Title: skin deep
Summary: He burns her in the bathroom.
Genre: General/Drama
Rating: T
Word Count: 800
Warnings: burning flesh, suggestions of PTSD, memories of wartime

skin deep

He burns her in the bathroom. She stands half-naked in the tub facing the wall in preparation. Her back isn't shaking but her fists are clenched; he has half a mind to tell her tensing will just make it worse, but instead he just curses himself and his kind and snaps his fingers and she doesn't scream, she doesn't, but arches her back and convulses. He flinches and looks away.

There's a hollow thud against the porcelain as her knees slide to the floor of the tub and he flashes back to sector 18, to a memory of a child collapsing after his flames had hit the body. He'd averted his eyes then, too.

Kimblee's taunts come back to him. The flames take seconds to burn away. He finally looks at the damage, assessing.

She'd told him, However many times it takes, and he'd said, I only need one.

He knows how to destroy a body, but not mutilate one. He has mastered pin-point aiming to perfection, but he's struck too low. The bottom arc of the array is scorched where the flame has licked away at her skin. The rest is still readable out of his cowardice, his attempt to save her pain only backfiring, and he's failed her again.

She has stuffed a fist in her mouth and her blond head is pressed against the wall, shuddering, gasping. The rise and fall of her breathing makes her back expand on each inhale; as if each one makes the grotesque burn expand, rise up toward him, the aftermath a reminder. He can see blood boiling. He watches her flesh as it peels away. He makes himself watch what he's done to her. He can still read the inscription.

She'd come to him for help. Of all people, she'd come to him.

To make her suffer a second time —

He wants to wonder why defacing a woman's back could help their cause in this nation, in any just world, but he knows why, so he looks.

She'd asked him to help make it better. This must be better, because the alternative is forgiveness, and there is no justice in ignoring ghosts that have trailed him since he pulled on his gloves in Ishval.

She'd said, Don't give me a chance to beg you to stop.

Mustang raises his hand and burns her again, again. He makes himself watch, this time.

She has to reject his help twice for him to get the hint. He excuses himself to the living room and she stays in the tub for a very long time.

(He knows better than to wait, but he does anyway. Curious.)

Anyone else would have congratulated her on not crying. He knows otherwise. She wants to cry. If it means being weak, then so be it; being weak, for one moment, would be nice.

But she's had years of being weak already, of following orders, of shooting innocents on command. There's not much else left for it.

She lets herself cry without tears, breathing as though there isn't enough oxygen in the world. There's the smell of burnt skin and the tang of blood iron in the air, and she's fighting back the desert because the war's done, saw its last battle months ago, but she knows now there can be a finish with no end.

There's ointment on the counter, wet towels and lotion. He'd done all the research, methods to expedite burn healing that he hadn't needed in Ishval, but she hadn't bothered. Yes, maybe she deserves it; yes, maybe she doesn't. Either way, it aches to even consider moving. There's a spider web of burning starbursts from her shoulders down the length of her spine. The bottom of the circle hurts the most, like someone's ripped away the skin there and put a hot iron on the wound. Really, one could argue that someone has.

If she raised her voice, say she changed her mind, he'd understand. He wouldn't judge her for it. He'd come back in and clean her up and probably tuck her into bed, if she asked. All she has to do is ask.

A commanding officer needs his soldiers in prime condition.

Forehead still pressed against the wall, eyes closed, she reaches her arm out. Her fingers find the water spigot and within seconds her back is drenched, droplets hitting the open tissue like a shower of needles. She gives it five minutes, inhales through her nose, measures the seconds. It helps, but only just.

If the array is still legible by the time she looks in the mirror tomorrow morning —

Over the sound of the shower spray she hears the echo of footsteps on the hardboard. A door closing.

Hawkeye puts her head in her hands and takes deep, shuddering breaths.