A/N: So we last left off with Riza assaulted by the bar tender and falling unconscious. What on earth is going on? It seemed like the suspect they were looking for disappeared from the bar and now the bar tender seems to know something about the murderer whom the East City Gazette calls "The Reckless Alchemist."
Chapter 3 – Sinking In
A shot rang out followed by cries of women and children echoing in the distance. Flames engulfed the cities around them and the smell of burning flesh was intoxicating. Uniformed men and women marched down the streets, killing anyone in their wake. Bodies of men, women and children piled up high on the ground. Some survivors were spared, mostly those who were able to handle torture once they were dragged back to Central, while others weren't so lucky.
His eyes were deadly, almost void of any emotion. Her eyes were trained, ready for combat and with accuracy, shot a small form crying for his mother from a distance. There was no room for sympathy. There was no time to waste tears for the dead. Only orders from the Fuhrer existed in their minds.
She woke up with a start. Riza's head was still throbbing from the assault and she found herself cradling it with her one hand. The blond woman looked around groggily, realizing she was in the East City Hospital. At the foot of the bed and rigidly sitting on a chair was her commanding officer, his arms folded across his chest.
"How are you feeling?" were his first words after a moment of silence.
Riza nodded, sitting up on her bed. "Where is Captain Falman and the bar tender?" She still felt a little groggy from the pain in her head and just as she was about to fall back, a pair of strong arms caught her just in time. She looked up and realized they belonged to Roy Mustang.
Roy Mustang frowned. "Now is not the time for you to worry about them. You need to rest." When he received the call in his office about Hawkeye from Falman, there was a pang in his heart that he could not get rid of. So many times they almost lost each other and Roy Mustang found himself replaying that memory in his mind when she almost died. He settled her back down on her bed. Immediately, when the news reached him about her getting assaulted by one of the possible suspects, he lost all of his train of thought and made haste to the hospital.
The sight of her on the bed, unconscious with a bandage around her head was nerve-wracking and to think that both of them found themselves in the hospital again after two years of avoiding it.
"Sir, I'm sorry," was her only response to him.
He wanted to scold her like before when she thought he died and wanted to kill herself, but this time, he felt there was no need. She was only doing her job and whatever happened that night, he was proud of both her and Falman for at least catching someone who might know about the Reckless Alchemist. "There is no reason for you to apologize at all, Riza."
Riza took a deep breath, feeling relief coming over her. Whenever he said her name, it felt wonderful. It felt like she was able to be herself and not as his Captain. She felt a little bit of guilt inside her, remembering that a man had asked her out on a date and she agreed. But then again, why should she feel guilty? She was still a woman and had the right to go out with a man. It wasn't like anything was going to happen between her and Roy Mustang. Inter-office relationships between officers were simply out of the question. "I failed you, Sir," she said.
The General stood up, shaking his head. "You did what was told. I want you to rest now." That was it, a straight order from a higher ranking officer. Roy didn't need to repeat himself. He paused by the door, his back facing her and waited.
Riza did as she was told and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath as she listened to Roy's footsteps disappear from the room.
When he was sure she had fallen back to sleep, Roy made his way to the elevator and then to a long corridor that led to one of the interrogation rooms. He was met up with Falman inside the room where a tall, big man sat on a chair on the opposite side of the table, his hands handcuffed behind his back. The man was staring blankly on the floor as if in a stupor and did not seem to react when a second set of footsteps could be heard.
"Has he said anything?" Roy asked Falman.
Falman shook his head. "He's not talking."
Roy glanced back at the man, his hands clasped behind his back. "What do you know of this Reckless Alchemist?" He paused, his eyes studying the man for any kind of response. He received nothing. Roy gave a sideway glance towards Falman standing by the door. "Give me a moment with him."
Falman nodded and stepped out, closing the door behind him silently.
As soon as he was sure no one was listening, Roy glanced back at the man. He studied him some more, noting any features on him that might make him a possible suspect of all these murders. This bar tender was indeed one large man, a lot taller than himself. He had tattoos all over his flabby arms, mostly of dragons and random roses with thorns. However, he was as tall as Armstrong.
Roy sat down on the chair across from him. "Let's start over. Please state your name."
Finally, the bar tender looked up, with a scowl on his face. His eyes were icy cold. "I ain't stating my name for any shit-bag wearing a uniform!"
Roy stared at him blankly. He stood and walked over to the man's side. Before the man could react, Roy pulled the back of his chair back so fast and hard that the bar tender did not see it coming. He fell flat on his back with a loud crash. The suspect screamed in pain as his back hit the chair. Roy slammed his foot down on the man's neck, looking down on him with a fiery glare. "Are you mocking me!?"
The man coughed, choking from the pressure of Roy's foot.
"Now….I repeat….state your name." Roy loosened his foot a little bit to give the bar tender a chance to speak. He knew he was risking his own life. This man was a foot or two taller and bigger than himself, but Roy also knew he had the upper hand. He had taken down bigger men or even creatures than this bar tender.
The bar tender coughed for a moment before gasping, "Victor Joss," out of his mouth.
"Good." Roy lifted up his foot and pulled Victor back up right. He walked back around the table to face Victor and sat down on the free chair. "Falman."
In seconds, Falman appeared from behind the door and as if on cue, handed Roy a single folder in his hand. Afterwards, the older man disappeared, leaving the two men alone again. "Mr. Joss," Roy went on, smoothly placing the folder on the table. He stared back at the bigger man before him, his eyes serious and never leaving Victor's face. Victor's eyes went up, staring straight into Roy's. He too was determined not to let some military dog destroy his manhood.
"I am going to repeat my question from before. What do you know of the Reckless Alchemist?"
Pulling his eyes away from Roy's, Victor turned his head to the side, then sighed, as if thinking carefully of what to say. "Look, all I know is that he called me. He told me to tell you that I found the guy that fit the description you were looking for."
"And?" Roy pressed on. He knew Victor, just by studying him, that he would refuse to say anything more.
Victor sighed in annoyance, his head snapping back at Roy. "That's all I know, all right!? I know nothing else! Nothing! You have no right to keep me in here locked up! I have my rights!"
Calmly, Roy stood up. Reaching in his pockets, he grabbed his white gloves and put them on quietly. Now with his gloves on, he took the folder from the table and walked behind Victor's chair. As he did this, he watched Victor's reactions, looking for any evidence whether this man was telling the truth or spitting out lies. This time, Victor seemed to be holding his ground and did not flinch.
Without even a chance to avoid it, Roy flopped the folder open in front of him. About a dozen or so pictures fell out all over the table and Roy slammed Victor's head against them. He let out a short grunt from the pain of the impact.
"Do you think these women deserved to die!? Do you think they deserved it!? DO YOU!?" Roy kept Victor's face pressed against the pictures of the women murdered. "Take a good look at these women." Finally, after a few seconds, he let go of his hands roughly from the back of Victor's head. Victor did not move until Roy went back around to sit on his chair.
Victor did as he was told and glanced at the gruesome pictures of the dead women. "I knew maybe two of these women." He tilted his head to point to the direction of the two women beside each other. "Those two frequented the bar, looking for male companionship." He smirked, as if reliving his time watching these particular women scout the room with possible mates.
"Did you see a man that might have met these two women on different days?"
The bigger man shook his head. "No. Shit, there's like hundreds of people hanging out at the bar. I ain't the owner of the bar! I'm just a bar tender, giving drinks to pathetic losers who think they can go home with these women."
"Think, Mr. Joss."
Victor sighed. "No, I didn't see a man there. There were many men around them." He shrugged, staring back at the pictures of the two women he saw at the bar. "I admit, they were good looking chicks. But I swear, that is all I know about them."
"How often did they visit the bar?"
"I don't know, maybe two to three times a week."
Roy nodded, clasping both his hands in front of him on the table. "And did you notice whether these women left with the same man?"
Victor thought for a moment and then finally nodded. "Yeah I think there was one guy. I didn't really take a good look at him, but it seemed the women there found him attractive." He shook his head as if disbelieving the women's perspective on the man's charms.
Roy leaned back on his chair, his arms folded across his chest. He stared at Victor for a moment, thinking and analyzing the man's every move. He was waiting for the bigger man to say something else, but it seemed the bar tender had no more words to say. The Flame Alchemist knew that this interrogation was over and the Military had no evidence to convict him for anything else, other than assault against a Military Personnel. "Well, I think we're done here, Mr. Joss," Roy finally said after a few moments of silence. "For assaulting a military personnel, I have no choice but to keep you behind bars for 24 hours."
Victor looked up, quite sad, but relieved he had no other harsher punishment in hitting a Captain in the head. The door to the room opened and Roy stood up, watching as Vato Falman lifted the man on his feet. "You're lucky I took it easy on you, Mr. Joss," Roy said. He looked at the much taller man straight in the eyes then added, "Because you harmed one of my men, I would have burned you to ashes already."
The bartender felt a chill go down his spine as he was taken away.
Riza was released about a few hours later. Doctor Maureen Lougheed took extra precaution by giving the General instructions that she would not be removed from the hospital until they were sure she did not receive any concussions. Dr. Lougheed was the Head neurologist and, just like Riza was always precise, always cautious and always to the point. She was kind, however, and has known the Captain for as long as she served in the military. Maureen was also the only other female in the military, besides Rebecca, that she could really trust. Riza thought at first that keeping her for a few hours was ridiculous and as she was leaving the building, she was beginning to think maybe the Maureen was right.
Multiple flashes of light overwhelmed her and suddenly she was surrounded by the camera crew and news reporters. Obviously, they knew of her predicament and the Military's "lack of man handling the situation."
A woman with short dark hair, dressed in a red blazer and black pencil skirt approached her, a big microphone gripped in her hand. "Captain Hawkeye, I understand that you were attacked by the perpetrator, Victor Joss? Can you comment on that?"
In times like these, the Military had been trained to control their emotion in the face of media and deliver words that would at least calm the prying eyes of reporters. Riza kept calm, but kept her focus away from the people standing there, her eyes instead searching for her car in the parking lot. Normally she would not be answering these questions. Even though she always stood by Roy for all these years, no one really noticed she was there. The General was always first on the spotlight. She had to think fast, otherwise there would be no end to the dozen eyes that were all on her. Before she could even decide that she had to answer, a pair of hands gently moved her out of the way and a tall figure appeared in front of her. With his blue uniform and strong, square shoulders, Riza watched as he lifted up a gloved hand to silence the few reporters who were talking all at once. The flashes from cameras continued, however, but all was quiet as soon as Roy Mustang stepped in the scene.
"Captain Hawkeye will be heading home to rest. All questions and comments will be directed to me." He glanced quickly at Riza and nodded, letting her know she was in the clear. Riza gave him a nod back and stood beside him quietly, her eyes straying away from pointing cameras now towards her commanding officer. The woman reporter who approached Riza earlier asked her question again. Roy did not give much information, except that Victor Joss is now behind bars, but for only 24 hours. "We do not have enough evidence to convict Mr. Joss that relates to the murders of the women. We cannot disclose any further information as this point. We are still hoping to find more leads to these murders." He paused for a moment. "Now, I ask that if you please all leave the premises or I will have you all arrested." Those last few words came out of the General's mouth like fire and somehow the reporters understood that the conference was over.
All the reporters seemed to stop dead in their spot. There was complete silence and slowly, everyone began to walk away. Riza watched them go and she breathed a sigh of relief quietly, careful not to show her commanding officer.
"Riza." Roy's deep voice was soft this time. He turned to face her, his eyes scanning every part of her face. It ached him to see her injuries, although minor. It just reminded him how much risk someone else took for the sake of his own stubbornness to fill the promises to all those people who knew the murdered women. It should have been him.
"Sir?" Riza stared back at him with a look of concern. He has not said a word for a minute now and it bothered her. Roy was never the one at loss for words. Well…between the both of them, she was the one who rarely spoke.
At first it seemed he was about to say a very long speech about making sure the media did not get the wrong impression from whatever transpired in her mission, etc. but Roy, from what Riza gathered, seemed to have changed his mind and decided against it. "Let me take you home."
Riza shook her head. "No, I'll be fine. Thank you, Sir." She gave Roy a tired smile, then turned before giving him a chance to rebuff her rejection. Every part of her shook. She knew that Roy had noticed that the dejected tone in her voice was a sign of her still feeling that she had failed her commanding officer. She could still feel him watching her as she headed for her car parked at the first spot in the lot.
The female Captain felt all her courage fade away as soon as she drove off from the parking lot. She watched through the rear view mirror at the man who always watched her back. He always watched her back and vice versa. They had each other, and yet, Riza failed to do a simple mission that she felt would have possibly changed the way he looked at her. To Riza, failure was not an option. She was taught to always strive to be the best of her abilities and promised herself to never be a failure in front of her commanding officer.
Being home was a different matter, however. She was welcomed lovingly by the only companion who accepted her despite her faults. As soon as she opened the door and stepped inside, Riza felt herself almost trampled by two sets of paws. Hayate gave her face a swipe of his tongue, happy to see his owner again after being away for a while. "Hello Hayate!" Riza gave him a prolonged pat on the head and neck where he liked to be caressed and walked over to a small post-it note Rebecca had left on the kitchen table.
"Welcome home! I'm glad you're all right! Hayate was very good today, so I went out and bought him a few more treats from the pet store."
Riza smirked, putting the note back down. She glanced at Hayate. "Boy, you are spoiled rotten, aren't you?"
Hayate tilted his head, innocently staring at her with his big black eyes. He gave a short bark as if to agree with her statement, his tail still wagging out of joy. He was almost two years old now and he was almost half her size. It was hard to believe that about a year and a half has passed since she met this little guy. She knew she was a tough parent, but the kind of love she has shown him gave the young pup a reason to behave well and be loyal to his master.
Riza patted Hayate on the head again and headed over to her bathroom. She turned on the faucet to her bathtub and watched as the water collided with the bottom. Hayate joined her side seconds later, leaning over and studying the water splashing in front of him. About a minute later, the Shiba-Inu seemed to have gotten bored and decided to walk out of the bathroom. Riza shook her head, amused by her four legged companion's attention span and waited until the water was about an inch from the top before closing the door behind her. Slowly, she shed off her uniform in which she had not had the chance to wash and tossed them on the floor. Carefully then, she put one foot in the tub of warm water, then the other, then dipped her whole body in. She closed her eyes, leaning her head back and feeling the bath salts she put in earlier soothing her whole body.
At this time, Riza went into a deep thought as she submerged her whole body with only her head leaning on the wall completely out. She thought of Roy and the way he rescued her when those reporters ambushed her. She thought of how at the time she could only see his back and realized how tall he really was compared to her. For these many years, she never really looked at him closely. Sure, she stood by him and studied every emotion that came out of his face in every situation. She knew when he was upset, anxious, happy and when he was most proud of his accomplishments. However, Riza never really studied him physically. She never realized how handsome he really was and how he really wore the uniform she's always see him in. He carried himself with so much poise and dignity, which, in Riza's eyes really has shown this was the kind of man she would be married to.
Riza opened her eyes. Married? She shook her head in disbelief. In fairness, she was, after all now closing on being 30. She never really thought of it until now. And then her mind wandered to the man she met back at the bar. Cain Sherrard. This son of a wealthy man truly intrigued her. Maybe it was the idea that there was a man out there who could challenge her mentally. He was indeed charming and for some odd reason, she felt excitement when he offered her a drink, gave her a card, asked her to call him and disappeared. Maybe she was ready to finally get out there and realize there was nothing but a General and his subordinate relationship between her and Roy.
Riza sighed and turned her head towards the ground where her uniform was sprawled on the floor. She leaned over and grabbed it, slowly pulling out from the front pocket a card. She stared at the back for a moment, hesitating for a bit, then turned it over and began to read the content:
Vice-President and Co-Founder
Sherrard Oil Company
She thought for a moment, playing with the card in her fingers and then finally decided. Riza reached around for the other pocket of her uniform and found her cell phone, still in very good condition. Without a second thought, she began to dial the number in the card.
However, her call was interrupted when a familiar voice came through the line. "Hello?" Riza answered.
"Riza?" It was Rebecca. From the sound of her voice, she sounded distressed.
"Yeah. Are you all right?" Riza slowly sat up, her eyebrows etched in worry.
"No." There was a long pause, then Rebecca continued. "Something just happened. I'm here now, but…"
"Where? What happened?" Her irregular pauses gave Riza alarm and she quickly got out of the bath and grabbed her towel, wrapping it around herself.
"It's Maureen…You have to come here. I'm at East 3rd and Fort Armstrong."
"Why? What happened to-?" Click! Riza pulled her phone away from her ear and stared at the flashing light emitting from her phone. She froze, unable to move from her spot in the bathroom. She felt dizzy and could not understand what was happening, but she had an idea from the sound of Rebecca's voice.
Something happened to Dr. Maureen Lougheed and it did not sound good.
A/N: Yeah, I know not really exciting here, but I have to slowly build it up again. I am soooo sorry for making you all wait! I have to have a reason to have the Reckless Alchemist strike again and what better way to have someone close to Riza involved. I couldn't hurt Rebecca, so I had to make up a character that she was also close to.