hawkeye winced, drawing the momentary attention of the waitress. She bowed a humble apology to the girl who smiled in return, first at Hawkeye's face and then at her bump. To think that even as the baby moved towards life, the father was edging closer to his inevitable and necessary death. Two stars racing towards the same point in time, the same universe-shaking event; a light particle floating towards a mirror.
A pale face passed the window and she knew him at once. Bormann took the same route home every day without fail. Where Hawkeye and Mustang had hidden their tracks like skittish foxes, Bormann took no such precautions. His face nor his stride nor his route changed because he was a man who believed himself utterly without threat.
It was too late for him to learn to be cautious. He was a game hunter, cocky enough to venture out alone and now in the sights of a silent, solitary leopard. Hawkeye was a soldier. She had killed for reasons less than this. Today, Martin Bormann would leave this world.
Slipping from the table with some effort, Hawkeye took her coat from the back of her chair and put it on with measured ease. She settled her bill with a single note (one of many forwarded by Havoc) and exited with a practiced smile Roy Mustang would be proud of.
It didn't take long to catch up with Bormann. People were rushing now that the light was dimming. Hawkeye, never one to stand out, easily navigated the crush of coats and canes. Just ahead of them was Montrose Street then after that, Montrose Close where he would turn off and take the winding cobbled stairs down to his house on Colburn Street. She kept close now and slid her hand into her pocket to feel for her dog tags. They'd become a near religious token to her in these last few weeks, burnt as they were. They offered something of a continuity between the hellish now and the lost, irrecoverable then.
There he went, turning the corner without so much as a glance over his shoulder. His carelessness invited his death. He was supremely careless: careless in the most fundamental understanding of the word. As careless with his own life as he was with others.
She turned after him and despite the faint shadow she cast, he still didn't turn. He invited death; every single deplorable ounce of him.
"Bormann," she called. She cocked her pistol.
He stopped dead and had to steady himself against the wall with one hand. The ice was thicker away from the sun-lit street. He kept his back to her and said, "Is this a stick up?" It was clear he spoke through a smile, voice playful with calm irony.
"It's not a stick up." Hawkeye smiled in return even though her heart screamed: Him! He did this! In a dark place deeper than her heart though, she knew that Bormann was not at the beginning of all this. He was just another part in the greater machine. He was the man sat in front of the chess board and told: play. He didn't make the game. None of them did. Not even Bradley. This was just the world they lived in.
His shoulders shook as he allowed himself a chuckle. "So cool," he purred.
"The Cassandra Project," said Hawkeye. "How did you get Colonel Mustang? How did the Aerugonians get involved?"
"May I turn around?"
"No," replied Hawkeye. She shifted onto her right foot to steady her hands. The light was fading and she'd started to shiver. "Answer the question."
Bormann sighed with childish extravagance. "And I suppose you aren't going to tell me who you are, are you? Mustang was like a weed; roots everywhere. I've never known anyone so involved before. It was a lot of work: de-weeding." He paused and his small head bobbed beneath the high collar of his coat. "You're not the ghost of his whore Lieutenant, are you?"
Her shivering grew deeper and she rocked on her feet to chase the building tremors. It was only then that she recognised the feeling for the rage it was. "Mustang. How did you get him?," she asked through gritted teeth. The little one in her tummy was still, almost as if it was waiting.
"Would you believe me if I said luck?" replied Bormann. "You wouldn't believe how lucky we got. Mustang's neat accident saved us a lot of trouble, in the end. A great deal of trouble. I suppose our good luck meant you were a little less fortunate. What a shame."
Hawkeye bit her lip, her face full of bitterness. She shook her head. "Aerugo. Was that luck too? How did you convince them? Money? Arms?"
Bormann laughed. "Oh come on, now," he said through his false, grating chuckles. "Aerugo?" He laughed harder, bending at the waist. As if quelling a cramp, his hand went to his side. "Aerugo was never involved, you idiot-woman." He laughed again and spun, a black revolver in his black-gloved hand. "They were never involved!"
Hawkeye's bullet bit him through the right eye and her second through the cheek before he'd even raised his arm. His death hit the wall in a human soup of teeth and hair and flesh. He tumbled backwards off his narrow perch and crashed down the stone steps, bouncing here and there. Undignified. She watched a portion of his scalp slide, slug-like, down the glistening wall before settling amongst the moss and bird shit.
Alarmed, passersby the main street started shouting. Soon the police would arrive. Her left hand, now steady, replaced her pistol. She started down the steps, careful not to slip. She didn't pause to reflect on what she had done. She didn't stop to gloat or mock his own poor luck. Martin Bormann required no further attention.
In that moment between Bormann's turning and his death, she'd seen something. It rose up in the features of his almost pretty face like a flock of alighting birds; chased the rage from her trembling body. Fear. He'd cared, at last, and died scared. She thought of Armstrong and winced. It was a kinder parting than the monster deserved.
Before her was a ledge onto a side path and there a little door through which she made her exit. She couldn't be caught. Not yet. There was one more person she had to see.
Roy Mustang's celebrity had only deepened after what was named The Tolven Contra. The official line was that due to the severity of his injury, he was rendered amnesiac; forgetting everything but his passionate loyalty to his nation. It was a point of romance the press devoured. Rumour had it that he cried when he first saw the Fuhrer again; wept against his shoulder like a long-lost son who'd finally come home. When Hawkeye thought of that scene, she wished she could feel some indignation on his behalf, but that wasn't the case. Not at all. She hoped it was true, for him. She hoped he was still human enough to feel the rushing relief, the sense that there still existed one person he knew by name. What a pitiful consolation.
Since coming back to Central, Hawkeye watched her Colonel as she had always done. The only difference was proximity. As his recovery progressed, his name appeared in the press more and more. While the military continued to market him wholesale to the Amestrian public, the tabloids speculated on the mysterious, broken Hero of Ishbal. Since the procedure, Mustang had lost his social hunger and she'd even heard whispers that he was half-mad or simple. People said he was quiet, boyish and desperately alone. He worked under the Fuhrer and practiced his alchemy daily. When she followed him through Central, less a shadow than a ghost now, she saw how he flinched at every salute, wave or acknowledgement of his existence. He drank tea because it was easier to order than coffee, he walked everywhere or took a private car, and he never, ever smiled. It was one more beautiful thing that had been taken from him.
His hair was neater now than it had ever been, parted smartly. Handsome. Different. He was thinner, and his once assured gait was fractured by the awkward weight of his arm. They said he'd made a record recovery with his automail, but she never once saw him lift his left arm or move a single finger. He still carried his gloves, forgoing the array etched on his frightening, impostor limb. As she watched him from trolley cars, cafe windows or following in his quiet wake, she was reminded of her old house, the place where they had started. It too was once a grand thing, full of brightness and full to the rafters with possibilities. It was where she'd first seen him, bony shoulders framed by spring light and his yellow socks uneven on his thin, storkish legs. They'd gone through fevers, tantrums, hours of study and want within those four thick walls. Now that house sat alone on its sad hill, no living thing within bar the spineless creatures that fed on rot. How she wished she could take him there, push him by the back through the high front door and lock it behind them. She'd turn the clock on its head and fly back through time, together with him. She'd pull every shred of their history from him: Tolven, Ishbal and that cursed alchemy. Pull it and pull it – two hands tearing – watch it stream from his mouth like a magicians handkerchief. Then, when all had been spent, she'd lie with him again- ignorant and safe for being so.
She shook her head and then leant it against the cold window of the trolley. He was the dreamer, not her. Yet, all she could do since her release from the Sugar Loaf was dream. Perhaps it was the baby, she thought. Perhaps it was him, his spirit, from within their child, rising up through her veins and arteries until the thoughts settled like pebbles in her mind. Two Mustangs: one within and one with out, and both of them powerless to know one another. She sighed and watched her breath fan across the glass and greasy fingerprints. While she had breath, she was not powerless. While she had breath, she could still serve him and the child.
Alighting from the trolley, the Lieutenant took a moment to fix her large, shapeless cap. She pulled her coat about her and made her way towards the warm lights of the Grande Sheraton. The military looked after the Colonel at least. He was appointed a suite on the twelfth floor of the hotel, one of the best in the country. There were mornings when the Lieutenant sat alone in the Milngavie Park to watch his window until he appeared – just a dot. She tried to imagine what he was thinking as he stood above the city; what he was looking for. She wondered if his eyes sought Tolven and the things he had lost there. He'd been told he'd lost his memory in a mission south gone foul. He'd been told he'd taken over Vought's command after the General was killed. He'd been told versions of the truth so close it made her teeth hurt.
The outside of the hotel was lined with small bushes dressed in tiny lights. The windows of the ground floor restaurant wore fine, thick curtains as red as tongues. Within, dinner was starting and the glass was fogged with human heat. There at the abundant tables, people were fretting over their menu. The lamb or the beef.
She opened her right hand – Mustang's hand – and studied the twin creases that marked her palm; the lifeline and the heart-line, curling towards each other but never touching. As passersby chatted and clung to each other against the cold, she stood awhile under the towering presence of the hotel. She'd shot Bormann with her left hand and she'd deliver Mustang with her right. She ran the fingers of her left hand across the calluses that sat at the bottom of each finger like sentries. Mustang's story was written in the history books of Amestris, and hers in the tough skin of her own hands. She looked up into the clear sky and breathed noisily. If only there were calluses for the heart.
Enough. She pulled her heavy coat closed to better hide just how big she was and tugged the loose cap down over her eyes. She'd bought nice shoes and a nice bag so that she might pass as an older lady hopped-up against the cold. Calmly, she pushed through the revolving doors, waved a greeting to the concierge and made it to the brass elevator without so much as a second glance in her direction.
She arrived at 12b and could hear the radio inside. He was listening to a piano piece, Claire de Lune maybe. The rich, plentiful notes rolled over each other with almost messy intensity. She didn't need to knock. She knew he left the door open at this time to let his evening tea in. He was the Flame Alchemist, after all, and had little to fear. Like Bormann, his certainty was on her side.
She pushed the handle down and the door swung inward silently. She stepped into the room and closed the door behind her. She was shocked to see that night had fallen, quick as a guillotine, and the first flakes of snow were drifting past the large windows like cinder. It was a bare and sad space, his suite. A pitiful goldfish bowl sat on one cabinet and the radio sat on the other. They were the only details in an otherwise ordinary hotel room. He was standing at the window, his back to her, and for the first moment, it appeared as though he were looking out across the city, but he wasn't. He was looking at her. His black eyes hung in the black sky hundreds of feet above the city, studying her without expression or fear.
"Have you come to kill me?" he asked.
Their baby rolled and pushed, rolled and pushed inside her – too big now, really, to stir much. She wondered if it knew, in some carnal part of its tiny, powerful mind, that its makers stood together again at last.
She asked, "Will you go to Aerugo?"
His eyebrows pressed together with genuine confusion. He still hadn't turned to face her, but somehow it seemed better; speaking to the reflected Colonel. She had feared meeting his eyes again and what that might to do her and her resolve. It was all that was left: the promise spoken of in the calluses on her hand. She would not let him down. She would serve him even when he was past serving himself. That was her role; her entire purpose. There was no-one else. Who would defend him if not her?
"The mission. At the beginning of March. You've been training for it. Will you go?"
He understood and issued a weak 'ah' before his face fell into deep thought. After a time, he nodded. She didn't want him to nod. She wanted him to speak.
Her left hand shot into her pocket and she fingered her dog tags. She remembered Havoc's mother at his father's funeral doing just that with a small religious medal. She'd rubbed it so much, you couldn't even see the face anymore. The simple tin dog tags, they were her relic. How many times had he lifted them over her head, kissed the little puckers the metal globes left on her neck? They lay in her pocket, as precious as a lump of gold: at once a token of their public and their deeply private selves. The baby rolled, awkward in the too-small space of her womb. In just one more month, it would be born into this other-world: the world she'd walked into from the darkness of the Sugar Loaf. Leaving the mountain was like stepping through a mirror, through a magical wardrobe into a cruel and hopeless place. For in one more month, Roy Mustang would be in Aerugo, murdering hundreds. Doing what he said he'd never do again.
"Why?" she said, struggling now to keep emotion from her voice. In the glass, the vision of his chest, his shirt, his black black hair- all of it him and yet not him, shone back at her, framed by the lights of the city beyond. His voice was the same, his eyes the same, his beauty and courage the same but all of it was stolen now; misdirected and lied to. He didn't know. He was the most innocent being, the most betrayed.
His eyes left hers and drifted down into the city. She knew that look.
Please no, she thought. Memory filled the room with the inevitability of a returning echo.
He put his hands in his pockets and leant back on his heels. So casual and yet, he'd guessed why she had come. "I know I'm just one man, but... even one man can make a difference." She saw her father's grave in the snow that floated past the window. She closed her eyes and let the whiskey-rich timbre of his voice shake each sinew and bone in her body. The baby stirred, again and again, it stirred inside her. "Our borders are assaulted from all sides and... I'm sorry, this... it sounds childish. Naive." His eyes flew back to hers, checking her response. There was that shy youth with the supernova dream again. He looked back, not at the city but at the far, far horizon, where the lights shrunk to nothing.
With her right hand, Hawkeye pulled her pistol from its place. The baby rolled inside her again. Roy Mustang continued, his black eyes shining through the image in the glass. "Even so, if I could protect everyone with these hands, I think I'd be-"
She screamed at the bang for the first time in her life. Bloody glass exploded outwards and seemed to hang in the air before it curved, glinted and spun out of sight. The Colonel rocked on his feet, then pitched forwards towards the abyss. Hawkeye raced to him, wound both arms around his breast and pulled him backwards. They fell onto carpet as thick as lush grass. He tumbled from her arms and lay panting, wide eyes tracing the ceiling until they fell on her. She dreaded a sign of recognition, some miracle spark in the lines of his face, but there was none.
He coughed once and blood spilled from his mouth in a frothing string. "You-" he tried, but the word choked and he stopped short, gasping for air.
Hawkeye fought to see through blurry eyes. Words tumbled from her mouth. She knew at any second he would be gone. In his altered mind, no one had ever spoken any kindnesses to him. In this mirror-world, Roy Mustang was unloved.
"I know you think you're alone," she sobbed. She grabbed his hand – his flesh and blood hand – and thrust it against her stomach. His eyes narrowed with suspicion, then sprang open again in disbelief. She pressed his palm harder against the firm, rounded flesh. "But this is our child." She swallowed, then fought for air. She felt like she was back in Tolven, drowning in rain. Her knuckles whitened as she renewed her grip. "Ours... our child and - and you've forgotten. You've been lied to but-"
She sobbed, coughed, choked on her terror, on her love, on her rapture at seeing his eyes and feeling the warmth of his hand once again.
"Colonel," she whispered. "Mister Mustang I have always loved you. I have worshipped you from the first and you have never been alone since then." She moaned and half sank across him. "Never."
Air bubbled up through the blood. He was trying to speak.
Unaware and distracted by her act, she didn't hear him at first. "You're not alone... I wouldn't ever..." she continued like a crazed preacher on the church steps.
With near-empty eyes and movements clumsy with death, Roy Mustang reached out with his automail hand and pulled the loose cap from her head. It tumbled to the floor and her hair fell about her shoulders. His thumb drew a line down her cheek and slid free with the tears. It landed heavily beside him.
She looked at him at last.
He smiled at her crookedly. Dimples cut the corners of his mouth and a timorous fire warmed his eyes. He tried to raise his hand again but couldn't. All he could manage was a fond, familiar wink. "Knew it," he whispered, and then sighing, closed his eyes forever.
The radio was silent. The snow that drifted past the window was silent too.
Hawkeye sat on her heels and stared at the Colonel's body. She was as still as the room; as still as the hand that lay cupped against her stomach. The baby fidgeted angrily within her and at once, the radio came alive with the next song; a psalm she didn't know. Their baby: the last surviving Mustang, the last of him. Its father was gone and with him any hope of a safe, peaceful Amestris. She would not let their child suffer as they had suffered, would not bring it through the mirror and into this dark, dangerous other-place. She was strong enough to save them both; strong enough despite how terribly her hands shook.
As the opening strings surged out from the modest speakers, Riza Hawkeye's eyes stuttered up and fell on the shattered fringe of the window. In front of her, Central lay like a field of stars and beyond that, unknowing Aerugonians went about their evening business, saved from death by fire. The buzzing of a thousand locusts filled the Lieutenant's mind; white noise speaking of the deepest, maddening confusion. Light faded from the room about her and all sensation left her tired, ripe body. She took the pistol from her hip and with her left hand, shot herself.