Disclaimer: Do not own!
HELLO READERS I'M STILL HERE. My FMA muses went on a lovely vacation and were otherwise very difficult for the last year; now they have returned in full voice, so here is a fic.
Spoilers from Chapter 24 on; technically "past-not-plot". See author's note at the end!
Roy Mustang had never been the sort to greatly benefit from scores of free time for thought. Traveling often offered the time for him to consider the sorts of things he never permitted himself to ponder. And since it was rare that he traveled without one Riza Hawkeye, she was often the subject of his thoughts. He considered himself a budding expert at getting a good read on her, and he often found himself slightly cross if he were to find out that he was wrong. When Hawkeye did something that he deemed out of character, he could ponder on the rationale for what felt like ages.
Which was precisely why Mustang was heavily analyzing the events of that afternoon. As a veteran of a particularly bloody war, violent scenes did not typically unnerve him. Yet he found that he couldn't shake the horribly bloody scene in the Elric's basement from his mind. The alchemical rebound had made a mess of the room; papers were strewn across the floor, furniture knocked out of place, even damage to the foundation of the building. The alchemical array took up the majority of the floor. And the blood—it seemed to be everywhere; streaks across the floor, spatter against the wall, piled lifelessly into the center of the array. Even Mustang felt his stomach turn unpleasantly at the sight—so much so that he could hardly bear to look.
Hawkeye, however, hardly batted an eyebrow. In fact, she turned to the wall, stated that the substance spattered across it appeared to be blood, and then proceeded to watch silently as he poked about the materials on the floor.
Snapped from his reverie, he blinked and prayed that he wasn't making a face as he stared at her. "Yes, Lieutenant Hawkeye?"
The blonde Second Lieutenant glanced at him before turning her gaze back to the passing scenery outside the window. "You seemed bothered by something, sir."
Perceptive, wasn't she? Mustang often found himself wishing that she was not so skilled at observation. "I was thinking about those boys." He paused, "and of what we saw in their home."
He thought he knew better, yet he was almost certain she'd just grown two shades whiter. Hawkeye then made a deliberate point of averting her gaze from his. "I see."
"It was an awful sight. I've never seen anything like it," Mustang swallowed, willing his mind to not replay the image of the violently bloody scene, "not even in battle."
Hawkeye visibly stiffened, continuing to stare out the window. "Yes, sir. It's awful to think those boys had to go through that." He watched her curiously, noticing that she'd tightened her hands in her lap.
Mustang deliberated pressing the issue further. He was genuinely curious—and concerned. On top of the genuine curiosity, he hated being unable to get a good idea of what his subordinates were thinking. Even still, he hesitated. This was clearly not something Hawkeye wanted to discuss, as evidenced by her extreme interest in passing shrubbery. Her reaction now only intensified his concern; it was unexpected and unnerving. She seemed far more distraught over the topic of this conversation than she was over the visible aftermath of human transmutation.
"Is there something you wanted to ask, sir?"
He hadn't realized he'd been staring, and he knew he must have been by her tone of voice. Hawkeye finally met his gaze, and Mustang withered under it. Never had he seen her eyes so hardened, so distant, and she appeared to have suddenly aged well beyond her years. She knew he wanted to ask; she simply decided to commit him to it.
Even still, he found himself hesitating by nature. "Why were you so unperturbed by what we saw? "
This time, he was certain that all of the color had drained from her face. She very quickly turned away from him again, her jaw firmly set. The question hung heavy for a few moments, presumably while she prepared an answer. "That was not the first time I've seen a rebound from a failed transmutation."
He couldn't help but stare quizzically. Hawkeye was a master of cryptic answers, but this was a bit much even for her. She turned slightly, and he could see her piercing gaze following him in the reflection in the glass.
"My father may have been a gifted alchemist, Lieutenant Colonel, and I know you saw his skills as infallible," she swallowed, as if steeling herself against some unknown enemy, "but that does not mean he never made a mistake."
She closed her eyes, and by the stiff set of her shoulders and the use of his full title, he knew the conversation was over.
The topic never came up again in conversation, though Mustang found himself thinking about it fairly often. In his overactive nightmares, he imagined a young Riza Hawkeye caught up in the rebound of what was presumably her father's sins. It was the sort of dream he'd wake from in a haze of panic, heart racing and hands shaking.
He knew that Hawkeye knew a small amount of alchemy. She had expressed once that she was not only uninterested in learning but that she was an utter failure at the skill as well. He had pressed the issue once, and she caved in and explained that as a child her father had taught her the basics—and she could explain the science of alchemy quite well, perhaps better than he could now. She followed the statement by claiming, a bit sheepishly, that she had never been creative enough.
He spent a very long time pondering Hawkeye and her experience with rebounds, especially after his conversation with Edward regarding the doorway of Truth. It had immediately brought him back into his Teacher's study, the man rambling on and on about seeing Truth as he hacked and coughed until he brought up blood, eventually collapsing into his apprentice's arms. He still cringed thinking of a young Riza asking him quietly to never stop seeking the truth, as that was what had left her orphaned at such a young age.
It wasn't long after their transfer to Central when Major Alex Louis Armstrong nearly demanded to meet them for lunch. He had just returned from a trip to Eastern, and he clearly seemed distraught about some of the events that had transpired.
"Good afternoon, Major Armstrong." Hawkeye nodded politely at him before placing her tray on the table, sitting.
"Hello, Lieutenant Hawkeye, Colonel Mustang! I am honored that you have both taken the time to come and speak with me."
Mustang tried to restrain himself and not cringe at Armstrong's perpetual over-enthusiasm. He didn't have the energy. "Major. How was your trip Eastward? And what, exactly, was so important that you felt the need to nearly demand our time today?"
Armstrong nodded slightly, suddenly somber. "Yes…our visit to Eastern was rather eventful."
"I heard Fullmetal ran into some trouble and lucked out that you were all there." Mustang didn't look up from his tray, stirring his coffee. "It was quite the surprise to read that the Führer himself was the person who stepped in."
Armstrong nodded. "The boys were both very lucky they weren't killed; they very easily could have been had help not arrived. Their alchemy teacher turned up shortly before we did, and her presence bought them time." Mustang sighed, still failing to see how this information warranted a near-demand for a meeting.
"I assume their teacher is as hot-headed as her student?"
Hawkeye briefly glanced up, but she didn't seem to be paying particularly close attention to the conversation. She had become masterful at picking up the important details of a conversation while seeming otherwise uninterested. This skill was part of why he had a tendency to have her be present for such discussions, even if she simply just stood behind him and never once spoke.
"Quite. She's very feisty. Odd, though. She claims to be a simple housewife, but she's clearly a gifted alchemist. She transmutes without a circle, just like the boys. And very ill. When we arrived on scene, the poor woman was coughing up blood."
Armstrong likely didn't think anything of it, but Mustang could see Hawkeye stiffen from the corner of his eye. Her fingers were wrapped around her mug so tightly her knuckles had blanched white.
"Was she injured?"
"Yes, but when I asked if she needed to go to the hospital, she declined. She told me that she'd had that cough for years; said it started after she was in an accident." Armstrong was frowning. Clearly, he was unconvinced by the woman's excuse. Mustang agreed, nodding quietly.
But he hesitated. The thought of a racking cough bringing up blood again flashed him back to his teacher's study, and he stole at glance at Hawkeye. She was frowning, sitting ramrod straight. Her eyes caught his briefly, and she quickly looked away. She was likely thinking something very similar.
The explanation of Edward's teacher was progressively sounding more and more like the description of a woman who had committed alchemy's greatest taboo.
Armstrong dropped his voice, leaning over the table so only Mustang and Hawkeye could hear him. "I don't know much about medicine, Colonel, but I can't think of many things that could cause that sort of injury, sir. And transmuting without a circle, just like the Elric brothers. Do you suppose there is any chance she attempted—"
Hawkeye stood up so abruptly that she knocked into the table, causing the dishes to clatter and knocking over her tea. Though she was making all attempts to remain composed, he could identify the panic in her eyes. She almost looked like she might be ill. Quickly, she nodded her head. "If you would please excuse me. I realized I forgot to file an important document."
Mustang watched her back as she left, knowing that she'd filed away all of their work before they'd left the office. He chose not to call her on her lie.
For the remainder of the afternoon, Mustang found it impossible to ignore the haunted look in Hawkeye's eyes. She went through the motions of accomplishing her work, but everyone could sense that something was bothering her. Even Fuery could sense that something was wrong; he politely offered to get her a cup of tea seeing as she looked as though she wasn't feeling well. Unfortunately for everyone in the office, Mustang's mood was hardly better. Everyone worked almost silently. If there were any questions or concerns, they went unvoiced.
It had taken an incredible amount of self-control to not confront Hawkeye during the day. He could tell that she was making a point of avoiding him; where she usually would make several trips into and out of his inner office, she instead planned the work out so that she needed to go in only once. And when she was in there, she wouldn't meet his eyes—instead she drew up her shoulders and stood at attention, even when he asked her to stand at ease. Yet despite his desire to corner her, he knew he could never corner her in a situation where others could overhear.
His decision to keep her late might have been cruel, but Mustang couldn't help himself. He concocted a plan to dig out all sorts of old files that needed updating. It was busywork at best, something that didn't need to be done immediately; but he knew that if he gave it to her, she wouldn't leave until it was finished. When everyone had finally left for the night, he called her into the office.
She knew him well, and Hawkeye watched him expectantly, standing stiffly at attention in front of his desk. He didn't even bother ordering her at ease, knowing that she wouldn't do it. As she watched, he stood, stepping silently around her and to his office door. Standing—maybe guarding was a better term to use—in front of the door, he locked it. Though her back was to him, he could almost feel her wince. "We need to talk."
Hawkeye continued to face his desk and not him. She was stiff as a board. "About what, sir?" He didn't suppose Hawkeye was so dense as to not know what he was getting at, and he began to think she was attempting to stall until she could find a way out of the situation.
"Don't pretend you don't know, Hawkeye. One would have to be blind to miss what happened at lunch today. Major Armstrong demanded to know if you were all right after you left so abruptly."
"I beg your pardon, sir? I simply forgot to file the completed report on—"
"Bullshit!" Mustang was growing increasingly frustrated with her delay-tactics. He'd managed to contain himself all day, but his patience was wearing thin. "I didn't call you on your lie to the Major because I respected that you wanted to leave. Don't lie to me, I know you much better than that."
Hawkeye was silent, and she continued to refuse to turn around. Were he not concerned that she'd find some method of escape if he moved, he would have crossed to confront her face-to-face. Mustang frowned at her back, willing her to turn and face him.
"Sir…please." Her shoulders fell as she spoke, and she lowered her gaze to the floor. She looked very much like a young Cadet being scolded by a superior.
Mustang paused, debating what to say next. "Will you at least look at me? It's not very easy to have a conversation with your back."
He cringed as soon as he said it. It wasn't too often that he stuffed his foot into his mouth, but when he did it had a tendency to be catastrophic. He could sense the offense she took by the way she seemed so crestfallen, as though she'd just received quite the reprimand. "Hawkeye…"
Finally, she turned to face him. She was white as a sheet and was clearly distraught. Her hands were balled tightly into fists at her side. He tried to meet her gaze, but she winced and looked away. It made him uncomfortable to see her so upset. "Just ask, sir…please."
She spoke so quietly that he could have nearly missed it. He was beginning to regret his level of curiosity, because try as she might to pretend she was not terrified of having this conversation, it was painfully obvious to him that she was. Her gaze was on the wall and it looked as if she had seen a ghost.
After all of the buildup, the years of thinking and piecing together the story—he almost couldn't bring himself to ask. "He committed the taboo, didn't he?"
She was silent, closing her eyes and holding her breath. He could see the gears turning in her head, as if she were still desperate to find a way not to admit what he already knew was the truth. Her father had attempted the ultimate taboo of alchemy: human transmutation. It all made sense, when he sat back and considered it: the discussion of having seen the Truth, his teacher's quiet madness, the way he had finally died. Berthold Hawkeye had never been ill. He had been punished.
Hawkeye was shaking, face bowed, and she reached behind her to find the wood of his desk, sinking against it as if her knees were about to give out. She never spoke; his confirmation was merely a single, slight nod.
Convinced she wasn't going to make a run for it, he crossed the room and wordlessly took her shoulders, gingerly guiding her to the seat nearest his desk. When he was sure she was settled, he sat on the table directly in front of her, their knees touching slightly. He leaned forward, resting his hand gently on her leg. She was still trembling beneath his hand, and he hated seeing her like this. Whenever she was upset, she looked suddenly so young and so afraid in a way he was no longer used to.
He was whispering, as if whispering alleviated some of the tension of the situation.
"My mother." He wasn't sure if she was aware of it or not, but she was squeezing the hand he'd placed on her leg with something akin to a death grip. She was resting her forehead against the fist of her other hand, effectively shielding her face from his view.
"She'd been very sick, and passed when I was six. I don't remember her anymore, not when she was well." Hawkeye finished the sentence with a hiccup, swallowing hard. Mustang frowned, though he made the wise choice to say nothing. Instead, he gently placed his free hand atop hers.
"My father…you don't remember him as a kind man, do you, sir?"
Mustang stiffened, and he could tell she sensed his reaction. She pulled her hand away from his quickly, folding them in front of her and resting her head against them. "He was a very gentle man before my mother died. Even well after she'd passed. It wasn't until…until he decided…"
She trailed off, and he could tell she was nearly in tears by the way her voice cracked. "I didn't…understand alchemy enough to understand what it meant when he asked me to fetch him…" She shuddered. "I…can still recite the list."
Her voice was trembling more than she was. "35 liters of water, 20 kilograms of carbon, 4 liters of ammonia, 1.5 kilograms of lime, 800 grams of phosphorous, 250 grams of salt, 100 grams of saltpeter, 80 grams of sulfur, 7.5 grams of fluorine, 5 grams of iron, 3 grams of silicon. I can't believe I still remember it." She swallowed, and he was certain he heard a suppressed sniffle. "Or that I didn't have an inkling of what he wanted to try."
The guilt in her voice was oppressive. But if her mother had died when she was that young, she was only a child—how could she possibly have known? As he thought about it, he realized he didn't even know the complete list of ingredients to fabricate a human body by memory; how many times had she had to recite the ingredients back to her father as she went to the store to get them for him?
"Hawke—Riza, you were a child. How could you have had any idea what he was planning?"
"The druggist was furious, saying that I ought to be ashamed of myself for even considering 'it', though I didn't understand what he meant and he never gave me the opportunity to ask. He kicked me out, and told me never to come back to his store."
It was quiet for a few moments as she struggled to compose herself. He knew that she'd give anything to be able to finish without losing control, and he could tell by her shuddering silence that she was fighting a losing battle. After three minutes, she peered up at him, her face streaked with tears, the frown on her face so tense it looked like she hadn't smiled for years.
"I had no idea. I came home from school, and he called me downstairs," she hiccupped, trying to steady her voice. "I stood there and I watched, and there wasn't a damn thing I could do to stop him. The only thing I could do was try to find help when everything went wrong. It was some…some…I don't even know what to call it. It looked…it looked up, and right at me, and all I could think was that that thing wasn't my mother." She was sobbing by the time she'd finished, and she turned her face from his, burying her face into the crook of her arm, ashamed.
Mustang felt sick for her.
"I…I was eight…it was like watching her die again. I tried to get help, but…but nobody wanted anything to do with us, n-not when I showed up at their door covered in blood. The only physician in the town wouldn't even come to check on him when…when I explained what had…" She had braced herself against the couch unconsciously, using her hands to hold herself upright as if the crushing weight of the memory was enough to drag her to the floor. "…They wouldn't come. I begged, but they refused to help. So I…I took care of him myself, until he was as healthy as he'd ever be again. And…and I buried that…thing. Far out in the field at night…so no…nobody would see."
He hesitated just a second, recognizing his door was locked, before quickly gripping her shoulders and pulling her close to him. She swayed slightly in his arms before gently pushing herself away from him. She stood, taking a heavy, shaking breath and using her sleeve to wipe her eyes dry, wavering on her feet. Her attempt to try to escape did not go as she'd planned, however; because Mustang was both larger and faster than she was, and he caught her shoulders before she could even take a step away from him. It was to her own benefit, however, since he caught her before her legs could give out on her; he sank to the ground with her.
As they sat there, Hawkeye struggling to compose herself enough that she didn't risk fainting from an inability to breathe, Mustang couldn't keep himself from pondering what he'd just been told. With her confirmation, everything made sense. The house being in such disrepair, such a young girl taking care of all of the errands and the housework, that Hawkeye attended lessons far outside of her small hometown, that her father never left the house, and that she'd always asked him to accompany her whenever she had to go into town to run an errand—and that the shopkeepers always ignored her presence until she placed the money on the counter. Everything he had ever known about Hawkeye and how she behaved suddenly made sense in a way that it never had before. The only photographs in the old Hawkeye household had shown a happy family; a cheerful little girl skipping into her mother's arms or a gentle-looking man scooping the child up. He'd always assumed that it was her mother's death that ruined those perfect family portraits, but it was much more than that.
Mustang had always assumed that definitive end of Hawkeye's childhood had been when her father had had the audacity to tattoo a complex alchemical array onto her back. He now realized that it had come much, much earlier.
"He…was never the same after that. He was sick and cross, and he desperately wanted to teach me alchemy, but I wanted nothing to do with it—not after…not after I'd seen what it had done to him." As she sat on the floor, hands folded tightly in her lap and gaze downcast, he remembered exactly what his teacher's daughter had looked like so many years ago. "He convinced me to try, but I was horrible at the execution. And he wanted little to do with a child who was a failure at alchemy, so he started looking for an apprentice, just a bit before you arrived looking for a teacher."
She seemed finished, exhausted by relaying the story completely through, and Mustang sat back, wondering if he was the first person to hear it. Knowing how private a person Hawkeye tended to be, he supposed there was a fairly good chance that he was. It unsettled him to think that she'd carried this around with her for so many years, not daring to speak the story to anyone until then—and only because he had, for all intents and purposes, forced her to by locking her into the office and demanding an answer.
After a few moments, he stood, offering her his hand. It would do no good to apologize for her father's mistakes, and she looked so drained by the entire situation that he didn't feel it appropriate to offer anything beyond a quiet recognition of what had happened and the silent promise to share the information with nobody. She got shakily to her feet, looking as if she'd aged ten years in the last ten minutes, and closed her eyes. The tears had stopped, and she wiped her face, swallowing. "I…apologize for acting so irrationally. That was years ago. I should not have caused such a—"
"Hawkeye." He might have offered her the opportunity to not dredge up the story once again by openly comforting her or apologizing for what he now knew, but he was not going to allow her to apologize for doing something decidedly human. "Don't be ridiculous, there's no reason to apologize." He paused, shaking his head slowly. "You haven't told anybody about this before, I assume."
She nodded slightly, taking a deep breath.
"It's an honor to think you trust me enough to tell me. Now relax," he smiled weakly at her, "I won't tell anyone." He glances at the clock on the wall, realizing it was nearly 2300 hours. "And it's getting late."
Hawkeye wordlessly followed him out of the inner office, watching him as he stopped at the coat rack to gather his things. When she made no move to grab her coat as well, he turned, holding her coat out to her with a bit of a frown. She was staring at him with a very uncertain look, as if she wasn't sure about what she wanted to ask. After a moment, she swallowed, took her coat, and whispered: "Promise me…" She looked down at the coat in her arms. "Promise me you won't become what he became, Roy."
She dug her fingernails into the fabric of her coat, swallowing. "I couldn't live through that again."
Author's Note: I feel like creepily saying "I'm baaaaack~" but that's not quite truth. Anyway, I wrote this over the weekend with a great deal of help from Causmicfire (she's the best!) while we worked at Anime Expo. Please keep an eye out for her omake. It should be up soon! (Sleep deprived staffers of the biggest con in the country tend to get a bit delusional after a few days.)
I've missed you all, Fanfiction family! I have another fic that I have been working on since last year's convention that is a tag-along piece to the oneshot that became a twoshot (The Flesh Failures/Let the Sunshine In). Expect to see it pop up. Eventually! =3